After meeting with 1,000-plus marketers in eight cities over 27 days so far during the Online Marketing Summit (OMS) tour across the U.S., one question stands out: “What is the right way to use social media?”
Manufacturer Avid Technology of Tewksbury, Massachusetts, uses social media. Iconic airline Southwest Air uses it. So does the Department of Defense. Hundreds of the brand, technology, and agency panelists we talked to use it.
So, what’s the common denominator among diverse organizations that see value in social media? And more importantly, where are they seeing return?
The answer comes from trying to boil it down to a fundamental principle — not a tactic or idea. Social media gives brands a unique opportunity to add personality and a human element; they can reach out to customers in a way previously impossible.
Social media has brought the need to listen and work with customers. We must really treat each other for what we really are — people.
A lot has been written about the pros and cons of blurring our professional and personal worlds. No single answer fits all. It comes down to: “How important is it to you and your company to connect with your customers?”
Basically, do you really want to get to know your customers, help them, understand them, and learn from them. If the answer is “yes,” then blurring personal and professional is probably the best approach you can take. There are three main places to have such a powerful blur:
In Austin, Texas, a panel at OMS was asked: “How do you get very stodgy conservative company and its management to blog? Can you really be both conservative and have a highly personalized blog?”
The answers varied, but one underlying principle emerged: Blogs were created as personal entries that may or may not tie back to a company brand. The most interesting and engaging blogs are written by real people — not the public relations department — with real opinions and real voices. So, a blog is a perfect place to blur one’s personal and professional worlds.
Consider allowing your company’s more outspoken thought leaders to have their own blog. You’ll get the best of two worlds: great brand awareness without risking the brand’s reputation. Stephanie Miller, VP, strategic services at Return Path, summed it up well when she said (and I paraphrase here): “I have my blog and my company picks the post they like and re-post on corporate blog so they have full power to pick and choose and use my posting to help their more corporate entity and I get to just be me and blog away.”
Paula Berg, public relations at Southwest Air, had numerous examples of how the company’s blog helped squelch bad stories, promote positive brand affinity, and test new ideas like how Southwest seats passengers. For consumer brands, I highly recommend looking at Southwest Airlines and see how it put this medium to its highest and best use.
My favorite example is how Southwest mocked two women who got a ton of media coverage by saying they were kicked off a flight for being “too pretty.” Southwest, on its blog and on Twitter, broke down the story to what the real truth was (these gals would not do as told when landing and made a commotion outside bathroom) and even spun it back to make them into laughing stock. So from sexist to satirist in a day.
Probably the best example of how to blur worlds exists here. If you get on Facebook and send out corporate looking e-mail messages to your friends or don’t post any pictures, videos, or show any personality, you should just stick to country club and avoid Facebook.
This social site provides you with a chance to show everyone you’re a human being. This doesn’t mean you need to post a status update (e.g., don’t feed Twitter updates to Facebook) every time you feel the urge.
After talking to marketers in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and all over Texas, I’m convinced that there’s a digital divide involving human behavior: some people are willing to accept personal interactions and transparency for business and personal relationships — and others aren’t willing to do so. (This is in addition to the digital divide/education gap, which is very important issue.)
Some people accept that it’s OK to let others know you’re human and share the same concerns, fears, and passions as others. This acceptance has created the next generation of influencers. People will gravitate to people who blog and those who share their thoughts, pictures, and their personal lives on Facebook because others can relate and empathize with them.
One of the best translations of Facebook use (not advertising) is putting groups and fans of pages up to create what I’ll call “super-subscribers.” These are folks who are willing to get messages about your organization (but not blatant uninteresting promotions) on a high frequency basis. It’s like building a list for your e-newsletter but on a whole other level.
Here you can be interesting, engaging, creative, off-the-cuff, personal, and even test new ways to reach your audience. The Red Cross created a fan page and, with no promotion, had more than 200,000 fans in about a month. The Online Marketing Summit has connected with more than 1,500 people by simply posting the group page on its Web site.
More than just list building, you’re also able to build relationships at warp speed. You can connect in ways that you can’t on e-mail.
In e-mail, you can’t say, “Hey Aaron, that picture of Chicago looks great…was just there last week, maybe we can grab some coffee to discuss that partnership we touched on last year.” You can’t get to understand the person.
A great deal of business (probably hundreds of thousands of dollars) comes from connecting with other people on Facebook. If you doubt this (i.e. “I’m B2B, Facebook isn’t for me” type of sentiment), then connect with me there and I’ll be happy to show you the light. Or just do it if you want to connect, period.
Stop the noise! If you’re going to Tweet, decide why. Are you a journalist who wants to share updates? Are you trying to keep your friends apprised of your every day activity or are you a marketer trying to connect with influencers who can help create buzz and to generate followers to add value to your overall efforts?
If it’s the latter, then you must add value by giving information or updates that others want. For Amazon, it’s discounts; for bloggers, it’s insight; for brand marketers, it’s interesting tidbits about the industry or product line.
Like Facebook, Twitter is a great list-building tool. And if willing to add a little personality and provide value, you can use the blur to really gain a following that can be translated back to more Web site visitors, blog readers, and eventually customers.
If you aren’t sure what you’re doing with Twitter, then don’t do it! Seeing how Comcast created the Comcast Cares Twitter customer services buzz, or how Southwest combats negative publicity, or how eBay users drive demand, and of course how Guy Kawasaki is creating huge lists and influence through his army of “Ghost Tweeters,” really solid business returns are to be had. Just remember the golden Twitter rule: “Tweet to others as you’d want to be tweeted!”
If you aren’t willing to take down the barriers and allow the blurring of personal and professional worlds, others will. And others will gain market share and people will trust them for their answers. So start getting comfortable with yourself so you can share with others!
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