“But what do I say?” – How your business can use social media to engage audiences.

Thank you to all who have listened to my Social Media talk at various events over the last year. That includes The Mill Breakfast Club on 4 September 2014 and various BOLD Group Business Network breakfasts and workshops around Norfolk. It was a pleasure to meet you and I hope you found the discussions interesting and useful.

This post is based on those talks. However, I have expanded it to look at how effective engagement can help you communicate your corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Please join the conversation by commenting below.

How to use social media to support your community and build your brand

The following idea, on how you can use social media to build your reputation as a good corporate citizen, applies to every business no matter what its size (here corporate doesn’t just mean big). At the same time, it will give you something interesting and useful to say on social media – rather than saying nothing (or worse yet, saying something boring). This idea encapsulates my belief that engaging conversations build strong communities by uniting people around shared values and interests.

Huw Sayer - social media advisor.

Norfolk Magazine – January 2013 @HuwSayer – “A great Norfolk online ambassador.”

Social media is a huge subject but I want to focus on what to say and how to engage your audiences, which is what really matters. However, before I start, I am going to make three assumptions about you and your business:

  1. You use social media for business to find and engage with your audiences
  2. You want to be seen to be socially responsible (not irresponsible or indifferent)
  3. You understand you have a brand (even as a sole trader) and that building its credibility (familiarity and favourability) with your audiences takes time and care.

A quick aside:

Your social responsibility might be your next big opportunity

With those assumptions in mind, I just want to say a brief word about what I mean by good CSR. Being socially responsible doesn’t simply mean complying with laws governing the social aspects of businesses, such as working conditions, health and safety, or waste disposal. A good CSR strategy goes beyond compliance and looks for ways to turn each socially desirable action into a competitive advantage – one that creates marketing or, better still, real business opportunities.

For instance (purely hypothetical), you have a legal responsibility to comply with the WEEE Directive on the disposal of electronic goods. A marketing opportunity might involve reconditioning old computers and donating them to local schools. A business opportunity might involve developing a low margin, high volume line of cheap recycled computers for sale to individuals and communities.

Listening is the key to understanding

To know what those marketing and business opportunities might be, it pays to know your audiences both internal and external extremely well. Social media platforms not only can help you engage but also can help you listen to those audiences. Good listening is the key to productive conversations.
End of aside.

What do you say after you say hello?

There are plenty of good resources explaining the why and how of setting up and managing social media accounts for business. However, they tend to deal with the mechanics: what to say in your profile, how to analyse your RTs, when’s the best time to post, how best to use lists. Few really get down to the essential ‘What’ of social media, which is to engage and influence by listening, responding, reciprocating and sharing.

The three most important things to remember about social media:

  1. The clue to using social media is in the name – it is social (and sociable) not broadcast – and good social discourse (particularly in the public domain) thrives on engaging conversations
  2. People value authenticity and relevance both in others and in their conversations – they want a mix of interesting, useful, entertaining and shareable information – and they prefer to get it from people who share their values
  3. Constantly selling yourself (or your service) is boring – some might even say it is arrogant or vain – either way, it is a one-sided conversation that turns people off and undermines your brand’s credibility.

So how do you turn these three guiding principles into good conversations? My advice is to remember the 80/20 rule of social media:

  • Avoid the mistake of point 3 by making sure no more than 20% of what you say is directly sales related (and even then it needs to be subtle – we might deal with that in a later post).
  • Use the remaining 80% of your posts to build brand familiarity and favourability by giving your audiences what they value (see point 2) – authentic conversations.

Even if you don’t buy into this idea of using social media for CSR activity, the 80/20 rule can still help you create an effective social media strategy. However, since you are spending time on social media, you may as well use it wisely to do some good and build brand favourability in the process.  If you can’t be a financial philanthropist, you can at least be a time philanthropist by dedicating much of your 80% activity to supporting your local community or promoting socially responsible activities.

What socially responsible activities might resonate with your audience?

I’d suggest the same things that resonate with most people: things that benefit them, their families, their friends, their businesses and their communities. And to understand what those things are, you have to think local – by which I mean local to your audiences (and to understand what your audience thinks of as ‘local’ or ‘community’ you will need to listen to them – see my earlier point).

