Monday Mornings with Madison



We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about protecting your online brand.  Some of the suggestions included going beyond dipping a toe into the waters of online interactive marketing and diving head-first into the depths of social media.  But the rising tide of social-media, which offers unparalleled access to word-of-mouth buzz among current and future customers, also comes with potential dangers. 

Some companies have already taken the suggested steps to ensure their online brand is coasting along.  They’ve ramped up their customer service and built up their listening station, properly engaging customers on Yelp.   They’ve claimed their SERP (Search Engine Results Page a/k/a Google 10), and have set up a company fan page on Facebook and profile on Linked-In.  Their employees are tweeting messages to the world via Twitter.  Now they can just sit back and relax, right?  Wrong.

While navigating social media may sound simple, there are as many ways to sink in online marketing as there are in traditional marketing, even once your program is up and running.  Perhaps more.  Technology and online norms are both new and rapidly evolving, often in ways that are particularly challenging for companies.  Here are the strategies to remember as you launch your social media program in 2010.

Strategy 1:  Embrace the Journey.
For companies that haven’t plunged into the world of social media yet, don’t pretend you can do without social media.  Beware of the Skeptics:  those executives who can’t understand why they should devote employee time and company resources to social media, and dismiss Facebook and Twitter as fads that are little more than a waste of time and money.  Explain to them that social media is here to stay.  Pretending it doesn’t exist is both foolish and risky. 

The numbers speak for themselves.  To get them on board, here are some stats you can share about the rocketing growth of key outlets.  According to The Nielsen Company, Facebook, the largest outlet, recently reached 300 million users worldwide — roughly the population of the U.S.  And 75% of its users are ages 25 to over 65.  Of that, the largest demographic group – comprising about 35% of users – is the 35 to 49 age set that most businesses are eager to reach.  Over 50% are ages 25-49!  Just as important, the amount of time being spent per person per month on Facebook has gone from an average of about 75 minutes in August, 2008 to about 330 minutes (5 ½ hours) by August, 2009.

Although a significantly smaller group with only 50 million users worldwide as of October, 2009, the profile of users on Linked-In is even more compelling.  Nearly 90% of all users are ages 25-64.  Of those, over 50% are ages 35-49 and nearly 75% are ages 35-64.  Specifically focused on professionals, it stands to reason that Linked-In users include those with the most disposable income and greatest accumulation of wealth and property.

As for Twitter, the newest and perhaps most difficult-to-understand outlet for executives, the numbers are worth noting.  It is projected that Twitter will have over 18 million users by the end of 2009.  Of those, about 80% are ages 25-64 according to The Nielsen Company.  If you think the majority of those users are in their 20s, think again.  The largest demographic group on Twitter – about 40% – are ages 35 to 49.  This is not a teen fad!

Strategy 2:  Understand the Cost.
It is easy to down play or underestimate the cost of social media.  While Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages, Linked-In profiles and YouTube channels don’t cost a thing, don’t think for a second your company can do social-media ‘on the cheap.’ Getting the most out of these tools requires time, attention and skill — none of which are free.  Not allocating sufficient resources means you will limit your reach and possibly sink your social media program before it ever sets sail.

Social media does save you some money over time since you can use these outlets for efforts you might otherwise contract out to PR firms, ad agencies or market researchers. But don’t expect it to replace them all. Instead, think of social media as a necessary and powerful complement to your existing outreach.

Strategy 3: Navigate with Finesse.
Don’t act like you own the conversation.  Social media is a conversation, and conversations — more so than ads — require tact. It begins with listening.   Would you walk into a cocktail party and start bragging about yourself?  Of course not.  Then you shouldn’t “just jump into the conversation” in social-media channels, either. If your customers are talking about your company online, don’t start blasting them with canned sale promotions — unless you want to lose customers.  Instead, get a feel for the vibe of the conversation, then ease your way into it.  For instance, answer general product questions, even if they don’t pertain directly to your company or its brands.  Let your in-house social-media mavens become resources for customer micro-communities. Once they’ve earned some trust, they’ll have the leeway to advance your business goals.

Case in point.  When Dunkin’ Donuts set up its social-media presence last year on Facebook, they had a modest goal of joining conversations with consumers who were already having conversations themselves.  A year later, one million people are fans of the official Dunkin’ Facebook page. The brand has its own YouTube channel, and its Twitter feed has over 35,000 followers.

Strategy 4:  Empower Employees.
Companies that are nervous about letting customer-service employees speak to the public through Twitter need to get over it.  If you trust them to talk to customers on the phone or face to face, then trust them to tweet.  The key is to think of social media as a text ‘call center’ rather than a press release.  But remind them that, like email, tweeting and blogging leaves a ‘trail’, so they should always ask themselves “Would I want my boss or the Chairman of the Board to read this and would they agree?” before they proceed.

Case in point.  Online shoe store Zaapos has leveraged its staff to solidify its reputation for customer service and communication, in part, by using social media.  Dozens of employees maintain blogs on the company Web site and hundreds have Twitter accounts. It’s not just Web-only companies that offer such empowerment.  Dell, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Southwest Airlines do also. The common thread: All have corporate cultures that value transparent relationships with customers.

Strategy 5: Become a Life-Long Learner.
After pretending that social media didn’t exist and being shredded by horrible customer blog postings, Dell made an effort to join its customers’ conversations. Among other things, the listening effort helped Dell figure out that it needed to better coordinate technical support and customer service to quickly resolve customer problems.  Social media is a useful tool not only to increase sales and improve customer service, it is also an invaluable for companies to learn how to be better.

Strategy 6: Get Thick Skin.
Don’t take negative feedback personally.  On the Internet, there are always going to be nasty individuals who delight in saying unpleasant things about your company. Let it roll off your back, but don’t overlook the opportunity to address real concerns.  Remember our advice of two weeks ago!

Customer service calamity Comcast Cable began to repair its bleak customer-service reputation several years ago by using Twitter to reach out to complaining customers, offering to troubleshoot problems or sometimes offering refunds. Originally started by one person, this department is now staffed by a small platoon of Comcast employees. No surprise that Comcast’s customer service score on the American Customer Service Index has inched upward recently.

Strategy 7: Forget ROI.
Return on investment in social media is tough to measure.  The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is that you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.  You may want to evaluate outreach efforts the same way you might a PR or advertising campaign.  Look at simple tallies such as the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers, or how often people visit the company’s blog. Other metrics, such as the number of blog comments and the number of times consumers shared a link to your content, can show how engaged users are with your brand.  Ultimately, though, companies embracing social media are basically taking its value on faith. 

Embracing social media is about more than achieving specific goals.  It is as much about establishing a bond with customers as it is about gaining new customers.  While it is hard to measure the worth of a company’s brand, one only need look at a company with a tarnished brand to understand the value of protecting it, especially in the world of social media.  As you expand your online presence and set sail into new social media waters, keep these strategies in mind to keep yourself out of hot water.


“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” Albert Einstein

© 2009 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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