Conversations Are Two-way

Alan BelniakSocial Media5 Comments

Earlier this week, I attended the ‘Evolution of a Social Media Strategy’ event, hosted by MITX here, in Boston, MA. The event featured three prominent speakers from the area relaying real-life experiences with rolling out social media campaigns. It was interesting to hear what they did, how they overcame hurdles and obstacles, and the lesson learned from the experiences. A healthy Q&A session followed.

Like I blogged about with Ian Hughes, I won’t provide a minute-by-minute recap of the event, but rather, I’ll call out some of the highlights that stuck with me. All three were great presentations, but I took a different amount of notes for each one and therefore a different amount of take-aways.

The first speaker was Seth Lieberman, CEO, Pangea Media in Watertown, MA. Some of the key take-aways from Seth’s first few slides before the case studies:

  • Clear objectives – Know what you want to do and why before rolling up your sleeves and creating the media assets. If not, it’ll be like trying to steer a rudderless ship: you won’t know where you’re going, why you’re going there, and you can’t possibly course-correct.

  • Pick your channels –Social media isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach. On the other side of that coin, you can (and should) also develop an asset that can be used in more than one channel. The key is to know where you’re going to use it and why. Does it make sense to use it there? If the answer isn’t a solid yes, then keep looking.

  • How are you going to measure ROI? – The old management adage, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is applicable here. It will behoove you to set in place some sort of measurement mechanism. Sure, some executive or at least someone in accounting is going to want to know if the new step into social media is paying off. They key, though, is to identify the correct metrics for the measurement. Todd Defren of Shift Communications explains this really well here.

  • Develop something that can be adopted across multiple platforms – See the ‘Pick your Channels’ above. When you set out to create the content, think about how it can be re-leveraged in other social network platforms, multiple video sites, and the like. Make that creative dollar work for you by making the asset extensible and re-usable.

  • Focus on building a media asset; something that lasts – Speaking of asset, you need to approach what you’re doing not as a one-shot deal to spike traffic for the critical fourth quarter. Rather, focus on the long tail as well as the immediate impact. Create something that can stand the test of time and be revisited, continuously generating awareness and inviting participation.

  • You don’t have to create everything from scratch – The last take away from Seth’s slides that I’ll comment about is that you don’t have to start anew each time. Look around you. Whether it’s discarded scaffolding from a previous project, a thought or a theme that can tie together another campaign, or even a past event from somewhere else in marketing land that will resonate with people… consider using it somehow. It’s not about creating super cool flash – it’s about communicating to your customer and starting a conversation.

The next speaker was Kelly Burke, Account Director at Mullen. Instead of dragging you through slides Kelly had shown, I’ll comment on the case study she reviewed. Kelly spoke in detail about a Prom Crasher event, hosted by the Gaia Online virtual world/social network. Gaia Online approached Mullen with a desire to broadly expose and promote this event, but needed to do so quickly. Kelly expertly recognized that the long lead times of off-line media were not going to work in this situation. Kelly and her team worked diligently to capture the essence of the event and spread buzz as fast as possible. The Gaia Online community was fortunate enough to have paired with Christian Siriano as its event spokesperson and lead attraction.

The portion of Kelly’s presentation that really impacted me was the ‘call to action’ among existing Gaia Online members. One of the early morning television news magazine programs was discussing the event live. Gaia Online suggested that its users show up on location with signs, making noise, and the like. Kelly indicated that they “brought enough granola bars and waters for about a dozen people, but when they arrived, there were hundreds of Prom Crahser and Gaia Online fans!” The take-away is that if you can energize that base, and really connect with your customers on that level, they will evangelize the brand for you, and in a way far greater than you could imagine.

The third Speaker was Mike Troiano (@miketrap), author of his Scalable Intimacies blog. Mike presented a fantastic case study of converting a social media skeptic. This time, it was personal. Mike’s cousin Paul is the founder and CEO of Finale, a dessert-only restaurant in the Boston area. You can (and should) read Mike’s blog post about it here. I’ll summarize my take-aways as they relate to the MITX event.

Mike convinced his cousin to begin looking at Twitter and Facebook and the whole lot. Mike’s reason? Your customers are already there, and they’re already talking about you and your brand. You might as well engage them. So, Paul created a Twitter account (at zero cost, other than some time monitoring the tweets) and started to see some activity from loyal customers. Ditto to creating a Facebook fan page for Finale fanatics.

Mike commented on one promotion that his cousin ran during one of the business-bruising winter storms of 2008/2009 here in Massachusetts. Paul worried that the weather was going to cripple business. Mike suggested pushing out a promotion – a digital coupon, if you will – to Twitter customers for just that night. He did, and it worked. Paul didn’t report record-breaking revenues, but it permitted him to break even on an otherwise miserable business day.

Mike’s point with this is that it’s important to engage in meaningful conversations with your customers – that’s the point of social media. Using Twitter to find out what they like and don’t like isn’t the answer, but rather a tool to help understand the dynamics. Giving loyal customers a special deal isn’t really giving away margin since it’s those customers that frequent the store so often anyway. The push mentality of broadcast media works in certain arenas and fails in others.

If you think you’re ready to engage in social media, you first need to drop the bullhorn, and first listen and monitor what your customers and others are saying about you and your brand. Then, after you have a sense of what’s going on, begin to participate. Engage those customers. Write a blog. Make a comment elsewhere. Legitimize yourself as the real deal, and not a slick car salesman. Then, after you’ve gained trust (or at the least sufficiently disarmed them), activate the customer base (Mike says it best here: “…leverage the platform created by an event to deliver a more interactive, intimate, and in the end impactful experience to individual consumers”).

I’ve tried explaining this to someone I know as well who is trying to promote his wares on Facebook. After hearing some hype about it, he said that he created a page and advertised an upcoming event. I was dumbstruck. No listening, no monitoring, no sensing who was influential, no research into where potential fans might be – just a broadcast message of an event. I shook my head. This person tried to get right to ‘Activate’ without listening or participating.

Social media isn’t Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These are merely the tools to engage in a conversation with your current and future customers. They allow you to have one-on-one conversations at a broader scale.

After these three great speakers, the question and answer session started. I’ve captured just a few below (some are in the form of just comments, and the question isn’t really all that necessary to understand the point).

  • Social media will never have the same sense of reach as broadcast media, but it can (and will) have the same (or better) results.
  • A key question to ask: what are you really trying to do?  What is it that you want to achieve?  Ask that, and then set up metrics to try and measure that:

1. What is the goal?

2. Who do you want to contact?

3. Create content that is attractive to them

  • A comment was made about reacting to negative reviews and posts on your company or product. The response was that although these posts and posters may be loud, they are often the influencers.  Look here (the entire list, but especially number 7) and here (follow up here) to get a sense of why it pays to listen to your customers.
  • If you implement some sort of rating system (starts, thumbs up and down, etc.), you are implicitly allowing the measurement of influencer level! You can quickly get a sense of who the influential posters and bloggers are and see how often certain areas of your product are discussed and blogged about.
  • If you get push-back from senior management and the decision makers inside a company about using social media versus broadcast media (and they just aren’t seeing it as valuable), keep in mind (and help them understand) and find a nice way to say “they are not the target!” – the customers are! The customers’ interests and intimacy with the internet may not always be aligned with those of senior management.

This was a great event. I’m hopeful that MITX continues to host events like this and capture notable speakers.

(note: edits for grammar only made on 2009.04.11)