Social media has fast become an extremely popular channel for both communication and to gather insights. Research by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project shows that as of December 2012, 67 percent of adults in the United States who use the Internet were using social networking sites, with Facebook being by far the most popular, with 67 percent of interviewees saying they use the channel.
These figures show that, as Nielsen put it recently, "social media is coming of age." In its report, State of the Media: The Social Media Report 2012, Nielsen points out that social media has continued to evolve, offering customers around the world "new and meaningful ways to engage with the people, events, and brands that matter to them."
Considering this reality, it's no surprise that many business leaders are jumping on the social bandwagon and eager to develop a social media strategy to interact with their customers and prospects. However, as electrical and communication components manufacturer Thomas & Betts found out, success shouldn't be measured by the number of followers. In fact, the organization wanted to invest in a holistic program that built relationships and facilitated meaningful conversations with customers, distributors, and prospects.
But when the firm started using social media in 2009, there wasn't a clear understanding of what needed to be done, explains Cindy Phillips, Thomas & Betts' global marketing communications manager. "We saw the opportunity for social but because of the [conservative] culture of the company, there wasn't an understanding of what we needed to do," she notes. Cognizant of the need for a sound social media strategy, the manufacturer found the necessary executive back-up and last year joined forces with social media agency Make Me Social to launch a new initiative to engage audiences, improve employee engagement, and increase brand awareness while positioning the company as an industry leader. Social media was also seen as a way to bridge the communication gap between the company and the eventual buyer. "We felt that social media would be a good avenue for us to connect with users and distributors on a brand level and tell the right story," Phillips explains.
Having a sound social media policy was essential for Thomas & Betts, which considers itself a conservative brand. The policy provided guidance and empowered employees to engage on social channels in a way that supports the company's overall goals. Thomas & Betts is currently training its staff members to engage on social media. Phillips notes that at first only a select few were able to engage on social channels as the voice of Thomas & Betts, but the brand is extending this responsibility to several employees, allowing it to build a group of internal advocates.
Building an intimate relationship
The first step was conducting an in-depth analysis to help Thomas & Betts determine which channels it should be focusing on for the launch and which ones made sense for future efforts. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube were selected for the launch because of their strong reach, among other reasons. Google+, blogs, and SlideShare were selected for future review.
Central to the project's success was the need to move away from an exercise that was solely defined by the number of fans and followers. Instead, one of the company's corporate goals embedded in its social media strategy was to establish "in-depth intimacy" with the market. Phillips stresses that social media was seen as a relationship-building opportunity. "We want [customers and distributors] to feel that Thomas & Betts is a partner and a resource for things that might be trending within our industry," she notes. For example, Thomas & Betts uses its Facebook page to share articles that might interest its followers and also give tips for electrical installations, like data jacks or audio visual connectors in a floor box.
Further, the company is also engaging its Facebook audience with polls and questions as part of the social media strategy that was specifically designed to establish two-way communication with customers, prospects, and distributors, allowing Thomas & Betts to nurture relationships. Social media initiatives are part of the overall communications strategy, including the promotion of new product launches. A Facebook contest, Going Green, asked followers to submit an example demonstrating how they or their company are helping save the environment.
Phillips explains that Twitter is being used to establish and reinforce relationships with major industry channel leaders and also to vet and contact leads following trade shows and events. Before any event, Thomas & Betts rely on past attendee and booth sign-up sheets to build Twitter lists, helping the company track attendees to engage with both online and offline during the show. The conversations are sustained throughout the events, acting as resources for people with questions about the brand. Phillips notes that Twitter has also emerged as a great channel to monitor mentions of the brand. As part of its social media strategy, the company is also leveraging LinkedIn to share updates, target prospective employees, and learn more about the audience, while YouTube is used to host videos about the brand and specific products.
Developing a company wide initiative
While Phillips is heading the initiative, the project is a true cross-departmental collaboration, with the global brand team, human resources, legal, IT, product development, sales and marketing departments involved in making sure that everything works smoothly. Among the successes of the social media strategy was a dramatic improvement in interdivisional communications, with different departments collaborating and sharing information and goals. "We're learning about our own organization," Phillips says. Having insight into other parts of the organization is also allowing employees to speak more openly about other aspects of the company.
Social media has also helped Thomas & Betts improve customer satisfaction by integrating both online and offline communications. Brand recognition and awareness has also improved and the organization has used social channels to identify new prospects in the different regions that it serves.
Customers who take the time to engage with a company on social media expect some form of recognition, especially if they're asking a service-related question. Thomas & Betts is immediately identifying each social engagement and segmenting it according to audience type, tone, content, and required next steps. Comments are then routed to the appropriate contact person, for example a comment from an end customer will be routed to sales, product marketing, or a specific distributor, and answered within 24 hours. The strategy requires acknowledging both positive and negative comments, where necessary inviting the customer to continue the conversation offline. Phillips notes that within the first six months, the company has managed to acknowledge and manage all customer inquiries and identified and responded to all product mentions within the established 24-hour timeframe and is still very strict about responding within the timeframe.