Using your 80% wisely

Here are four suggestions for what you might talk about or even champion for 80% of your social media time – think of these as themes and look for specifics within your own business.

  1. Things your team does to make your audience’s community better, safer, cleaner, happier, friendlier or more prosperous. Particularly if it involves working collaboratively with the community – since people tend to like team players. For instance, organising a mass litter pick, learning first aid (life skills that save lives), or fund raising for a local school or charity.
  2. Social or cultural events going on in the community – charity runs, free events at public libraries, new exhibitions at local public galleries and museums, village fêtes, county-wide public consultations.
  3. Things you have done in your business or personal life to become environmentally friendly – such as reducing waste, increasing recycling, planting wild flowers, planting trees to offset carbon emissions, or supporting a cycle to work scheme.
  4. Social causes that matter to both you and your audience (remember, this has to be authentic – so choose carefully don’t just leap on a bandwagon and hope it makes you look good). These could range from committing to buy local and fair trade products and services, to taking on apprentices, offering flexible working, paying a living wage rather than just the minimum wage, or supporting diversity and opportunity for all in business and society.

As I’ve said before, communities are stronger when they work together. Look around you – identify your audiences and your shared communities of geography or interest. Then work out how you can use your social media time to support and improve those communities – it’s not just good business sense, you’ll find it personally rewarding too.

If you want to discuss these ideas further, please contact me today.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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Thank you for reading

This is one in an occasional series of posts about social media and business communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+

Kind regards

Huw 

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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Why I am supporting @TonyRobinsonOBE’s petition for a #LivingWage and fair payment terms

Two simple ways for national and local government to boost the UK economy.

If you were at the East Anglia SME Business Forum (#EASMEBF) in Dunston Hall on Thursday 7 Nov (or at similar events earlier this year), you might well have heard me sounding off (to those who would listen) about how the UK government should boost the economy with two simple (and ultimately self-funding) measures: prompt payment of invoices and a Living Wage. Thankfully I am not the only one making these suggestions – and the calls are coming from across the political spectrum, including from many supporters of the free market (like me).

Pay up on time

The first was to ensure that all government departments and government supported organisations (Quangos and such), whether local or national, paid all their suppliers’ invoices within 72 hours.  There are two reasons for this – one moral and the other economic.

The moral case is that these suppliers have provided the goods and services as agreed and should not be left waiting for payment. Government (unlike private enterprise) does not have to worry about cash flow – it can always fund its payments out of borrowing or revenue. Society (all of us) should not be riding on the backs of people who supply it with goods and services (many of us).

The economic case is that cash flow is the big killer of businesses – particularly micro-businesses and Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). So by paying all suppliers faster, the government makes it less likely that those companies (or their suppliers) will have cash flow problems. This would mean fewer companies going into administration, which leaves creditors out of pocket and employees out of work. A more reliable cash flow might also make it easier for some companies to borrow to fund expansion – so boosting growth.

Fair pay for a fair days work

My second point was that all levels of government should ensure that everyone working for the state (whether directly or on contract) is paid a Living Wage (currently put at £7.65 an hour by the Living Wage Foundation) rather than just a subsistence minimum wage (of just £6.31 an hour). Again, there are good moral and economic grounds for this.

The moral justification is that we all benefit from the work of these people and they are often among the most vulnerable in society (many a product of shortcomings in our state education system). We should at least treat them with the decency and respect we’d want for ourselves. We (society) should not be riding on the backs of the weakest, simply because they lack the means to negotiate more equitable rates of pay for themselves.

It also makes good economic sense to pay the lowest paid a Living Wage (which, let’s face it, is still pitifully low). For a start, it would reduce the amount they have to claim in working tax credits and other complex benefits that are costly to administer. People would also be able to plan their lives more effectively, including spending more time with their children, which would mean fewer chaotic and failing families (with all their associated social costs).

According to KPMG, which supports the Living Wage, some 21% of Britain’s 25m workers are paid less than the Living Wage. Of these, some 891,000 would are on the minimum wage. Increasing their pay to £7.65 an hour would make them some £2,500 a year better off.

