The article was written by Christabelle and was published on the Sunday Times Tech-Sunday (15th February 2015)

Until a few years ago, advertising was just one-way communication: businesses, organisations and retail outlets would tell consumers about their latest products and services and then sit back and wait for a queue of eager buyers to form.

However, through social media, we are moving away from the traditional marketing method of constantly nudging people until they buy a product or service to a model based on conversation.

Social media allows marketers to share content that is interesting, desired and enjoyed by followers. While in the past, advertising only focused on product features, advantages, services and brands, through social media marketers are now focusing on interacting with existing and potential consumers. Moreover, it’s a two-way communication: marketers publish content that keeps consumers interested and informed, while consumers can give their feedback and tell their stories.

An online marketer who participates in ongoing conversations on social media platforms has a greater chance of being noticed, thus adding to a brand’s value and recognition. A brand can also expand its reach because if the content provided has value, then consumers will invite friends and family and introduce them to the brand. Moreover, if a conversation is interactive, it has a greater chance of showing in a consumer’s news feed: this increases the chance of a post to be read, liked and shared.

For marketers to have the best possible conversation, it is important for them to listen to the brand’s followers, show interest in their comments, gather feedback and most importantly, reply and fuel the conversation with content that is constant and which consumers find interesting and valuable. Constant doesn’t mean that new content has to be generated every second just for the sake of it. Marketers must be careful not to overdo it and bother followers with useless updates. The old adage applies: if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything.

There are millions of social media users – however, a brand’s conversation cannot be inclusive of everyone. A marketer has to carefully identify a brand’s existing and potential consumer base and target that.

As in life, in social media conversations, honesty is the best policy. It is only through honesty that a brand can earn consumers’ trust. If the conversation between a brand and consumers is just a thinly disguised marketing pitch, then consumers will quickly see through it and lose interest. However, if a conversation adds value to consumers’ lives, then they will like it, share it and comment positively about it. Positive feedback has a greater chance of encouraging further positive comments.

However, social media does have its negatives. The qualities that make social media a great tool to spread the good news about a brand can also serve as a vehicle for bad news. For instance, if an unsatisfied customer gives negative feedback about a brand, it won’t be long before further negative stories are exchanged: bad news quickly goes viral.

Marketers should be able to handle negative comments in a positive way. If a consumer posts an unfavourable comment about your brand, don’t ignore it: it will not go away. Moreover, if you ignore it, your message is clear: you don’t care about your followers and their feedback. And never delete negative feedback. Nothing can stop disgruntled consumers from posting on their own wall.

Instead, reply to negative feedback with genuine concern and show honest involvement: moreover, take the necessary action and remedy any fault. It’s only in this way that you can convert negative feedback into a positive story.

Social media conversation may look easy: but it isn’t. It’s not something that anyone can do whenever they have a spare five minutes. Moreover, don’t just create a social media presence and then forget all about it: just imagine what that says about your brand.

A marketer should have a cunning plan to source, generate and present quality content. And don’t just focus on increasing the amount of followers a brand has: rather, build a faithful following and slowly but surely – through recommendations and word of mouth – your audience will increase.