Gallup Survey Offers Wakeup Call to Social Media Marketers

Businessman with social media conceptsIn his 1982 book, Megatrends, futurist John Naisbitt discussed the concept that the more technology takes over our lives, the more we need human interaction. He writes: “What happens is that whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response – that is high touch – or the technology is rejected. The more high tech, the more high touch.”

An interesting new Gallup survey on the impact of social media marketing seems to confirm this, showing that 94% of consumers say they use social media to connect with friends and family and only 29% to follow trends and find product reviews and information. Fully 62% said that social media did not influence their purchasing decisions. In fact, the research showed that most people rely on their friends, family and experts when looking to buy.

This is obviously not a ready audience for traditional advertising. Why then do so many companies continue to treat social media as just another advertising venue – promoting themselves and their products on their Facebook and Twitter pages, hoping that “like” and “fan” numbers will generate sales?

It seems pretty clear that these companies are going to have to rethink their online marketing strategy if they want to make a real impact. They have to generate trust first, and trust is most often generated through two-way communication and transparency.

In reviewing the findings, The Gallup Blog suggested that companies could better utilize social media by being “authentic,” “responsive,” and “compelling.”   In other words, ditch the sales pitch and create an “open dialogue” with consumers; listen to what customers are saying and offer a timely response to negative feedback; and finally, create compelling content – that is, content that readers find valuable and not just promotional.

Conversation between people in an engaged community has always been the most effective type of communication in building a reputation or a brand. In order to be successful, social media marketing – indeed, all marketing – has to perform a similar function.  As Naisbitt wrote more than 30 years ago, “high tech” has to be counterbalanced with “high touch.”

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Social Media’s Growing Impact on Businesses

Years ago, before social media was even a glimmer in the eye of the most Review Sitesadvanced techie, my school-age daughter asked me after a particularly bad consumer experience,  “Mommy, is this one of those places we’re never coming back to?”

Back then, that was pretty much the only recourse – especially for some of the chain stores where complaining to the manager did not seem to make much of an impression.

Poor customer service has been – and probably always will be – part of the retail experience.  People are fallible, after all.  They make mistakes; they have bad days.  But it’s becoming much more dangerous for businesses to screw up in this area.  Social media has provided the sword for customers who, rightly or wrongly, feel they have been treated unfairly.

According to data reported in a Forbes article, “nearly 95% of customers share bad product experiences online; 45% share bad customer services experiences with others.” The results can be devastating, especially for a small business without the public relations staff or resources to fight back.

This trend is only getting stronger. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 reported that 67% of consumers read fewer than six reviews before making up their mind about whether or not to patronize a local business; only 22% read more than ten.

Their analysis?  “Consumers are forming opinions faster now than before. . . .This means that local businesses need to manage their online reputation even more closely than before.”  You can access the full survey results here.

You may not be able to resolve every customer’s complaint right away, but it’s important to treat it seriously, and to treat the complaining customer with respect.   In these situations, what your customers want, first and foremost, is to be listened to.  They want to know they matter to you.

But what about the customer who never complains in person and goes directly to social media to post a complaint?  That’s where the real work comes in.  You should regularly monitor any sites that are likely to post reviews on your type of business.  It’s time consuming, but essential, to search for – and promptly respond to – complaints and ask for an opportunity to resolve the issue.  It’s also a good idea to thank people who give you a positive review.

Whether you respond online or off line, you may want to do some internal research before you respond to get some background on what could have gone wrong.  Just keep in mind that a positive experience in resolving a complaint can often turn a complaining customer into a dedicated customer, and there’s a good chance their next post will be a rave review.

(Search tip:  Many customers will use your company’s hashtag to “tag” their post.  If your business is called Mary’s Pet Place, for instance, your hashtag is #maryspetplace. You can search for the hashtag to see what comes up.)

Posted by Margot Dimond

Email Marketing: Does it Work?

News PhotoOften neglected or forgotten, email marketing is the stepchild of the social media world, regularly taking a back seat to The Next Big Thing.  Yet, depending on your business goals, it may be one of the best ways to expand your client base.

Email marketing is “one of the most effective means of communicating your brand identity and generating sales,” according to Michael Beaulieu, group manager for digital media at Wayfair – a U.S.-based multinational e-commerce company – who is quoted in a recent article on Digiday.

