About the High Tech Communicators Exchange
On Monday October 2, 2011, I attended my first High Tech Communicators Exchange event titled “No Longer a Sidedish: Bringing Social Media into your Marketing Strategy.”
The HTCE is a volunteer-ran organisation that was started in 2001 with the goal of bringing communicators together to network and exchange current best practices in communications. The organization tries to be low-cost and accessible to all, which attracts a diverse group of very grounded communications/marketing professionals.
Indeed, it was a friendly room of writers, corporate communications specialists and Internet marketers exchanging hugs and chatting about things like family and absurd Vancouver real estate prices.
The speaker was Mhairi Petrovic, originally from Scotland with a background in selling software and Internet technologies to Fortune 500 companies. She is the Chief Marketing Officer and Founder of her company, Out-Smarts Marketing Inc. and you can’t help but feel disarmed and comfortable in her presence because of her uber friendly Scottish accent.
The Problem for Communicators
For many of those working in communications, a common problem is justifying the return on investment in social media to the decision makers. The subject of this talk was particularly relevant for corporate communications professionals familiar with social media tools but perhaps struggling to introduce or incorporate social media into an external marketing strategy (this talk did not cover internal social media communications) within a reluctant organisation. The information was also useful for freelancers like myself who spend some time educating small business owners about the benefits of using the right social media tools.
The Opening of the Talk
Assuming everybody in the room was beyond Social Media 101, we started by quickly defining social media simply as a technology used to help communicate with our audiences and stakeholder. In this day and age, this is really something that organizations can and should incorporate in their marketing operations. Mhairi then presented a few objections commonly heard from the social media reluctant.
Objection: Social media is only for young people.
Answer: Actually, the fastest growing demographic of people adopting social media are people over the age of 35. Senior citizens are now using Facebook to connect with old friends and see what their grand children are up to.
Objection: What is the return on investment for using social media?
Answer: You may want to ask what the return on avoiding social media is. Nobody is forcing you to adopt social media in your marketing mix but if you are looking to build networks with a new generation of leads then, it is in your best interest to give it a try. If you don’t have the stomach to jump in with both feet, at least consider listening to the social media channels that your customers visit.
Question: Companies usually have set marketing budgets. How do you suggest we overcome the objection that there just isn’t any money or resources to start using social media.
Answer: You can propose to take a small percentage of money from a different form of traditional marketing that may not be performing to expectation. Start by choosing a single social media channel that you can devote your time and effort into learning, using and measuring for benefit.
7 Tips for Social Media
The rest of the talk was broken up into 7 tips with her own examples sprinkled through the presentation to illustrate how each tip would be applied in the context of an organization.
Social media should fit within your overall mission, vision and company goals. If you have a strategic plan that includes a description of your target audience and the key messaging, it should guide all of your marketing holistically. Logically then, your social media efforts should be guided by the same strategy. Your strategic plan should specify who you are looking to ‘shake hands’ with online and what information you would like to share with them.
2) Pilot Programs
For organizations that have rigid and unchanging work processes in their marketing or communications department, you can start small, making sure to measure the impact of social media towards your marketing goals. By starting small, you can test whether the results are positive or disappointing without absorbing too much of the organisation’s resources.
You can pick a single social media channel particularly suited to your service or product and measure the increase in web referrals from that channel. If you have a consumer product or service, try Facebook to start as opposed to LinkedIn, which is better for making business to business connections.
You might also develop social media tactics targeted to a geographical region or a single product or service. Mhairi had a community newspaper group as a client and had them start by using social media on only a certain geographic location with messaging tailored to the audience in that area. The results were positive enough to extend their social media efforts beyond the first test area.
People in the older generations are timid about social media. Education is the key and it is especially important to explain how it all ties back to their business goals. Some of the benefits (new ways to directly engage customers, cheaper cost of advertising, more granular targeting of new leads, precise reports etc.) may seem obvious to marketers but they won’t necessarily be obvious to people who aren’t studying social media every day. As the educator, you must speak in terminology that can be understood by your students.
Hold organizational lunch time educational sessions and ongoing seminars where people can ask as many questions as they like. Make sure everybody is on board so that you can gain a few fans of social media.
Mhairi’s community newspaper client started with these types of sessions to foster an inclusive environment where there was buy-in across the organisation. There are ongoing seminars held and new social media policies are created as they go along.
