The Challenging World of Social Media
Social media is an increasingly important part of many companies’ marketing campaigns, allowing them to target and reach their audience on a personal level. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn let companies intimately engage with their customers; keep up with what is being said about their brands and products; and quickly communicate their messages to their audience. More than ever, it appears that companies cannot afford to ignore social media. However, it is not just a simple decision of jumping onto the bandwagon and creating a Facebook page. Companies must have a strategy for how to effectively employ social media.
I95 Business asked professionals from two companies and one government organization about social media and how they go about effectively using it: Scott Guercio, sales training manager, and Lindsay Kelley, marketing manager, at Advance; Mark Broomell, social media specialist at E-Moxie; and Wini Roche, Harford County tourism & marketing manager.
How do you use social media platforms for your brand?
Guercio: Social platforms allow Advance to have two-way, in-depth conversations with our customers, building trust and strengthening relationships and ultimately building a community where we’re able to better understand our customer’s needs.
Broomell: A common misconception with social media platforms is that lack of business is the problem and the answer is social media, which is farther from the truth. At E-Moxie, we use social media as a tool to break down the sometimes-intimidating wall between prospective clients and the business of web development and design by making it feel more casual and personable. We approach our social media clients similarly: Social media is the means, not the end, so what do you aim to accomplish?
Roche: We use YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to promote tourism in Harford County. E-mail marketing remains our most effective strategy to drive these platforms. We produce a video blog series called “Where’s Wini?” where I give a personal tour of a place or experience you can have in Harford County. The videos are posted on our website, harfordmd.com, pushed out in our monthly newsletter E-xperience Harford, on Twitter, and posted on YouTube.
How do you use these platforms to target your audience and maintain interest?
Kelley: Different social platforms have different strategic initiatives. For Facebook, it’s about our employees and customers on a more fun and interesting level, and where Advance expresses its personality and community involvement, and what happens behind the scenes. It shows our employees connecting with our customers at the various events we hold that are unique for them. When it comes to Twitter, we re-tweet articles we find pertinent to our customer base. Not just things that are relevant to the copier and electronic document lifecycle side of our business, but articles that have to do with business in general or the latest technology, to help enhance what they’re doing in their business. LinkedIn is the perfect platform for sharing our blogs and some other key articles in a similar fashion to our Twitter use. We promote the blog through our entire sales team; they share blog posts with their networks, and it goes from there. We’ve even had some customers share Advance’s blogs with their own LinkedIn networks.
Broomell: It is important to identify which demographics frequent which social media platforms and to already have some form of maintained contact with your customer or interest base. From there, you can steer traffic toward your social media presence. Your target crowd should, more often than not, play a role in selecting your social media than vice versa. Social media is used to expedite communications between you and your target crowd and doesn’t actually generate any content for you.
Roche: Our calendar of events changes monthly as does the “Where’s Wini?” video blog. Subscribers like to keep abreast of Harford activities through their subscription.
Which platforms do you find to be the most effective?
Kelley: LinkedIn and Twitter have been the most successful for Advance. Without the right plan in place, it wouldn’t be as successful. We’ve defined our social community for each platform, and we’ve been listening for three years to see what they respond to and what they enjoy from us. Through Twitter and LinkedIn, we position ourselves as industry experts – we have a total of eight bloggers who are Advance employees and each has their own areas of expertise. To date, LinkedIn has moved into the No. 1 referral source to our website, up from No. 2 last year.
Broomell: All of the platforms are equally effective, how effective is really on an input/output basis. If you’re using Twitter, do you have the ability to take a lot of content and make it fit into your character limit? Is your target crowd using Twitter or just Facebook? Is Twitter the appropriate outlet for achieving the goals you would like to achieve through social media? If you are not using the appropriate tools for the job, you will not be met with success.
Roche: It’s difficult to say, since everything is integrated, but probably video. Our social media activities, particularly the video series, has helped distinguish Harford County and its attractions.
What impact or ROI does it have on your business growth?
