Twitter and Facebook go under the microscope as panellist examine the pro’s and con’s of a social media strategy

PCR Boot Camp: How to engage with customers before they enter your store

The first panel session at the PCR Boot Camp has taken a look at how social media can impact your business when it’s done right – and when it’s done wrong.

Craig Hume from independent retailer Utopia, Susanne Dansey of Purple Cow, Derek Jones from buying group Synaxon, and Vaughan Shayler from the channel organisation CompTIA took a seat to debate the subject, while James Binns of Network N stood as chair.

The session opened by asking if the panellists had you had a good story about social media. Craig Hume was able to tell a story about how casual inquiries were able to lead to sales, Susanne Dansey described her previous experience at Dell and it’s strategy of handling customer services via social media and Derek Jones takes about how Synaxon was able to use social media to follow up enquiries and build relationships.

The only member of the panel to differ at this stage was CompTIA’s Vaughan Shayler, who stated that he didn’t use it as a sales builder, and often didn’t see the value of a social media strategy on its own terms, which began a session of fairly lively debate on the appropriate uses of social media.

The next question, fairly naturally, was: How do you use social media?

“Social media does not operate in a vacuum, it’s something that supports and complements what already exists,” observed Dansey. “Don’t hide behind emails and websites, build the relationships and then use social media to maintain them. Twitter followers don’t necessarily make an impact on the bottom line, you have to build the relationships first. Social media is a bridge but it’s not a replacement for face-to-face interactions.”

This provoked strong agreement from the other panel members, including Shayler, who added: “I am a fan of Social Media but I’m not a fan of thinking it can do things that it can’t. It’s a layer that helps with your business. If you don’t have a good business then social media can’t help you. Build the business first and then build a social media strategy around that.”

Binns then asked how a company could manage the social media interactions around the business. Craig Hume led this debate by answering: “By being good. If people have a comment or complaint, like a delayed delivery, then you can use social media to get in touch and get things moving. If you do this publicly then you’ll get thanks over social media too and people can see how you operate.”

Dansey followed up by using an analogy: “The tools available are very good but what’s important is the mindset behind it. It can be like owning a top of the line golf club set – if you don’t play golf well, then it’s pointless.”

“For us it’s about answering questions and engaging with customers but we don’t really use it for driving traffic,” stated Shayler.

“Because we are an organisation that requires heavy sales, if someone gets in touch we’ll pick up the phone and talk to them, but if they ask a wider question then we’ll put the answer out to a wider audience.”

“When you put yourself online, you can expose yourself to criticism,” continued Hume. “If you have loyal customers then they will defend you – but only when you’re in the right.”

The session continued with the panellists being asked if they believed that social media can influence search engine results.

Again, Dansey summed up the responses: “It can do, but it depends on what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about funny cats then it can certainly affect your results, but if that’s what people are searching for then they’re not necessarily the right audience for you. If you’re a small business then that’s not something I’d advise.”

The final question posed to the panellists was what advice they’d offer to others in the social media space.

“Just listen,” said Vaughan Shayler. “The value of social media is in offering another layer of interaction between you and your customers, but the real value is in the doors it opens rather than in and of itself.”

Derek Jones added: “It’s a small part of a bigger strategy. If I was a small business I’d look at an e-sales strategy first and then find a way to tie social media in to that strategy.”

Finally, Craig Hume concluded with the advice to “keep it simple and keep it personal.”

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