We are all part of the Conversation, but does it bring us Business?
IMPACT! Inc., a PR marketing firm in the Charleston SC area, posed this question to its “Circle of Friends”.
Some interesting Social Facts:
Facebook boasts: 500 million friends on July 20, 2010. People spend more than 50 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
LinkedIn has more than 35 million members. 80% of companies use social media websites, 95% use LinkedIn (Nielsen study)
There are more than 50 million Tweets daily on Twitter.
15% of bloggers (males are the majority) spent 10-15% of their week blogging.
Women 18-34: 39% check Facebook in the morning before brushing their teeth or go to the bathroom; 50% friend complete strangers (Oxygen /Media/Lightspeed Research)
But does all of this “relationship building through conversations” bring business?
LeadForce1, an online marketing automation service provider, studied website visitor data for 218 companies with a social media presence from February – April 2010. The results overwhelmingly showed that visitors who arrived at corporate websites via Twitter and Facebook engaged mostly with content – specifically a company’s blog – as opposed to exploring products or submitting a “contact us” form. Written by : Adam Ostrow and posted on Mashable.com
“If you are not on the internet, you don’t exist.” A young colleague informed me
“Everybody wants to be famous.’ “Everyone you know is on it (Facebook)” Ben Mezrich, biographer of Mark Zuckerburgcheck, the founder of Facebook.
Methodology of Study
First, thank you “friends” who participated in the survey, because now you won’t be annoyed by yet another posting on Facebook, my LinkedIn Groups, and via Constant Contact e-newsletter, begging you to take the survey.
The 6-question survey was created in SurveyMonkey and its corresponding link was posted on Facebook at least six times. Posting once only assures that the message gets “lost in the conversation”, so IMPACT! continually monitored its Facebook page, and reposted it when at least 8% of ”friends” (230) were on-line.
It was sent out in a Constant Contact newsletter (to 900 subscribers) three times, and posted on four LinkedIn group discussion boards (about 1000 members) four times each. The survey was also included in the August 2010 issue of an on-line magazine (Cover2Cover) and was available to its over 10,000 readers.
IMPACT! also activated a Twitter account (July 23, 2010) and posted it to “followers” (less than 20). IMPACT! does not have accounts with MySpace, Foursquare, or any other social networking site. Therefore, the survey has a higher number of LinkedIn and Facebook responses. It must be noted that the vast majority of its “Circle of Friends” are not in the hospitality, creative arts, or tourism industry. Therefore, following report could be skewed slightly.
During this time frame (June 21 – August 20, 2010), the survey was taken 71 times.
IMPACT! Inc. Social Media Survey Analysis
There’s no doubt about it, Social media is here; it’s conversational and it’s loud.
But can it be used for business?
Yes, if taken in the right context, if it makes sense and hits your target market, and if it is implemented, measured and monitored professionally based on desired outcomes, goals, and objectives outlined in your strategic marketing plan.
Time is money.
People view social media networking as a “free” venue for communicating messages . . . But, it’s far from an inexpensive endeavor. Social media networking is all about building relationships . . . and that takes time, a great deal of time. How do you know how much time you should spend? And you are wasting time?
Who uses Social Media?
Even though the survey results tell the reader that respondents just aren’t “that sure social media marketing works”, they are participating (more than 80% have used social media to promote their business). They are communicating, but perhaps not to their best advantage, without a “plan” and without any real strategy. “Let’s just throw it all out there and see what sticks.”
The creative arts and hospitality industries first saw the great potential for using social media to start a “buzz” generating interest in their products and services; and many use it quite effectively and … creatively. Other businesses and industries (medical, legal, manufacturing, service, construction, financial, etc) initially could not see its benefit.
This survey provides evidence to substantiate this claim. A large majority of respondents (because they encompass most of IMPACT!’s “circle of friends’) fall into the latter industries. And they are just “unsure” of its use, and possibly unaware of how to use social media effectively and how to tailor it to their markets and communication styles.
Social Media = Customer Service.
Social Media is no longer a novelty, an option to try out. It should be an integral part of business to interact with consumers. If you are not participating in social media conversations, you are falling behind your competitors.
Are you wondering why chatting about the weather or the latest trending topic on Twitter is important to your business? Here's why: Customer Service.
