Beware social media pitfalls

by Kate Tilley, Resolve Editor

Social media can be an effective marketing tool, but you must minimise the risks.

That was the message from Jay Pring, managing director of social media agency Obviam, to delegates at the AILA-Queensland Law Society insurance law intensive.

He said social media was “a ground-breaking industry”. “It’s hard to ask people for personal information face to face but, in social and digital media, we do it with a broad, disparate audience we have no control over.”

There was a “huge risk” to brand impacts, but it was possible to engage safely with social media.

Mr Pring said the social media phenomenon began in 2001 with Facebook, which was “initially a way to find out where your friends were drinking at the weekend”.

Marketing via social media was effective because it “fed straight into the digital market”, by directing potential customers to corporate websites. “Marketers can get people to share their brand, and it’s then populated to their Facebook account. We turn our customers into referrers.”

But it was important to keep customers away from personal information. Mr Pring warned:

  • What you post reflects on you.
  • What you post is never removed.
  • Retweets will be taken as yours.
  • Remember the broader audience.
  • Change your privacy settings regularly.
  • Check the original source of photos you like or share.
  • Be mindful of photos you share – they portray who you are to others.
  • Once you hit the send button, you can’t get it back.

He said social media was “a ridiculous way to ruin your career”, citing the 2011 example of US Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was once touted as a potential presidential candidate. He tweeted a sexually provocative photo to a woman, but inadvertently used the wrong phone, which meant his constituents saw a photo of “their member’s member”. After initially denying he had posted the image, Weiner eventually admitted his actions and resigned. “One stupid mistake” had denied his intellect and skills to the US Congress.

In Australia, a former NRL footballer’s “stellar career” was ruined by his team mates tweeting an “inappropriate photo” to the club followers’ account. Within 24 hours it was the top photo tweeted around the world.

Mr Pring cited another example of a person who sent a message to a woman who had changed her status on Facebook to “single”, suggesting they meet up for a liaison. He had not followed the prior communications so was unaware the status change was because her boyfriend had been killed in a traffic accident.

“Little things matter. Don’t forget the broader audience, consider who is watching or reading,” Mr Pring said.

Social media had advanced so quickly the law was lagging. “There are many very grey areas and governments are trying to catch up with legislation.”

He advised delegates to be wary of groups they followed. “They can post on your timeline; they can change their name. Posts you like or retweet will be seen as yours. If you don’t add a comment, people will make assumptions” about whether you agree or support a post.

He advised employers to establish social media policies and ensure employees were aware of them. “Employees’ activities can be very damaging to your brand.”

Mr Pring cited an example of 13 Virgin Atlantic employees who established a Facebook page on which they complained about their employer. It was meant to be private, but wasn’t. The employees were sacked, and a “massive legal battle” ensued. The only reason they stayed sacked was because a court found they had failed to report safety issues to the captain, not because they posted complaints about their employer.

To minimise risks, Mr Pring advised organisations to:

  • Give employees policies, guidelines and training.
  • Initiate an approval and oversight process.
  • Have an escalation process in place to identify issues before they become problems.
  • Monitor official social media activity.

Social media had changed how customers interacted – they now tell the brand what they want. “Customer referrals drive brand success. It’s a very powerful advertising medium and it costs nothing.”

Customers did brand research on the internet and would tell everyone about positive and negative experiences. Consumers banded together to get better deals and expected to interact with favourite brands when they chose. “We want everyone to love our brand, but it’s also about listening,” Mr Pring said.

Failing to maintain a social media dialog with customers, once it was established, was rude. He cited the major impact on Nestlé chocolate sales when an inexperienced person monitoring social media kept deleting an image posted by the activist organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“Don’t delete negative comments. How you respond will determine how people perceive your brand. A good response is respected; at least you are trying.”

To increase customer referrals, Mr Pring suggested adding share and like functions to website and blogs; providing strong content customers wanted to share with friends and family; and encouraging comment and feedback and responding professionally.

“Our websites allow us to constantly promote ourselves, 24/7. Give people a reason to return.”

He warned that traditional ‘push” campaigns rarely worked in social media. “The conversation is different, it’s social, they don’t want ‘buy, buy’. It’s about listening, engaging and giving,” Mr Pring said.