Social media can send businesses in a lot of different directions. Some use it as a marketing channel, others use it to spread content, while others start without a plan and end up abandoning social media altogether.
Before businesses dive into social media, they should have a plan. What do they hope to get out of it? What are they going to use it for? How often? Are there any goals to set?
Here, 29 companies tell us how they approach social media and what they recommend for others. These companies don’t fit into any one industry. Many are in the tech field, but we also have a range of businesses from grocery stores to car rental companies. Each offers its own unique perspective.
Read below and see what you can learn.
"We are a very open company and try to ensure that our social media persona matches who we actually are and how we run the company. Thus, we share information about the inner workings of the company, the people, how we build the service, and other interesting tidbits...along with the way we think and approach our decisions.
While being as open as we are may not work for every company, being authentic to the way the company operates should. If a company is very formal, having a wacky persona will feel forced and users feel that. And vice-versa.
Let the culture of the company dictate the voice and approach of the company in social media."
"Our approach to social media at Backupify is essentially three-fold. We use our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and sometimes Google+) to spread helpful information, be there for customer support and to put a genuine face and voice to the company. I'll break down each of these strategies.
Spreading thought leadership:
To be effective with social media marketing, you can't be self-serving. These are not channels to promote everything about your company and its products. This is a place to teach people about your industry, topics they care about within that industry, and also share articles from thought leaders in the space. So each day we scan for interesting, helpful articles based on keyword searches on the web and from relevant blog posts from others. We occasionally throw in our own blog posts but first and foremost focus on helping people learn from posts we share rather than being self-serving by promoting information about Backupify.
Be where your customers are." We know customers reach out to us in several channels - by phone, email, Twitter, etc. Our social media presence on several channels gives customers several outlets to reach us based on the channel they are most comfortable using. We see many customers coming to us, primarily on Twitter, asking support questions, because that is the channel they are most comfortable using to reach us. If it's a small question or issue we try to solve it right there on Twitter, or we bring it offline via email if the question can't be answered in 1-2 140 character or less tweets. This approach works extremely well for us.
Putting a genuine face and voice to the company:
There is nothing anyone hates more than automated responses from a company or the feeling that they are talking to a robot. We bring to life our brand by being friendly, helpful and genuine on our social media channels. We take time to engage in conversations, help solve people's problems and share with them relevant information. By being there and giving off the sense that there really is a real person behind our brand and social media accounts, we become a more approachable and reliable company that people want to interact with and do business with."
"Our approach to social media is to engage and listen to our users. We want everyone in the company, from support to HR to our product team, to benefit from the communication that is occurring online about Braintree. It's important to take the time to analyze and understand how the audience interacts with each platform and use that knowledge to tailor your message accordingly. For instance, as a B2B company, our target audience doesn't often look to Facebook to make business decisions, so instead, we post content that reflects our internal culture and utilize it as a great recruitment tool."
"That's a great question. The way we approach Social Media comes in 3 key aspects, I believe:
- Use Social Media for amazing customer support. One of the key focus points we have at Buffer is to give absolutely outstanding customer support, delivering happiness to our users day in, day out. Twitter and Facebook are great for doing this, most importantly because you can achieve an extremely short response time. If you can reply to Tweets within 10 minutes, the responses from users are amazing. We were able to measure that the shorter the response time, the higher the number of friendly Tweets posted about us, that is awesome.
- Secondly, we use Social Media as the key driver of our content efforts. Social Media is the best friend of content marketing I believe. So, whenever we have a new article written up, we distribute it. What we found to work best here is to use a ratio of 1:6. Post 6 great articles from other sites and then 1 from your site. That way you can really become a top content curator in your followers and friends stream and not just be self-promotional. Every morning I fill up my Buffer with around 10 Tweets and a few Facebook updates and that gives us a great day's worth of content for our followers and friends.
- Lastly, Social Media is absolutely terrific for building your personal brand. We encourage everyone at Buffer to be very vocal on their own Twitter and Facebook feeds, sharing their stories and lessons they have learned on a day to day basis. It is a great way of helping everyone turn into an expert, not just internally in the company, but also externally.
I would definitely encourage everyone to use Social Media, of course, I'm not sure which way is best for each company. I would guess that the first way - giving outstanding customer support, is something that will be most useful for nearly any company out there. With the second and third point it is more a personal choice of how you have setup your internal values."