Kelley: At present, we’re tracking the ROI through Google Analytics. We’re exploring a few social analytics packages now that we’re seeing the growth in our web analytics from our social platforms. Advance has seen an almost 20 percent growth in website traffic since launching our blog and stepping up our social sharing. We’re still working on tying actual dollars to the social initiatives.
Broomell: It becomes difficult to determine the exact ROI it has on growth for E-Moxie, but it certainly makes growth possible. Social media at the very least gives the ability to keep a solid core of active, interested members following your content. The real investment here is a matter of time – if you have the time to invest into this type of project, then the reward will be much greater.
Roche: Our email subscription list has grown to over 20,000 in five years. Video blogs always report an uptick in visitation. Our tourism industry is growing in Harford County with visitors spending over $300 million in local businesses annually. So we believe there is a direct correlation between visitor activity, event attendance and our email marketing. But social media is just one part of our annual marketing strategy.
What are the positives of these social media platforms (segmenting, targeting, messaging etc.)?
Guercio: LinkedIn connections tend to gravitate toward the business articles and blogs as well as some of the more trendy topics, like the Cloud. This is when having in-house experts really sets us apart. Consumers can see right through purchased content, revealing that the author is outside the company. In contrast, our blogs demonstrate Advance has the expertise internally. We gear posts towards the local business community and speak to their challenges in this area.
Broomell: The positives definitely lie within the constantly evolving nature of social media – these social media outlets are always finding new ways to serve you better. For instance, I recently acquired a contract for the development and maintenance of Facebook pages for three restaurants in Sturbridge, Mass. Not only was Facebook a good avenue for them as far as being a place where their customers could communicate, post media and positive reviews, but it also featured the ability to have interactive apps for online menus and reservations. These options are not readily available to some people in terms of web development and design and really tighten the gap for those who cannot afford those services for their own websites.
Roche: They’re very cost-effective and we can directly engage our target audience. Social media can help us distinguish our destination and create a buzz about who we are, and hopefully by attracting our audience through appropriate channels, influence them to visit Harford County.
What is the greatest challenge you see from your experience with social media platforms?
Kelley: Social is unpredictable and uncontrollable. You never know if someone who has a grudge will post negatively on your social channel, and if they do, you have to know how to handle it. Deleting it can be detrimental to your reputation and your brand, so dealing with it head-on can turn an unsatisfied customer into your best customer.
Broomell: The different forms of social media certainly force you to interact in different ways. Facebook allows you to host an event and tell everyone what’s going on and when. If you want to host this same event over Twitter and Foursquare, you have to seriously shorten your event description and leave room for the appropriate hashtags. On Foursquare, you can post the event, but it will be more highly attended if there is an associated bargain or coupon for checking in with your mobile device. The challenge is the workload of creating content, knowing your crowd, and being able to appropriately communicate it through any of these masks.
Roche: Time and staff. There is never enough of either. We try to stick to what we can manage effectively. We’d spend more time building our Facebook and Twitter audiences if we had the resources.
What are the drawbacks to these social media platforms?
Kelley: They’re time consuming. It’s a misconception that social channels are “free.” You have to invest a lot of time! If you don’t have a clear reason for being in the social sphere, you’ll confuse your customers. We’re always looking to make sure we’re positioning ourselves correctly while still offering our social participants in-house the creative freedom to share socially in a way that’s comfortable for them. At the same time, we keep our brand unified, focusing on the core message and culture. It’s challenging to keep a hold of your brand identity when the brand message for each social channel is so different.
Broomell: The biggest drawback, undoubtedly, is how many directions you can be pulled in when working in social media. Competitors are often forced to be competitive in the social media arena. If competitors A and B have an app that you don’t have, you become forced to take the time to install it on your page when you could be spending that time running your business. The same thing applies to design on Twitter, deals and events on Foursquare, and even reviews on Yelp. It becomes so easy to have social media take over your business that you start investing more time in it than the return would ever be worth.
Roche: Again, limited time and staff. We still have to manage multiple promotional vehicles, campaigns and projects at any given time, while you’re reaching a limited audience. Tourism promoters still use traditional modes of communication such as print advertising and web because it reaches a wider audience and it is measurable.