Elena Shalashnikova
Elena Shalashnikova 20 June 2013

Social networks for business: to be or not to be...

How to know what to choose: to be or not to be? To be to what extent? When to be?

Social networks are increasingly declaring the necessity of being paid attention to. In 2011 governments of several countries experienced how quickly the mere existence of Twitter, Facebook, Vkontakte can change a situation. In the same year of 2011 within one week Nestle Russia got several thousand negative comments and reviews regarding a piece of glass found in baby food. The information was fake. A single positive (!) review brought Riverside Hotel & Restaurant, England, UK to the brink of bankruptcy. So it’s clear for any company now – they mustn’t ignore social networks. But business is not a government, if we want to achieve our goals we’ll have to sacrifice something. How to know what to choose: to be or not to be? To be to what extent? When to be?



For the time being social networks are viewed by businesses as a new toy: they are attractive but it’s not very clear what to do with them. Sometimes companies make things simple. They have current goals (sales increase, for example), and they also have a burning sensation that social networks mustn’t be ignored – so, they mix these two ingredients and wait for the outcome. It can result in dozens of strange company pages in social networks, a few overused, so-called “successful” cases, and more and more myths which are imposed on brands by SMM agencies and vice versa.

Attainability of business goals is determined by the main distinctive feature of social media space – different principles to gain social weight (status) work here. Following these principles, the goals which imply reciprocity become attainable, and those which ignore interests of the audience and their feedback are unattainable. As a popular ad says:’ I’ve spent a million dollars on television advertising to talk to you. - That’s it! You’re always talking, and I never have a chance to speak. "

So, here are the goals that you can achieve in social networks, each of them having its own conditions and probability:

  1. Introduction and establishing contact (equals raising product and brand awareness). These goals are achievable regardless of all other conditions if you have a sufficient budget to cover the target audience.

  2. Teaching how to use the product.  100% achievable in any case.

  3. Getting feedback about the product. This goal can be achieved if the product is popular and in demand. Otherwise you will have zero feedback, which is difficult to interpret clearly.

  4. Increasing loyalty of current customers and customer retaining (repeat sales). This goal is always achievable but using social networks for this is efficient and makes sense in the following cases:  
  • for b2c companies with large customer flow
  • for products that are likely to have a large number of local problems (gastronomy, logistics, etc.).

5.    Changing the image - provided that the process is initiated and takes place inside the company, social networking can be integrated into communication with the market and the target audience.

6.    Creating a trend - provided that the product is excellent and catchy. This quality of the product has to be measured at the start of the project.


Note that sales are not included in the list. Of course you can make sales using social networks but it is much less effective than other tools, like search engine advertising, for example.


For whom?

Irrespective of the goals there are companies for which social media presence is justified due to security concerns or to prevent possible social networking threats for business. It is applicable to all the companies which are talked about on the Internet (for various reasons and concerns).

  1. Brands. If you are a brand you are sure to be talked about. In 100% of cases everything said about a brand is absolutely different from what the brand says about itself. At least you have to know what exactly is said about you, and at the most you have to manage those opinions.

There is yet another reason: a social network is a place of equal opportunities, unlike television, for example. Both beginners in marketing or consulting and experienced PR leaders with wide solid audience often use brand names to advertise themselves in the first place. Of course no brand is safe from unexpected trouble, so why not have your own support group by the time such trouble strikes.


2. Services which are likely to have a large number of local problems with customers. If you are a logistics company, your audience will probably be often unhappy simply because there are a lot of different people in the service chain from a client and a call-center specialist to a courier who delivers orders, and each of them can make a mistake. If you are a chain of grocery stores your customers will probably have problems at the cash register, get complaints about bad food especially in the summer time, and mistakes in prices on the tags, etc.  Before the social media era an official company website used to be a gateway for complaints, and a lot of companies still believe that the “Submit a New Complaint” button will suffice. But it won’t and it’s been long since customers thought in a different way. They have got used to writing about their problems to their blogs and other accounts. So if you are not a monopoly, being aware of the problems and solving at least some of them are for your own benefit. In all other cases a little attention from the company to its customers is quite enough for them to remain loyal, even despite local problems.


3.  Products and services that may affect safety, for example medical products, baby food, medical services and everything which a person’s life may depend on. Such companies are quite vulnerable to both competitor attacks and bad press spread by ordinary customers. Any news that something is wrong with the product/service runs like lightning. When some false or forged information appears in the press, the company may seek for a denial or other compensation.  When some false or forged information appears in a social network, there will be no denial to any post, so the company will have to work it out on its own. And the sooner the company starts acting, the sooner the bad press flow will dry out.


To what extent?

Of course much depends on your goals but let’s define the minimum and the maximum:

  • Minimum presence for safety reasons. It is monitoring comment and reviews and quick response to them if necessary .Companies very often realize that they have to use social media but prefer to start with the tools most convenient for them – company pages – and hope that people will hurry there to complain. A company page is definitely a better place for the audience but at the same time people mostly tend to leave their feedback at 1) their personal accounts, 2) different social networks, 3) review sites and forums. Expecting a page in a social network to handle negative feedback is the same as taking fire prevention measures in one room of a wooden house. If the house catches fire, the room will burn out too.
  • Maximum presence is required if a company has ambitions of influencing the audience perception of the world – namely, changing its own image or creating a new trend. In this case a wider audience involvement is needed which means a big budget. Companies very often hope for the viral effect in social networks thinking that it will enable them to affect the minds for a little money.   This is a myth. First of all, the most optimistic statistics show that out of the 10 videos made only one (if the best happened) becomes viral. Secondly, no matter how good a viral video is, a brand name hardly ever sinks into the audience memory after watching it. Thirdly, even if you manage to succeed in both the first and the second, in order to change the audience perception of the world you have to have at least 28 different good videos (28 repetitions in different ways) and this means you have to have some budget. 

Let’s see how matters actually stand. At the moment the company’s presence in social networks depends not on the reasons or business goals and special features but on the experience the company’s top managers have. If the top managers have personal accounts in social networks, the company social networking is definitely higher. If they don’t, you will have to take efforts to convince them that social media world exists. And in this case competitors come handy – the more competitors appear active in social networks, the more arguments “for” social media will have in getting budget funds.

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