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Think BR: The language of local social

Local businesses can no longer afford to ignore social media, but for SMEs, customer service takes precedence over return on investment, writes Duncan Ogle-Skan, director, EMO.

Duncan Ogle-Skan, director, EMO

Duncan Ogle-Skan, director, EMO

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When I wrote about last year’s Local Social Summit, (the annual event which explores the intersection of local businesses and social media) the conference content focused primarily on the means of being social - networks, apps, access capabilities.

While fascinating, it was all about the mechanics and not the conversation.

At LSS11, there was a definite shift. More relevance was placed on recognising that local social is about conversations between people at a local level and what this means to brands.

While technological advancements remain important, this year’s summit saw the industry declaring that strategy, conversation and customer service take precedence over conversion and engagement.

In addition, less emphasis was placed on network selection - why debate the Facebook leviathan, or the point of Twitter - it’s less about which platform you use and more about how effectively you use it.

So what did we learn?

1. Locally, social may be the new CRM

Social fits the small, medium or locally managed business model in a way that CRM and loyalty programmes never have.

The idea of swapping a relationship with your customers for a database is, to this audience, counter intuitive. Social allows a softer connection, but a warmer and arguably richer one.

Traditionally, SMEs have served a local community, and a century ago they knew all their customers by name.

Social has given them back a degree of this trait and increased the influence of ambassadors, key community members and advocates. 

2. Outsourcing has its place, but the picture is not black and white

Who owns social has long been a highly debated industry topic, with many taking the view that it had to be all or nothing and that the ‘perfect’ agency model had not been found yet.

However this year there was a shift towards more outsourcing, albeit discipline dependent.

Strategy creation, platform selection, technical development, content/engagement generation and monitoring/listening & analysis were thought to be ripe for outsourcing (or centralisation in a franchised model).

As Eric Partaker of Mexican restaurant chain Chilango quite rightly said, though, what cannot be outsourced is the conversation. 

Social is about being genuine, so the tone and quality of your local social activity needs to be real.  

3. Locally, value is in conversation, not in ‘engagement’

Many came with tales of disappointment at levels of reaction to ‘engagement driving’ activity. "Why does no-one comment on our posts?" was a well-shared statement.

Businesses have found that customers value speaking to real people about personal issues and subjects far more than responding to a "what are you doing at the weekend?" outreach effort.

Alistair Watts, ecommerce manager at Hand Picked Hotels, had great examples of using Twitter as an element within its customer service, perhaps picking up on someone’s hotel needs (eg, wedding venue) and suggesting the perfect location, or identifying issues before customers had even had the chance to call reception.   

The result being that Hand Picked Hotels is seen as a keen business valuing its customers - nothing new in that, but the approach is different from one a brand may take nationally.  

4. ROI is not the driver

For SMEs, marketing efforts are mixed operationally and promotionally, and are quite hard to separate.

This is not to say that local business managers don’t understand the need to know whether they are getting more back than they are spending.

However, the balance of effort over return is gauged locally - if they can do more, they will.

5.  Social is fast becoming a local business norm

There was a real sense that local businesses that don’t partake in social at some level will soon be viewed in the same way that their forbears were regarded for not having a telephone, answerphone, fax machine, email address or website (delete as appropriate for the age).

Deciding how and why is still the challenge, but choosing to opt-out is no longer an option.

Duncan Ogle-Skan, director, EMO


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