As part of our upcoming special report, “Making the Case for Social Media,” I spoke with Valeria Maltoni, a PR/marketing/communications expert who specializes in customer dialogue and brand management. Valeria is a member of the SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board, and her blog ConversationAgent.com is recognized among the world’s top online marketing blogs. “Making the Case for Social Media” publishes on Tuesday; if you’re not already a SmartBrief on Social Media subscriber, sign up today so you won’t miss it!
Mary Ellen: You have an idea for how social media could help your company. What’s the first thing you should do?
Valeria: Before you move into a new neighborhood, you find out what it’s about, who’s there, what kind of activities are embedded in the community, and so on. When you move in, you go meet neighbors and make friends. The same thing happens in social circles online. Research is still the best way to go at first. Today, with social media, we call that listening.
Two considerations with listening:
- There’s no silver bullet. So use a combination of tools and team to plan and implement your strategy.
- it comes down to what you’re listening for. Your objectives will help determine how you focus your program.
At what level in an organization do you think tends to be the most resistance to using social media?
I’m thinking that more than resistance there are skepticism and sheer bandwidth issues. That’s why it’s so important to speak the language of business when describing social media. These are pipes, and as such they are constantly changing and being evolved with use. Listening will help you create a baseline for the business, the before implementing phase. Your report should focus on the opportunities that exist in the marketplace.
Is there an underserved customer segment? Do you have a core group of customers or partners who are itching to get the word out about the work you do together? Now you can make it easier to be helpful to them and provide them with easy-to-share content that will make you stand out.
Run a test case. Pick a niche or a region to test a simple implementation and then come to the table with results from your activities. You will encounter the most resistance from the groups to whom you cannot demonstrate results.
What are the three most common mistakes you see people make when pitching social media to senior management?
- Lack of strategy and not tying that strategy into business goals.
- Lack of vision. You may have a starting point, but not a true road map of where to integrate it and build results.
- Lack of execution skills.
Do you think different strategies are needed to sell social media at large, established organizations vs. small firms? If so, how do you recommend social media advocates adjust their tactics to accommodate that difference?
What’s interesting is that many entrepreneurs are really latching on to social media because they are the ones who both execute and sell to varying degrees for their business. They get it, they know they can use the tools to amplify their off-line activities and scale their own presence and participation in customer communities.
Mid-sized companies have fewer layers to contend with and more cross-functional exchanges. It’s fairly easy for them to socialize ideas throughout the company, so social media may still feel culturally a fit.
Large organizations are more siloed and less organic. Execution depends very much on culture and the tone set from the top.
Having said all this, selling really depends on the value you can document and provide as well as the cultural make up or readiness of the organization.
Many organizations put social media work in the hands of their interns or other entry-level workers. What do you think about this approach?
Think about social media as media. You wouldn’t probably put your junior people in front of the media without training and a clear understanding of the business. This is no ding on junior people or interns. I place a lot of value in mentoring and contributions at every level. Even with more senior people and experts, I’d still recommend training on what to expect.
Companies that own their brand, that live up to the expectations and promises they make to customers, will have an advantage over companies that are still aligning to that vision. Their voice will be consistent throughout marketing materials and social media interactions — even when interpreted by employees at different levels. Make no mistake, social media is not about the pipes, though. It’s about what you can access and enable through them.
Image credit, Yuri_Arcurs, via iStock