At our firm, we have had success with e-news – a more subtle form of email marketing that includes newsletters, news announcements and articles on topics of interest to the people on your email list.  Clients who were initially reluctant to try it have been surprised at the positive feedback they get with this means of communication.

Obviously, it’s just one tool in the PR toolbox, but if your firm is trying to reach a specific market, rather than promote to a broad consumer base, it is a cost-effective way to get your message out.  In addition, by using a professional program, you can see who opens your email and how often they do so.  A regular reader might be someone who is interested in hearing more from you.

So while e-news coming from your company will not replace external media coverage, it does offer distinct benefits:

  • Clarity:  Your message is sent – exactly as you want it worded.
  • Frequency:  You can send emails as often as you have news to impart.
  • Targeted:    You can send directly to the decision-makers who can influence your business.
  • Feedback:  You will know if and when your news is welcome – if your email is opened; if you get new subscribers; or if your subscribers “unsubscribe.”

Some cautionary notes to keep your subscribers interested:

  • Keep the content valuable.  If your email is all puff and no substance, people will stop opening it.
  • Don’t send it too often.  You don’t want to overwhelm your audience to the point that you are a nuisance.
  • Make sure everyone on your list is part of your target audience.  Sending information to the wrong person can put you in a Spam category.
  • Have a recognizable design and layout for your email.    You want to look as professional as you are.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Will Social Media Enhance Perception of PR?

In a recent article in Fortune Tech, Gregory Galant, CEO of MuckRack, writes about the lack of respect for public relations as a business function, especially as compared to advertising.  There’s no program celebrating PR practitioners to compare with the popular AMC TV series Mad Men, he notes.

After providing several reasons why he thinks this is the case, Galant predicts a big change with the rising importance of social media, which “play to the strengths of public relations rather than advertising.”

Here’s why, according to Galant:

  • Effects of PR can now be measured to a greater extent than ever before in history
  • Social media can drive more human communications.
  • You can now scale PR to influencers and by promoting articles.
  • Public relations now has meaningful data to influence big decisions.

You can read the full article here.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Does Your Company Need a Social Media War Room?

Social media war rooms are in the news right now.  In fact, they recently were a featured part of a story by Ned Hibberd of Houston’s FOX 26 TV News. The story, which was prompted by Hibberd’s own experience as a consumer, quoted Lisa Dimond, principal of DoubleDimond Public Relations.

It isn’t surprising that this topic is gaining more attention.  While social media channels are great for creating interest, hearing from and targeting consumers, they can create havoc with your company brand.  All it takes is one embarrassing video posted on YouTube or one thoughtless comment on Twitter and, with the speed of light, you are dealing with a PR crisis.

Most companies – especially those who sell products or services to the public – are taking this possibility very seriously.  It’s dangerous not to do so, considering such recent social media missteps as the tweet by a KitchenAid employee during the presidential debate.  The tweet was quickly disavowed by the company, which helped tamp down on the negative publicity they were receiving.

Although corporations are not known for moving quickly, social media demands immediacy.  You have to communicate in real time – engaging with consumers and responding quickly to online comments and complaints.  In fact, with the appropriate response, you can turn a complaint into a positive experience for your customers.

And that’s where war rooms come in.  Many large corporations have in-house war rooms within their marketing or public relations department to monitor the use of their name across social media.

Do you need a war room?  Unless you are a big company sporting a well-known brand name, it’s probably not cost-effective.

But reputation monitoring is essential for all businesses.

Posted by Margot Dimond

The Wrong Fight: Social Media Management Is Not About Age

From what I can tell, the dust-up over the proper age for a social media manager started in July, with an article on NextGen Journal by recent University of Iowa graduate Cathryn Sloane.  Her article, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25,” asserted that, since people her age have grown up with social media, they should be the ones who are in charge of that function professionally as well.

The response to the article was overwhelming – to the point that the title was referred to as “link bait.”  If so, it worked. (Just Google “Cathryn Sloane” to see for yourself.)

