EDITORIAL: Getting Ready for Virtually Anything in Management Education

By any metric or standard management education has reached a seminal point in its brief 100 plus year history. Today, business educators are under growing pressure to engage in significant reforms due to the impacts of globalization, new learning technologies, soaring tuitions, and unprecedented economic uncertainty. The approach being adopted in many business schools is to engage faculty and students in a virtual learning experience via social media. In the context of management education, social media can be defined as virtual applications that allow faculty and students to acquire, create, and share business content and knowhow through conversations across multiple contexts and personal interactive systems. The growing use of social media in higher education, in general, and management education, in particular, will forever change the traditional learning landscape.

Specifically, this new paradigm significantly alters the three pillars of traditional instruction—fixed time, fixed location, and fixed learning pace—with a more flexible, customized, and mobile learning environment. Consistency and compatibility are two of the core challenges associated with this virtually anything goes knowledge acquisition mantra. Consistency implies that each element of the educational program adopts the same social media standards and practices. The last thing needed is for some classes within a curriculum to totally embrace social media while others have an outright ban or significant restrictions on usage. It is also essential to recognize that some learning tasks may be enhanced by social media while with others the traditional face-to-face format may be best. The uneven adoption of the new communication tools and technologies will weaken consistency in measuring learning outcomes and thus become an increasing challenge to the accreditation process! Enhancing learning outcomes is, after all, the prime directive of the business education community. Compatibility suggests that the institution’s IT structure needs to accommodate the wide range of communication modalities currently in use or planned for the future (e.g., Facebook, Skype, Yammer, and yes even a Dick Tracy Smart Phone).

“As it is, I am the president of a graduate school, I am in my fifties, and Social Media has become my Swiss Army Knife for doing business in higher education.” James Nolan, Southwestern College

Social media based e-learning calls for knowledge models that focus on engagement. This approach requires as much emphasis to be placed on the learning processes as on subject content. Specifically, the learning environment should be designed to encourage dialogue, facilitate the exchange of ideas and harness the power of collaboration. This is what social media based learning is all about. The expression six-degrees of separation is an apt metaphor. First proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, six-degrees suggest that in a network, like the Internet, you can connect to any other member of the network through no more than five intermediates. Several notable experiments have been conducted on this theory (Milgram, 1967; Facebook, 2010), which have reasonably validated this estimate. This is clearly powerful stuff! This networking learning strategy can be used to find resources for understanding and solving real-world problems and applications in a very efficient and timely manner both inside and outside the classroom.

The nature of online learning suggests that it be based on andragogical theory in contrast to pedagogy theory. The andragogy model, which is not limited to adult education, is predicted on increasingly self-directed learning that is task or problem-centered and is motivated by internal incentives including curiosity. This model allows students to take a much larger ownership stake in the learning process through the dynamic engagement between cohort groups. Business simulations provide an ideal platform in this regard. These systems facilitate situational learning through the interactive practice of real-world skills and by focusing on the essential aspects of a problem or application. Many business simulations can now be accessed via social media technologies. As many educators know, students tend to participate more in learning environments that are content rich and that feature extensive variety, which is a hallmark of business simulations.

“Information about the package is as important as the package itself!” Fredrick Smith, FedEx

A growing body of evidence suggests that collaboration is a key ingredient in helping facilitating this new social media based learning age. A primary function of a collaboration network is to provide communities of practice with access to learning assurance protocols, curriculum innovation, databases, cloud computing resources, m-learning technologies, and implementation strategies. Three key characteristics of an effective collaboration network include: 1) coordination—ease of use and access, 2) communication—capability to share information, and 3) cooperation—supports learning group’s objectives. The thoughtful blending of course design and innovative assessment via collaboration can create educational experiences comparable to face-to-face learning encounters. In this regard, some specific challenges associated with integrating social media into the curriculum include:

  1. What are the associated learning curves and costs?
  2. How does the effectiveness vary based on specific categories of students or particular course objectives?
  3. How likely are faculty members to adopt social media as a compliment or substitute to traditional methods of instruction?

With respect to the last consideration, a recent survey on social media usage in higher education by Pearson Publishing (2012) revealed:

  • Nearly one-third of the faculty are presently using these technologies in the classroom.
  • Online videos are by far the most common type of social media used in class, posted outside class, or assigned to students to view.
  • Younger faculty, under 35, are twice as likely to use social media in the classroom as are older faculty (over 55).
  • Two of the most pressing faculty concerns about social media usage are privacy and integrity.

