Come at the king, you best not miss”, goes a line from the television series, The Wire. It sums up the ‘no chills’ response that has come to define social media attacks on Kenya’s biggest corporates. And the blow is delivered with humour and in street-speak that does not offend, but pulls the rug from under the complaining customer’s feet.
It is common for well-established companies to respond to their customers in sheng, a trend that has come to show that corporate social media strategy has learnt a lot from the streets, which should be the playground of small businesses. So what can SMEs learn from this on how to engage with audiences online?
1. Maintain a visual presence
Big firms these days hire out social media functions to individuals who have the time to sit in front of a hoot-suite webpage all day tracking comments, complaints, requests and endorsements. With enough Internet connectivity in the country to go around, an SME can hire an individual who is witty, intelligent and understands the business.
Caroline Mwangi, a digital communications strategist who helps brand managers execute media campaigns, notes that social media marketing can be targeted and is cost-effective, especially for firms with conservative budgets. “A lot of young people today live on social media, with Twitter and Instagram particularly important for brands looking to maintain a visual presence with users,” she says.
Because of this, adds Caroline, more firms are beefing up budgets for their digital departments to broaden their social media presence.
2. Move with the times
In the past, company websites used to be the point of interaction between brand managers and customers.
This allowed businesses to craft a brand identity in a controlled space, with little interference from their customers – save for a suggestion box. Today, brands and their consumers interact in real time, and a customer with 100,000 followers on Twitter can, in some instances, wield the same influence on the fortunes of the firm as a major shareholder.
Brands are increasingly turning to social media users with large followers to take advantage of Facebook and Twitter algorithms that favour popular content.
“We have carried out marketing campaigns for some products exclusively on social media with a great deal of success,” says Kobi, a public relations manager at a digital advertising agency in Nairobi.
“Clients prefer this route because it is cheaper and relatively easier to manage as you are dealing with fewer people and you also get feedback in real time.”
Influencer marketing – paying social media users with many followers to market your brand – has been identified as one of the ways small entrepreneurs can execute social marketing campaigns as effectively as those run by large firms – at a fraction of the cost.
“Influencer marketing is becoming popular because it is accessible to both big and small firms,” says Joseph Wafula, a publicist.
“One of my clients is in the business of making and selling handbags, and I advised her to give a couple of samples to some individuals we identified, and it worked. They started sharing photos of themselves with the bags, as well as my client’s Facebook page. We got people we would never have come across to start making orders.”
3. Check for character and content
Vet all tweets and Facebook posts associated with your name. Don’t let a few insensitive comments to ruin your brand. When someone complains about your product or company online, redirect and reframe the conversation by responding in style, rather than with indifference, annoyance, defensiveness or panic.
You need to show your customers that their concerns are valid and that you want to get a solution; don’t be an obstinate defender of your company, otherwise you will draw in other audiences that are likely to back the person complaining. You want the customer to understand that you are concerned about righting a wrong.
However, if the facts are on your side, use them. Facts allow you to be principled in responding and to seem professional and vigilant.
And even if it doesn’t look like you’re going to win, you can demonstrate patience and a willingness to help, despite a customer’s apparent unwillingness to be helped.
If the conversation appears to be getting worse, try and take it offline as soon as possible to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention.
4. Be only where you need to be
Don’t spread yourself too thin by jumping onto every social media platform that is set up. The corporates with the best social media strategies have learnt their customers and follow them to the platforms where brand campaigns are likely to have the most impact.