Monday, August 31, 2015

Building your brand or business in 140 characters or less

Over the past several years, social media has gone from being a place to stay in touch with friends and family to being the way we interact with everyone from complete strangers to multinational corporations. We make friends, maintain friends, and conduct business on social media.

Conversely, social media has ruined relationships, torn down businesses, and destroyed the lives of people that we have never met who live thousands of miles away. Often the reason that led to the dismantling of a person or entity was nothing more than a harmless joke.

Social media can make or break a business (including small-business trucking). In the 21st century, a presence on Facebook and (to a lesser degree) Twitter is necessary to stay relevant and competitive. There really is no reason to not embrace the new medium. After all, it’s free marketing and advertising.

Corporations all over the globe are using Twitter as a customer service platform. Have an issue with a product or service, but don’t want to wait on hold on the phone or go to the actual place of business? No problem. You can send questions, comments and complaints to companies such as Sprint, and they will take care of you via direct messages (DM). Here’s a screenshot of a DM I received from Sprint:

Sprint’s Twitter account took care of a major dispute I had with them about a month ago. After spending hours on the phone or at a Sprint store trying to solve an issue that would cost me $200, my frustration and desperation to get some answers had reached critical levels. My frustration was being documented live on Twitter. The administrator monitoring Sprint’s Twitter account was reading my tweets, contacted me through DMs, and resolved the issue in less than two minutes. Twitter saved me a few hundred dollars in just a few minutes.

I went from making voodoo dolls of the Sprint CEO and every customer service rep I wasted time with to praising their customer service on social media. This kind of online interaction can yield similar results to any business, including small fleets and individual owner-operators.

If you are really good at social media, your content can go viral as well. A consistent presence with engaging content will keep eyes on the activity on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. People will share and retweet your posts which can have a trickledown effect. Before you know it, your brand has reached thousands of people with minimal effort.

For example, check out this tweet from Arby’s during the Grammy’s last year:

Nearly 78,000 retweets from that one tweet. When accounting for the followers of those who retweeted it, hundreds of thousands of people saw it. That number jumps to the millions when the media starts to talk about it.

But be careful. Sometimes a tweet does not go over too well, and the next thing you know you have thousands – sometimes millions – of social justice warriors coming after you with torches and pitchforks. The Internet mob mentality is a very real and dangerous problem in 2015. A few years ago, riots broke out in Cairo, Egypt, during a civil uprising known as Arab Spring. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole reacted with the following tweet:

Just because you find that to be funny does not mean others will. In the case of Kenneth Cole (and countless others), its public relations department was on damage control for several days. Jokes that deal with current events, politics, religion or any other sensitive subject should be left for your personal account, not your business account. Just make sure your personal account cannot in any way be linked to your professional account, directly or indirectly.

A business profile on social media reflects your business mission, not your personal humor, opinions or agenda. If your personal account can be traced to your business account, people will associate the two. Keep it kosher or keep it anonymous. For what it’s worth, there really is no anonymity on the Internet nowadays.

If you see something on social media that you disagree with, by all means engage in a debate (on your personal account, of course). However, never go the distance of calling their employer or trying to “sic the dogs” on them. Unless the tweet is coming from a public figure or company, no tweet is worth getting someone fired over (with the exception of extreme cases). Before going after someone, ask yourself this, “Could people try to get me fired for saying something similar?” The answer is always “Yes.”

We all make jokes and say stupid things. Going after someone over a tweet reveals less about one’s moral superiority and more to do with their hypocrisy. I recommend reading Jon Ronson’s book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” to understand how much power we wield on Twitter and the destruction we can cause.

Lastly, beware of the schedule feature on both Facebook and Twitter. Posting several times throughout the day is tasking. Scheduling many tweets ahead of time is a great way to manage time. However, we cannot predict what may happen tomorrow or even in a few hours. When tragic news breaks, check your scheduled tweets and Facebook posts to see if anything may come across as insensitive within the new context of the present. Sometimes it may be best to reschedule your posts until the incident has subsided. It does not look good when everyone on social media is grieving and then they see your scheduled tweet promoting something.

Twitter and other forms of social media sound as if they are not worth the trouble, but it’s really simple. Here are some Dos and Don’ts for Twitter that also apply to other social media:

  • Tweet consistently, ideally 15-20 tweets a day (including retweets) or 1-4 per hour. We know if you are a trucking businessman, you can’t do that, so scheduled tweets are a good idea.
  • Engage. Again, we know you can’t tweet and drive, but reply whenever you can and start conversations when necessary
  • Have personality
  • Use hashtags and other trending topics
  • Share posts and retweet
  • Have fun 
  • Tweet too little (you will be forgotten) or too much (flooding followers’ timelines will get you blocked)
  • Ignore people or engage in sensitive debates
  • Be dull. On the other hand, remember that you’re not a comedian or commentator
  • Overuse hashtags; it gets annoying and is amateurish
  • Let your retweet-to-original ratio become too large. People want original content
  • Let social media become your soapbox for your opinions and beliefs unless you are ready to face the social justice warriors and consequences

Twitter and Facebook are fun and free platforms that can really boost the presence of your brand. I laid out a bunch of rules and scenarios, but social media (like many things in life) is really just about common sense. Have fun, engage with the audience, and build your reputation and small business.