Ultimately, successfully expanding the role of social media in management education will depend on effectively integrating these communication systems and technologies into the curriculum. As a general proposition it is most likely best to avoid identifying specific mobile technologies, but instead to provide a framework wherein students can discover the most attractive interactive approach. Again it is not about the technology, but about how the technology can be used to enhance the learning process. By developing this futuristic perspective, business schools can begin to get ready for virtually anything in management education.

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The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World by Rick Mathieson

The On-Demand Brand coverThe On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success
in an Anytime, Everywhere World

By Rick Mathieson
AMACOM, 2010

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/spring 2011/book_corner/OnDemand_Mallette.mp3]

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5 stars: Stop what you're doing and read this book!

I was attracted to Rick Mathieson’s The On-Demand Brand by the subtitle about marketing success. As a soon-to-be author* (and a marketing Neanderthal), I felt that I should learn more about marketing in the digital world. This book discusses digital marketing principles; it is NOT about technology. The author’s major premise is based on the Burger King Syndrome (“Have it your way”), the original mass customization. Whether your customers are on Facebook, MySpace, iPhones, Droids, TiVo, Twitter, YouTube, or they’re texting, IM-ing, RSS-feeding, or whatever-is-next-ing, they want it their way. I appreciated the pages of definitions where he defines terms like crowd sourcing, hyper-targeting, and short codes.

The 10 chapters are entitled Rule #1 through Rule #10. These rules or principles are not discrete silos, but represent a spectrum of approaches that can contribute to your integrated marketing communications initiatives.(p. xvii) I especially enjoyed Rules #3 and #4. Rule #3: Don’t Just Join the Conversation – Spark It. The authors tell us to appropriate the conversation. One example given is Johnson & Johnson’s Babycenter, a hugely successful online community with tools, information, and a social experience for parents of young children. Rule #4: There’s No Business Without Show Business. A takeoff of the 1946 Irving Berlin song, Mathieson discusses many topics, such as product placement replacing TV advertising, and to not “just sell a product, sell the problem it solves, the feeling it gives, the status it conveys, or the values it embodies.”(p. 97) You know the author has a vast body of experience in this field by the stories that fill every page. The book is replete with real-world examples—those that worked, those that didn’t work, and why.

An interesting feature at the end of each chapter is a multipage question-and-answer session with current top marketers from a variety of industries; I found the interviews entertaining, but not especially useful. The chapters are loaded with many useful examples from Mathieson’s extensive experience, but he has a caveat: These rules are useless unless you have a compelling product that people want to buy, at a price they are willing to pay, and if you provide excellent service to your customers. This is not a how-to book, but rather a description and analysis of what a lot of other companies have done. This medium-sized book is affordable and very enjoyable to read, with an occasional flashback to the definitions. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in marketing in the coming decade.

*Writing for Conferences, Greenwood Press, due out June 30, 2011.

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The Charisma of Twitter

Twitter is a form of electronic charisma that can attract or repel followers. This article explores the uses and limitations of Twitter and analyzes its success based on the definition of charisma.

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2010/black-charisma.mp3]

Twitter birdChances are almost everyone has heard of Twitter by now and the communication phenomenon it has quickly become in the last three years. Twitter is a social networking site that people can join for the purpose of micro-blogging. Micro-blogs, named “tweets,” are short messages of 140 characters or less. They can be sent and received using a variety of electronic tools, including cell phones and computers with Internet access. The new communication style has been embraced by social networkers, news organizations, and businesses alike.

No one really predicted the power this new medium would amass as a communication tool. Twitter has emerged as a marketing force that has exploded beyond even the imagination of its creators. Yet, some decry the abbreviated language the micro messages require. It seems that Twitter is a form of electronic charisma that can attract or repel followers. The fundamental question is: What are the true potential uses for this form of communication in the business world? This article aims to explore the uses and limitations of Twitter and analyze its success based on the definition of charisma.

Electronic Charisma

In an essential way, Twitter is expanding the definition of charisma. Max Weber wrote extensively about charisma and how it results in followers choosing to follow a leader. He defined it as a trait or quality a person possesses that makes others treat them as if they have powers above the ordinary.[1] Powerful words masterfully delivered can result in a mass of people following a leader’s direction.

So how can a series of micro-blogs possibly be charismatic and benefit business? Let’s say you have a leader in front of a conference group extolling the company vision and potential for future success. It’s challenging enough to get people excited to the point at which they want to follow the company, and good luck even getting people in the seats. Now consider Twitter. A person can sit alone in a room and construct a tweet that will be read around the world by thousands of followers. What is in that message can inspire customers to buy new products, inform news media of current events, or form the communication basis for a revolution.

