It seems that everywhere we turn there’s an article or blog post titled:
(Fill in number here) Steps to Mastering Social Media
Some are written with dogmatic certainty while others leave us with more questions than answers. We’d like to stay away from identifying ourselves as “gurus,” telling you how to attract more Facebook followers or how to leverage LinkedIn to its full potential. There’s just such a deluge of that kind of information already out there. Instead, besides sharing some general thoughts on social media, we’re going to offer our take on the role it’s played in our own company. Then, in Part 2, we’ll share some success stories of several big name brands that we think “get it.”
Defining Social Media
Social media encompasses more than blogging and “The Big Three.” While Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the most widely embraced venues in the social media kingdom for business, there are many other communal sites such as YouTube, Google + (Google’s attempt to compete with Facebook), BranchOut (Facebook’s LinkedIn wannabe), Blogger, Flickr, Delicious, and Pinterest to name but a few. But that doesn’t begin to tap the industry specific social sites. Currently our company participates (to varying degrees) in no less than 28 marketing/advertising/design online communities. We won’t spend time describing them, but we do want to get across that social media is more than “Likes” and instant updates, especially when it comes to specific industries.
Social media allows for web-based community where you can unite, share, be inspired and create. For instance, one of our favorite industry-related sites is Behance (http://www.behance.net). It’s a great place to get inspired by other creatives from around the world and bounce around ideas with peers. Through the site, we’ve developed valuable professional relationships with talented creatives. As a matter of fact, several of them have either been interviewed or written guest blogs here on Hileites.
What Social Media Isn’t
We’ll start with discussing social media for Business-to-Business (B2B) entities, since this is how we, and most of our clients, utilize the media. To fully appreciate how it can affect business positively, it’s important to understand what it’s not; namely, an advertising medium. (We acknowledge that for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies there’s an advertising aspect represented through the announcement of sales and the offering of coupons. But even this should be used with discretion so as not to be perceived as hard sell tactics or worse, spam.) So, if it’s not about advertising per se, what’s it all about?
Social media is about, well… being social. It’s about building business, peer, and customer relationships, which lead to brand affiliation and (hopefully) eventually, to brand loyalty. Pardon me if you already know this and are thinking “Well, Dah!” But as we work with clients ten years after LinkedIn was born, nine years after Facebook changed the way we communicate, and seven years since the first tweet got tweeted, we are still questioned by new clients about the purpose of these platforms and how they can enhance their businesses.
Although the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company sites that 72% of all companies are using some sort of social technology, many business owners who don’t have internal marketing departments still don’t have the time to follow the latest trends about what SM is and how it should be used. In fact, most of the people who follow this kind of information are marketing professionals, not business owners since they’re too busy running their businesses.
Social Media May Not Be for Everyone, Right Now
Ha! That got your attention, didn’t it! An article in the Huffington Post recently deemed social media an “indispensible business tool.” But, is this really true? Our company works with a lot of start-ups, who regularly ask us if they should blog and set up Facebook and Twitter pages. Sometimes our answer is “Maybe not right now.” It takes so much effort to get a new company off the ground that often the effort to launch requires the allocation of limited resources elsewhere, like a website that really addresses company goals, search engine optimization (SEO) that allows potential customers to find them on major search engines, and other marketing venues.
If a company is going to embrace the social landscape, they need to have the infrastructure (staff and resources) to consistently formulate something compelling to say (or share), because effective social media is all about interesting and/or valuable content. Since it requires lots of time and resources, companies who jump in need to commit to doing SM for the long haul (or they can decide to hire an outside professional company to handle this service for them if they can afford it).
Need statistics? The Harvard Business Review surveyed 2,100 companies utilizing social media and found:
- A mere 12% of those businesses felt they were using the medium effectively.
- Another 45% felt like they were “getting there” and
- A whopping 43% confessed to be “ineffective users.”
Wow, only 12% felt like they were being effective, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are gaining meaningful financial return on their time and investment. But it’s not just about time and resources. Social media can also affect brand perception for good or ill.
There’s nothing quite as telling as a blog or corporate Facebook page that hasn’t been updated in a year and a half. Believe it or not, it’s not that uncommon to see. What does this communicate? Whether true or not, it suggests a business that’s not going anywhere. Other pitfalls? To borrow from an article in Forbes magazine, business owners make some consistent mistakes when taking a stab at social media, including: one-way communication, expecting instant “results,” and spamming. So, in these instances, social media can actually do more harm than good to a company’s brand.
Our Approach to Social Media
For us (as well as many other companies), social media is a platform for presenting our company in a more informal way. It is outside of the dynamic of buyer and seller, allowing for the traditional corporate persona to diminish and to be replaced with a more personable identity. But social media means more than loosening the proverbial tie. It is also the place for us to present ourselves as experts in our industry, offering (hopefully) entertaining and/or valuable information, advice and interaction.
Although we are active daily on LinkedIn, and Twitter, we particularly like the engagement Facebook offers. This differs from many other companies who prefer to place most of their social media efforts on the former platforms.
On Facebook we take a low-key approach to blowing our own horn. In fact, only about 30% of what we share is actually about us. We use FB primarily to share graphic, product and architectural design executed by other designers and companies from around the world. If it’s interesting to us, we hope it will be interesting to our “Likers” as well.
We also supplement this with inner-office pictures, personal humorous status updates that convey our corporate culture, and occasionally a new project we’ve completed. We decided to concentrate our social media on creativity, because so many other agencies talk about the analytics and technologies of digital marketing engagement. There’s just so much of that out there that we wanted to talk about something else.
What Is Our Expectation of Payoff?
We’re not looking for instant sales generated from our daily engagements, but we are investing in the long-range goal of creating brand awareness and alignment. Our hope is that at some point in the future, one of our “Likers” may suggest to a family member or friend who is starting their own business to check us out. However we have experienced shorter-term results as well.
First, our social media is a strong generator of visitors to our website, and the time they spend on our site is significant. For 2012, after Google organic searches and direct links, Facebook is our leading visitor source followed by our blog (which you’re now reading) and then LinkedIn. Twitter is down the list at number 20, which is still significant considering we had 220 different sources for site visitation via links. Of course, visits don’t necessarily translate to customer conversions, but if we consider our long-term goal of brand awareness, it’s been very effective.
Secondly, a company whose marketing director and other management staff were regularly reading our FB posts contacted me. They asked if I would come and speak to their company about social media. I was glad to put a presentation together which I shared with their entire company at their annual sales meeting. Then about six months later, we were able to bid on, and then develop one of their product websites, providing tangible results of our Facebook efforts.
In our next post, we will share with you several companies that really understand the purpose social media plays in their brand and have used it with significant return.