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A social media primer – in three parts

A social media primer – in three parts

Listen to any CPG (consumer packaged goods) or B2C marketer and you’ll hear how vital social media is to their efforts: hundreds of thousands of followers. Oodles of mentions and interactions per day. Umpteen likes and hashtags. There’s lots of noise, but how does social media really impact sales and brand perception? And how does it impact companies upon which the public spotlight doesn’t shine so brightly, like B2B brands?

We answer this here in three parts: Part I of the answer begins by stating the obvious. Following that, Part II gets into the pros and cons of social marketing, and finally Part III addresses the real impact that social has on brand perception and sales.

Part I – The implications of social

The obvious: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all other forms of social media are based on two-way interaction, which is what makes them ‘social’. If you put something out there, you’re going to get responses from individuals, publicly displayed for all to see. There are lots of examples of massively bad exposure – social media gone wrong. Witness the NYPD’s recent shout-out for candid photos and videos} with the city’s finest: an avalanche of police at their worst. (Hey, they asked for it!)

Part II – On being social

Don’t be social.
We advise most of our clients not to tackle social media beyond creating a corporate LinkedIn (B2B) or Facebook (B2C) profile. If that. Why? To make social work, you really have to engage. And frankly, most of our clients are either not big enough to have the resources to put against making social work, or they’re small AND in B2B industries where social media hasn’t really caught on. Only about 20% of clients do social, and they do it well.

As a ‘social’ form of communication, social media really works only when the marketer dialogues regularly with their audience. This is problematic for the vast majority of companies, which treat social as another one-way marketing channel. They compose a pile of messages and schedule them for send-out on Tweet Deck or a similar app and check in once a month. Worse, they set up their Facebook page and Twitter account, then do nothing. (What makes you look better: having 6 followers, 1 like and a few posts gathering cobwebs, or NOT having a Facebook page?)

Worse still, some brands delegate their social marketing efforts to an agency that doesn’t have the depth of knowledge to be the voice of the brand: short-sighted thinking that’s asking for brand damage. Whatever the case, the results are the same: few followers, few interactions, little and possibly negative perception/sales impact. Money not well spent.

Be social.
Some of our clients do social well, even really little ones. They key is to have someone on staff who’s committed and engaged. Someone who already uses social media all day long—for fun 🙂 In that instance, they are already a fluent and a fluid user—all they need to do is switch channels from personal to business. As long as they understand the kind of tone you need to strike, know how to spell, and are well aware of what’s appropriate in terms of interaction, you’re off to the races.

Bigger companies, or higher profile niche companies, have no choice. They must be social. Fact is, they’re already being talked about. If you want to harness or shape that organic interest, join the fray. Just be prepared to commit. Treat it like any other marketing channel in this respect: develop a set of objectives, put the metrics in place to measure (really, they’re already built in), develop a content calendar, generate and curate that content in words/pictures/videos, and dip your toe in the water.

Is your business made for social?
Remember how, in the early days of the Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities suspended cell phone service to prevent protesters from getting organized? Remember what those protesters did? That’s right, they took to Twitter. It was better than cell phones, because everyone who had a WiFi connection could quickly get a snapshot of what was going on everywhere and join in the conversation immediately. No call waiting! (Then, predictably, Egypt blocked specific websites like Twitter and Facebook.)

The same rules apply for social marketing—if your business fits certain criteria. When something ‘goes viral’ it spreads across the Internet in a flash. Flash in the pan, you say? Hold on—we’ll debate that next.

Businesses made for social
Trip Advisor.com is a good example of a company whose entire business model is based on the concept of social media: it’s a ratings site for destinations. If you’ve been there, you can register with Trip Advisor and cast your vote.

Consumer services like restaurants, spas and the hotels Trip Advisor rates live and die on social. Yes, they do lots of other marketing, but social is so closely integrated with reviews that it’s a core area of concentration. They need to push offers and awareness, and engage with brand aficionados and disgruntled tweeters alike.

