As social networking becomes more prevalent among consumers of all ages, media companies will have to learn how to navigate the various social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to reach out and market to their customers, according to a panel of media executives speaking at a CTAM Summit ’09 panel session Monday.
With 60% of online users members of social-networking sites, Edward Naef, vice president of media-strategy consulting firm CSMG, said the category is no longer a niche product used mostly by young people. In fact, he said, some of the largest growth for companies like Facebook has come from people 35 years and older.
“It’s moved beyond niche status and has become mainstream,” he said.
As a result, media companies need to engage their customers on these platforms to monitor what people are saying about their product and to try to alleviate any concerns or problems that may arise.
“It’s ultimately a conversation [with consumers], as opposed to companies just putting something out there,” said Mike Ryan, CEO of interactive company A Different Engine.
For media companies like Comcast, that means meeting their subscribers on Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogging on its own broadband site to reach out to consumers who have questions — or in some cases complaints — about the company’s service, said senior director of national customer operations Frank Eliason. It’s especially important to reach out to that 1% of social-media users who are very vocal and engaged, he said, because oftentimes they are the voice of a social community that can help or hurt the brand.
“Our social-networking strategy is, we’re listening to customers and when and where we can we help them,” he said.
The benefits can include an increase in customer retention, positive feedback about the brand and potential focused and targeted marketing opportunities, according to Eliason. On the negative side, he said, such aggressive interaction with customers via blogs and tweets could lead to employees giving out wrong or misinformation about a product or a company policy. When that happens, the best policy is to be honest with the customer.
“If you mess up you fess up,” he said. “If you do it properly, they will become your biggest advocates.”
Naef said companies who are slow to enter the social networking arena do so at their own peril. “Social networking is not a fad, it’s here to say and it’s beginning to replace other forms of communication,” he said.