By Mike Sloman, Vice President Business Development at Firstsource Solutions

1. Have social media guidelines
To avoid mixed messages and customer confusion, it makes sense to have a clear and simple set of social media guidelines. These are for all employees and vendors who want to and are authorised to use social media to speak about the organisation.

Groups like Orange have a social media handbook, a security policy and a disclosure best practice toolkit to ensure a professionally managed set of guidelines keeps its social media on brand and on track.

Hopefully gone are the days when access to a company’s social media channels, and therefore its reputation, were dumped on an unsupervised intern, because someone thinks “social media is just the voice of young people.”

2. Learn from winners
The social media landscape and its audience’s endless quest for novelty via social media can seem daunting on the face of it. But there are lessons for telcos large and small from the examples provided by the innovators and mavericks, such as that showcased by the brands and agencies selected for Shorty Awards.

There have been accolades for the likes of 02’s “Be More Dog” campaign, Buzzfeed’s Virgin Mobile “Always On” social advertising, T-Mobile’s “JUMP” upgrade programme and Skype’s “Your City, Your Passion” campaign. Globe Telecom won the Best Customer Experience award in the 2013 World Communication Awards by providing customer service through Twitter in a manner that is engaging, meaningful, and personal.

Providing freshness and high levels of audience engagement in a language they can clearly identify with are the hallmarks of the winners. Such characteristics should also act as the foundation for any campaigns telcos want to run in 2015 and beyond.

3. Keep innovating
Telecoms is one of the fiercest consumer markets there is, so the need to keep moving forward and fully use the technology opportunity of social channels to enhance the customer experience has never been greater. If you provide portable tools, apps and widgets to offer customers an enjoyable and useful experience, they will take control of marketing and generate buzz about your community and brand.

Properly managed and integrated marketing and technology solutions enable C2C and B2B conversations with support and sharing as natural by-products. Loyalty and rewards go hand-in-hand with self-directed communities that are confident to increasingly self-serve, as long as you have light-touch support a click away through webchat or other similarly suitable support. Again, keeping it fresh and relevant will enable customer retention strategies to be at their most effective and the brand staying on-trend.

4. Have social media champions
Telcos are often hothouses of technological and customer innovation. So it makes perfect sense for the in-house experts to communicate their latest work, passions and interests through internal and external channels for co-workers, customers and clients, as appropriate.

From blogging to podcasts and social updates, there are now a multitude of channels to reinforce the brand and deepen engagement, all with a human rather than a traditional corporate voice.

5. If your social is cutting edge, use it to help boost the rest of your digital offering
Success on social channels such as Twitter or Facebook can be built up over time by telcos to be ever more engaging and responsive. The real-time nature and content of the conversations can provide useful data on where else improvements can be made, such as new or more easily navigable content on the website.

Importantly it can point to how apps and mobile websites can be launched, enhanced and updated as part of an integrated digital whole.

6. Don’t worry about the metrics – go beyond ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’
“Likes”, “Favourites” and “Follows” have limited value, depending on the maturity and variety of your social presence. They really don’t tell you very much and in many cases may be pretty arbitrary, reflecting a fleeting engagement with a customer who has long since passed on to other interests and brands.

The trick is not to focus on one metric alone, but to look at several in concert that will provide the context and enable deeper analysis. For example, looking at the total volume of engagement to measure how well a campaign performed on a social platform can indicate your audience’s responsiveness to your content.

But not knowing the reach gives you no idea if those who saw the content took action and engaged further. You want a mix of metrics to provide the layers of context and tell a meaningful story.

7. Are you passing the ‘be real’ test for an authentic voice?
It should become clear to a telco if they are creating content that people want to share on social. Customers will also let them know if they are succeeding in communicating in a “human to human” way on social and talking more like people than companies. In this way customers are engaged because they come to understand what you stand for, care about and what your values are.

8. Don’t spread your social too thin - be across a few your customers like
There are a plethora of social sites and they are ever increasing. No telco can be effective across all of them. Better instead to pick the main ones your customers are on and via which they have shown an appetite to contact you or discuss your products. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn should be covered as standard. (It’s an ever-changing landscape though, and this time next year there could be a new name to add to the “big four”).

The rest are nice-to-haves and it may one day be worth planting a tentative flag there to see what conversation might grow. But ensure you have the resources to tend these sites and engage fully and promptly before you start expanding into new territories, or you will suffer potential brand damage.

9. Don’t be hampered by old-fashioned RoI concerns – connected and relevant is a different beast
Just as we shouldn’t be consumed by metrics for their own sake, they are an enabler, not an end in themselves, the notion of trying to bolt on Return on Investment (ROI) measurements to something as granular as social, in a truly multi-channel 21st century world, is pretty impossible.

Some marketers have said it is analogous to trying to measure the effectiveness of a billboard – sure, people may have seen it, but it is difficult to quantify how many “generated actions” came from that.

The key things to know about investing in social are: it is an integral part of your communications and marketing strategy, it is where your customers live and where they want to talk with you, it is a way to build the brand’s identity and personality, it offers you creative ways to offer help and advice.

10. Use the right tools to boost your social success
It is important to use the right tools to ensure your message is getting to the right people at the right time, that you are picking up all nuances of customer voices and measuring social activity effectively.

Now that “gaming” Google to boost companies’ search rankings is effectively impossible or at least more difficult due to Google changing its algorithm and crawling sites with various detectors, it should create a level playing field for the best to shine. Tools like Co-Schedule - a blog editorial platform with built-in social media sharing – will integrate seamlessly with social integrators like Buffer and WordPress.

Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to manage multiple social profiles, post new messages and respond to interactions. SlideShare will get your presentations to wider audiences while Source Metrics will help you understand how social is impacting on your sales and which stores are seeing the highest conversion rates. There are a wide variety of free and paid for social tools. Like social itself, it’s time to start exploring and seeing what works best for you.

Read more: Top 10 social media rules for telcos 2014

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