Bright Likes, Big Tweety–Inside Social Media

Bolan_2013-05May

Last summer I wrote a series of magazine articles for Print Action magazine taking a look inside social media from a small business perspective. In part one of Bright Likes, Big Tweety I review the benefits and pitfalls of the most widely used social media platforms. Few of us can avoid interacting with some form of social media on a daily basis and businesses are feeling increasing pressure to include social media in their marketing mix. But why bother? Does anyone really care if your company invests time in social media? Read the article in PDF form and find out… or if you prefer, read the article right here on Softcircus.

Bright Likes, Big City
Finding your way around the Social Media metropolis
Part I – Covering Your Assets

By Zac Bolan

Can we talk? Does anyone really Like you or your company? When was the last time you were Retweeted? Been Endorsed by any of your connections recently? How many Views have you had in the past week? Starting to feel insecure? Left out? Its funny how these seemingly innocuous words take on an air of significance in the social media universe. If you’re like me you still remember the early connecting with friends and family through primitive online portals such as Friendster and MySpace.

Of course, that was before the social media genie fully emerged from its bottle. Now few of us can avoid interacting with some form of social media on a daily basis and businesses are feeling increasing pressure to include social media in their marketing mix. But why bother? Does anyone really care if your company invests time in social media? You may be quick to answer no, but be forewarned – if you dismiss social media and fail to engage the next generation of print buyers on their home turf your company runs the risk of drifting into irrelevancy.

Printers used to be very social animals. Back in the halcyon days when there were more than enough print jobs for everybody, printers regularly met through social organizations such as the Craftsman Club and proudly exhibited their work to their peers. As print consolidated, increased competition forced many printers to become protective of their client lists. This combined with the new reality of price conscious customers has driven many printers to the other end of the social scale, just as the world is spreading its social wings.

In the pre-social media days, printers who worked hard for their clients enjoyed referral business, and in a service-oriented industry like print word of mouth can make or break a company. Well, like it or not it’s no longer word of mouth, it’s Likes, Tweets and Endorsements! And instead working out customer problems one-on-one, suddenly it’s all on someone’s Wall – warts and all.

This new social paradigm seems innocent enough on the surface. But lurking under the placid city streets of Social Media City is a complex, intertwined and multifaceted labyrinth of metrics, analytics and invasive technologies designed to manipulate the online world we live in. Fortunately, with a little elbow grease, any business can dive into these murky catacombs to harness social media tools to build brand and attract customers. But where does one start? The social media cityscape can be daunting–seeming vast, uncharted and cluttered with digital shanties. In reality you are seeing the surfeit of social media assets that make up a very complex online ecosystem. And while you may be drawn to the arcane side streets of Social Media City, the best place to start marketing your business will inevitably at the heart of the metropolis. You know all these names

Facebook – The Town Hall

With more than a billion active users, Facebook is the undisputed community centre of Social Media City. Starting life as a dorm-room project, Facebook has grown into a multidimensional platform with applications, news feeds, time lines, photo galleries, messaging, voice calls, and perhaps its most infamous feature–the Like button. While the majority of Facebook’s income comes directly from advertising revenues, the social network has a far lower click-through ratio than search engines such as Google or Yahoo. For that reason Facebook is constantly developing new features and monetization strategies.

From the user perspective, Facebook has evolved into a communication network for friends and families while growing into a major photo-sharing site. Additionally, Facebook incorporates significant search features with the intention of keeping their users from wandering off to Google or other search engines. Aside from individual user pages, Facebook also supports groups with powerful collaboration functions including file sharing and messaging. Facebook Groups are used for every facet of collective interaction, ranging from purely social to workplace and special interest needs.

With the recent introduction of dedicated business pages, Facebook also enables businesses to pay for sponsoring posts and have their offers appear in timelines. In spite of this additional expense, businesses are still flocking to Facebook. Business pages build a community around companies and/or products through users posting comments. Companies can also gather Likes from individual users, which are supposed to indicate a level of interest. Additionally, Facebook is good for sharing successes and gathering testimonials. Both Red Bull and Target utilize Facebook effectively to bolster their respective brands.

But is Facebook really the way to connect with your target demographic? After all, you might think, how many Facebook addicted teens buy print? Well, taking a look at Facebook’s real demographics, you may be closer to your target audience than you realize. As of April 2013 more than 46% of Facebook users are over 35, and better than half are female. And the fastest growing segment is the 50+ demographic, so pretty soon baby boomers will outnumber teenagers. So instead of shelving Facebook as a teenybopper timewaster, start considering it a powerful yet casual networking tool… the town hall of social media.

