Social Media Strategies for 2010 and Beyond

1 05 2010

During the past months I have talked about different strategies that contribute to empowering and enabling social media strategies from a marketing and public relations standpoint. These strategies have the ultimate goal of fostering good relationships between a company and its publics; the cornerstone of all public relations endeavors. Today it could be argued that public relations, marketing and social media practices can work concurrently as part of an overall marketing and public relations strategy. This process should be thoroughly comprehensive; from the way that websites are set up and presented to customers to the strategy that is used to interact with them. Short and long term strategies should also be part of the planning process. This document is a compendium of those strategies along with an application of the topics I have discussed on this blog so far.

Managing and Getting People’s Attention:

Today, with the onset of time-shifted media, never-ending possibilities of things to do online and overall busy life-styles, getting the attention of people (consumers) today is more difficult than ever. Media scholars, in increasing numbers are proclaiming that traditional forms of marketing, advertising and public relations are becoming inefficient and nothing short of wasted time and efforts. Fortunately social media’s open access helps address this. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are the places where much of people’s attention is now being spent. Similarly to how advertisers shifted their focus from radio to television when that new technology emerged, today the focus has to shift from television advertising to social media engagement. Fortunately this endeavor provides multiple benefits; as a form of advertising it engages people with a brand and related messages. However as an engagement tool it assists with:

1. Building customer loyalty

2. Maintaining brand awareness

3. Enabling word-of-mouth marketing

—an example that perfectly exemplifies all three forms of this engagement is what Best Buy is now doing on Twitter. If Best Buy offers some sort of coupon via their Twitter feed, it encourages people to visit their local Best Buy (loyalty), fosters conversations (brand awareness) and it can be easily shared with a re-tweet (word-of-mouth).

Facebook is also an important component to creating connections with consumers in platforms where they already devote much of their attention. With over 400 million users Facebook seems poised to be the leader in social networking, at least for the foreseeable future. Surprisingly, Facebok has now on track to overtake Google in terms of directing traffic to other websites. It seems likely that in the coming months, Facebook will continue to expand its presence and relevance for our society as part of the social media landscape. Thus from a marketing and public relations standpoint it seems clear that Facebook is a very important tool for reaching customers. If Twitter is about enabling sharing and serving as a gateway for content (see more about Twitter here), then Facebook serves more as a participation and engagement tool. Of course, this participation can have the sharing component, but for the most part it serves more as way for companies to listen to their customers and communicate with them in a place where they already spend their time. Facebook is the perfect tool for this now and in the immediate future as it continues to grow and expand.Short-term

Strategies and Best Practices

Arguably, the single most important step is for companies to take now (if they have not already done so), is to overcome their trepidation of partaking in the social media landscape. Many companies have already done so and are most likely seeing benefits from their efforts. Compared to risks, the benefits outweigh them when considering these ventures. At the very least companies are able to provide good customer service and show that they are ahead of the curve to their customers. A more desirable, and tangible benefit is of course when companies start seeing that their social media marketing and public relation endeavors result in some sort of Return on Investment (ROI). It seems clear then, that there are more benefits to be had by moving to social media than drawbacks.

There are certain strategies and best practices to keep in mind when moving a company’s presence to the social media field. Given the fact that the Web 2.0 era is all about sharing and interaction it is important to remember to keep things simple. This Mashable article suggests that when including sharing and subscription options on any website the buttons for the most popular social networking sites should also be the most predominant. The premise of this thinking is that if sharing occurs on the biggest and most popular sites, then eventually the same information will trickle down to reach all areas online where people end up seeing the information eventually.

With Web 2.0 brands and companies now have unparalleled access to listen to their consumers both the negative and positive feedback. Feedback loops are now easily shared. It could be argued that the best marketing strategy in this new environment is to listen to consumers first and respond what they have to say to keep them happy. Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth marketing leads to increased trust of a brand and its products. These two processes can work in tandem to benefit both customers and companies. According to media scholar Brian Solis: “80% of (customers) reported that customer stories and suggestions shape products and services. As a result, brands earn the trust and loyalty of their customers by listening and responding”

Finally, social media strategists need to remember that social networking websites are places where customers are in charge. They can chose to listen and ignore the messages that are put out by companies with the relative ease of a click of a button. Thus, maintaining a natural, approachable and genuine tone when speaking to customers is of upmost importance. It is also important to think about the future when planning out social media strategies. What may be the most important technology may be outdated six months ago and replaced by something else. Although predicting what these new trends may be is difficult, having a long-term plan for adopting new changes is also important.

Long-Term Strategies and Best Practices

The key to ensuring success for social media and public relation practitioners in the long-run is to stay ahead of new and emerging technologies. Moore’s Law is also applicable to Web 2.0 technologies. Thus realizing that social media technologies and practices will be constantly changing should be the principal long-term strategy to keep in mind. I have previously discussed this topic, and gave the example of Starbucks and their efforts to stay ahead of the curve. They not only use popular social platforms that are relevant today, but also up and coming platforms that are yet to diffuse on a mass level. (See Foursquare). Starbucks has managed to foster relevancy to their brand by interacting with their customers via current and up and coming technologies.