KPMG UK (which has paid the Living Wage, as a minimum, to all directly employed staff and those employed by its sub-contractors and suppliers since 2006) reports that employee turnover among its contracted cleaning staff has “more than halved since paying the Living Wage.” There is also good evidence to show that paying the Living Wage increases productivity by boosting morale and reducing levels of employee sickness caused by the stress of working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. “Paying the Living Wage is not only morally right,” says Boris Johnson (Mayor of London), “but makes good business sense too.”

Currently, QE is supporting the economy but, in the words of a leading hedge fund manager, it is the “biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever.” Paying the poorest workers a Living Wage would help (in a very small way) to redress this. It would also enable them both to save and to spend more, both of which would help boost the economy (since saving is used to fund investment elsewhere) and increase tax revenues.

The government (local and national) should require these things of its suppliers – as part of those suppliers Corporate Social Responsibility (#CSR) commitments – something that many companies seem to go on about, without really understanding what social responsibility means. Apparently the European Commission has clearly stated that applying such socially responsible conditions to public sector contracts, particularly relating to paying the Living Wage, is fine provided they are not discriminatory – so there is nothing stopping this, except a lack of political will.

Now there’s a petition

So I was delighted on Saturday 9 November to see, on twitter, that @TonyRobinsonOBE has started a petition urging the UK government to pay its bills on time and pay the Living Wage as a minimum. But he went further, he urged the government to use its powers of negotiation (rather than legislation) to persuade all government suppliers to commit to paying all invoices within 30 days and all employees the Living Wage as a minimum, if they want to win government contracts in future. In other words, make those bidding for such lucrative contracts “an offer they cannot refuse.”

This approach appeals to me because it is using government as a force for good – setting the agenda/leading by example whatever you like to call it – without going down the complex (and anti-free market) route of legislation. It also doesn’t force an increase in costs on the very smallest companies, which sometimes struggle to employ people on the minimum wage as they start to expand. And it doesn’t deter companies from doing business in the UK (since they don’t have to apply for government contracts if they don’t want to or can’t make them pay on these terms).

Socially Responsible Investment (#SRI)

I am also pleased to see that Socially Responsible Investors, such as CCLA, are now considering a Living Wage as an important factor for their ethical investments.  The more private investors who can put pressure on their SRI fund managers to do this the better. In time, we might hope to see paying a Living Wage as an integral part of all Corporate Social Responsibility (#CSR) policies. So please sign Tony’s petition today and help improve the lives of millions of people.

@HuwSayer

@Business_Write

#DevoMax – good enough for Scotland, good enough for England too?

Interesting article (many valid points) but why did @Frances_Coppola say: “Wales and Northern Ireland would still be represented [in the Westminster Parliament], although there would probably need to be fundamental changes to prevent them being swamped by the dominance of England”?

Why do we draw this distinction between Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the rest of the UK? If someone claims to be English and demands fair representation for the English, they are roundly derided as little Englanders and xenophobic. Yet when someone in Scotland, Wales and Ireland says they are Scottish, Welsh or Irish and demands the same they are applauded as proud, independent people. Nationalism seems to be considered acceptable beyond the English border but not in England.

Yet there are no major genetic, racial, facial, or ethic differences between most of the people living in the UK. This whole debate about nationalism is founded on a nonsense notion that there is still a clear distinction between various local tribes. Even if there were, there are probably as many so-called Scots, Welsh and Irish living in England as there are so-called English in the rest of the UK. But if one group of people is permitted to demand self-determination, surely all should have the same right.

Now let’s look at the East of England: population 5.3m compared with 5.1 in Scotland. We are as homogeneous as the population in Scotland – we even have a proud history as a once independent kingdom (OK not since 917AD) and a rather independent state of mind (the unofficial motto of Norfolk is ‘do different’). Why shouldn’t we have equal representation and control over our destiny as people in Scotland – #DevoMax even?

Time perhaps to abolish all the district and county councils in the region and have an East Anglian parliament instead. We could build it between Bury St Edmunds and Thetford – our ancient capitals. By reducing the number of politicians and paying them a professional salary we might even reduce bureaucracy, improve efficiency and increase accountability – while attracting a higher calibre of candidate.

PS: As far as I can tell, I have a fair mix of Welsh, English, and Irish ancestors (as well as a few from the ‘kingdoms’ of Yorkshire and Lancashire) – so what does that make me? I think the answer is British.