"CarWoo! approaches social media both as a customer engagement tool and as a broadcast tool. As a customer engagement tool, we use social media as a support channel and as a relationship builder. As a broadcast tool, we use social media to make company announcements, distribute job postings, and to push unique content to our 200,000 followers.
Whether others approach it the same way depends on their own needs. Anybody looking to expand their social footprint will first need to think hard about their goals and the measurements of success. Of course, there’s also a budget consideration: Should you hire a full-time social media person? An entire social media team? Should you also use Twitter and Facebook’s paid products? What third party tools should you consider? It’s very easy for a company’s social media efforts to become a black hole of expenses, so establishing ROI expectations is very important to do at every step of the way."
"The social media strategy at DODOcase has always been about transparency and human connections. It has always been a two way street with our community so we've listened as much as we've spoken. Having this kind of open dialogue allows companies to quickly identify opportunities and react to customer needs. We can't imagine any new company approaching social media in any other way. Customers will continue to expect more and more of a dialogue with brands. While we'll readily admit that it can be challenging at times, if you can orient your company around this model, we are confident the return is there."
"The most important thing to remember with any approach to social media is to be authentic.
Social media provides an online outlet with unmatched transparency. This transparency is great because it allows you to build rapport & establish trust in order to connect with users at a deeper level than traditional online methods. But, if you attempt to manipulate that trust by trying to game the social media landscape purely to further your own agendas, the repercussions can cut equally as deep.
Be authentic and continue to build your outreach strategy from that simple foundation."
"We approach social media as a tool to engage our users in conversations that are related to what we do, music.
Instead of trying to push our product via social media, we make a strong effort to create content which our users will find interesting. As a result, our brand gains more visibility, and we develop a stronger connection with our users.
Social media is a long term investment. If done correctly, it can be a very effective tool in building a brand."
"From the very beginning, eBay has been a social company, encouraging discussion, dialogue and feedback through our platform. And, we continue to embrace social - both media and commerce - as natural extensions of our DNA. Whether through our social customer service approach, our social media sellers program or inspiring social shopping through applications and experiments on eBay and other social sites, we have a tailored approach to the social space. We base our approach on how and where to best reach our communities of customers, investors, technology partners and more. We recommend that others think about their short-term and long-term goals for social media engagement and approach each social channel individually and in a way that complements their existing channels."
"Expensify's approach to social media is to simply make the best product and let users rave about it. Word of mouth isn't created, it's earned."
"Grooveshark's approach to social media centers around our relationship with users and artists. Primarily we focus on proactively and reactively connecting with them to acknowledge and address their issues with compassionate support. We use social analytics tools and services, such as Desk.com, to manage our interactions, enabling us to converse with hundreds of users in a personal context and give attention to every single interaction – nothing is scripted and every response is unique. Learning from these interactions, from the kindest of compliments and the harshest of criticisms to bug reports, feature requests, and account management assistance, allows for growth and improvement that is in line with our users' interests. Seeking out opportunities for engagement and effectively managing our relationships and interactions on social media results in Grooveshark's Community Team being able to better advocate for users internally whenever decisions might affect the user experience. We pride ourselves on fostering a relationship and rapport with the individual, while simultaneously developing a sense of community around the love of music.
The biggest mistake companies make is misunderstanding why people use social media in the first place. Sure, it's a great tool for marketing and PR, but that’s not its core purpose. And it's certainly not a soapbox from which to shout about how awesome you are or why people should use your service – that's just adding to the noise. If someone next to you at a restaurant were to lean over and say they love your company and you responded with marketing spiels, sales pitches, and partnership promotions, best case is they nod, smile, and pray it's over soon; worst case, you dismantle their positive perception of your brand by painting it as apathetic and money-driven. Treat your current and potential customers as real people, not as figures in a sales presentation. Don't tell them you're awesome by yelling it at them, prove it by genuinely being engaging and receptive to everything they say, caring about the problems they're experiencing, and becoming a resource of information they value. Communities thrive through mutual respect and understanding, not canned responses and bits of promotional copy."
"Hertz's approach to social media is utilizing it as a unique platform of communication with our customers. Whether it’s addressing customer service issues or supplying fans with Hertz news, engaging content or promotional materials, Hertz shows its appreciation to our loyal customers, fans and followers via social media."
