“Social media is at a place right now where if it can’t prove itself, or if we don’t find the case studies that help everyone else learn, it will go the way of SEO,” said Chris Heuer, the provocative and colorful founder of AdHocnium and the Social Media Club during a Business Wire media breakfast panel in San Francisco on April 15th.” I use “colorful” for lack of a better adjective because several words that came out of Chris’ mouth in the first 60 seconds of his reply to “What’s the state of the union in social media” are ones that would make my mother blush.
By the end of the discussion it dawned on me that I have been under the mistaken assumption that I was actually getting a handle on the social media phenomenon. After attending Business Wire’s Navigation in Today’s Global-Mobile-Social World: from a PR Perspective, I now realize that I will never be an aficionado on social media tools (I’ve counted more than 150 popular ones so far). But my revelation is this: Neither will anyone else despite all the social media “guru this” and “expert that” titles being bandied about out there!. Social media tools are changing constantly and with the new functionality comes new usage patterns and new communication trends and fads. The underlying message is that no one should get too attached to today’s tools because they are constantly evolving and could be replaced tomorrow.
Nonetheless there are guidelines and tips that we can share with each other to help us cope and thrive in the social media realm today. The Business Wire panel began by addressing the power, immediacy and wide reach of social media, and the need for businesses to engage with quick, but tempered responses.
Here is a list of the speakers and a few highlighs of their comments follow:
- Chris Heuer, Founder, AdHocnium and Social Media Club
- Maura Ginty, Sr. Manager, Search and Social Media Strategy, Autodesk
- David Toole, CEO, MEDIAMobz
- Rachel Polish, VP, Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence
- Kimarie Matthews, Vice President, Customer Advocacy and Loyalty, Wells Fargo, Internet Services Group
Maura Ginty acknowledged that there are plenty of case studies about the damage that can result from the lack of an immediate social media response when a corporate crisis breaks. She cited the Amazon and Dominoes fiascos, but her message was that negative social media commentary can also be an opportunity for companies to reach out and show value. For background on the Amazon and Dominoes case studies, there’s a good overview in The LA Times called Ignore the Twittersphere? Major brands learn that they had better respond — and quick.
Chris Heuer talked about a bad experience he had recently had with American Airlines. Yet he called his very public rant about the matter a personal failure, noting that “you always have to be on” [with social media] … and “sometimes our emotions get the best of us.”
David Toole had a similar story about Virgin America whose managers “in the know” about a flight delay were not communicating with their front desk staff who were also on the front line with the irate travelers at the gate. Those travelers who were wired turned to social media to blow off heads of steam and to find out what was going on. They got the attention of executives at Virgin America. He observed that social media is “automating human behavior.”
I pulled a few more gems from the Business Wire discussion that I list below from my notes because I think they provide some very useful advice:
Rachel: There are many social media strategists and opinions, but too many companies forget to listen [to the conversations on social media] first. It is important “to build an engagement plan from what you learn.”
Kimarie : Wells Fargo turned to social media when they realized that “reporters wanted more content.”
David: A lot of people who have Twitter think it takes care of itself, but there is a need for someone to engage.
Kimarie: Twitter “will always be part and parcel of the conversation.”
Chris: This is basic social behavior stuff.
Rachel: The secret at Ogilvy: Listen, Plan, Engage, Amplify, Optimize. This informs our engagement plan. Go where the people are, understand what they are saying.
Rachel: Hot trend – everything converging on mobile devices. (She cited Foursquare as an example). This is an opportunity for the big [and small] brands to leverage.
Kimarie: Everyone is going to be very different. Some will have [a small number of] followers, others 5,000.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: How do you stay connected when the tools keep changing?
David: It’s human behavior. But you should use the tools you are comfortable with.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where does Social Media really belong? PR, customer advocacy?
Kimarie: There’s more than one place for it.
Chris: Right now it’s whoever wants it. Geolocation is traditionally marketing, but if marketing’s not doing it…We don’t have the right models to deal with this. Now adapting to organizational structure.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What are the best listening tools for various channels?
Kimarie: It really is just about customer relationships. We know how much our customers are worth to us. As a result of being on Twitter we [can] engage the customer who may have been disappointed. If we “recover them” and they give us public praise or say something to their followers they may become promoters so I think that is a good business case for why we should continue to [engage in social media].
Chris: Steve Jobs is jumping on Twitter now.
Rachel: There’s an opportunity to build thought leadership for executives with Twitter. It depends on the company.
Chris: Tom Foremski says “every company is a media company. Chris pointed to the viral Will it Blend? videos where a “quirky CEO” throws everything from the iPhone and iPad to silly putty into his company’s Blendtec blender. “He’s himself and it works!”