Social Networks: You Snooze, You Lose

For Boomers, the song goes: the times, they are a-changin'

August, 2009

The world of social media is like the coconut wireless on crack. It’s viral, free and connects to thousands of targeted consumers instantly. If you want your business to grow, abandon your “I-don’t-have-time” excuse, force yourself to learn these new tools and make them work for you. Advocates say that if you fail to use emerging media to raise your brand presence, your competition probably is benefiting from your complacency.

“If you’re a business owner and you haven’t already integrated social media into your marketing plan, you’re crazy!” says Dan Zelikman, the senior interactive media planner for StarrTech Interactive.

But success in social media won’t come overnight. An effective campaign, like any marketing effort, requires a smart strategy, patience, and a lot of time and energy. “It’s one of those things that’s easy to set up but harder to maintain,” Zelikman says. “But once it does start to work, you’ll be glad you made the investment.

“In the last six months, I’d say the number of users who are taking advantage of social media has increased by 5,000 percent,” Zelikman says. “If you look at some of the vacancies on job lists, companies are looking for a social media expert or analyst. These are jobs that were nonexistent last year.” Smart phones, such as the iPhone and Blackberry, have also added to social media’s popularity.

Lincoln Jacobe, CEO of Hawaii Pacific Entertainment, a public relations and event planning company, says new media has changed his life and his business. His company uses a Web site and e-mail newsletters, has 800 friends on MySpace, 900 followers on Twitter, 1,500 friends on Facebook, and the numbers are growing every day.

In June, HPE brought The Pussycat Dolls to Hawaii. The day before concert ticket sales opened to the general public, the company blasted a promotional code to 15,000 people in its social media network allowing them to buy advance seats.

“We sold 3,000 seats and grossed about a quarter of a million dollars before the tickets even went on sale to the general public – in one day!” Jacobe says ecstatically.

Brandi Salas, an HPE social media specialist, says more companies are realizing the power of viral marketing. “It’s when you provide the content and then just sit back and allow your network to work for you,” she says.

For example, companies can post upcoming events or send digital invitations to their networks, Salas explains. “Then, your friends will start buzzing to their friends about the event and it goes on and on like that – it spreads like a virus.” With Twitter, followers can re-tweet messages, which is similar to forwarding an e-mail.

Stores and restaurants are also reaping the benefits of social media, by promoting in-store savings and special events, and building a community of supporters to increase traffic.

“In this economy, you have to be creative and do what works,” says Lane Muraoka, president and CEO of Big City Diner. “We use social media as just another way to reach our customers, and the results have been very positive.”

Big City started MySpace and Facebook pages last year and has almost 1,800 friends combined. In the three months after joining Twitter, the restaurant amassed more than 1,400 followers. For nine years, Muraoka says, Big City has also had a semi-monthly newsletter that now reaches about 8,000 people.

“It’s all about developing and nurturing relationships,” he says. “It’s also a way to keep our audience intrigued, and connect with a very broad demographic. We heard about Twitter from the Obama campaign, so we were hoping that if it worked for him, it would work for us.”

Piia Aarma, president of Pineapple Tweed, a public relations and marketing firm, says social media can also build brand advocates. “You can use your online community to do product testing and R&D and see what people are saying about your brand,” she says. “Then, use that information to actually get better.”

Social media also can protect a company’s brand. In April, a YouTube video that allegedly showed two Domino’s Pizza employees farting and sneezing on a sandwich was viewed over 500,000 times. But Domino’s executives acted quickly: Their own video on YouTube assured the public that the video was a hoax and the two employees had been fired. The lesson: Consumers are going to say whatever they want about your company and its products, whether or not your business has an online presence, so be ready to fight back.