Here you have a captive audience and the stage whereby an organization is able to send out a call to action and solicit followers who are able to bring a plan to fruition. For marketers, the call to action sent to consumers may be for the purchase of a product or service or to entice a visit to a Web site or event. This communication style also easily fits into the rhetorical component of a political or business social movement.

For example, in 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won an Iranian election. Iranian voters who believed the election was invalid took to the streets. The Twitter site was going to perform system maintenance during that time, which would have disrupted communications from Iranian citizens. The U.S. State Department asked the company to keep the site active so protestors and news informants could keep world governments and global citizens apprised of what was happening in Iran.[2] Clearly this kind of networking communication power is valuable because it is efficient, inexpensive, and fast. When Twitter continued to operate in Iran, tweets took on a charismatic quality as they enthralled supporters of democracy while giving Iranian protestors the feeling of being connected. Tweets helped to fuel the revolutionary movement. A mere five years earlier, the protestors would have been isolated from the rest of the world.

There are other instances where Twitter postings have enabled people to communicate more quickly and effectively. For example, terrorist attacks on a hotel in Mumbai in 2008 were quickly described by eye witnesses tweeting staccato messages. The first pictures of the Hudson River landing by the U.S. Airways flight 1549 were sent via links included in Twitter posts.[3] In 2010, Twitter became a lifeline during the Haitian earthquake. Family and friends were notified of victims or reassured of survivals, donations were solicited, names of missing people were tweeted, and resource availability was communicated.[4]

Business Revolution in a Tweet

Twitter goes beyond simple social communication, and that is why businesses began using tweets as marketing tools to build quality organizations. One of the key components of a business is its communication structure. Effective organizations have communication systems that connect executives to front-line managers, managers to staff, staff to staff, and ultimately, the organization to its customers.

Quality control managers must embrace and cultivate the communication link between the organization and the marketplace. In a highly competitive environment it is easy to lose contact with customer needs. It is also common for today’s consumer to feel disconnected from the company making or selling the product just purchased.

If charisma is a trait that makes people see another person as having qualities that inspire confidence and create an emotional connection, then it is easy to see Twitter as a charismatic communication tool. For example, customers who once threw broken products away in complete frustration, and then proceeded to tell everyone they knew can now send a tweet that connects the customer directly to the company’s customer service department. The customer believes the company truly cares about their opinion since the business opened a quick portal into its organizational communication structure. It works the other way too. The company can send out a tweet to thousands of customers in a call to action to buy products or services. Tweets can move people from objectives to results.

Twitter’s creators did not foresee the full extent of the use of Twitter as a mass communication tool and had to quickly adapt the scaling of the project to the demand.[5] Twitter’s designers have managed to do something that would interest Max Weber if he were alive today. They have made it possible to electronically network on a personal basis by placing everyone on the same level without regard for personal interests or associations. Anyone can read anyone else’s tweets, even those of celebrities. There are no secrets, special associations, or friendships needed.

The tweet communication form is being called a content revolution. A number of well-known companies are using Twitter to market their brands.

  • Dockers teased customers with tweets providing information needed to win free khakis during the Super Bowl[6]
  • Tommy Hilfiger tweeted company news to customers as Hilfiger’s Fifth Avenue store prepared to open, hoping that personal dialogue would insure a large store following[7]
  • Dell’s tweets to customers have helped the company to sell millions of dollars worth of products[8]
  • Best Buy uses tweets for customer service[9]

Twitter followersThese are just four examples of large companies that tweet thousands of customers every day. However, one of the great advantages of using Twitter is the company does not have to be large to use it. In fact, Twitter was actually designed for people who wanted to keep family and friends updated with current news.

Perhaps that is why many Fortune 100 companies still do not use Twitter to their advantage. A study released by Weber Shandwick reports that 73 of the top Fortune 100 companies have Twitter accounts, but most do not use the accounts very often, if at all. When they do tweet, according to the study, the tweets “don’t display any personality.”[10]

There is the concept of charisma again. Customers expect tweets to be informative and to have some personality, or charisma. That seems to indicate tweets are viewed by the electronic generation as a social medium as important as the personal telephone call or the personal visit.