Twitter – The Party Line

Twitter is a real-time micro-blogging tool that enables users to share text-based information with Followers in the form of Tweets. Current numbers show more than half a billion active users send an average of 58 million Tweets per day. And their ranks are swelling with an astounding 135,000 new accounts opened every day!

Twitter is unique in social media because of the immediacy of communication as well as the brevity of the message. Tweets are restricted to a maximum of 140 characters and often contain hash-tags (think – searchable topics), handles (user names) and links to other online content. Followers monitor the Twitter feeds of people, organizations and companies they Follow, acting as audience for their Tweets. When a Follower decides a Tweet is particularly noteworthy, they can Retweet the posting to their Followers, exponentially expanding the audience for the message. Retweeting can spread a particularly engaging or timely Tweet virally, potentially reaching an audience of millions in just a few hours. Justin Bieber has more than 37 million followers – if he Retweets your message a lot of people are going to read it, and perhaps click the link!

While Bieber is an extreme example, it does illustrate how quickly tweetable information can spread. I recently met with the head of marketing for a local Calgary restaurant chain and he revealed his firm has spent nothing on outbound marketing for 11 of their 13 years in operation. Instead, his group employs marketing assistants who are continually monitoring the Twitter feeds of the restaurant’s Followers. The team actively engages these users and through interaction draws customers to their restaurants. For example, if I was to Tweet some local friends the message ‘Guys, its Thursday – where are we going to meet for burgers and beers? #zacsfriends’ , the marketing team would Tweet back… ‘Bring your group to our restaurant for free Chicken Wings. DM for reservation. #zacsfriends’.

Within this organization marketing efforts trickle down to every employee in each location. Servers are encouraged to build their own list of Followers and Follow as many of their clients as possible. Twitter is then used by clients and wait staff to make reservations and get real-time restaurant activity information such as availability of tables or specials.

Additionally Twitter can be invaluable as a real-time customer service tool. A company’s service staff can be monitoring Twitter feeds in real time watching for negative customer feedback or comments. Forward thinking companies such as Car2Go and Westjet proactively resolve their clients’ problems within minutes of being posted on Twitter. Besides helping their customers, these companies benefit from having the general public perceive them as responsive.

And, like the best things in life, Twitter is free, right? As a user you could be forgiven for thinking that. However behind the ‘business’ veil, a whole lotta money is changing hands! It turns out Twitter is in the promotion business in a very big way–entrepreneurs can promote Tweets, Trends and even Accounts. Just look at the first pick in the ‘Who To Follow’ sidebar on your Twitter homepage, I’m willing to bet there’s a small ‘Promoted’ label showing; that company is paying to attract your attention. Enhanced Profiles, another lucrative sideline for the little birdie, offers companies the ability to brand their homepage for a fee. And while Twitter Ads have been quite effective for some business users, these ads can now leverage keyword targeting in timelines for maximum effectiveness–yet another buck in Twitter’s back pocket.

And Twitter isn’t stopping there. As of April 2013 Twitter is in the entertainment business with the launch of Twitter Music, a special music discovery site with accompanying iPhone App. Additionally Twitter is allegedly in talks with major television networks and close to a distribution deal. This little blue birdie is getting bigger by the day!

However, perhaps the most overlooked (and possibly nefarious) feature of Twitter the ability to use your Twitter ID to register and interact with other social media assets such as Pinterest. When using Twitter as your online identity competing assets are suddenly exchanging information. For example, updating your blog or LinkedIn profile can automatically generate an announcement Tweet to your Followers. For that reason, I like to think of Twitter as the party line of Social Media City, although for printers Twitter as social media JDF might be a more apt analogy!

LinkedIn – The Chamber of Commerce

I’ve heard LinkedIn half-jokingly referred to as Facebook for adults. But with more than 200 million professional users worldwide, LinkedIn is no laughing matter. Embraced by business as the premier online B2B forum, you’ll have to look pretty hard to find the beer-bong infused party pictures so prevalent in Facebook. Interestingly, LinkedIn’s Canadian penetration far exceeds other markets on a per capita basis with nearly 20% of Canada’s population registered.

For many, LinkedIn compares to a business directory or digital Rolodex™ and is used as a prospecting tool as well as a job seeking and recruitment platform. For now LinkedIn draws primarily on the male demographic (59%) though this is rapidly changing. And the majority of LinkedIn users have some level of influence over key business decisions at their workplace. For that reason LinkedIn Ads, while more expensive than many other forms of social media advertising, allow users to narrowly target virtually any LinkedIn member or demographic.

Aside from its pricy (albeit highly effective) targeted advertising business, LinkedIn has three other principal revenue streams – hiring solutions/human resources; marketing solutions/ad sales; and premium subscriptions. Membership includes executives from all Fortune 500 companies with LinkedIn’s corporate hiring services used by 85% of Fortune 100 companies. In addition to the big players more than 2 million companies of every size have LinkedIn Company Pages.