Another important long-term strategy to keep in mind in regards to the more technical aspect of a social media operation is the differences between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) versus Social Media Optimization (SMO). These two processes can work together very well to help a brand expand its online presence. Given the fact that today, many people are spending much of their time online in social networking sites it makes sense to make SMO part of the continual strategy. For the time being, Facebook continues to be the most important player in the social media landscape, with Twitter being a close second. Guidelines for SMO have been developed by social media scholars. These guidelines rely on people actively sharing content to their friends and followers on social networks.

Ultimately, success or failure when embarking on social media initiatives relies on a number of factors. However, having the right short and long term strategies and a well-informed knowledge of the basic components of social media will ultimately yield the best possible results. As more people and companies continue to expand their use of social media we will continue to discover the best ways to use these technologies to their fullest potential. In the meantime, continual exploration and experimentation is the best option to pursue. This is for both the benefits of customers as well as companies. As they establish a relationship in the social media landscape both can benefit from this relationship.

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Search Engine Optimization or Social Media Optimization?

9 04 2010

Changes in the Web 2.0 era tend to happen at alarmingly fast rates. What might be an essential skills for employees to have two months ago may be outdated or not as important today. As someone who has been trying to enter the job market in a social media position, I commonly see job requirements that list experience with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO relies on the architecture of search engines like Google that use tracking “spiders” to find information on the web. The information is uploaded to the internet in the forms of keywords that people may use when they are searching the web. The goal of SEO is to ensure that a company is easily identifiable when consumers search for information on search engines. This should be an important goal for any company that is trying to establish a presence online.

However, Brian Solis suggests that this method is not the only important consideration for establishing a web presence. According to Solis this trend is changing. Once again Social Networks are at the front of significant changes on the internet. They are overtaking search engines as the main source of information for many internet users. This might eventually render search engine optimization useless. This is being overtaken by Social Media Optimization (SMO). Solis explains the possible reasons as to why this process started and its effects:

“Facebook recently overtook Yahoo as the second most visited site in the United States. And in doing so, Facebook along with other social networks set the stage for a confluence of social and search that fundamentally changes who we, as a society, discover and share information, and in turn, where attention is directed and driven.”

Given the impact and relevance of social networks today SMO should be a part of any company’s marketing and engagement strategy. While this transition continues to take place, Solis suggests the overall approach that people should keep in mind with this new method: SEO + SMO= Amplified findability in the traditional and social web”.

Getting to know and understand the actual SMO process requires a redefinition of traditional optimization practices. The earliest online article I could find about SMO dates back to August, 2006 on IMB, or The Influential Marketing Blog. The originally posted an article called “5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO).” This list was eventually adapted by other media scholars and grew to be a 17 point list. Some of the later points are redundant or right-down unnecessary, in my opinion. For example: 14. Develop a SMO strategy, 11. Be real, 10. Create content. The first five points are the most useful and important, even today, almost four years after this list was initially developed:

  1. Increase your linkability
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy
  3. Reward inbound links
  4. Help your content travel
  5. Encourage the mashup

I would argue that these rules are all about embracing the participatory web and thus its success hinges on companies being able to interact with their users on social media platforms. However this is not just limited to interaction, nor is interaction the most important component. Instead the focus here it foster and allow sharing to take place. This is essential for sharing not only content but also sharing and spreading brand awareness and enhancing. This thus enhances the spread and attention that any given brand may receive. Going back to first Brian Solis article, he has a chart that shows the origins or referral traffic for some websites. It is not surprising to see that social networks, (including Facebook, Twitter and Myspace) have become the predominant sources for referring traffic to these brands.

USA Today leads this group of brands in terms of generating traffic via social networks. I imagine that this is due to their posts and news stories which many people probably go on to share on social networking sites. These probably include some sort of link that re-directs the viewer back to the USA Today page. The only brand that has not experienced this shift is Gap. If they wanted to increase their presence and traffic generated by social networks I imagine that a strategy based around coupons or sales, easily shareable on social networks, would drive traffic to their websites from these sources.

As social networking sites it will be interesting to see how much their impact continues to change the entire internet. They are currently the main source of attention for online users, thus companies need to establish a presence on these sites if they want to continue to be relevant for their current audience as well as potential audiences.





Return on Investement (ROI)

12 03 2010

As the Social Media Revolution continues to expand and change the online world, many companies ponder the best strategies for reaching consumers on this new landscape. Undeniably there is a vast and untapped market out there for any company to reach and engage. In other words, each of them have their very own groundswell, a fan base of varying sizes but unequivocal devotion a brand or product. Groundswells everywhere are just waiting to be reached and tapped. To be engaged in some sort of interaction as the internet continues to vie for their attention in one way or another. The challenge for marketers who attempt to engage customer in the social media arena is to figure out the best way to do so. At the same time, they have to maintain accountability and prove why they do their jobs. The best way to do so is by getting customers to see their efforts and thus create some sort of business transaction. Companies want to make sure that the efforts and expenses that they put into social media outlets pay off in the end. More importantly they want to make sure that they are creating a profit.  This is more commonly known as the Return on Investement.