Our client Adventure Center is big on social for the same reason. Lots of followers, lots of likes, lots of interest. For Adventure Center, social has become an important vehicle for getting the word out about new promotions, offers and trips. When something really big comes out—like a deep discount on a trip—there is a flurry of activity online as word spreads socially.

Businesses that make themselves social
Then there are businesses that are not natural social scions. Law firms, accounting firms, purveyors of building products…you name it. Every last one of them can succeed in the social space if they select the right approach. They can build preference and encourage sales. Doing so requires some creativity. You’ve essentially got to become a voice of authority in your area of expertise: a thought leader.

This doesn’t mean that you have to hire someone full time to manage social media. You don’t have to generate all of your own content. There’s oodles of great writing floating around that you can comment on. Pick someone insightful, provide a link or do a retweet, and editorialize: provide your own comment on what’s being said. In other words, you don’t have to initiate the conversation—though it’s important to do that sometimes, too. You can quite simply join the conversation. The more conversations you’re actively involved in, the bigger your social footprint.

Say you make something boring, like filing systems. (Boring is okay! There is an audience for absolutely everything you could possibly imagine discussing.) So you’re a filing systems company. Pick a topic. Find the latest thinking on, for example, synchronizing paper and digital filing systems. Share the article via Twitter, with your own insightful comment regarding what the writer is saying, and post it in your LinkedIn group. Really, it’s as easy as that. The only trick is you’ve got to react if someone comments on your post.

Part III – Is social worth it?
Good question. The answer is: if you’re big enough and/or you’re passionate about what you do. In terms of bigness we’re not talking about your company, but rather your social media footprint. Whether you do well or poorly, there’s a decent amount of effort required to get set up and rolling. So if you do it you’d best go all the way, baby. If you’re passionate about what you do and energetic enough to spout about it, that shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re ready to dig in and interact on a daily (hourly!) basis, you’re articulate and have things of your own to say on occasion, go for it. (Admittedly, ¡Outwrite! does not practice well what we preach – shoemakers’ children syndrome.) If you do it and you do it well, you will attract a following. Remember, your marketing goal is the same: attract as many eyeballs as possible.

So. The brand perception effects of social are obvious: you’re directly instilling, reinforcing or changing the opinions of your audience through your efforts. If you can do that positively, and your audience is big enough, it’s worth it. Keep in mind that your audience self-selects and is therefore more valuable to you than a mass media audience of the same size.

But it gets much better (or worse) depending on audience reaction: your audience consists of people that use social media. Every one of your followers that retweets, slams, praises, posts or otherwise comments on your missives has dozens, hundreds or thousands of followers. If, God forbid, 50 Cent (yes, he’s a favourite—not for his music, but for his expert, rough, at times asinine, limits-pushing use of social media) comments on your filing system post, you’re instantly going to have a portion of his 7.41 million followers checking you out. Wow.

The pan’s on fire!
To wrap this up, let’s get back to the argument that social mentions, trendings and stuff going vital is just a flash in the pan. Yes, many things trending on Twitter last week are now barely mentioned. But so it is with all other marketing. A billboard or a TV ad can have longer-lasting impact, but the key differences is that you have to pay to keep that Patterson board up there or that 30 second spot on the air. With social, all you’re investing is your sweat, or someone else’s.

The important difference, of course, is that billboards and TV spots are one-way broad spectrum ‘push’ approaches, whereas with social media your audience self-selects. No one sees everything that goes on in the Twittersphere or on Facebook. Someone that they follow has to bring your social media messaging to their attention. The result is you’re much more likely to create a bit of preference.

Fact is, flash or not, you’re now inside of minds that hitherto did not know that you existed. Next time they come across you, it’ll jog the memory. If they actually have some interest in what you do, and you talk about it well, preference will build.

There is just so much to say about social media it’s tough to know how to stop. Let’s leave it at this for now: if you can commit to it—forever—then do it. It’s definitely worth it.