It's said that word of mouth is the best advertising, and social media is becoming the perfect platform for leveraging that.
Social media's success is based on the fact that people like to talk about themselves and their experiences, good and bad. So it makes sense that folks are going to talk online about experiences they've had with a company's product or service or seek information from their 'friends' who have had experiences.
Companies looking to stretch their marketing dollars beyond the basic lineup of TV, print and online ads can use the collective knowledge of users of social media to extend their company's message-and build some brand loyalty in the process.
Rob Howard, CTO and founder of enterprise community and collaboration software company Telligent, believes social media can be an extremely effective way for companies to connect with both employees and customers. The key, he said, is to know who your company's influencers are.
Using analytics with social media, he said, enables a company to see exactly who is talking about the company online and how that information is being used by others. 'The can see how these people are creating content and their ability to impact the organization-and it is substantial,' Howard said.
Influencers are everywhere, he noted, both inside and outside the company. The trick is finding them and then harnessing their knowledge effectively. 'Where you sit in the organization doesn't have a bearing on your influence ability,' he said, especially those people who tend to move around within an organization. 'In understanding who they are you can leverage them to spread the word about your product or service.'
Howard stressed that although utilizing influencers innately smacks of promotion, a company should not view the influencer as a cheerleader. Rather, the influencer should be viewed more as a guru or trusted adviser.
'We think of influencers as people who know more about the products and services than the organization does and can pass on that knowledge and information in many forms such as Q&As, advice, how-to's, etc.,' he said. 'These people are free contributors of knowledge and information.'
To capitalize on these influencers, Howard said, companies must identify and then determine what their importance will be to the company and then create environments for them to communicate in.
'How do I identify those experts? Once I find them, how do I place value on the content I find? How can I reuse a lot of the knowledge that's going to be created? These are some of the questions that companies need to ask themselves before they can leverage their influencers,' he said.
Companies must realize that influencers can work against a company as much as it can for a company, especially customers that have had a bad experience and aren't afraid to let others know. But discovering who those people are using analytics and finding ways to connect with them to make things right can turn a potential PR disaster in a positive experience.
'We are now seeing the trend of engagement as the primary measure for success, rather than page views. Influencers are a part of that. So who are influencers? Who are the most active?' Howard said. 'Knowing that can make a world of difference.'