Most of the comments criticized the author’s “arrogance” and “sense of entitlement,” quoting statements such as this one:  “To many people in the generations above us, Facebook and Twitter are just the latest ways of getting messages out there to the public, that also happen to be the best. . . .The specificity of the ways in which the method should be used is usually beyond them, however.”  And this one:  “Yet, every time I see a job posting for a Social Media Manager/Associate/etc. and find the employer is looking for five to ten years of direct experience, I wonder why they don’t realize the candidates who are in fact best suited for the position actually aren’t old enough to have that much experience.”

The War of the Ages was on!  Inc.com published an article by Hollis Thomases, president of a digital marketing and advertising service company, that presented an entirely different point-of-view.  Entitled “11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media,” it seemed to challenge Ms. Sloane’s position directly:  “Just because you don’t understand social media doesn’t mean you should forfeit all common sense and hire your niece, nephew, or any other recent college grad (say, your best friend’s sister-in-law’s kid) because ‘they’re really good on Facebook,’”  Ms. Thomases says and goes on to enumerate the reasons why she thinks this is not a good idea.

Her post also generated lots of criticism, as well as a response by Lauren Rothering, PR and social media coordinator for a Wisconsin PR agency.  In “Why millennials should handle your social media,” published in PR Daily, Ms. Rothering asserts that millennials are creative, trustworthy, individualistic, more familiar with social media and more mature than Ms. Thomases gives them credit for.

Stop, please!  My head is hurting!  The main thing about social media is not the method, or even how it is used.  It’s whether or not it fits into a company’s overall public relations/marketing strategy.  Each social media platform is a tactic for reaching and motivating a particular audience – one that is important to the success of a business or nonprofit organization.  Like any tactic, it should be used as part of an overall strategic plan to advance the goals of an organization.

Now that can be done by someone in their 20s or even 60s, but whoever that person is should have the overall communication strategy as the driving force behind their activities.  They also should have some experience in crisis communication, since social media can be a double-edged sword, with negative comments or postings traveling the globe in a matter of hours.

Take Ms. Sloane.  As numerous others have noted, she never responded to any of the criticisms of her article, as is usually done in this type of post and as others writing about her have done with critics of their posts.  She has “virtually” gone into hiding.  She had an opportunity to start an interesting “social media” conversation, but chose instead to essentially strike and run – not a good move for anyone wanting a job in social media, where monitoring of comments and reputation management are essential.

Maybe she will do so in a future article.  She should; that her article caused such a long-lasting stir shows she has a flair for writing that gets read.

Posted by Margot Dimond

 

 

What Does One of Those Plastic Bank Tube Thingies Have to Do with PR?

Nothing really.  But an incident that recently occurred involving a plastic bank tube – or pneumatic carrier, as it’s referred to by pneumatic carrier manufacturers – brings to mind why good customer service at the most basic level really counts and can even avert a PR fiasco.

Recently, as I was trying to put the plastic tube back in its holder after depositing money at a branch of my bank, the tube slipped out of my hand and rolled under my SUV.  I tried to open my door to retrieve it, but the holder was in the way.  So I told the teller what happened and that I would pull up to try to retrieve it.  Then, I heard a loud crunch.  I had completely smashed the tube with my tire, and before I could get out to retrieve it, a furious bank security guard chased after me, yelling about my demolishing the tube.  I told him that I had already informed the teller about this situation and that she knew I was trying to return it to its holder.  I then walked back to the drive-through intercom system, and the teller told me that it wasn’t a problem; they had replacement tubes on hand.

So where’s the PR part of this story?  Well, thinking that I was a first-time carrier crushing offender, I posted my story on popular social media channels.  Soon my “friends” and “followers” came forward, one even confessing he had been too embarrassed to share his story (involving a pharmacy drive-through carrier) until I posted mine.

And then the questions came about where I bank.  Being sensitive to my fellow PR colleagues who often are forced to clean up social media messes, I avoided the “Where was this angry security guard?” inquiries, along with the questions about  why the security guard reacted the way he did.

But had I posted the name of the bank, or even created an “I dropped a bank tube at (insert bank name here) and was chewed out by a security guard” Facebook fan page, well, it could have caused a bit of a PR headache.  At the same time, the bank’s PR pros, who would ideally catch the chatter while monitoring the social media sites, could quickly respond.

