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[Sponsored] ReputationWatch – Monitoring Online Conversations About Your Business (Part III)

When it comes to social media, most experts agree that one of the worst things that small- and medium-sized businesses can do is to jump onto the social media bandwagon without a proper game plan. You may have heard of this scenario before - a small business decides to get on a social networking platform like Facebook, but later loses control when a public relations crisis turns customer sentiment against them, and then decide to abandon the platform for good. This unfortunately happens far too often, so don't let your business be one of them. The question is, then, how does a small- or medium-sized company put together a social media game plan to overcome such challenges? Here are some points when navigating the social media space:

1. Understand your customer.

Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said, "To know oneself and to know your enemy is to win a hundred battles". It is the same with social media. The best way to do so is to monitor the online conversations about your brand. Earlier we highlighted three local organizations - FarEastFlora.com and Rochor Beancurd House, as well as non-profit organization Cat Welfare Society - who are trialling ReputationWatch, an affordable online social media monitoring solution available on SingTel myBusiness. With this simple tool to track what customers (or potential customers) are saying about them online, it is now easier for these organizations to "get into the minds" of their consumers and understand how to reach out to them.

2. Know your objectives.

Different businesses approach social media differently, because they don't always have the same business objectives. Smart businesses are those who know exactly what they want out of social media, thereby channeling available resources and efforts into achieving those objectives. Ask yourself. What are the key objectives for your company leveraging this space? Is it mainly to drive sales, provide customer support, or as a way to inform and educate the public about certain issues? Rochor Beancurd House, for example, uses Twitter and Facebook mainly for handling customer queries like delivery orders and provide a feedback channel. On the other hand, Cat Welfare Society uses these platforms to identify and raise awareness potential cat-related nuisance problems faced by the public.

3. Create the right infrastructure and culture.

It's not as expensive as it sounds. Picking the right social media monitoring solution is the first step. With the right tools and resources, you'll then need to identify the right people within your organization to handle social media. Some companies appoint a social media champion or evangelist, which has the added benefit of educating the rest of the company to be more social media friendly. Rochor Beancurd House's director, Jason Koh, for example likes to be the one fronting his company, because it also helps him keep in touch with his customers, and sets an example for his staff.

4. Set an engagement policy.

Setting the right amount of engagement with your audience is key. Don't bury your online community with too much information or irrelevant content, yet give them enough to keep them engaged. "Keep content current and frequent so people stay engaged," advises Cat Welfare Society‘s vice president Veron Lau. The non-profit uses a mix of educational, instructional, as well as fun and lighthearted content to keep people interested. Also, set some ground rules like when or when not to engage or reply to a comment. FarEastFlora.com, for example, has a "Social Media Playbook" that provides guidelines to its online spokespeople on appropriate ways to deal with its audience online. According to Sarah Yong, senior manager of FarEastFlora.com, "employees are briefed on the values to uphold when speaking about our company, regardless of whether they are our social media spokespersons or not. This is to ensure that the company is not misrepresented online." The company mandates that a reply should be provided within 2 hours from every online comment, especially for complaints and those that require help for a specific issue. In other words, this also means that you need to have a plan to deal with doubters, or worse, an online crisis. FarEastFlora.com makes it a point not to delete inflammatory posts unless they are clearly abusive or vulgar. "We recognize and embrace the feedback, positive or negative (but not abusive) as we believe that we need to be transparent and address all the concerns as a brand," she adds. "Censoring or silencing critics will only add fuel to the fire."

5. Decide on a tone and manner.

Boring business-like replies may work for replying to consumers on traditional media like the forum pages of a newspaper, but is seldom applicable in the online space. "People respond better to a human personality," explains Cat Welfare Society‘s vice president Veron Lau. FarEastFlora.com's Sarah Yong agrees, adding that her company tries to establish a certain online voice. "Our fans are our friends! So under no circumstances can any of our online spokespersons insult our friends or speak to them in a condescending tone." Stay with us as we follow Sarah, Veron and Jason as they use ReputationWatch over the final few weeks.   Try ReputationWatch for FREE and join our participants in this trial. Sign up today here. ReputationWatch is available exclusively on SingTel myBusiness portal.      

Young Upstarts is a business and technology blog that champions new ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It focuses on highlighting young people and small businesses, celebrating their vision and role in changing the world with their ideas, products and services.

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