Social Media: Ushering in the New Age of Marketing

May 2012
Issue 26

by Tracy Spevak

In 1995, Clifford Stoll wrote an article for Newsweek called, “The Internet? Bah!” in which he shared:

“…today, I’m uneasy about this most trendy and oversold community. Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries, and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic…”

His summary assessment of the Internet: “Baloney!”

Over the course of history, the mainstream of society has tended to resist emerging communications media, believing that the newest technology is just a passing fad – baloney! – whether it be the telegraph, the television, or more recently the internet. And, that same resistance is evident today when people say, “I don’t see any place for Facebook in my business.” Personally, I’ll let history be my guide and suggest that those who fail to see a role for social media in business are busy reading yesterday’s news.

Today’s News

My business focus is on marketing and, in today’s business world, it is clear that the pendulum is already swinging from conventional marketing strategies to those relying more on technology. Welcome to the age of social media!

In this new world, it is rare to see paper-based marketing packages, to receive a hand-written note, or even to get a rogue sales call from a real person. (In fact, one way to distinguish your marketing efforts these days is to re-apply some of those “old-fashioned” methods.) The newer methods include: LinkedIn networking, Facebooking, blogging, and Tweeting. But, to be honest, I needed to do some research to catch up on the current developments and, for those of you who may also be new to this social media journey, I thought I might offer some guidance on which media, or combinations thereof, might be appropriate for your business.

Aspects of the Shift to Social Media

First and foremost, social media have brought instant communication. As a result, many companies see the opportunity to become more transparent and to provide a direct line of open communication about their business. They also see the advantages of transforming their brand image and showing more of a human side to the business. The open line helps both companies and customers build mutual trust, and this can serve to strengthen the relationship.

Another critical change is that, to participate fully in the new media, companies need to relinquish some control. Once information is released over the social web, your brand and your business is accessible to anyone at any time. Conversations are had both online and offline (that you cannot control) that may result in immediate sales or lead to indirect marketing opportunities down the road. Generally, you want to have your content spread in order to gain broad exposure of your business and your brand, but the messages have to be well constructed.

It is important in the new environment for a company to unify its image across all media. A firm’s communications should project consistent and complementary messaging. Information must be updated regularly, and the content must be worthwhile. More and more, companies are freely providing whitepapers, toolkits, newsletters, and other resources as part of their overall outreach strategy.

So, fine, we can agree that social media are a big part of today’s marketing culture, and we need to take it seriously. Now the effort is to choose what’s right for your business. To help you think through how the most popular modes might help you in your marketing strategies, here’s a quick review of the major social media tools available today.

LinkedIn® is the world’s largest professional network on the Internet to date. It has over 161 million members in over 200 countries and territories. When I think of social media with the most business relevance, LinkedIn is the one that comes to mind. This social tool has many uses, including connecting with colleagues and business acquaintances, recruiting new talent, prospecting for leads, researching company information, and collaborating in specific industry or interest-focused groups (called “Social Media Peer Groups” or SMPGs).

In addition, LinkedIn can assist you in promoting both yourself and your firm. By actively sharing posts on interesting articles, comments or views, participating in group discussions or linking presentations or whitepapers to your profile, you can discreetly demonstrate your credibility. Avoid overt plugs on how great your firm is. Instead, let the information shared on your profile speak for itself. In addition, by connecting to current colleagues, past business contacts, friends and prospects, you can expand your network in a very short time. Outreach is key in LinkedIn. Use your connections to help spread the word.

Facebook® is the world’s largest social network with over 500 million users. Its mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. While many people use Facebook at home to share photos, news, and comments with friends and family, where is its place in the business world? Well, for some ideas about this, just visit Old Spice, Deloitte, or American Express.

Facebook can be a highly effective business tool for marketing your brand and connecting with clients. This social platform is designed around storytelling, which in essence is what we do as marketers, right? Our goal is to share our company focus, connect with our clients on more of a personal level, and ultimately earn our client’s trust and continued business. This social tool provides a great forum for communicating a company’s human side.

For some reason, blogging is a mystery for many people but, very simply, a blog is a “log” of messages – usually dated and usually short – that can provide a way of publishing news and information. They can also be used to create online discussions involving multiple users on a variety of topics. Blogs sky rocketed in the late 1990s when software became available to all and easy to use.

In many cases, blogging may take place within another forum. For example, Twitter (more below) is a “micro” blogging tool – “micro” because it has a limitation on the number of characters. But, while a micro blogging tool, it is still a blog, and you are still sharing thoughts, ideas, and soliciting reaction. Facebook, also, offers the ability to blog through BlogLink – you can use it to demonstrate your areas of expertise and to offer value to your readers. You can also apply blogging techniques within your company website. Today’s social media tools have made blogging easy by providing the functionality within other platforms that you’re already using. Given this, you can take advantage of what blogging offers, but there may not be need to set up a separate blog.

Twitter

As mentioned, Twitter® is a communication vehicle that uses “micro” blogging to connect its 140 million subscribers. Users can send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters called “tweets.” While “tweeting” seems especially popular with teenagers and celebrities, there is a specific place for it in business. Businesses today are using Twitter to move from “selling” their clients to engaging them and making connections. They do this effectively in three ways:

  1. Signaling – Tweets are used to signal value to a potential client. These tweets are not overt ads. Instead, they often contain insights from an expert or clever and witty comments from a company spokesperson.
  2. Indirect – This is method is where employees tweet on behalf of themselves, and this imparts credibility because it comes from a “typical” worker perspective. For this method, however, it helps to have company guidelines and expectations put in place.
  3. Internal – Twitter provides an easy way to connect internal employees and to foster collaboration. Internal communications can be dispersed quickly and concisely. Twitter allows announcements about new services or products to be shared with the sales group, meeting changes to be sent to a globally disperse team, or solutions to a customer issue solved more easily by involving others.

No matter the way in which Twitter is used, it has opened up the mainstream from the traditional two-way communication to a much more collaborative environment. Twitter can also help drive traffic to your website or Facebook page, but it has to be used on a regular basis to keep followers engaged.

Reflecting on the “New Age”

So, what does this all mean? What if you don’t make the shift from traditional communication and marketing to allow social media into the overall plan? In short, you lose an ability to connect with your clients and staff and to learn directly from them. The social media platforms create a space for knowledge sharing, idea exchanging, and general interacting. It is here where companies can become like people – approachable and likeable – and, by being connected, we come to know our clients, our employees, and the marketplace better. This allows us to respond in a very timely way with services and products that more accurately meet client needs.

Social media is here to stay and will continue to mushroom and morph in new and interesting ways. Suffice it to say, the shift will not stop and wait for you. So, the time is now to choose how to most effectively integrate social media into your organization. Put some key metrics in place, and you will be able to determine the best combination for optimizing your presence in the new market. Then, you’ll have clear sailing into the new media mainstream.

Bon voyage!

Notes:
LinkedIn® is a registered trademark of LinkedIn Corporation.
Facebook® is a registered trademark of Facebook Inc.
Twitter® is a registered trademark of Twitter, Inc.

 

Next month:

Competency Modeling: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Competency models seem to be “all the rage” in the talent world. But why? What are they anyhow, and what’s the big deal? Well, very simply, if the workforce is the house, the competency model is the frame that holds it together. Learn about the Good … and how to avoid the Bad and the Ugly … from This Old (Competency) House expert, Melissa Noonan. Tune in for the June issue of the Free-Range Learning News.

 

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