Zelikman took similar action this year when his client, AIG Hawaii, faced negative backlash for its parent company’s financial woes. “We utilized social media to help communicate to the local community that AIG Hawaii is a subsidiary of AIG Corporate, has nothing to do with what’s going on in the Mainland, that we’re fiscally sound, here’s the information and here’s where you can find all the facts,” he says. “And people appreciated it because we aggressively went out and cleared up any misconceptions and presented them with the correct information.”

Nonprofits, such as Kanu Hawaii, have also jumped into social media. Olin Lagon, director for Kanu Hawaii, says social media allow the organization to promote its mission, encourage information sharing and call others to action. Kanu’s Web site has about 7,500 members and the group has amassed 1,500 Facebook friends, 900 followers on Twitter and has about 5,000 video views on YouTube.

The first step in social media is to define your purpose, says Aarma. “Look at your business needs before you start. Are you doing it for sales? Are you doing it for research and development, support, content, brand loyalty, building community? There are different media that will work best depending on what you’re trying to achieve.”

At the very least, Aarma says, all companies should have a Web site because it lends credibility and legitimacy to your business. Even if it’s just to share basic information – such as location, products or services, hours and contact information – a bare presence is better than none.

“If you’re trying to find a staff person or get a job, LinkedIn is a great place to go,” Aarma suggests. “If you are trying to build community and loyalty to your brand, I would say that Twitter and Facebook are excellent, in combination with your Web site.”

For businesses looking to build their networks, or post pictures or information about upcoming events, Toby Tamaye, president of at m@rketing, suggests getting on Facebook and building up your fan page. Since Facebook is a closed network, which means you have to be invited or accepted to be someone’s friend, he believes it fosters more personal communication. Many users believe Facebook is the mature alternative to MySpace, attracting a more professional, experienced audience. On the other hand, Twitter is an open network, so anyone can follow your company, and messages are visible to everyone and are crawlable by search engines. Twitter is a great way to send short (140 characters maximum), instant messages to keep people updated and engaged, says Tamaye.

Once you’ve identified objectives and are familiar with the different social media tools, it’s important to form a strategy. That, according to Zelikman, should be left to experts. “At Starrtech, we can set up their accounts and we educate clients on what the possibilities are and how to use these different media,” he says. “Then, we sit down and brainstorm to see how we can use social media to get their message out.”

Experts can also help businesses track progress and measure the return on their investment. “One of the most important elements of social media is analytics,” Zelikman says. For example, StarrTech can measure brand lift, or how many times a specific brand, such as Big City Diner, is mentioned online during a specific time. “We can tell you how effective your marketing campaign is and then strategize how to improve it,” he says. “Being able to analyze the data means faster results.”

The results might not always be increased revenue. Building a strong network, developing brand power and increasing communication with your target audience are just as important to the long-term success of your business. “Social media relies on an extensive network, fresh content, interactivity and timely two-way communication,” Tamaye says. “All of that takes time, so be patient.”

Hawaii Pacific Entertainment’s Salas says it might do more harm than good if your Web site or Facebook page contain outdated information. “That could cause confusion and make your clients feel like they’re not important, and you never want that,” she says.

Aarma says once a strategy is in place, small businesses should manage their social media plans – after all, they know their businesses best. However, while the marketing is free, paying a warm body to manage it isn’t. Zelikman says companies need to make sure they have the people and tools to continue the activity before they begin.

Jacobe says seven of his 12 employees are dedicated to HPE’s Emerging New Media division. “The price of their salaries is 10 times lower than bearing the cost of doing a promotion or campaign without the technology that is available today,” he says. “There’s a huge cost savings when it comes to time and money, and every business struggles with those things. With social media, we are able to keep our overheard low.”

However, social media is not for everyone, Zelikman says. Many Baby Boomers will never stray from traditional media, no matter how easy social networking is. “There are people out there who don’t want to be that open and connected, and that’s fine,” Zelikman says. You have to retain traditional marketing and traditional media to reach them. But so many other people are on social networks and companies must reach them, he says. “If you’re in business, it’s a no-brainer.”

 

 

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