The advantage a local, old-fashioned shop has over conglomerates is really getting to know your clients. Knowing your clients creates loyalty and attachment to the business. This knowledge comes from personal customer service; Having a little pre-sale chat when they come into the shop, remembering something personal about them and bringing it into the conversation. When buying on-line, people miss interaction. They want more real people interaction and less automated robot answers. Ever say, “I want to talk to a REAL person, not an automated press 1 for . . . “ Consumers want to speak and write to real people.
Social Media as a Marketing Strategy.
Social media is just another venue to get your company’s message to its constituents; another communication channel. The language used for social media communications is shorter, more to the point, and directs the reader to a website where they can read and learn more.
Which brings up the importance of an interactive website. All PR/marketing professionals know the value of an educational website . . . but websites chock full of useful information that are static and unchanging, except for the monthly or quarterly addition, are dinosaurs! Websites need to be interactive, allowing for more interaction between the owner of the website and the website visitors. Websites need to be updated almost daily with free content, ideas, links, articles, videos, etc.
In a seminar that I attended this month I overheard a tactic as, “Oh, that’s so 2009.” Things we did in 2009 are outdated!
Is social media marketing for every company? That depends on your marketing strategy objectives, your ideal clients, your products and services, how much you plan to invest in the tactic, and what you feel comfortable implementing . . . the same questions you ask before starting any marketing tactic.
Benefits of using Social Media for Business
1. Crisis Management or Reputation Management
Social networking sites are the perfect medium to neutralize any negative vibes that may be out there, or could be out there in the future regarding you or your company. Social media is a personal two/multiple channel that can be used to spread your message.
Creating a presence on social media networks won’t stop negative conversation from happening, but will enable businesses to make real-time conversation a two-way street. These conversations give you the opportunity to get your message and story out there and to quickly address any negatives. You will gain much more respect with a quick, decisive professional action and response.
IMPACT! has a client who stated, “I never want to be on social networking sites. I don’t want to give people a forum to say negative things about me or my business.”
Quite understandably, many businesses are scared to hear the public say "bad stuff" about their company or be bombarded with complaints. This is simply not the reality. Most people who interact with brands or companies online do so because they love them so much they actually want to be their friends and be associated with them. Furthermore, if there actually are people saying "bad stuff" about you or your company, you KNOW it! And if it’s true, maybe you shouldn’t be in business. . . or do something about it!
Keeping up with the positive and negative perceptions of your company and reacting quickly and professionally will immensely increase a company's popularity and can actually convert the complainant to a loyal supporter just because of a well-placed, personal interaction.
2. Uncovering your “Influencers” and turning them into “Evangelists”
Successful social media marketing isn’t about amassing thousands of followers, but precisely identifying the most influential members of your audience and recognizing them for their value. By directly engaging one influencer with exclusive opportunities, special offers, and unique content, you are indirectly engaging thousands of other people who are part of this influencer’s social sphere.
Approximately 1% of a site’s audience generates 20% of its traffic through sharing of the brand’s content or site links with others. These “influencers” can directly influence 30% or more of overall end actions on brand websites by recommending the brand’s site, products or promotions to friends. (study by Meteor Solutions)
Influencers or evangelists can be past and current clients, colleagues, friends, family, co-workers, and even people you don’t know. The process to identify them is basically the same as identifying your Ideal Clients.
To discover who they are, seek out where they “hang out” on social media sites, blogs, forums, and websites; uncover what platforms are they using; what are they saying, and sharing about you. Identify methods they use to share your content (e-mail, social updates, tweets, etc.).
Listen and observe conversations and use social media analytics platforms to track what they are saying about you, your company, and brand.
Uncover what motivates them. Most people share links with friends and their wider social network because it makes them feel important, special, and useful. They respond most positively to the attention and recognition they get from sharing useful content and valuable information with others.
3. Building Relationships with Media
Journalists are utilizing social media to stay on top of news, to get leads and to build relationships not only with public relations professionals, but also with the community. It also enables companies to see if the discussion, content, and approach they are using on the internet are resonating with their target audience.
With print media losing advertising revenue to print papers, reporters and editors are accepting less press/news releases. In the old days (2008), pubic relations professionals, who had strong relationships with the media, could practically guarantee their stories would be printed. These releases now are posted on internet wires, websites and blogs with pictures, videos, and the ability for comments and interaction.
