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Answers to Social Media Questions You Should Know

Posted on Aug 7th, 2009
Written by Lee Odden
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    rodin thinking about social mediaIn the course of providing consulting services and conducting training programs for companies on social media marketing & PR or a combination of SEO and social media, there are some common questions that have come up. I thought it might be useful for readers if I documented a few of them here along with answers.

    “If we open up to comments, won’t people criticize us?”

    This is one of the most common questions I hear. Companies have traditionally feared negative content posted online because bad news travels fast and most businesses aren’t entirely sure of how to deal with online criticism.

    Even more of a concern is the fear that after creating social content for the purpose of building goodwill, positive buzz and influencing sales, an angry troll decides to use that platform for their sinister purposes.

    To begin answering the “won’t people criticize us” question, let’s start with a “Yes, they may”. The reality is that if a company has angry customers, they are already talking. It’s amazingly simple for anyone to publish their opinion online. Mobile phones make every customer an instant window into the service quality of your company. So if they already think what they think and are posting their opinions online, why not have them do so “in your own backyard”?

    You’ll likely never “control the conversation” but if dissenters can publish on a company web site, there are moderation options to display or not display that content. Additionally, customers appreciate how companies respond to legitimate criticism. Such feedback can be helpful insight into customer service and product quality issues. Brand evangelists are often quick to come to a company’s defense when unreasonably negative content gets posted.  The opportunity is not to worry about negative comments as much as to identify and empower brand fans.

    I heard Gary Vaynerchuk say at a conference, “Now is the time to get rid of the cockroaches in your kitchen”, meaning everything is wide open and people are going to talk. If your company has things to fear then there are other issues to deal with more important than wondering what to do if someone makes a negative comment on a blog.

    social media

    “Where should we participate?”

    As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”, so find out where your customers spend time on the social web. What roles do they often play? What are their information discovery, consumption and sharing preferences? Where and how your customers spend their time with social media sites as well as the objectives for your own participation should guide the decision as to which specific services to start with.

    A few ways to discover where your customers are on the social web include:

    • Participation – Search, get recommendations and follow links to social applications and join them. While time consuming, there is no substitute for being actively involved with a community to learn about customers.
    • Social Media Monitoring – There are numerous tools for keyword based monitoring that can provide near or real-time insight into the discussions customers are having about topics of interest, what media they’re interacting with and on what social channels.
    • Logging existing traffic and behaviors to your web site from social media web sites.  Talk to whoever manages web site reporting in your organization and see if you can get them to construct an ongoing report that segments social media sourced traffic that is already visiting your company web properties.
    • Surveys of your existing customers – Sometimes the best answers are simple. Want to know more about your customers’ social media preferences? Ask them.
    • Referencing demographic information supplied by social media sites that offer advertising. There may be debate about how specifically useful the information offered by Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social network sites that offer advertising can be, but at a high level, it can offer important insights.
    • Third party data sources – While information from Quantcast, Hitwise or Microsoft adCenter Labs Demographics Prediction tools isn’t the same thing as what you’d get from some of the other suggestions above, those data sources familiar to senior management can augment your other research and get their attention for important things like, funding.

    interns social media

    “How many interns do we need for this?”

    Social media as a whole is a shiny new object to many companies and is often characterized as something that “Gen Y does” or is subordinated as a collection of small tasks, such that it is relegated to entry level staff or interns.

    Corporate social participation can be a lot of work depending on the size of the company, it’s goals and more importantly, the level of social activity of its customers. Some of that work is indeed appropriate for interns and if there is deep user experience with specific services, there is insight to be gained that can be immensley valuable.  Segmenting social tasks and forecasting hours should enable most companies to determine how many entry level staff or interns are needed.

    However, the question about interns in a discussion about a company’s decision to engage social media needs some consideration.  Social media has strategic and tactical roles and public facing activities need to be guided by individuals with deep experience and knowledge regarding Customer Service, Marketing, PR, Sales, Talent Acquisition and even Legal.

    Is an intern the best choice to be the face of a company? Pizza Hut thinks so. In the case of the Young and Free campaign by Servus Credit Union, yes. But only with very careful consideration and selection.  Other companies put seasoned marketing, customer service or communications professionals in those positions. While the funding debate goes on in terms of justifying the expense of a senior person for a community manager role, the question to consider is, “Who is best qualified to represent your brand?”.

    Social Media ROI

    “What is the exact ROI from social media?”

    The inevitable ROI question is an important one.  How do you measure the ROI from public relations, community involvement, attending industry events, focus groups or recruiting?   What is a relationship with a customer worth? Or with an industry analyst, journalist or blogger that writes about your company?

    Social media participation can serve many outcomes for a business.  The key with measuring Social Media ROI is to identify specific goals, build a strategy and execute either a full program or a pilot with the ability to measure outcomes.  Those outcomes have value and the goals/measurement piece is the first step.

    If a social media effort is focused on connecting with influentials in an industry, aka digital or social media PR, KPIs might include social connections, comments, mentions, links, stories or contributed content. Jason Falls and Katie Payne have some interesting thoughts on that. For example, one of the goals for TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog is to achieve 10-20 unsolicited mentions of our company or key staff by industry blogs, publications or influentials each month. We’ve exceeded that by far.

    Another example might simply be list building. Basic Facebook marketing might involve setting up a company page with useful info and discussion, promoting it to attract fans and then providing offers and incentives to join email lists that provide other useful information and benefits. Once a social subscriber/fan/follower opts-in to an email list, you can provide profiling options to ensure they’re getting relevant value and marketing offers.

    In the case of 1-800 Flowers, fans can buy directly from the first online store to be launched on Facebook. There’s no question about how to measure the ROI from commerce in that situation. But online commerce is not appropriate or reasonable for many companies, so measuring outcomes that influence sales becomes the “social media ROI” answer.

    What social media questions do you have? What answers would you like to add those offered above?