Get in the game Featured

5:16pm EDT March 1, 2011
James L. Jay, president and CEO, TechPoint James L. Jay, president and CEO, TechPoint

Imagine your biggest competitor announcing that it is shutting down its website and will no longer participate in “the Internet experiment.” I suspect you would find it foolish and look for ways to capitalize upon your competitor’s mistake.

Many companies, however, are failing to define their brands and engage with consumers across social media — a decision that is just as foolish.

The Internet became all-important to dialogue with consumers at the turn of the century when 50 percent of U.S. households achieved access. Companies that resisted or were too slow to adapt to the changing digital marketplace suffered losses of brand equity and market share, especially with young tech-savvy customers and early-adopters.

According to the Pew Research Center, today more than half of all Americans use the Internet to participate in one or more social networks. If your competition is engaged and delivering a positive brand experience in the networks and your company is silent, you are missing out on powerful consumer touch points. You may also be alienating the people you are spending marketing and advertising dollars to attract.

Missed opportunities are one of many downsides to your company being absent in the social network. Douglas Karr, founder of DK New Media and author of “Corporate Blogging for Dummies,” advises that, “These conversations are now becoming part of the public record.”

Social media dialogue can be indexed, organized and discovered in a search engine in a matter of seconds. People are paying attention to what’s being said, both good and bad, and a simple mistake made by your company can turn into a major problem that affects your company’s reputation.

While things can happen in the blink of an eye, the landscape of social networking can be a tough one to navigate. It is hard work. Consumers’ appetites for information are insatiable and less-than-immediate responses can be viewed as lackadaisical or even rude.

There are tools that can help to simplify managing your brand across social networks, but there is no substitute for thoughtful, genuine conversation with your customers.

Authenticity takes time and effort. Underestimating the resources required to be effective is one of the most common missteps in social media brand management. You wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your accounts receivable, but at far too many companies, it is interns and other low-level employees unfamiliar with the company’s history and culture driving social media participation. Management should recognize the necessity of staffing the social media function with a professional or professionals who can speak with authority, resolve customer service issues and accurately project the company’s brand position.

Jay Baer, founder of the Convince & Convert blog and author of “The Now Revolution,” which looks at the impact of real-time business on organizational structure and process, considers CoTweet by ExactTarget and HootSuite to be two of the leading “response” systems that allow companies to engage with customers effectively on multiple social media platforms. Both allow you to schedule tweets and offer simple options for replying, retweeting, sending direct messages and other features.

CoTweet’s dashboard allows for “co-tagging,” which displays the user’s initials in a tweet to identify who is answering — a helpful feature for the reader and the user both. CoTweet also allows you to assign the task of responding to a tweet from the search pad. Because so many companies discover technical support and other customer service issues through mentions of their brand name, this is an increasingly important management tool.

Other tools, such as HyperAlerts, which sends you an e-mail when someone posts something to your Facebook page, can save you time by eliminating the need to log in over and over to search for new content. Websites like TweetFX.com are great resources for more Twitter-related websites and services that can help you manage your brand on the social network.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.