Social media has now changed the press release. “If a release doesn’t have a social element; a way for viewers to comment or share to their social networks; it doesn’t have legs.” Amanda Miller Littlejohn, founder of Mopwater Social PR
With an interactive internet, PR professionals have the ability to create custom landing pages or YouTube video specifically for the story/event announcement, and can now contact the press via Twitter, Facebook, text message, etc. with the link.
Today, 2010, press releases are getter shorter; link to more sources; are focused on simplification and explanation; and delivered in text, video, SMS, microblog and podcast form, to any choice of device.
4. Competitive Monitoring
Social media sites and analytics allow you to monitor any industry, business, or person. Monitor your competitors to identify customer thoughts (to what efforts they react positively and negatively), to uncover consumer validation and trends and to perform market research.
What should I consider before implementing a Social Media Marketing Plan?
RESEARCH! Confirm basics through research before you spend valuable time on outreach.
LISTEN! Identify your prospects and follow them socially to gather more contextual information. This intelligence-gathering matters tremendously to your eventual outreach outcomes.
Build your social media team. Select:
- A community manager: The person responsible for keeping your audience engaged and the conversation relevant, and who oversees all responses and posts. This person should be an experienced communicator, strategic thinker, and understand the goals and objectives of the company. He/She should file weekly reports on community activities, including number of visitors to website and other pages, quote specific important remarks, track emerging trends, and provide recommendations for next steps in organization’s online strategy.
- A technical IT person: For the inevitable computer issues, and the ability to use all the monitoring devices necessary to download and upload data.
- A content manager: The person who researches, finds, and writes the useful information that will be shared. This content should be made interesting with graphics, photographs, tables, and other visual story elements. In a nutshell, they need to write good stuff that people want to read and that will reflect positively on the company.
Good rule of thumb, post:
- something of interest everyday;
- a blog every week; and
- a meaty article or newsletter monthly.
MONITOR & MEASAURE! There are a number of analytical tools available on the internet at no/and low-cost. But which to chose? None are in themselves a perfect management tool, but in 2011, we might say, “multiple tools, that’s so 2010.”
Before you start to allow employees to interact on social media sites, it’s best to create “policies and procedures”
Part of a strong and sound Social Media PR/Marketing Plan is to create an official “Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual”, outlining what tools and services will be used, what messages will be disseminated and who will create them, who will respond to what category of comments and when, the time during the work day and after hours allowed for comments and on-line research, what can’t be said and when to bring in a supervisor/manager, as well as other important legal, ethical, and business concerns, and issues.
Should I hire an agency to handle my Social Media Marketing?
That depends. More than 50% of the survey respondents said they would not hire an outside agency to help them with their social media marketing.
How much time do you or your employees have to devote to crafting messages, dealing with comments, researching and consistently posting useful information, tracking responses, finding the right conversations and monitoring them, analyzing the results, evaluating the effectiveness of each venue, keeping up with the new social media tools and updates.
Does your company have the three positions listed above to devote to social media marketing? And can they carry out the duties outlined? Do you have staff who have the knowledge and understand the use and application of all the monitoring and analytical tools available?
Do you have the time and money to allow your staff (or yourself) to “experiment” when implementing a social media strategy?
As with anything “new & shiny”, social media is still a “difficult sell” when attempting to obtain buy-in for its time investment. Currently, a large part of a public relations professional’s job is educating clients of its use and benefits.
Most people use social media as a broadcasting tool for sending out information. Savvy PR professionals are using social media as a listening and communicating tool. Real-time interaction can demonstrate if the company is actually listening. This begins to build trust, which is highly valuable, and highly perishable.
Finding the Right Audience: Many agree that while the mass social platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, are useful, the niche, industry-specific communities provide just as much, and sometimes more, value. Finding these communities can be difficult and involves a great deal of internet research and time. (Remember: Time is money!)
Social media has the ability to save companies money through enhancing traditional and online campaigns. Companies who have embraced webinars and other internet media outlets are seeing a real value to “announcing” these opportunities through social media sites. Now it’s time to carry this concept over to new products and services.
Public relations and social media are both about creating and fostering relationships. It’s about Customer Service and being available to and caring about your clients, customer, and constituents.
For more information on how Social Media might benefit your business, please contact:
Susan Jeanne Mertz, President IMPACT! Inc.