Join the Conversation
In a last-ditch effort to drive sales, many companies are increasing their social marketing spend. But by treating this technology as a Hail Mary pass, the gap between social media strategies and business value only continues to widen.
The proof is in the numbers. According to a recent survey from online business community Manta, small businesses are beginning to question their decision to go social. While 50 percent of respondents said they budgeted more time for monitoring social sites, approximately 61 percent failed to see a return on investment.
The problem is success doesn't necessarily translate to 1,000 fans, followers or likes. And, unfortunately, not all companies have a clear idea of what they're trying to accomplish or how they should approach their goals.
"I have heard countless times, 'We got on Facebook because we know we need to be there.' Or 'because our competitors are doing it,'" noted John Foley, Jr., founder of Grow Socially, and CEO of parent company interlinkONE, Wilmington, Mass. He believes simply launching a Facebook page is comparable to having a website that is "brochure ware"—neither can be used as a standalone to boost marketing efforts.
"The key is to understanding online marketing is how to support the efforts, including: inbound marketing, content marketing, your dynamic and ever-changing website, blogging and social media," Foley explained. "A plan helps you with everything from determining the target audience, what content we need and when, what channels the audience uses and are in, and which platform we should use and when. Ask yourself questions and then research. Who are my potential customers? What do they look like? And then determine what platform they're on."
This approach worked well for Envelopes.com. After deciding to take the social media plunge in 2009, the Amityville, New York-based supplier considered where its customers lived and played online. All signs pointed to Facebook.
"When using traditional marketing channels like paid search, email, print ads and banners, companies are sort of speaking to a vast audience and hoping to capture a small percentage of that audience who is really interested. Facebook allows us to speak directly to a group of people who were already honed in on our brand," said Whitney Grekin, eCommerce marketing coordinator. "Our Facebook audience is a targeted group of people who have already told us they 'Like' us and are interested in what we have to say."
With 9,638 "Likes" to date, Envelopes.com's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Envelopes) has proven to be an engaging channel for its audience, with Pinterest coming in a close second. Grekin attributes this to a colorful product offering and customer demographics. "We carry a huge range of colors, sizes and style of paper products, and people love to see pictures of them," she remarked. "Not only that, but Envelopes.com as a whole is a fun, fresh and exciting company and we obsess over great design. Many of our Facebook fans are graphic designers and we've found a great opportunity in sharing graphic design resources, blog posts and even funny graphic design jokes."
Jim Gilbert, CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., and president of Florida Direct Marketing Association, encouraged companies to use social media as a way to build credibility. Companies can earn reputations as industry thought leaders by generating valuable content. Gilbert pointed to blogging.
"The blog is going to be the center of your universe as all of the content that you create is going to reside there, and hopefully your blog is tied into your website for SEO purposes," he said. "Once you have your blog set up correctly, start creating content and other information that would be of interest to your potential customers."
Stumped for content ideas? It doesn't have to be a source of stress. "There are always ways to come up with content—whether it's aggregating other people's content and promoting it via LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ or Facebook, or creating your own unique content," he said. "And don't forget about content that is what I call the 'behind the scenes factor.' For instance, if you have a new press, show a video of it up and running. You can also do messaging via video featuring interviews with company staff members or even client testimonial interviews."
After marketers have determined what type of content will resonate with customers, they need to think about the frequency of posting. This is where it gets tricky. In terms of blogging, Gilbert recommended publishing a minimum of two posts per week. However, generally speaking, consistency is key. After all, would you walk into a party and say "hi" only to exit five minutes later?
"Consistency is very important in social media—you don't want to overpost and you don't want to underpost," Gilbert warned. "Do research and find out what your competitors are doing, what other people in your space are doing, and find a way to come up with something unique. Don't just be a 'me too' kind of poster and don't just push out information."
Experts agree that, as companies find their way in social media, certain mistakes stand out. For example, some marketers forget to listen. "I see a lot of folks talk about themselves all the time versus sharing relevant information and being a thought leader in the industry they serve," Foley observed. "Social media is a conversation, and conversations are two ways. Give them what they want, not what you want them to hear. Ask questions, conduct polls and, most of all, provide education."
Listening also helps with fielding customer service complaints. Thanks to social media a lot of customer service has shifted away from traditional call centers, and the public is watching every interaction. Always be proactive.
"When there are complaints, we suggest as soon as possible you acknowledge the person and see what you can do to rectify the situation. Don't shove them off to an email address, but you can try to resolve it through messages or direct messages," Foley suggested. "You want to communicate with people the way they asked to communicate with you, not your preferred method. Same thing we would do if the channel was the telephone and they left us a message—we reach out and try to solve the problem.
"Make an unhappy customer into a hero. It can really have great benefits, especially if they get back on that online channel and tell everyone how you helped."
Grekin agreed, adding that her team responds directly to any complaints as fast as possible. "If it is something complicated that cannot be solved online, one of our customer service superstars reaches out over the phone right away. One of our core values at Envelopes.com is 'Pride in Presentation' and we take this very seriously," she said.
Another issue some companies struggle with is finding their voice. Gilbert encourages marketers to humanize their brand. "Be quirky. Talk in a real voice. When I post content [online], I don't use a lot of corporate speak. I talk to people in my posts and in my articles the way I speak in general," he mentioned. "Be real with people and the results will come back to you."
Coincidentally, 'keep it real' is the official motto of Envelopes.com, and that's how the company makes things easy for customers. "Our social fans are fun and have a great sense of humor, so it's sort of easy to maintain personality with them. Also, most of the time, only one person is making the posts so the personality of our social presence is consistent and light," Grekin said. "When it comes to direct interactions online, we keep it real—actually that's our motto at Envelopes.com, and we definitely live by it."
Foley agreed that this is a critical element in any corporate strategy, but cautioned against being overly informal. "This is business and real business is being done here. College interns are not the answer. You need someone or a company that can help you devise the plan, teach and educate you on best practices. Know that today's online users want to communicate in those channels so [you] better be listening and engaging there," he shared. "The personality can come in through some of the posts, YouTube or Vine videos, and the like. Allow your team to be themselves, while still maintaining your brand standards and professionalism."
Nevertheless, setting lofty expectations is arguably the biggest mistake companies make with social media. Just because you build it doesn't mean they'll come. While the above tips only begin to scratch the surface of social media, they are crucial parts of the complete package. "I'm looking for a company that is proactive, a company that's got great content, a company that is a leader, a company that handles complaints effectively, a company that is engaged with their fans. Essentially, I'm looking for a company that's going to give you a shiny, happy experience as their customer," Gilbert concluded. "And if I don't see it, I'm going to move on to the next company."