Recently I was doing a consultation for a client, talking about approaches to social media for small businesses. While I was giving a general overview of aspects to look at and goals to keep in mind, I gave a couple of examples of how to cross the borders of social media and offline business. An example I gave of showcasing a Facebook page, was putting up a sign or poster in a prominent position in the store, for example, close to the cashier where people stand in line and wait, letting the customers now that they can find interesting features on the store’s Facebook page. As I was explaining why something like that could be beneficial, my client interrupted me and said: “I am not advertising for Facebook!” Admittedly, I was a bit stunned by this absolute statement. My face must have shown how puzzled I was and the client continued by saying: “This does not fit our image. We do not support large companies such as Facebook. We do not like their reputation. We have a Facebook page and we will use it, but we will not showcase Facebook.” The consultation went back and forth about goals and how they are met, what position social media can have and such, but the direction with this client on Facebook was very clear. So it got me thinking: When we use social media in companies and highlight our channels, who and what are we exactly marketing for? How does it influence our own reputation?
The question that arose from the discussion with my client was not exactly new. It is a question that comes up with clients on a regular basis. However, most clients see more benefits, and their doubts about the channel are outweighed or cleared by getting to know the channel better. This was the first time a client had been so resolute about it.
As I was thinking through the dilemma the business was facing: social media is a “yes”, but no image of “support for the evil”, and wanting more customers, but not highlighting the virtual shop window filled with services and products, I realized that in the discussion we were no longer talking about mainly rational business decisions by numbers, but about business ethics, morale, and image. The store has a reputation of “alternative”, “family owned and operated”, “small business”, “local” and “culturally sensitive” and from the owner’s point of view, this image stands against marketing their Facebook page to the customers. The implications became clear: Facebook has a reputation in parts of the German public that this client did not want to be associated with: “Facebook lacks real data protection, it seems to be a large company with no real soul, and it offers a support tool for extremist groups”. It is understandable that the store owner was reluctant about putting the Facebook icon on her marketing materials. But how could she overcome the dilemma of needing a stronger social media presence to reach an audience she otherwise lacks in her marketing efforts, while not risking affronting or insulting her existing customers?
In this specific case, the store owner had a strong opinion and decided to use her Facebook page, but not showcase her social media efforts in the store. Thus, she might be missing the chance of bringing her offline customers into the social media world and use the strong support and the advocates she has. A wonderful opportunity lost! What alternatives would there have been? What can we do if a platform offers a negative association that hinders the success for businesses marketing on the platform?
#1: Change the game plan
If the original plan does not work, be flexible and change the plan. It would be unrealistic, if not damaging, to sit the problem out and wait for an image campaign to kick in to have the public opinion change and make it easier on businesses to utilize its full potential on the platform without the reputation question. This would be too time consuming and not predictable enough for a business to rely on. Thus, companies should retreat to other options. One possibility lies in the other channels social media offers. Depending on the products and services offered by a company, other platforms such as LinkedIn, Xing or Instagram can be a good or even better alternative. Image and perception on these platforms should be less of an issue. However, these platforms should be considered carefully when looking at potential reach, target audience and options for postings. They do not necessarily offer the same potential as the platform originally chosen.
#2: Change the focus
It is important to educate customers. This applies to any aspect of the business, not only the products and services offered. By educating customers about the marketing efforts, the company can change the narrative and tell the story they want their customers to hear. Talk to your customers about why you are on a platform or what value you are offering your customer through a channel you are using. Focus on your efforts and your customers’ value instead of highlighting the platform. Customers will find a new access to that side of the company and will feel included in the business’ plans. This way social media becomes a package deal: marketing to existing and potential customers, a good reason to start up a conversation with existing customers, and strengthening customer loyalty.
#3: Change the marketing approach
If all else fails and the client absolutely refuses to use a certain platform, their wish is our command. Then it is our time to shine and get creative with other marketing efforts, such as making a very social website to offer a good alternative to the classical social media platforms or find offline advocates that can be used as online influencers without the business being on that specific platform. Having an advocate direct online leads away from a specific platform to another can be a way to work around problems with one specific brand. Find the goals the business is working towards and look for other ways to meet those goals.
What other ways have you used, experienced, or thought of in similar situations? Do you have great advice for similar situations? We would love to hear them to make life easier for businesses, clients, and consultants in the social media jungle.
Author: Magdalena Schürmann
Her passion for organization and solving problems benefits Magdalena’s work as a consultant and in coaching private clients as well as small businesses in diverse areas connected to work life – from job changes to social media marketing. In her business ArbeitsLeben Magdalena often helps clients to reduce stress and gain more balance through organization and personal and professional coaching. Her goal is to educate, to encourage, and to empower her clients.