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Social Media: Back to the Future to Improve Your Business?

Social media. It’s different and unique. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re fascinated by it, yet we’re not sure how it can help most businesses, especially ours. A totally new, modern paradigm, right? Maybe not. 

In the mid-1990s, nearly every business leader had some degree of fascination with the “Worldwide Web.” They suspected it was important to have a “page” on the “Information Superhighway.”  But for what? Well, most weren’t sure, but everyone was doing it and the Internet seemed to have mysterious potential, so everyone jumped in. Thousands and sometimes millions of dollars were spent, often times with very little ROI or alignment to business goals. And some got burned. Yet we learned and the Web proved to be an integral part of the way we do business.
 
Fast forward to today. For many, the feeling about social media is similar. A vague, uneasy, queasy feeling. “Social media might be good,” you say, “but what if it’s too early for my business to embrace it?” Or “What, if anything, can it do for a business like mine?” Or “I want to do something with social media, but I don’t want to look stupid or waste money!”
 
It’s a brave new world, so it’s understandable that the business benefits from social media might seem nebulous. Sure, consumer goods companies and entertainment entities have been embracing social media for several years, but the rest of the B2B and B2C herds are still trying to figure out how to use it, and many are even avoiding it altogether. Sure, you might have personal accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Pinterest, and you might even use blogs or mixed content strategies at work, but that doesn’t translate into having a clue about how social media can work for your business, right?
 
Of course, you might delay or hide, but you know social media, like the Internet, is not going away. In fact, depending on your business goals it might already be a necessity for your business—regardless of what your business is or whether it’s B2B or B2C—in the same way the Internet became a necessity in the late 1990s. Don’t believe it? According to an industry survey done in early 2012, 93 percent of B2B companies and over 95 percent of B2C companies use social media to market their businesses. Moreover, over 56 percent of B2B marketers and 45 percent of B2C marketers acquired new business partnerships via social media.
 
While the methods and tools might vary depending on your business, you should at the very least be seriously considering how social media can be an effective part of your strategy. Here are a few tips to help you get up to speed and make your social media efforts successful:
 
Social media will be an evolution for you, but you should already be using it. Social media itself is evolving daily. It will also be an evolutionary tool for your business, just as the Internet was “back in the day.” That said, it is imperative you take it seriously now, else you’ll be well behind your competitors who are already learning and growing with it. And they are learning and growing with it, right now!

Social media will be a continuum for you. Perhaps you are already using Facebook and Twitter as simple announcement forums to post press releases, product or event announcements, or even job openings? Not good enough. Social media is not a PR megaphone—it is first and foremost a listening post! Even if you are savvy enough to post questions in an attempt to elicit a response—“Hey, what do you think of our new product?” —your audience smells when they are being told rather than being asked. You’ll see that in the few responses you get. Once customers are doing the talking, then you should evolve that into using strategy. Strategy then leads to the ultimate goal: client and community engagement. Depending where you are on the listening/strategy/engagement continuum, you will have different social media needs.

It’s not about the number of followers you have. The number of followers you have is merely an outcome of your efforts. What you’re ultimately looking for is highly-engaged customers who actively embrace your social media efforts, help you improve your business, and increase the bottom line, so quality trumps quantity. Social media allows you to engage with your customers at moments when they’re not normally thinking about you. Moreover, the viral nature of social media is the equivalent to an old-school concept every businessperson understands: referrals. Each time a visitor shares your Facebook post, re-tweets a link you posted on Twitter, or re-pins an infographic you posted to a Pinterest board, they are creating new relationships for you.

Your social media messaging needs to align and integrate with your other brand messaging. A business-to-business software company I know, one whose audience is mostly male and over 40, recently posted a link to a positive quarterly earnings announcement. Innocuous enough, except below it they also posted a meme, a picture of a puppy with the caption “Who’s awesome?!” Not so good. Social media can indeed provide a unique way to humanize and personalize your brand, and can give it a softer, friendlier tone. But any humanization must be in sync with your other messaging. Unless you’re targeting a youthful consumer audience, avoid being too cute. In your effort to appear personable and likeable, you erode respect for your business and credibility for your brand. 

Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors. There are many firms that claim to be social media experts. Because the genre is evolving so quickly, few are. They are just trying to capitalize on a new service that businesspeople are only now embracing. Find a communications firm that talks first about your business, then about the methods to reach your goals. The firm should talk about aligning your social media efforts to your business goals and desired results. If a firm uses daunting language you don’t understand, they are not the right firm for you. You don’t need a specialty firm or Madison Avenue agency that tries to dazzle you with social media gobbledygook and expertise—you need one that takes a “business-first” approach to your marketing. Social media is a marketing tool, and it needs to work well with all the other tools in your toolbox. Use a firm that understands your overall communications needs and has experience integrating social media as part of your larger goals.

Social media for use in everyday marketing communications is still new and evolving, but it needn’t be scary, and you needn’t have perfect knowledge to use it effectively today. Just make certain to focus on your business goals, define the long-term business results you’re looking for—Building brand or product awareness? Stronger lead generation? Better prospect conversion rate? Being seen as a thought leader?—and use people who are holistically focused on your business and brand rather than just the social part of social media. Because as the Internet era taught us, it’s all about the business.

- By Dar Hackbarth


Dar Hackbarth serves the HRS Education Council as Senior Brand Strategist. Summary Bio
 


The Team At HRS - Thursday, November 15, 2012