What is the marketplace value of Twitter? Currently Fortune 100 companies are using it primarily for company and product news and announcements. They are also using it for customer service. The business practitioner can use Twitter for any of a number of purposes in the marketing arena. As any marketing specialist knows, creating a bond with customers builds customer loyalty. Twitter enables a company to create that bond with little expense and more frequent communication through 140-character, charismatic messages. Here is just a sample of ways to better market services, products, and brands:

  • Issue press releases about events, promotions, sales, and accomplishments
  • Encourage employee tweets to customers that promote the business by sharing ‘insider’ information such as new innovations or products
  • Monitor customer attitudes and opinions about the company, products, or brands
  • Improve the quality of the company workforce by tweeting job openings to those already fans of the company
  • Direct customer traffic to the company Web site
  • Enter a specific market niche difficult to break into in other ways
  • Tweet real-time coverage during company events, galas, new store openings, seminars

The President and CEO of SunGard, Cristobal Conde, believes that Twitter can improve the ability of a business to be competitive by flattening out the organizational structure. Employees are encouraged to tweet personal successes, collaborative information, creative ideas, and general information to other employees. Conde adheres to the philosophy that flattening out the organizational structure by allowing employees to gain recognition from peers builds a stronger collaborative team.[11]

Tweeting Saturation

Acknowledging that Twittering can help build a business by enabling more efficient marketing of brands, the next question is whether the market can become saturated. The answer is that it could from a couple of viewpoints.

First, customers can grow tired of numerous tweets coming from a company. An overly aggressive marketing program can have an opposite effect of what is desired. Inundate people with annoying sales pitches and they will soon remove their names as followers.

In fact, Twitter has specific rules concerning “aggressive following” and “churning.” The former occurs when a user follows hundreds of other accounts to gain attention while the latter refers to repeatedly following and then not following large numbers of Twitter users.

The use of Twitter by businesses has inundated the Twitter software, leading to new limits being put in place. The need for limits indicates a fear of market saturation and a desire to prevent aggressive following. Currently there are limits of 1,000 tweet updates and 250 direct messages per day. One user can follow 2,000 people and over that number additional limits go into effect based on a ratio of followers to following.

Business managers need to be aware that constant flows of self-promoting tweets can give a company a negative image.

Second, the Twitter turnover rate is 60 percent according to Nielson online.[12] The same report states that the audience retention rate is at 40 percent. The opinion is expressed that Twitter will not be able to sustain its phenomenal growth rate unless it increases its user loyalty.

What does this mean for business purposes? If the Twitter audience has a high turnover rate then businesses will have a difficult time getting real benefit from ongoing marketing campaigns. That could greatly diminish the effectiveness of Twitter for business use. Perhaps that is one reason many Fortune 100 companies have not aggressively pursued Twitter as a marketing tool.

“Follow me,” said the Pied Piper

The next phase of Twitter development will be to improve business services by providing “verified account” information, making it easier to communicate with customers.[13] The developers also hope to arrive at a way to interpret collective tweets to find out what moves people emotionally, what interests them, and how they manage information. This would be very powerful knowledge. Jaime Teevan, a Microsoft researcher, has built a career on taking data about people’s knowledge, preferences, and habits to help them manage information. She studies the ways people navigate the flood of information available in the digital age and builds tools to help them handle it.[14] This seems to be what Twitter developers have in mind for the site, but their data is comprised of simple 140-character tweets.

Twitter limits the number of characters for good reason. As one of the Twitter developers said, “We want to make Twitter indispensable, so it tells people what they need to know and what they want to know and hopefully not much else.”[15] Organizations can send messages to staff or customers that get right to the point. It gives a cozy feeling that makes the message receiver feel as if he or she has been hand selected. As a result, the contact becomes a follower.

Conclusion

Is this charisma? Except for the fact the message is conveyed by electronic means rather than by mouth, it certainly has many of the components of charisma. The most important one is that Twitter messages can inspire masses of people. According to a Twitter company report, the goal was to have 25 million users by the end of calendar year 2009. That number will grow to 100 million users by the end of 2010.[16]

It’s a new age in which communication is reduced to essentials. Some people predicted this would happen when e-mail communication was developed. Is Twitter the new Pied Piper of modern society? It would seem so.



[1] Weber, Maximillan. “The Nature of Charismatic Authority and its Routinization” as translated by A. R. Anderson and Talcott Parsons. Theory of Social and Economic Organization, 1947. Originally published in 1922 in German under the title Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft chapter III, § 10.

[2] Morozov, Evgeny. “Iran Elections: A Twitter Revolution,” Washington Post, June 17, 2009 (accessed Sept. 30, 2009).

[3] Julia Angwin, “How to Twitter,” The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2009 (accessed Oct. 5, 2009).

[4] Judy Keen, “Facebook, Twitter 2-Way ‘Lifeline’ for News, Relief, People’s Statuses,” USA Today, Jan. 14, 2010, p. 7A.