Facebook is particularly well suited to consumer products or services, while LinkedIn is better for making business to business connections. Products that place a high importance on visual appeal might do quite well on Flickr or video repositories like YouTube and Vimeo. Rather than trying to sign up for all social media tools, select the tools that are appropriate to your strategic corporate goals and focus your energies.
Example: As a brainstorming example it was suggested that Ikea would do well to experiment with YouTube instructional videos to augment the paper instructions that come with their furniture. These videos could become sources of web traffic as well as opportunities to progress their online brand presence.
As previously mentioned, it is the job of the marketing manager to ask what the return on investment on social media is? When using social media for business, always start by asking what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to:
- Build community? Increase followers?
- Increase the conversations with your followers?
- Drive traffic to your website or a particular landing page?
- Make people stay on your site longer?
- Reach more of a specific type of client?
- Are you simply listening to what people are saying?
Set goals that are SMART and then use the free analysis tools available to monitor your progress.
If you are an administrator of a Facebook Page, you can use Facebook Insights.
Google Analytics is the best free analysis tool for measuring hits to your website.
Every month, show the result of the data and discuss these with your organisation so they start to see the value of your collective efforts.
Mhairi’s client measured click through and conversion rates of their online advertisements. They used software called Omniture to measure web traffic sources, especially the new hits arriving from their various Internet marketing initiatives. At the time of writing, the website hits originating from social media sources are increasing 20% year over year.
In social media, much like in real life, the quality of your friends and followers is more important than sheer number. It is better to have a small group of highly engaged online connections than thousands of followers who are just looking to receive free giveaways from your organisation.
6) Social Media Policy
Employees need to know the boundaries both in and out of work. You might need to address the specific social media channels too. Make sure to have a section that covers your organisation’s stance on copyright, email attachments and proprietary information. This document shouldn’t be a beast, but a tight and easy to read article that outlines best practices for social media. Remind staff members of your mission, vision, and goal in order to guide their interactions both at work and outside of it.
Link: For an avalanche of more information on social media policy, check out this Mashable article on social media policy.
7) Content – the most important tip
If your content is valuable and interesting and focuses on what your audience WANTS, you will attract the right kind of attention. Post blog articles consistently and hopefully on a set schedule. If you cannot update your blog on a routine publishing schedule then it is best to take it down. A dormant blog with crickets chirping indicates that you are either out of business, out of touch or you got hit by a truck without a business continuity plan in place.
The 80/20 rule as it applies to your content
You can promote but don’t sell overtly. Eighty percent (80%) of your content should be information that is genuinely helpful to your target audience whether it is sharing information, opinions, useful links or tips. Twenty percent (20%) of your content can be promotional in nature. This goes for tweets and updates.
Make sure to stay on topic as it is related to your business or organisation. This may be stating the obvious, but the way you communicate online should match the way you communicate offline to your audiences. Social media is really just another way to talk to people.
Closing to Talk
To stick to the food analogy, we are currently at the point in time when social media is simply an ingredient that enhances the flavour of your entire meal (marketing mix). It’s not a side dish and it’s not quite the main course. The challenge right now is that it necessitates change in organisations with individuals that are used to doing things a certain way and are likely reluctant to change.
There’s a new shift in the way we all have to think. We have to be open minded and transparent rather than closed, private, and calculated. For the older generations, this might mean unlearning our tendency to stay close to a robotic corporate voice, while stifling our own personalities.
Fortunately for us, the marketing fundamentals stay the same. You still make your best efforts to understand your audience. You still work on building stronger relationships and rewarding long term loyalty. You just do it with the tools of the day.
One of my takeaways from this talk was the notion of trying one single social media channel (picking the one that is best suited to your business or organisation) and doing it well. Although I’ve heard the perspective that you should jump into social media with all of your might, I feel that an initial testing and acclimatization period is a good thing. Not all social media channels are appropriate for your business goals, but the successful ones will quickly reveal their benefits.
My non-social media analogy:
There’s no doubt that having billboard, brochures, posters and newspaper ads can help promote your brand but throwing your money at these marketing channels indiscriminately is wasteful. The same applies to all of the social media channels, so its up to you to choose the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.
Another take away was to share your statistics openly with others. I’ve always kept web statistics and monitored them for myself but I don’t think I’ve proactively leveraged the positive results as a tactic to gain deeper buy-in or an increased budget. Its time to add this into the service offering!