One, people will be talking about themselves. Two, in addition to talking about themselves they will be talking about brands – possibly even yours. That’s a potent cocktail that can wreck your brand's reputation, or perhaps enhance it.
Both these assertions are supported by recent research.
First of all, Oxford University Press did an analysis of 1.5 million words used on Twitter. 'I' was the most popular world after 'the'.
By comparison, in everyday speech 'I' is the 10th most used word, meaning it’s five times more popular on the micro-blogging service.
Secondly, Penn State in the US did research involving half a million tweets. Twenty per cent were about brands in some shape or form. Added to this is the results of another study, this time by Perfomics Marketing, showing that 44 per cent had recommended a product on Twitter and 39 per cent had discussed one.
What does this mean? Brands and products are part of our everyday lives. And as Twitter is a personal broadcasting system, people will be quick to pass on their experiences with them.
One example involving London Underground should give any customer-facing organisation, and that means pretty much any organisation, food for thought.
The other week blogger Jonathan MacDonald filmed a London Underground staff member verbally abusing an elderly passenger who’d had the misfortune of having his arm caught in a tube train door. That was on a Thursday afternoon.
By Friday morning it was on his blog and on Twitter. By Friday afternoon it was on the front page of the Evening Standard. The staff member in question, apparently a peace-loving 'Jedi', has since resigned.
The cycle from it hitting Twitter and it reaching the mainstream media was around four hours. How many organisations would even spot that something was happening online in that time frame?
Indeed, one of the misconceptions about Twitter is that it’s a place for people to exchange various inane comments. There is some of that, but its user base is disproportionately made up of bloggers, social media influencers and – yes, journalists (Sky News now has a Twitter correspondent).
These are people who spot things on Twitter and take them somewhere else. Twitter is effectively the bridge to other media.
So what can you do about it? At its most basic, a social media programme should involve three stages, the first two essential and the third highly recommended: monitor, register and engage.
1 Monitor – People are going to be talking about you whether you are present or not. You might as well know what they are saying about you! More to the point, you need to be able to head off any negative comment before it snowballs.
There are plenty of tools that allow you to do the job, many free. A good list is the wiki maintained by Ken Burbarry
2 Register - If you haven’t registered your brand profile on social media sites, you leave yourself open to anyone with an axe to grind doing so and poking fun at you.
For example, take a look at what’s been done with the Twitter profile of London commuter train service South West Trains (I’ve used them as a case study several times in the past and I’m amazed they haven’t yet done anything about this).
As a result, even if you do nothing else with them, at the very least register your brand profiles. It’s free, and namechk will show you where your brand identity is still available.
3 Engage – This is the more difficult, and also potentially more rewarding, bit. As we’ve already said, people will be talking about you online whether you like it or not, so you might as well be present to shape the conversation.
Fortunately, there are plenty of case studies of companies that have got it right online to guide you, thanks in part to social media pundit Peter Kim, who has created a wiki with examples of what a stack of brands have done online. Take a look, draw your own conclusions and plans, and dive in.
Or…ignore this space completely, wait for a crisis to blow up online, miss it completely, and be left to firefight when the mainstream media gets hold of it several hours later.
Singer was talking to V3.co.uk as part of its Information Overload Summit event, running from 10 - 12 November. Visit our dedicated Summit web site for more breaking news, views, analysis and video on the topic of Information Overload.
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