Her company was named a “Cool Vendor” earlier this month and, a week later, she won a “Changing the Game” award from Advertising Women of New York. But Clara Shih, the 30-year-old chief executive officer of Hearsay Social, feels her company is sometimes misunderstood. While a growing number of people understand how her software can keep tabs on employees and make sure they’re complying with company policies in the social media realm, she says a bigger benefit may be in gleaning who’s most effective in engaging customers online. “You want to know who’s building the business and leaving people satisfied,” says Shih. “Who can promote the brand in an authentic way?”
Authenticity, of course, is one of those fuzzy concepts that everybody wants but nobody can define. So I asked Shih, who also wrote The Facebook Era and sits on the Starbucks board, to share her ideas on how brands can be authentic online. Here’s what she had to say:
There is no marketing more authentic than social conversations. You can’t have a conversation with customers if you’re putting up a Web page that you update once a quarter. You have to be where your customers are. Sometimes, people forget that it has to be a two-way conversation, or even a multiway conversation. It doesn’t work if you only talk about yourself, or just listen and say nothing. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for companies.
The most engaging conversations are when you’re asking a lot of questions and talking about things other than yourself.
Let your employees be themselves. If you give them a script, it sounds canned. On the one hand, you want to protect the global brand by controlling the message. On the other hand, if you want authenticity, you need to empower people locally and give them the right tools.
Start with internal communications to make sure everyone is on the same page. What are your core values? Identify them and communicate them. Then empower those people to make decisions and talk with customers. They’re your brand ambassadors. Help them understand not just the brand but themselves. If they like to chat about sports, let them talk about sports. Really. That’s authentic. Encourage them to let their personalities come through without making themselves the center of the conversation.
The next step is external. Understand who you’re talking to. Facebook was the first authentic social network. Before that, you had Friendster and other sites where you’d meet all these strangers and couldn’t always trust that they were who they said they were. That makes Facebook a great marketing tool. But now you have to go beyond having a “Like” button or refreshing your page every few days. Your company has to be on 24/7.
You can’t have a static landing page and expect people to do much. Plan an editorial calendar that will keep things moving along and update it frequently. Your mindset has to be much more dynamic. Be out there, communicating with the people who want to hear from you. Understand the etiquette. When people are having a conversation about you online, feel free to listen but don’t assume you’ve been invited to join in.
The best way to spot authentic marketing is sometimes knowing what it’s not. If you’re a tire company, don’t start posting music videos and talking about yoga. That’s not your brand. Be the same online as you are offline. And being authentic isn’t just about what you’re selling. It applies to everything you do. If you have a longstanding association with a cause, you can talk about it. But people can see through a message that’s just hype.