published Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Jenkins: Companies, it's time to get social


by Donnie Jenkins

Lately I've gotten an unusually large number of e-mail questions from business owners on the subject of social networking. Many desire to be represented on Facebook and Twitter but don't really know how to approach such an audience.

Using Facebook as an example, let's take a look at how to approach this.

There are two other historical examples that can be useful here.

When movies evolved from silent pictures to talkies, this change presented a problem for everyone. Actors had to adapt if they could to speaking their lines. In silent movies, much of the action and meaning of scenes had to be insinuated with motion and scenery. When sound became possible it widened the possible scope of the movie but made it necessary for the actors and the director to narrow the focus of their efforts to concentrate on the context of the action and the actor's voice, especially the volume and tone.

Likewise, a business that desires to be effective on Facebook needs to narrow its focus to an approach that suits the medium. Facebook tightly controls the appearance of pages and the content they may contain. While this seems a bit extreme, it can work to the benefit of any business that has a presence there.

Simplicity and clean design are always a good thing, and on Facebook they make the brand. Successful Facebook Page owners regularly use tried, true and simple approaches: contests, surveys and games to attract followers and to reward regular customers.

The best companies are quick to respond to comments and complaints, and they are almost always the most innovative and responsive. Much like the movie studios moving away from silent pictures, these companies use the new medium's positive properties and even its limitations to better their brand.

Another example that's useful is that of moving from radio to television. Here again many found it difficult, but those who adapted did well. Interestingly, in the beginning of TV the most successful and well received programs were based on radio fare.

For example, I Love Lucy was loosely based on Lucille Ball's radio show My Favorite Husband. She insisted that her show include her real life husband Desi Arnaz. This turned out to be fortunate in that he became one of the most creative and innovative producers in television. With his associates he created the three-camera system that is still used today.

It's helpful to recall this when working with Facebook. One excellent approach is to repurpose campaigns and sales programs and to reframe them to fit Facebook's format. For example coupons work well on Facebook when presented in a creative way, preferably one that surprises or pleases the customer in an unexpected way.

Many companies use what is called game mechanics in presenting content. This is a catch-all phrase that means almost anything that uses a game or contest to sell something.

The key is to be new and different while emphasizing the essence of the brand. To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo of I Love Lucy, it's time to get social or you'll have "some 'splaining to do."

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