In Part I of this two-part post on social media (SM), I briefly covered the key features of Facebook and Twitter, and I gave some examples of their uses. Today, I want to provide another great example of a business use of TWitter, briefly review LinkedIn, and end with our recommendations and references of how businesses should and do use SM tools to achieve their goals. I also include other examples and a few really helpful articles.
A recent situation involving the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) provides a very real and effective use of Twitter. The CDC has been on high-alert since late April dealing with swine flu. In another post about swine flu, I talked about responding to the media during a crisis. Today, I want to focus on another aspect – the CDC’s very effective use of Twitter to communicate to the public. On May 5th, when I took the screen shot below, @CDCemergency, the CDC’s emergency response Twitter account, had ramped up to 51,139 followers. Two weeks later, they had 172,900.
Why? Simple – because, as in any other aspect of marketing and communications, content is king and timing is everything. The CDC focused on providing the facts to people, from FAQs to live press conferences, that dispel rumors and misinformation. For example, a post in mid-May simply states, “Update 5/18/09: 5123 total cases of novel H1N1 flu, 5 deaths, 48 states affected: http://bit.ly/9MRt3 #swineflu”. They provided regular updates so the information was timely – a must-do for any blog or social media site, and absolutely critical in a time of crisis. As proof, they tweeted about once a day leading up to the outbreak, but over the few weeks at the height of the swine flu outbreak, they had 127 tweets, equal to almost 5 a day.
This new channel provided the CDC with direct access to the public and helped ensure up-to-date facts were received quickly and easily. People want to help people and share important information…by leveraging Twitter, the CDC very effectively and successfully unlocked the power of the online network of others to help disseminate information factually and immediately. You can read more about their success in this recent Ad Age article (you have to register to read).
Now I’ll move on to LinkedIn, the third and final SM tool I’ll review here. LinkedIn is a free, business-oriented professional networking site. Emphasis on “professional” and “business-oriented”, which distinguishes it from Facebook and Twitter which are more mixed in focus. LinkedIn has a strong presence, with nearly 40 million users in 200 countries. It is, in essence, an online resume and contacts database whose best use is for connecting to others professionally. Similar to Facebook, you have to invite someone to “link” with you and they have to accept your link before you can see their full profile and begin interacting with them.
Your LinkedIn profile starts with your current job and title, lists past jobs you’ve held, your education, related websites and blogs, etc. You also have space to write a short summary of your work experience and areas of specialty and can ask others to “recommend” you, which is an online version of a short letter of recommendation. We recently found this nice blog post on five tips to taking full advantage of LinkedIn.
Like the other SM tools, LinkedIn is constantly adding new features. For instance, they recently added an Update feature identical to the “Share” feature in Facebook, where you can answer the question, “What are you working on now?” They also have LinkedIn “Groups” you can ask to join. When you are accepted, you can then post discussion topics that all others who are in that group can see and respond to. LinkedIn also has some nice applications you can take advantage of, such as a WordPress app that allows you to feed your blog into your page, as you see in this image of my LinkedIn page below. Similarly, you can use the Twitter app to feed in any tweets that include keywords into your LinkedIn page.
So now we’ve briefly covered what Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are. So now what? Should you start a Facebook Fan page for your company? Or a Twitter account? And what about LinkedIn? How do you decide which one(s) to use and how? Well, to start, we recommend you first go back to your business and marketing goals. What are you trying to accomplish? Let’s take the case of the United Way group I spoke to. Their challenge was trying to engage more of their members – getting more to come to events and starting an online conversation where they could grow the community dialog in between physical meetings. For other organizations, it may be trying to grow sales or increase web traffic.
Once you know your business goal(s), then you need to look at your marketing plan. What are your goals – awareness? leads? reducing costs? positioning in a new market space? If you have not first clearly articulated and agreed on your business goals and the related marketing goals, then you are not ready to embark on social media or any other type of media for that matter. Your money and your time will likely be wasted. However, if you have your business goals – to raise sales by XX% or to increase member engagement by YY% or to lower costs by ZZ% – and you have a solid marketing plan that outlines the goals you need to achieve to help support the business goals, then you are ready to think about what marketing channels – or media types – to use to best achieve those goals.
This may sound preachy, and OK, it is. But the fact is, we see many jump in to social media without a plan
or end goal. With the buzz around social media, they feel like they’re behind and they need to jump in, and figure out a strategy later. Bad idea!
Social media is an important new tool in the marketing toolbox. Just like paid media (aka, advertising)and earned media (aka, PR), now there is social media with its own new set of rules, best practices, and costs. To minimize risk and get up the learning curve, we recommend that you begin engaging in social media with one or all of these three SM tools by listening first. Likely your company and/or industry and/or competitors are being mentioned online, so, an important place to start is to have a small team or one employee join in and begin listening and studying others. When we began our research on social media, we found out which companies and organizations were on the various sites, and we started watching them. We also followed the online conversations of our clients to better understand the online conversation about them, which was fascinating and enlightening.
If you are trying to build community, creating a Facebook fan page is probably a great place to start. And to maximize the tool, it’s best to have a diverse set of content including video, pictures, and links to your own or other sites for relevant information. Having regular updates to the fan page is key, so before you start, it will be important to create a 2-3 month editorial calendar of post ideas and content developers so you ensure a process is in place and the quality of content stays high. Here are some nice examples of brands using Facebook to meet a variety of goals.
If you are launching a time-based, lead-generating campaign or have a big news event, Twitter can be an effective tool. With the right call-to-action (free on-site visit by an engineer, limited-time product or service discount, etc), you can send out a tweet about it, and it will likely be “retweeted” (aka, forwarded) by others. As I mentioned in my part 1 post, Twitter can also be a great way to get feedback or do research. Southwest
Airlines used Twitter this way recently when they announced new service to Boston’s Logan airport. They tweeted ahead of the announcement asking their followers to submit questions online about the new service. Then, on the morning of the announcement, they did a live interview with a senior executive, where he answered followers’ questions.
They not only got great questions, they effectively used social media – Twitter and video and their corporate blog – as a medium to talk directly to their customers and the public.
Twitter also has some really nice third-party applications, such as Twtpoll, where you can create a simple poll, send a tweet with the question, and have your followers participate and retweet. It is a fast way to get great, anecdotal feedback about a particular topic.
The primary way for companies to take advantage of LinkedIn is for recruiting. By creating a company page on LinkedIn, you can then post job openings, job-related news, and research candidates and prospects. By creating a LinkedIn Group, you can also increase the visibility of your company as others join your group and you can efficiently communicate out news to the group with the discussion feature.
As with other areas of marketing, for social media, you’ll need to try some different approaches and over time, refine your SM strategy and implementation based on your goals. There are literally thousands of ways to take advantage of these and other SM tools, from YouTube channels to blogs. Mashable.com has a very helpful post on the 35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action, there is a Social media Case Studies Superlist including the social media awards list recognizing companies such as Whole Foods, Zappos.com, and Jet Blue. I liked this post, which lists alot of interesting and varied articles about businesses using Twitter.
The key to social media success is the same as with other tools in the marketing toolbox: know what your goals are, learn the rules of the game, and try different things until you find success. If you have other great examples of SM, we’d love to hear about them.