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Marketing World Shifts With 'Social' Pace

If you’re reading this in the morning, by tomorrow’s breakfast Twitter will have another 150,000 new subscribers. More than 33 million unique visits will have occurred on YouTube, and more than 333,000 on Pinterest. And Facebook will continue sweating the competition while posting more than 680,000 new pieces of content each minute.

There’s no mistaking social media’s impact on marketing. Even though about 40 percent of social media accounts are spam, businesses and their marketing teams are forever working to find valid customers and real friends in social media channels. Even though it can feel like we’re all sifting through a virtual trashbin at times, about 80 percent of online users visit social networks. More than 50 percent of marketers acquired customers through blogging and 44 percent did so through Twitter, according to Hubspot.net.

Making the decision about how and if to engage in social media can be daunting for a business, particularly a small one. Experts in the marketing world today, be they relative newbies or seasoned veterans, will tell you there are times to be proactive, effectively reactive and plenty of times when it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself.

“Business owners put all their sweat and 16-hour days into their company, as they need to. But to the consumer they’re just another choice in the world of many,” said Randy Snow, chief strategic officer with RR Partners . RR is the Las Vegas advertising and marketing firm that created the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” campaign.

But even with this hard truth, some old common sense rules for success both in marketing and business in general still apply to the digital age. Looking before you leap and being polite can take you far in business and in the social media gathering space as well. There have been more than a few examples of those who negligently jumped in only to be burned as badly as those who ignored it. Here, some marketing experts, Snow and others, offer up a few tips to keep in mind while marketing in the not-always-fair-and-kind digital world.

Thinking strategy

Snow sees great marketing and advertising concepts daily. But he is a big picture guy with plenty of people around him obsessing over the creative details. Snow must take in the entire spectrum of marketing options available to clients, and that means Web ads, print ads, billboards, TV spots, YouTube, you name it, to create an image and bottom-line boosting solution for a company. It’s all part of the nerve-racking, tantalizing world of marketing.

When it comes to designing advertising, the world from which Snow graduated into his current position, the nuts and bolts of messaging haven’t changed much at all, regardless of what medium you’re working in.

“It has to be focused, simple and relevant to its audience. … If an ad tries to do everything, it does nothing,” he said. “If it’s focused, it has a chance.”

So many people are now consuming media through phones, tablets and other portable devices. And they all recognize the power of those devices. After watching a show, commercial or reading a tweet, blog or post, people are armed with the ability to give immediate reaction and input about what they have just experienced. That’s a lot of power for the consumer, Snow said.

“In the old days the most powerful salesperson was word of mouth. But now I can use Facebook, Twitter and my word of mouth can spread to millions in 20 minutes,” he added. “The good thing is you (the business owner) have as much access to the customers as your competitors. … And you can get your side of the story out.”

Dan Geary, president of Proof Interactive, a local interactive marketing firm, said some old-school marketing and advertising approaches don’t play out well in the social media environment. For many years, getting a particular message or offer to as many people as possible usually translated to a certain return on investment for a business. Carpet-bombing the planet with your message was a nuisance much of America accepted, even if it was frequently tuned out; but in social media, effective dialogue rules.

“It’s like a giant cocktail party as the metaphor, and you’re walking into this party and you’re looking for people you know or want to meet and there’s this guy in the corner yelling, ‘Thirty percent off now through Thursday!’ No one wants to listen to the crazy person in the corner,” he explained.

The best strategy for social media, said Geary, is to listen first, then push relevant content.

Jim Gentleman, senior vice president of account management and strategy for SK+G Advertising Las Vegas, which recently won AMC’s “The Pitch,” by putting together a marketing campaign for trash hauler Waste Management Inc., said the best thing a company, large or small, can do is create “meaningful content” that can be shared on the Web. For example, he said, a pool company can write articles about pool safety, cleanliness or design trends. Constantly refreshing content will help the company rank higher on searches and provide something helpful to potential consumers.

When a company puts itself out into the virtual world as a knowledge source, knowing everything is not a requirement. In fact, telling someone you are willing to find the answer can go a long way as far as relationship building, added Geary.

“If you can blend in human nature, then social media becomes very effective. Otherwise it just becomes the complaint department,” he said.

There are also plenty of times when a business must defend itself against critics or clear up misconceptions or bad reviews. It can be a touchy experience, but far worse if ignored. Restaurants with a few bad Yelp.com reviews have seen sales slide.

Geary said it’s important to be thoughtful and do some planning before giving knee-jerk reactions. And while some small businesses will try to make amends with a customer who may have given a poor review by giving a freebie, the social media pro cautions against such behavior.

“That’s not always good. You might just be rewarding someone for being negative,” he added.

All of this brings a required level of transparency and honesty some longtime large and small companies may not be used to, Gentleman added.

“Those brands that are proactive in responding to mistakes and errors become more popular and have more loyalty when they address the problem,” he added. “Social media is not just a marketing medium but a customer service medium.”

But working a social media campaign and keeping tabs on the conversations being had about your business can be very time consuming. Some companies hire outside firms to do the work. There are very few standard fees in the business, Geary explained, and companies can be bidding on work to business owners and be miles apart from their competition on price. Some companies hire a person in-house to handle social media, but also hire an outside consultant to help with strategies.

Hiring a social media specialist or strategist also brings its share of salary variations. SimplyHired.com shows an average wage of $55,000 in the U.S. for a social media specialist, while other sites show social media “experts” or “strategists” making in the $60,000s or $70,000s, depending on region, company and demands.

Even with help, businesses can also employ specific analytic software to see if their money is being well spent. And quite a few are free, added Geary.

Purpose

Even with an understanding of social media, a business owner needs a solid message. Creating a brand still holds a lot of the same basic rules as creating an effective advertisement, according to Gentleman.

“It used to be enough to educate the target audience about your brand. Now you must engage, entertain and educate,” the executive said.

Given the customer’s powerful voice, advertising is no longer a “one-way dialogue in TV, radio or print,” Gentleman said. That empowered consumer is also looking for a glimpse into a company’s corporate philosophy as well as a good product. Poor business practices behind the delivery of a very good product can be a deal breaker for many potential customers.

“Younger generations are very skeptical of traditional advertising. They want to know the company behind that product and what it stands for,” he added.

Gentleman calls it “purpose” marketing, where companies highlight their community efforts as much as their products. Panera Bread’s “Live Consciously. Eat Deliciously” campaign speaks to how the company donates food to charity and community causes. In another example, banks that did not participate in subprime lending during the real estate boom are more likely to advertise it in their marketing message today.

But purpose can also be very creative and interactive and may not always need to be high-tech. Gentleman gives the example of a Burt’s Beeswax moisturizer billboard that used thousands of coupons covering a woman’s dry, flaky skin. As the coupons were peeled away by passersby, the board revealed the same woman with clearer skin. The direct interaction for consumers with the board was very memorable, he said — not to mention the YouTube video generated more than 177,000 views.

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Mystic Maggie

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