As more organizations look to social media to complement their communication efforts, it is important that they adopt a customized, integrated model and instill a change in employer mindset in order to achieve their business objectives.
Julius Chen, interaction strategist at advertising agency Bates 141, said businesses need to understand that social media is unlike traditional channels and requires a different execution.
"It is not just blasting out a bus or TV ad without knowing if it truly engages the audience and then expecting something to happen," Chen explained. Bates 141 promotes events such as Chunk Fest, hosted by Ben & Jerry's, which it helped build profiles on Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare to create buzz for the event as well as connect with existing fans of the U.S. ice cream company.
Social media helps companies identify customers directly and engage them instantaneously, allowing the brand to better meet its consumers' needs and lifestyles, and not the other way round, he said.
Chen suggests businesses make use of social media insights such as Radian 6 and Meltwater Buzz to find out what exactly are consumers saying about their brand and how it manifests in their lifestyle. These include colloquial lingo, he added, pointing to the ubiquitous Coca-Cola. "In Singapore, we say 'Coke', elsewhere they use 'Cola'," he noted.
Asuthosh Nair, COO of marketing company GetIT Comms, added that staying relevant is a crucial element in any social media strategy.
Nair said: "It's always about the customer and not the company's product or service. So make sure that you understand your customer's needs, and how to cater to them and respond with as much 'human touch' as possible."
Furniture giant, Ikea, for instance, turned to Facebook to support a marketing campaign to launch a new store in Malmo, Sweden. Its ad agency, Forsman and Bodenfors, used the Facebook account to profile photos of Ikea's showrooms. When word spread that the first person to tag his or her name onto a product featured in the photo would win that item, thousands of Swedes began posted pictures of Ikea showrooms on their profile pages.
The good and the bad
But while the speed of propagation via social media platforms can yield great returns for companies, it can have a negative impact.
Patrick Linden, co-founder of Deal.com.sg, a lifestyle site offering deals, cautioned that the "fast and transparent" nature of social media channels can sometimes backfire as negative information spreads like wildfire.
Nonetheless, Linden said social media tools have proven "incredibly successful" for his site.
He noted that Deal.com.sg maintains its follower base by operating "in an honest and trustworthy manner".
And companies in Singapore are fast warming up to social media. According to a survey commissioned by Avanade, 20 percent of respondents in the country said they have integrated social media into their work environment, compared to the global average of 7 percent.
But, some still buck this trend, said Ebenezer Heng, co-founder of social media marketing agency, Kumeiti.
He told ZDNet Asia that it is a "fallacy" when businesses choose to ignore social media totally to avoid problems and challenges that may arise from adopting such platforms, such as security and negative branding.
Noting the growing influence of social networks, Heng said: "Consumers always talk about their experiences with businesses they patronize. Everyone is a publisher in the social media world, from blogs to forums. Content now drives awareness, not advertising."
To best tap the power of social media platforms, he said business should adopt "the right mindset and technique", and not simply the medium itself. "Social media means allowing the company to become human, to react to its consumers, to reach out, ask them [questions] and then actually listen to the answers," he added.
Carlyn Law, consultant and director of PR agency Sixth Sense Communications, said businesses should not blindly use "a blanket strategy" but look instead at carving out a mix of online tools and content that suits their concepts and brand values.
As GetIT Comms' Nair described: "It's about being social. So get your feet wet and start interacting."