Eight out of 10 U.S. companies use social media, according to data from eMarketer, a digital marketing researcher. Is yours one of them?
“It’s necessary to have some type of social media presence. If you can dedicate some time to it, there’s going to be a return,” said Adam Carter, Web and social media manager at Bauserman Group, a Reno-based communications agency specializing in advertising, marketing and public relations.
Nevada companies can use social media in many aspects of their operations, including marketing, customer service, human resources and internal communications. They can establish their brand, give it a voice, build and monitor it. They can engage more personally with people and other companies and organizations, and thereby generate leads and build relationships. They can receive valuable feedback about their products and services. Social media also is useful in finding, recruiting and screening potential employees. The Glenn Group, in addition to involvement in external social networks, has a private internal one via Yammer (www.yammer.com), which allows its 40-member staff to interact with each other, even between its two offices.
“The sky is the limit really in terms of how you decide to use social media,” said Mike McDowell, director of digital media, KPS|3 Marketing, a Northern Nevada based agency.
A Closer Look
Social media, McDowell said, is a set of Web-based tools that allow businesses to have one-on-one personal or multi-directional conservations and network with others.
For Station Casinos, a Summerlin-based gaming company, it’s part of its overall messaging.
“We see it similar to a website, to e-mail, to online advertising. They all are codependent of what we do digitally,” said Thomas Patchin, the company’s vice-president of interactive marketing.
Those social media tools include business networking sites (LinkedIn), social networking sites (Facebook), microblogging sites (Twitter), company blogs (WordPress), video compilation sites (YouTube) and more.
“Use of a tool is dependent on what the job is and what you need it to do,” said Flip Wright, vice-president of strategy and innovation at The Glenn Group. “It all boils down to what your objective is, what you want people to do and what you want the ultimate benefit or outcome to be. Then you can start to look at who you’re going to talk to and where the place to talk to them is.”
LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is an excellent way to connect with colleagues and potential clients, employees and work. It’s easy to search for specific parameters, such as titles, regions, companies, etc. LinkedIn is easy to get involved in and isn’t time consuming. Companies and employees can have a presence there without having to expose much about their personal lives.
“It tends to be a network of people wanting to do business with one another rather than getting to know one another on a personal level,” McDowell said. “The dialogue tends to be more about projects that you’re working on and less about barbecues and photos of your dogs.”
The downside is that people aren’t as engaged with it as they are with Facebook. Perhaps it’s because it lacks the “idiosyncrasies and personal tidbits that make people interesting,” McDowell added.
Facebook (www.facebook.com), with more than 800 million users (and nearly 1 million in Nevada), is massive, giving you the opportunity to reach and connect with lots of people.
“It’s really difficult for a business to ignore that many eyeballs, to ignore a space where that many people exist and have made going there a habit,” McDowell said.
But you also open yourself up to negative feedback and criticism, which you need to be prepared to handle. Because Facebook is so large, you could damage your brand if you’re not ready to manage and engage with a large network of people.
“[On Facebook] you are standing on stage and have to take the applause and the rotten tomatoes,” McDowell said.
Twitter (www.twitter.com) allows you to direct your conversations better than on Facebook, as it’s easier to find people who are interested in one topic. Businesses can better monitor and join conversations there in real time, as tweets are indexed and searchable. For example, you could follow the word “Nevada,” see what people are talking about and participate in the dialog. The downside to Twitter is that it moves at a much faster pace than other social networks, requiring you to stay on top of it and tweet often. Only one or two tweets a day can easily get lost in the constant stream.
A blog, created through WordPress (www.wordpress.com) or other blogging software, proves your knowledge on a particular subject, establishes you as an authority on it and shows your willingness to share it with others. Through it, readers can interact with you, share ideas, provide feedback and support your brand. Because search engines tend to index blogs, in part because of their fresh content, a blog can afford you search engine optimization advantages.
For some businesses, generating new blog content and writing posts are difficult to continue regularly. If you don’t however, you can lose readership and credibility.
“If you’re going to start, you have to continue,” McDowell said.
If your company can represent its brand in a visually appealing way, YouTube (www.youtube.com) is an ideal social media option. It gets a lot of visitors and it contains an abundance of content. Next to Google, YouTube has become the second most popular search engine, according to comScore, an Internet marketing research company.
Like a blog, this video-sharing site requires you to develop and capture new content and then compete for attention, with all the other material already on the site. This can be too much for a business to manage.
“Sharing on videos, if done right, can be really successful,” Carter said.
The Glenn Group, for example, routinely uses an array of social media tools. Along with Yammer, it employs LinkedIn to share its expertise; Facebook to share who the group’s people are and what their personalities are; Twitter to share with others what the company is about and thinking about; Formspring (www.formspring.me) to respond to people’s questions; and Vimeo (www.vimeo.com) to showcase some of its completed projects.