On a user level, LinkedIn offers an opportunity to Endorse or be Endorsed by your connections for anything at all. Although long lists of Endorsements may look impressive on your profile, their value may be suspect if given by connections that couldn’t possible have had first hand experience with your expertise. However some level of puffery can be expected in any social media platform and LinkedIn is certainly not immune.

The real heartbeat of the platform can be found in LinkedIn Groups where like-minded professionals meet and interact within their interest area. LinkedIn Groups constitute a forum where members can engage in everything from networking and prospecting to job hunting. Within Group discussions users can also build social capital as subject matter experts. With a basic LinkedIn search, printers will find more than 2,000 special interest groups focusing on the graphic arts. For example, I’m a member of the Digital Print Group; Beyond Web To Print; Freelance Writers; Ipex World; Print Industry Networking Group in addition to many others.

So, think of LinkedIn as the Chamber of Commerce of Social Media City.

YouTube – The Cable Company

YouTube started life as a simple repository for video. If urban legend stands true, PayPal employees Chad Hurley and Steve Chen developed the site early in 2005 after becoming frustrated by the difficulty of sharing videos they’d shot at a dinner party they both attended. From humble beginnings in a small office above a San Mateo, California pizzeria, YouTube has grown into the 3rd most visited site on the Internet behind Facebook and Google.

Alongside the ubiquitous cat videos posted by legions of deranged feline fanciers, business began to utilize this free resource for everything from training videos to corporate promotions. If a company is lucky, its promo video could go viral and gain a huge number of views. An example of this phenomenon is the Old Spice campaign ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ featuring former NFL star Isaiah Mustafa as ‘The Old Spice Man’. The first of these hilarious spots was posted on YouTube early 2010 and went viral immediately, spurning a host of imitators and sequels. To date the original video has garnered an astounding 45 million views without Old Spice paying for a minute of network television time. And while YouTube is giving away access to all this content for free, make no mistake, they are making money exactly the same way their parent company Google does, one Ad click at a time.

While some may argue that YouTube isn’t a social network in the true sense of the term as there is little direct interaction between users, few question its value as a source of content. In fact many pundits speculate the site’s on-demand model for high definition video delivery constitutes the future of television and predict the imminent demise of the cable television era. Regardless YouTube is gaining in importance to social media marketers as an invaluable source of content. If the gurus are correct YouTube as the cable company of the future won’t just be an analogy, it will really happen!

Your Website – The Open House

A website as a social media asset? When you think about it, your homepage is the only online asset you actually own. Regardless of how you feel about the sanctity of your Facebook or LinkedIn profile, the bottom line is that once you post to these sites, you no longer own or effectively control your personal information and content. For that reason, most social media experts strongly recommend that businesses focus on building a comprehensive online presence through their company website and utilize social media to drive traffic to this critical asset.

By the look of their websites, some printers must think of their home page as an online brochure–just as static as something coming off the end of the press. To overlook the potential to interact and engage with clients or new visitors using timely and informative content would be a huge mistake–one that a surprising number of businesses make. Most printers post basic business information such as location, hours, management profiles, equipment list, company culture, etc. Also many include some form of technical information for designers wanting to submit work, FTP upload information and perhaps a portal to a web-to-print system. But for a shocking percentage of printing companies, that’s where the engagement ends.

Incorporating a blog into a business website it a great way to share information and demonstrate expertise to existing and potential clients. Besides showing what you know, blogs have the added benefit of attracting search engine interest that can increase rankings and ultimately drive more traffic to your site without paying for Google Adwords. Additionally, properly researched and informative blog postings can turn into evergreen content, delivering a steady flow of page views on your site for years to come. Sadly, many businesses start posting to their blogs or news feeds only to stagnate a few months down the road. To someone visiting your site for the first time, this may actually have a more detrimental effect than not having a blog at all.

Instead, printers should be thinking of their website as digital open house–an opportunity to meet new people, show off your wares and demonstrate the expertise that adds value to your products.

Putting social media in perspective

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to undertaking a social media campaign. What works for one company or product type won’t necessarily work for others. At first glance Facebook looks like a great place for self-promotion– but with more than a billion users and businesses, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And Twitter? More than 17 million of Bieber’s Followers are fake, inactive accounts… you can buy Followers on eBay! Is anybody actually reading all those Tweets?

Knowing the lay of the land is a good starting point for navigating the congested thoroughfares and serpentine alleyways of Social Media City. But to really learn your way around this teeming online metropolis you need the advice of a knowledgeable local–a social media expert!

Next: Bright Likes Part II – Desperately Seeing Gurus.

 

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