"We seek to approach social media with a very personal, consumer-driven mindset. We see social media as an opportunity to bridge a gap that seems to be present today between large enterprises and the consumer — it then becomes a tool of our transparency and authenticity, as we engaged, educate and respond to consumer inquiries. We continually ask our fans for their opinions on new product varieties, what they appreciate about our brand, and take that information back to the drawing table as we innovate new products—there's no better tool than daily access to 125,000 of your most dedicated fans!"
"Your fans and followers are offering up their time to listen to what you have to say--give them something valuable in return. Create awesome content worth sharing. Be helpful. Be consistent. Set high, but achievable goals and measure your results. Then, learn from it. Don't be afraid to take risks, but also don't jump blindly into a decision without data to back up it up. Measurement will prove exactly what content does well for your company, and analysis will prove why it does well. Social media doesn't have to be this big, blurry cluster of confusion; use data as your new pair of eyes."
"Our approach varies from source to source. For example, Twitter gives us the opportunity to share with greater frequency without annoying our community. Twitter users are accustomed to a continuous stream of content. Facebook is a different animal. We’ve found that engagement is highest when we keep it to about one post per day. That’s what we try and shoot for, but sometimes there’s just too much exciting Lifeway news to contain in a single 24 hour period.
We use Pinterest, Instagram, Foursquare and many other social media sites when applicable. We blog on our main site and we work with other bloggers for giveaways, recipes, interviews and more. Basically, we try to keep our social media presences fresh and exciting. We’re always looking to provide helpful social CRM, as well as get information back from our customers. What are their favorite stores? What new flavor and product ideas do they have? What events would they like to see us sponsor? We get as much as we give, and we give a lot. Because we love our customers so much.
People who follow us on all of the different social media channels will always be the first to know about our latest offerings and are likely to be rewarded with money-saving coupons and chances to win free products, tickets to concerts and awesome Lifeway promo gear."
"One of the main benefits of social media is that it allows companies to interact with people on a personal level. Since companies aren't people, the best way for them to interact with people in a consistent, strategic and authentic way is to identify their own "personalities." Ideally a company's personality will be as individual as a person's and be congruent with the the strengths and goals of the company.
For instance, Lumosity is a brain training website designed by neuroscientists to improve core cognitive abilities. As a company we're experts and thought leaders in brain training and neuroscience, and that's part of our social media personality as well. We use our expertise to make neuroscience relevant, accessible and interesting to everyone. Because one of our goals as a company is to help people reach their full potential, our personality is optimistic and encouraging. Our company personality informs every part of our social media strategy, from the kind of content we create and share to the contests we run and even the social media channels we participate in."
"At NatureBox, we’re about more than just the healthy snacks that we send out once a month. We believe in helping people discover how nutritious, wholesome snacks are not only a better alternative to artificial, processed foods but are also delicious, affordable, and accessible. We spend a lot of time listening to our members and the greater community of healthy snackers across various social media channels to learn what it is that they’re interested in and what they’re talking about. While our members’ lifestyles are spread across a wide spectrum of health and wellness, we want to be able to provide them with delicious food and helpful information and ideas to fuel their own individual wellness journeys.
We approach social media not just as a way to bring attention and traffic to our own site and products but also as a way to contribute to the greater healthy living discussion – our goal is that when people hear “NatureBox”, they associate our name and our brand with a credible and genuine approach to living a healthier life that they can apply to their own lives. Using social media as a channel to solely promote and sell your products can be a real turn-off for potential customers and will also cause your current customers to tune you out if they see your message as nothing more than an advertisement. Instead, we use social media to keep our members interested and engaged in our daily conversation. Whether it’s a recipe, a green cleaning tip, a newsworthy story about the food system, or a tutorial for how to pack a better school lunch, we strive to maintain a genuine and engaged community of people who love NatureBox snacks and the lifestyle that we stand for."
"At Olark, social media is a huge part of providing great customer service and helping to cement the bond between our customers and the company. We respond to every Tweet about Olark with a thank you and/or a re-tweet and monitor our @olark twitter feed obsessively looking for people with questions or needing help. We often send our Olark T-shirts to people who post extraordinarily positive tweets -- which we then require a photo of said person in your new Olark duds to put on our Facebook page in our Happy Customer Gallery.
