Virgin Media Business’s Sara Doggett gives advice on using social networks

The media landscape isn’t changing. It’s changed and social media is at the heart of it. It’s changed the way brands communicate, the language they use and introduced direct engagement with stakeholders. Communication is becoming more about people and personalities, and it’s all in real time.

Channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have meant that companies can no longer rely on the traditional methods of marketing to influence their reputations. Instead, they are being judged based on their behaviour, their personalities and how they conduct themselves in a world where conversations about them are happening all the time, across numerous different channels.
Getting involved is key. After all, if you’re not online, how can you get involved, and more importantly, how can you influence and protect your brand? You’ve got to fight the urge to jump in, especially in the business-to-business world, where audiences and discussions can vary depending on who you’re trying to engage with and where.

Virgin Media Business launched its digital communications programme in April and here are some of the things we’ve learnt along the way:

1. The consumer space is littered with brands who ventured forth, only to retreat at speed when a crisis hit. To avoid becoming the company who crashed the party with boring small talk, it’s important to plan your social media strategy and understand who is having the conversation, where and how they like to be engaged. Not all social media platforms will be relevant and so it’s important to know which ones are going to be the most effective.

2. Don’t expect immediate results. Engaging various audiences across multiple channels takes time, patience and understanding. Oh yes, and you’ll need some resource. Social media tools may be largely free to use, but don’t underestimate the commitment needed to maintain and build the dialogue.

3. Nurture. Start small, but be dedicated because once you’re out there, that’s it. With time also comes greater understanding. Every business will have different objectives, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and it may take time for you to build the right strategy for your needs. For example, we discovered that our audiences don’t tend to Tweet @vmbusiness when discussing us on Twitter, but instead write the company name out in full. This seemingly small bit of intelligence means that we now have a greater understanding about the number of people we’re engaging via Twitter and more importantly can adjust our online behaviour to be in line with theirs. The social media landscape is constantly evolving, don’t make the mistake of sitting still.

4. Content is king. And it needs to be well integrated across all channels. Editorial rehashed from marketing materials isn’t going to make the grade. Content pushed out needs to engage, it needs to be of interest to your community and spark debate. Also be sure to get involved in two-way conversations. Since starting our blog we’ve commented on other blogs as well as asking people to participate in Q&A’s with us. It all helps your reputation and your SEO.

5. Make sure you have the processes in place to support your online engagement. Dull but very, very important. Our Twitter feed acts as a customer service and sales tool as well; therefore, we’ve put processes in place to ensure that these enquiries are escalated correctly.

Yes, social media requires a lot of thought and planning, but it is immensely rewarding. Now that we’ve done it, it’s clear to see that it was the missing piece of our integrated approach to PR. Kicking it off and putting the processes in place is the hard part. Once it gets going and you can see it starting to pay for itself, it really is a great feeling. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge – it’s not half as complicated as you imagine it to be.

Sara Doggett is PR and AR Manager at Virgin Media Business.

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