Friday, November 28, 2008

How-To: Using Social Media Strategically (Pt I)

This how-to was syndicated from a four-part series on social media created by Leigh Householder. Read more about her at the conclusion of the article.

Years ago, when we were first talking about social media, it was Friendster and blogs and not much else. People asked, is it really worth investing in? Or is this just something for early adopters? The province of geeks?

But somehow — while we were all busy finishing college or growing our business — the world's most social people took over the Web and made it their own.

The numbers are now not only compelling, they're trending toward the ubiquitous:

  • 86 million Americans use the social Web
  • Including 75% of college students
  • And 60% of wealthy adults

The problem now isn't whether it's worth it; it's that it's so overwhelming, it can seem impenetrable. Natives bounce from one social activity to another: navigating, publishing, connecting. All second nature.

What follows is a two-part series on using social media to spread your brand message. We'll cover what social media is, and how companies are using it.

What is social media?

As a trend, it's how people use decentralized, people-based networks to get the things they need from one another rather than from traditional institutions, like business or media.

As technology, it's just the tools and services that power those networks. Generally free- or low-cost platforms that can be customized for each person who uses them. To match the examples above, it could be eBay, wikis or blogs.

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Seems like a lot, right? You could be customizing a Dogster page to pimp your favorite pooch OR co-building a new internet browser with a few hundred like minds and still comfortably be in the category of social media.Even given these vast differences in mission, the ways people use social media fall into three basic categories:Create: Someone once famously asked if social media allows more amateurs to act like professionals OR if it really just gives us ACCESS to more true professionals. Whether it's writing a blog about knitting, creating the next great viral video or building a virtual world, social media meets the human desire to create things — things that will be saved, read and, if we're lucky, remembered.

Recommend: Where once we trusted the opinion of 4 out of 5 dentists, today we want the opinions of their patients. Social media has elevated both the value of individual reviews and recommendations and the ability of networks of people to elevate the very best content or ideas with little more than the vote of their mouse.

Interact: People to people. Asking questions, hanging out, trading stuff.Interacting. It's the foundation of social media. And, often, just the best thing about it.

How Companies Are Using Social Media

CNET recently reported that 75% of Fortune 1000 companies will launch a social media campaign this year. 50% of those campaigns are expected to fail.

To stay in the right 50% of those campaigns, marketers, customer service advocates and brand czars follow one of four proven models:

#1: Let customers or employees support each other. Build a central hub where they can ask questions, collect ideas and celebrate the brand.

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Pros to this method:

  • Very authentic way to use the social Web
  • Inexpensive to operate AND can reduce customer service/HR costs

Cons:

  • Takes a lot of work to seed and build
  • The crowd CAN turn on you if support or product development are unresponsive

Make sure you:

  • Set expectations: What does success look like?

An example: Blue Shirt Nation

Best Buy's Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt had a fundamentally simple idea: Use technology to enable employees to talk to and help each other.

In their quest, they developed Blue Shirt Nation: an internal communications platform that generates thousands of conversations across the company. The result: more information, more issues, more solutions, more ideas, more impact — and a corporate culture that is beginning to appreciate that buy-in brings out the best in employees.

#2: Activate ambassadors

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Some brands have a leg up in social media. Their fans already consider them a part of their personal identities. Think sports fans wearing the team jersey. Google employees who just can't stop blogging about how great their home base is. Proud graduates of well-known colleges proselytizing their campus experience.For these lucky brands, the best course is simply to motivate fans to bring the brand social by giving them the right tools, soap boxes or, heck,bling.Pros:

  • Builds relationships with your best customers
  • Gets real people talking 1:1

Cons:

  • Scale is limited to your biggest fans and their personal networks
  • More difficult to listen to the conversation about your brand because it is widely dispersed

Make sure you:

  • Encourage fans to be transparent about any direct contact they have with you, samples they receive, etc.

An example: Victoria Secret PINK

Most of the top "fan" pages on Facebook are bands and celebrities – not your typical consumer brands.

But #8 is a brand you've probably seen a lot of if you spend any time around teenage girls: Victoria Secret Pink.

A quintessential passion brand, the girls wear it, talk about it, are fiercely loyal to it. So it's no surprise that over half a million of them have linked to it from their own Facebook pages and thousands are talking directly to it online.

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