Our Facebook presence is a place to find Olark articles, links to our blog posts, photos of Olark fun team activities and the aforementioned Happy user in their swank T-shirts. It's a critical part of connecting with and bonding with our friends and customers. And our customers DO become friends sometimes stopping by our office to give us cookies or bottles of Scotch or home made beer.
We certainly recommend that everyone adopt a hands-on, extremely personal approach to social media. It's the best way possible (after having a great product to offer) to keep your customers coming back and telling their friends about you."
"Our approach to Social Media is pretty simple – our entire Social Media Plan is, 'Be Helpful". We want to be recognized as one of the world's leading service companies – and that includes Social Media. We currently have 6 engineers manning Social Media 24/7. Why engineers? Because engineers know our products and they can effect change quickly. Each of us has come from within a business unit, so we each have unique skills.
I'm not sure this approach is right for every company, but if you are a service company – if you really care about customer support, and if your tagline is Fanatical Support™ then I can't think of a better way to do SM."
"As an internet startup that powers tools for social content sharing and discovery, social media is clearly a huge part of our community building and marketing plan. I would say that we do follow one of the biggest pieces of advice I could give, which would be that you should try to use each platform a little differently. It's more work, but you get better results - more engagement and click-throughs. Our blog is our central hub for all community building and social activities, so much of what we do is about driving traffic to the blog. And because we've invested a lot of time in good content with the right CTAs, we're seeing more and more of that traffic come to our main site and driving downloads. Traffic from the blog to the main website is up more than 200% since January actually.
On Facebook we post links to articles, but we try to always upload a picture when we do because we've seen a much higher CTR. We're also trying to do more sharing of pictures of the team. Judging by the engagement on those posts, the Facebook community really likes the "behind the scenes" look at the team. Twitter is a support platform for us. We get a lot of questions and support inquiries. We try to drive those conversations offline as much as possible just because it's difficult to troubleshoot a technical issue in 140 characters. We have our Twitter hooked to Desk.com to keep track of our user conversations and make sure everyone receives a response. Twitter is also a traffic building tool for the blog, and we have determined that it's worth the effort to schedule Tweets to our posts because we put UTM parameters on all of our links. So we can tell that Traffic is not only coming from Twitter in general, but specifically from the clicks on shares from the @Shareaholic account. We use YouTube to post screencasts and "how tos" for our users. Those videos always make for great blog content as well. For fun, I've created a couple of Tumblrs just to make something fun, delightful and shareable for the community. Blogging Ryan Gosling is a play on the "Hey Girl" meme and Blogging a Blog is our take on the What Should You Call Me gif trend. Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn are three platforms that we haven't invested a ton of effort in quite yet, but that will certainly come when the time is right."
"While we don’t have tips and tricks to share, I can pass along some points about Target’s general approach to social media that I hope will be helpful:
- An integrated approach; we have dedicated teams across the company involved in making the social experience relevant for guests.
- Social media is an extension of our business—allowing us to reach our guests where they’re at and communicate in real time.
- We strive to maintain Target’s vibrant spirit and voice, and our drive for innovation (this can be seen with new and evolving online/social endeavors such as A Bullseye View, our new, behind-the-scenes online magazine)."
"Thumbtack doesn't specifically target social media as a marketing channel. Rather, we do our best to produce great content that is interesting to a lot of people. We've found that if we produce great content, we receive positive attention - not just in social media, but also in news articles, blogs, and virality.
For example, we conducted a survey about how friendly San Francisco and Dallas are to small businesses. This survey got a huge amount of news media attention in those cities - and it also got great pickup in social media.
We recommend producing great content that people find useful. If you do that, you will get noticed not only in social media but also in all other marketing channels!"
"Our approach to social media is to first and foremost, listen to what our fans and flyers have to say. We jump in when we think we can help answer a question or address an issue, and do our best to build a lasting relationship with our guests. We try to keep our content relevant, interesting and fun, but at the same time, we're also still looking for opportunities to showcase our product/service and spur trial. Social media is a great outlet for us to do that while opening up a two-way dialogue with our most loyal fan base."