Still, it’s best for employees at every level, especially those dealing directly with consumers, to always remember that one disgruntled customer can impact the views of hundreds and even thousands of social media users within just a few hours.

Everyone is watching these days!

Posted by Lisa Dimond Vasquez, Principal, DoubleDimond Public Relations.

Protecting Your Reputation: No “Spin” Involved

Mark Twain is said to have coined the phrase,  “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”  Twain died in 1910.  One wonders what he would have thought of a world dominated by social media because his comment is truer today than ever.

Just a decade ago, it was a much different situation.  Public relations counselors would occasionally get calls from potential clients who needed to dispel a bad reputation – mostly earned, unfortunately.  This is not the best time to contact a PR firm.  It’s much easier to begin a PR firm-client relationship with a company that already has a good reputation – or even a reputation that is essentially a blank slate.

The problem isn’t that a company’s bad reputation cannot be turned around; it just takes time and is often hindered if a company doesn’t want to change its practices – just the negative perception its practices have generated.  In these cases, the PR firm ends up spending a lot of time trying to convince company executives that there are no magic wands that can make reality disappear.  The company actually has to change the way it does things.  Perhaps due to the overuse of the word “spin” to describe what PR people do, these company executives expect a miraculous turnaround.

But now, it can be even worse for companies who are not prepared.  Disgruntled former employees, disappointed customers, and competitors can fill online “review” sites with negative comments – earned or not.  Damaging blog posts, photos and videos can spread to literally millions of people before their content can be disputed or explained away.

Entire businesses have sprung up to deal with online reputation management.

And yet, the basic PR approach still applies:  Build a positive reputation to begin with, and it will be easier to control any attacks on your reputation down the road.  No “spin” involved.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Mobile Marketing for Your Business

Ever wonder what all those shoppers in the mall are doing on their phones?  They are probably trying to make a purchase and haven’t yet found what they are looking for.  They are checking their phones to see if they can find what they need in a nearby location.

Hang out with a group of smartphone users, and you will see that consumers are increasingly comfortable purchasing on-the-go.  It’s called mobile marketing, and your business could benefit from this cost-effective marketing option.mobile marketing

Think about it:  When you are out shopping for a specific item, that’s when you are most likely to consult your smartphone to find the best place to buy it.  And that’s when a business has the best chance of selling that item to you – that very day!

Max Byer has just posted this collection of mobile marketing statistics on the Business 2 Community website.  Here are a few points that stood out for me.

  • Worldwide, more people own a cell phone than own a toothbrush.
  • More than half of all mobile ads result in a phone call.
  • A mobile unfriendly site will send a majority of customers to a competitor’s site.
  • Half of all smartphone owners have scanned a QR code, with almost one-fifth of the scanners making a purchase.

You can read the entire list here.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Nonprofit Organizations and Social Media

Nonprofit OrganizationsNonprofit organizations are lagging in the use of social media for outreach to their constituents, according to a recent survey by software and service company Sage, covered in an article in this week’s PR News.

Almost two-thirds of respondents in the study said they don’t use any digital tools to manage social media programs. Not surprisingly, more than half of the respondents weren’t happy with their social media efforts.

Since social media marketing would seem to be made for nonprofit organizations and their communications programs, this is an unfortunate situation.  But from my point of view as someone who has handled public relations for many nonprofit organizations – large and small – there is no mystery as to why this is happening.

While there are many large nonprofit organizations, there are also many more than have limited budgets and operate with a small, multi-tasking administrative staff whose work lives are stretched pretty thin.  Very few charities have an in-house public relations person – let alone a communications staff.

Outsourcing these activities is the answer for these organizations, but they often opt for pro bono work by an outside agency, where necessity dictates their taking a back seat to paying clients.

To be effective, social media marketing takes strategic planning, time and dedication.

It can be a vicious circle:  nonprofit organizations who don’t communicate with their publics on a regular basis miss out on fundraising opportunities, and lack of fundraising opportunities keeps them from adequately funding their communications programs.

Nonprofit organizations that eventually become financially stable have one thing in common: they have leaders who think big and look to the future.  they invest in a public relations program – and in today’s world, that program includes social media.

Post by Margot Dimond