The primary downside to executing a social media plan, in general, is the necessary resources—manpower and time.
“It’s really like anything else. If you don’t put adequate effort into something, it potentially will fail,” Wright said.
In a large company, social media success requires ample communication and partnering. Station Casinos, which has 13,000 employees and several properties, has been using social media for three and a half years. It began with Facebook, and now also uses Twitter; Yelp (www.yelp.com), an online urban city guide; Foursquare (www.foursquare.com), a location-based social networking website for mobile devices; Google+ (www.plus.google.com), a social networking platform); and Instagram (www.instagr.am), a photo-sharing interface. It also has a blog. Employees on all the properties generate content and content ideas, which they then submit to the interactive marketing team. The team checks all content for brand alignment and accuracy, then posts it. The team also monitors and tracks ways social media is driving visitation and frequency to Station Casinos’ locations.
“It’s definitely worth the time and the effort,” Patchin said. “In places where we weren’t representing ourselves, guests were actually creating and managing Facebook pages or Twitter accounts or Yelp descriptions or FourSquare check-ins for us.”
David Leibner said use of social media doesn’t have any drawbacks. He is CEO of FBG Social Media Solutions, a software development group and digital agency based out of Las Vegas. The company is focused on delivering consulting, education, and outsourced services in the social media space.
“The conversations are happening whether you like it or not,” he added. “It’s just a matter of whether you want to be a part of the conversation. You used to be able to purchase your identity through billboards and magazine flyers, but now you are the sum of what people say about you.”
All companies should have a social media presence, experts said. Whether it’s one person spending five minutes a day or a whole team dedicated to it, “there is a level that’s right for your business,” Leibner said.
Before jumping onto one or another platform, determine what you want to accomplish from a business standpoint. Maybe you want to generate more traffic into your business. Maybe you want your company to have a positive online presence. Maybe you want to shift providing customer service via telephone to the Internet.
Determine who you want to engage and what social platform(s) you’ll find them on.
“Understanding who is relevant to your business and what is relevant to them allows you to create an online community around your brand,” Leibner said. “The tipping point for any brand is when you get more people taking about you rather than you talking about you.”
Then, determine for each objective whether social media can support it. Review your prior advertising or public relations campaigns, as you want the old and new to be cohesive. Use this information to formulate a strategic plan. Part of it should be social media goals and ways you’re going to measure the success of your social media efforts.
One way to accomplish all of the above is through Social Office Suite (SOS) (www.socialofficesuite.com), social media management software. With it, you can post from one dashboard, maintain a posting calendar, categorize posts and search for conversations about your company and competitors. Other capabilities include measuring your efforts and generating actionable reports. It’s designed for companies of all sizes and costs $1 a day per user per location per account.
“With SOS, businesses will grow their presence online, share their value proposition with the people relevant to them and make their competition less relevant,” said Leibner, who founded and co-developed SOS.
Once you’re participating in whichever social media interfaces you choose, remember to avoid boasting about or trying to sell your products or services. Rather, provide information, engage in conversations and listen.
“While content is king and publishing a good message is important, listening yields the greatest results,” Leibner added.
When possible, companies should generate their social media content internally rather than outsource it.
“We encourage companies to speak with their own voice,” McDowell said. “We think it comes through in a more genuine way if it’s somebody who lives the brand every day who’s writing the content and managing the network.”
However, it can make sense to engage an outside firm to partner with. They can help you develop a social media strategy, monitor and maximize your efforts, generate ideas and create content. This must be done transparently, however.
“Don’t ever pretend that you’re doing it yourself when somebody else is doing it because it’s going to come back to bite you,” McDowell said. “I always caution businesses against getting wrapped up in not being transparent.”
It’s advisable to have one or more individuals in your company—brand gatekeepers—oversee or review what your people are putting in the social media space on behalf of your firm, to ensure all of it is consistent with your brand. The degree to which the outgoing content is controlled is up to you.
Another recommendation is to have a written social media policy in place at the outset. Online you can find the policies of large corporations like Google and IBM, which you can use as a guide. The simplest policies tend to be the most successful, Leibner said, and it’s best to extend the policies you have on-site to the social media space. At the very least, employees need to understand they reflect their employer’s brand both positively and negatively on and off the clock and can be held personally accountable for posting inappropriate material. “No policy is just a liability waiting to happen,” Leibner added.
Although advances in social media are near impossible to predict (remember when MySpace was hot?), people’s desire to connect in real time with other individual’s, companies and brands will continue and likely increase. Video content perhaps will continue to grow, and we may see a greater focus on mobile devices. Also, the ability to segment audiences from within a larger audience is a feature we’re seeing more often.
“Social media is a growing industry,” Carter said. “I think it’s going to be very interesting to see where it goes over the next few years.”