"Most people don’t see the need for digital communications in our industry. We do. It’s important to serve our customers and employees, who are very active online. At Waste Management, we’ve integrated social media into our daily operations across many verticals – marketing, customer service, PR, etc. Not only do we focus on connecting directly with customers, employees and other stakeholders to understand their needs and feedback, but also we want to be a leader on the issues that impact our business and the communities we serve. These channels also help us to tell the story of waste and recycling in an engaging way that helps people understand the services we provide.
To other companies considering social media, I say be transparent and be proactive. People are talking about you online no matter what and will make decisions about your company based on what their peers say. You can’t say “it’s only garbage.” To your customers it is THEIR garbage. Finding a strategic way to join the conversation with a human voice and interact directly with your stakeholders will give you ample opportunities to build a name for your brand and gain key insights that impact your business."
"We approach social media from a "customer first" perspective. Our goal is to provide the information, resources, and service our customers want and need before we consider what brand stories we have to tell. As part of this approach we try to be expert curators with a focus on finding the best and most useful resources for our customers which includes but is not limited to our own content. Providing content that resonates with our customers is our guiding principal. Because the end game of social media for brands is ultimately deep engagement with customers we believe all companies should start first by asking themselves what matters most to their customers and how they can provide that through the different social channels."
"Wildfire's approach to social media is that we want to build an active and engaged community of fans across every social platform. We want to unite a community of users under the common theme of an interest in social media, in marketing, and in building up a social business. We have profiles on every network, and maintain conversations with the users that engage with us at each social property in real or near-real time. While our fan and follower communities share many common interests, the tone and attitudes of the users across each platform can vary slightly, and we address these differences in the content that we post and the interactions that we have. Above all, we maintain a very open position— our fans and followers are encouraged to reach out, to ask for help, to leave us a message, drop us a note, at any time. We do our best to respond to every single post, even if its just to thank a fan for sharing something we'd posted to a company profile. This gives us a very close rapport with our community, and has activated many advocates among our users."
"We focus our social strategy where our customers (salespeople and entrepreneurs) are currently engaging- Twitter and Linkedin. As a startup with limited resources we aren't as active on Facebook or G+ unless there's a campaign effort that warrants it. We use Twitter for customer support, finding trending articles and connecting with influencers. We're active in Linkedin groups to open discussions with customers and to act as thought leaders. Earlier this summer we created a closed Linkedin group called the 'Yesware Founder's Club' and only invited the first 1000 most active users. We use this group to maintain relationships with our early adopters and get feedback on product development. As we continue to grow we'll experiment with other channels and hone our engagement where our customers live because that's what matters to us."
"Zappos.com is a service company that just happens to sell shoes, clothes, housewares and more. We take the same approach to serving our customers over social channels as we do on the phone, email and live chat. Our customers appreciate real human interaction so we don't automate anything in the social space to deliver WOW through service. We have a small team that serves customers on Twitter and on Facebook and our stylist experts answer customer style questions directly on Twitter as well. You can find boards that we have curated around numerous topics on Pinterest but we haven't found that customers request service there. The Zappos Family uses videos produced by our in-house A/V Team and blogs written by copywriters in the visual merchandising department to spread our culture, clothing selection, customer service and our community efforts. Zappos Labs has also created some fun social experiences for our customers such as TweetWall, our post-purchase sharing (and Eye For Style on Facebook. You can see all of their creations at the Expo."
"Social Media is about real people and real conversations. And that's what we focus on. The first part of our social media approach involves being constantly tuned in and participating actively in conversations around us. We get to learn what people are saying about us as well as an opportunity to engage with them and gather more insights. The second part focuses on creating more such conversations: sometimes via content, stories, pictures and questions. We're a B2B company and our core audience is businesses. However, we believe that people do business with people and that the value of engaging in real conversations with real people over social platforms is immense. We also look at social media as another platform where our customers expect support and that's why we even have a dedicated twitter channel (@zohocares) for real-time support.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to social media. Each brand should first try to understand who their audience is, which social media channels they like to frequent and how they are using these channels. Brands can then use this understanding to decide how they want to reach and engage with their audience. Listening and storytelling are two key elements around which brands can build engagement."
I would like to thank all the companies that took the time and gave us their input.
Now on to you...
How does your company approach social media? What lessons have you learned? Let us know in the comments!About the Author: Zach Bulygo is a blogger for KISSmetrics, you can find him on Twitter here. You can also follow him on Google+.