There are a number of outlets for people to reach their consumers online. The three most popular being: Facebook, Twitter and Blogs. Each site offers different advantages and benefits over the other. However, they are best used in a combination of all three (see my previous research on best practices for using Twitter). The most recent discussion by social media scholars have focused on Facebook and its ever expanding presence and power. Today Facebook has over 400 million active users (see more numbers here), that is more people than the population of the United States. These users interact with Facebook in a any number of ways. From connecting with friends, posting status updates, but most importantly for this discussion, they become fans of pages and share links. According to Brian Solis, today in 2010, we are in an era of social media marketing, based on information, rationalization and resolve (see more at this Mashable article). In other words consumers are tired of traditional advertising. It is not a secret that it has become a mostly ineffective way to create sales. Yet the profit motive continues to be an important consideration for decision makers and companies. Solis mentions the fact that there are no clear, tangible standards or figures that show ROI numbers for social media marketing. Thus many people are hesitant to engage with social media initiatives. In this instance hesitation is the same as ignorance. Most people are doubtful to try out new initiatives for fear of failure. Missing out on social media initiatives and continuing the same marketing practices of the past few decades mean that companies will continue to struggle to develop effective marketing strategies, reach their consumers on an arena that is comfortable and familiar to them and avoiding the further monetary benefits that reaching the groundswell can bring. A key component of social media is the constant flow of communication that like-minded people have on this field. As Solis discusses this can be an incredibly important way to foster sales:

Customer Insight

Customer ratings and reviews rose to the top of useful marketing feedback, as they delivered tangible ROI insight. In 2009, 80% of respondents reported that customer stories and suggestions shape products and services. As a result, brands earn the trust and loyalty of their customers by listening and responding.

Developing a strategy remains a murky area for people who are trying to tap into this market. However some media critics point to the fact that the social media landscape is starting to become more stable and reliable. Steve Rubel says that out of this discord one player is starting to emerge as the definite source to reach consumers: Facebook (at least for the time being). A fairly recent occurrence that has been noted with Facebook is the fact that it is now starting to overtake Google in terms of directing more users online. Rubel says that he “treats Facebook as his private newsreader”. It seems that Rubel is not the only one. As more and more companies begin to experiment with social media marketing, Facebook seems like the best place to begin. Many companies have set up their own “Fan Pages” on Facebook. This strategy has many benefits: it offers immediate recognition, ease of use and direct access to consumers. Fan pages offer the author the ability to publish statuses, much in the same way as any regular Facebook user can. As people begin to connect with and become fans of more and more entities and companies they care about, their list of fan pages can grow at a tremendous pace. Many of these companies use their Facebook fan page to publish news releases or link to their websites, among other interactions. Rubel has some ideas as to why Facebook is gaining tract:

…in an age of infinite noise, the site (Facebook) actually helps me manage my attention. What’s more it makes it easier for me to connect with streams I care about from brands, news sources and thinkers like Jeremiah Owyang and Om Malik. I also like the richness of the conversation and how it’s easy to read, navigate and respond.

Thus it makes sense for Rubel to use his Facebook as his primary newsreader. It seems likely that many other people to begin to follow suit. Given the fact that Facebook is a website where people devote much of their attention, it makes sense for companies to invest in social media endeavors. What makes Facebook such an important tool for marketers is the integration that they get into the everyday lives of people. People can choose which pages to add to their news feed. This is incredibly important. Customers are electing to be exposed to this information; they want to give their attention to it. This is a prime target audience for marketers. Ten years ago, it would have been nearly impossible to find a group of people who are simply willing to listen to what companies have to say. Facebook facilitates this. Given Facebook’s structure, some will want to share content posted by companies with their friends. This is word-of-mouth marketing at its best. Given Facebook’s exponential growth the benefits and most importantly the profits of social media marketing are likely to be found on this platform.

The time has come for companies who are ahead of the curve to begin investing time, energy and money into establishing, fosterling and maintaining a media presence. Instead of worry about ROI and numbers they should foster a strategy that will help them tap into these audiences. It is clear by now that the audience and more importantly the attention is there. What remains to be done now is for companies to take the steps and try new marketing approaches that will work in the 21st century. Although strategies can be varied and go through much trail-and-error before marketers are able to fine tune the best way to reach their publics, they need to start now to gain this advantage. The best strategy will most likely be different between one company and another. What is clear is that the worse strategy is doing nothing and avoiding social media marketing altogether. There will be some companies that avoid it, but the ones that do not will most likely see benefits from this. More importantly they will be able to produce that ever important ROI.

Links Cited:

http://mashable.com/2010/01/26/maturation-social-media-roi

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/02/14/BUU51C0AMN.DTL

http://www.steverubel.com/facebook-now-drives-more-traffic-to-web-sites

http://www.steverubel.com/three-ways-to-manage-your-attention-with-face