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Investment in social media calls for patience, commitment

Rochester Business Journal
January 24, 2014

With the onset of a new year, social media marketing motors on. The fluidity and speed of change of the medium, however, leaves many firms wondering where to invest their time, energy and money.

Use of social media, though still feared by some companies, has reached a point of critical mass, allowing most consumers and businesses to understand its significance.

With that acknowledgement, businesses find themselves at varying points on the social media marketing spectrum, attempting to figure out how to use new social media strategies to meet their objectives. Whether a business is just jumping on the social bandwagon or has been closely keeping up with the industry, some ideas about social media marketing can be left behind in 2013.

Ignoring social media platforms, choosing to be antisocial on social media, and thinking of social media in a silo without integration are all ways businesses lost opportunities to engage with customers last year, industry experts say.

“The biggest thing to leave behind is the notion that you can be on social media and not be social,” says Jeffrey Commaroto, technology specialist at Tipping Point Media Inc. “We have companies that we work with, and they say: ‘I know I’ve got to be there. I want to be there, but I don’t want to talk to anybody, and if something comes in we don’t want to hear about, just delete it from the page.’

“The only way it’s beneficial is if you’re actually producing content and communicating with people.”

“Social media is really about a two-way conversation, and it’s all about engagement,” says Holly Barrett, vice president of agency services for Brand Cool Marketing Inc. “If you want to just push information out there, (it is) probably not your best strategy.”

Adam Stetzer, president and co-founder of HubShout LLC, likens using social media in marketing to using yeast in bread.

“No one says, ‘Wow, this bread is so good because of the yeast,’ but without it, (the dough) didn’t rise. So it really helps the whole thing come together, and that’s where I think social media is really important,” he says.

Adds Stetzer: “If you’re thinking of it in a silo, stop. When you say, ‘I’m going to buy social media services’ and you’re looking for someone to tweet for you, you’re off base. You need to be thinking about it in an integrated fashion, and you should be getting those services from someone who can leverage those parts.”

Lasting tenets of the industry focus on the customer, and the emotive avenues of marketing will always be important, no matter what medium or channel companies use.

“We call our approach customer-think, and we really spend our time, no matter what the tool is. There will be different social market outposts and in the next five years a hundred more new places to get messages out, but understanding what the customer is about, what they’re looking for, what their needs are, that is really the value in our business,” says William Murtha, president and CEO of Roberts Communications Inc.

Predictions for social marketing in 2014 include the importance of content creation, engagement and customer focus—mainstays with new parameters.

“I can’t sit here and tell you this many people will be on Facebook, but in terms of trends, the big one for marketers is that these platforms have been built, they have millions of people, marketers know they need to be there, so they’re all entering onto social media, and those platforms need to make money,” Commaroto says. “They’re finding ways to get people to pay for audiences, (and) what’s likely going to happen over the next few years is finding a balance.”

Rochester businesses can stay ahead of the curve by developing a sound strategy that starts with answering why they are in business and telling the story their customers need to know.

“Nine times out of 10, businesses do not map their business goals to marketing goals,” Barrett says. “That’s the first gap that they miss. And if they did that, then when they start to look at strategy and tactics, they could start prioritizing: ‘Hey, I only have this much money, so what’s going to get the biggest bang for the buck or what can I really commit long-term so that we’re implementing this effectively?’”

Merely signing up for social media will not help a company to reach its long-term goals. For instance, if there are a 100 million people on a social network, reaching just 2 percent of them is not how it works, Commaroto says.

Choosing the platforms that make sense for each company, getting employees to be brand ambassadors through social media, and starting with small, manageable initiatives such as a blog are some ways companies of any size can begin to see the benefits of social media marketing.

Social media use as an investment is beginning to be understood as other forms of marketing are taking a back seat to the online world.

“You can’t predict the viral-ness of things, but you can really watch the metrics of where people are going, what they’re doing, when they get there (and) what area of the site they’re looking at,” Murtha says. “We track all those things (for) all of our clients who are spending a decent amount of money in the digital space. … We provide a dashboard so they can look and say, ‘If I’m investing $1,000 a week in this program, I know where the activity and my sale volume is growing from, and I’m getting more value out of these four tactics. Let’s shift some money to the ones that are working.’”

The more a business can tie social media marketing into the fabric of the company as a crucial component, the tighter the bonds between consumers and business-to-business models, experts say.

“Weave it into everything that you’re already doing,” says TC Pellett, manager of public relations for Brand Cool. “Take that step back and figure out what it is, even if you say, ‘In 2014, these are the five things we’re going to talk about, and we’re going to stop there,’ and hold yourself to it.”

The business world has been slower to adapt to the changing medium.

“One of the things about social media (is) you have to be able to be kind of in-the-moment with your communications, which business in general tends to really hate,” says Jon Itkin, director of account planning for Brand Cool. “When we create bureaucracy around ourselves in business, a lot of it is around communication—the idea that (when) a company is going to communicate, it’s something that has to be filtered through a lot of different channels.

“I think a definite trend, if this is going to work (is that) the layers of bureaucracy between the creation of a message and implementation will start to really evaporate.”

This year is likely to bring a focus on content and quality engagement. Visual content and speedy access to information will be critical.

“Visual not only does that, but it also helps get over barriers like translation, so what we’re seeing is if we can take a complicated concept and very quickly create some kind of visual or video that helps take the mystery out of it, that that should always be the goal for clarity of communication,” Barrett says.

Today customers and businesses are online, and that helps businesses to get customer feedback, share knowledge and keep track of an audience.

“A content-first perspective becomes a part of this firmament where you use it in a lot of different ways; it becomes an avenue for distribution,” Itkin says. “On social media, a very small percentage of people actually engage with what you put out.

“You need to respond in engaging conversations so that’s a public stage that shows how engaging you are. But then if you focus purely on that, you’re going to miss a great opportunity to effectively just disseminate stuff, just get more eyeballs.”

According to local industry gurus, the businesses that succeed in social media marketing are those that understand both engagement and the idea of using it as a tool to spread the word about their brand with content creation at the forefront. Many will also understand the need to invest in social media marketing.

“It’s a long game,” Itkin says. “If you’re going to be in the content game, it’s a long game, and people have to have patience. Another myth that will evaporate, if it hasn’t already, is the idea that social media is cheap or free. The idea that it’s free is laughable; the idea that it’s cheap is foolhardy, it’s foolish.”

With the strategy come new ideas for successful online media campaigns. The metrics of social media marketing do not always correlate to increased revenues.

Stetzer’s advice: “Realize (that) social media is not measured how you think it is. It’s not the number of followers; it’s all these other pieces. … You have to redefine your success criteria.”

Creating a sound plan could dissolve fear of social media marketing.

“The suggestion that I would make to any small or medium-sized company investing in social media, especially in Rochester, in a (business-to-business) context is to say, ‘Hit pause,’” Itkin says. “Think first about content, think about what you can put out there that adds value and sells your company. 

“It can come in the form of a blog. You could publish it on hard paper and mail it to people; there’s something to that. And then you think about social media as a way to say, ‘Now let’s deepen engagement and build community around it.’”

1/24/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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