[5] Adam L. Penenberg, Viral Loop, (New York: Hyperion, 2009) 153.

[6] Seckler, Valerie, “From Tweets to Youtube: Brands Creating Content to Gain Attentions,” WWD: Women’s Wear Daily, February 2010, EBSCO (accessed Jan. 28, 2010).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lavrusik, Vadim, “STUDY: Most Fortune 100 Companies Don’t Get Twitter,” Mashable – The Social Media Guide, http://mashable.com/2009/11/17/fortune-100-companies-twitter/ (accessed Jan. 26, 2010)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bryant, Adam, “Structure? The Flatter, the Better,” The New York Times, Jan. 16, 2010 (accessed Jan. 20, 2010).

[12] Martin, David, “Twitter Quitters Post Roadblock to Long-Term Growth,” Nielson Online, http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/twitter-quitters-post-roadblock-to-long-term-growth (accessed Feb. 1, 2010).

[13] Lvey, Steven, “Who’s Running Twitter?” Wired, November 2009: 151.

[14] Teevan, Jaime, “Using Personal Information to Improve Search Results” Technology Review. November 2009: 50.

[15] Lvey, Steven. “Who’s Running Twitter?” Wired. November 2009: 151.

[16] Ibid.

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2010 Student Paper Winner: Using Social Media to Grow Your Business

Businesses can best benefit from social media by having a good overall strategy and knowing how to listen, participate, and measure results.

[powerpress: http://gsbm-med.pepperdine.edu/gbr/audio/fall2010/bagdasarian-socialmedia.mp3]

Click here to view a photo from the GBR 2010 Student Paper Competition Award Luncheon

Social Media NetworkSocial Media is one of the most pervasive technological trends of our day. The phenomena that are Facebook, YouTube, and blogging have fundamentally changed the way we express ourselves and connect with others. No longer is social media just for the creative expression of individuals and consumers; now businesses and organizations are getting involved. But how do businesses use social media to uniquely define themselves in the marketplace? This analysis will show that, contrary to popular belief, businesses of various industry, size, and target audience can all benefit from social media. Specific tactics are described that businesses can use to better engage with customers, which will boost brand equity and eventually lead to bottom-line growth.

What is social media? From the broadest perspective, social media is about Web tools that enable dynamic multi-user interaction.[1] If past forms of communication were about a one-way message to your audience, true social media is about a multi-way conversation where users share content with one another and become more deeply engaged. See social media types in Table 1.

Table 1: “Social Media Types”

Social Media Type

Function

Examples

Social Networking Sites

A medium for sharing information between friends within a network.

Facebook, LinkedIn

Multimedia Sharing Sites

Hosting of photos, video, and music for the purpose of sharing.

YouTube, Flickr

Web forums

A destination for conversation around a specific niche topic.

vwvortex, boston.com

Microblogs

Sharing concentrated bursts of information.

Twitter, FriendFeed

Blogs

A log of user-generated content, news, and advice.

Huffington Post, TechCrunch

Let’s look at this communication on Facebook. A consumer wants advice on Thai restaurants in their area. They post this request on their Facebook status update, which can be seen by other users in their network, or “friends,” who may then offer advice as comments, Web links to nearby Thai restaurants, Southeast Asian food blogs, or reviews of local Thai restaurants. Now consider the potential here for a Thai restaurant. What if the restaurant itself could respond to this prospective customer? In today’s social media environment, that is exactly what is happening. Places of business are increasingly responding to this request by creating their own Facebook pages and using them to raise awareness and offer the user incentives through weekly specials and coupons.

Social media clearly presents an important communication tool for businesses and organizations. The potential has not been lost on President Obama, who has a Facebook fan page with 11,405,803 members as of July 2010. A survey conducted by consultancy firm Marketing Sherpa found that the 2009 to 2010 social marketing budget for each of the seven industry sectors represented in the survey was projected to increase. In the e-commerce vertical alone, budgets were projected to increase by as much as 79 percent.[2] Sites like Facebook have become so ubiquitous that Ford Motor Company unveiled its brand new 2011 Explorer through a dedicated Facebook page this July (2010), forgoing a traditional car show—the first time a major carmaker has ever done so. Ford has already well surpassed their goal of 30,000 Facebook fans.[3] Social media is vital enough that, of the more than 5,000 marketing executives surveyed by Datran Media in December 2009, 72.3 percent had company Facebook pages, 72 percent had a company Twitter account, and 67.2 percent planned on leveraging online video in 2010.[4]

So, it’s clear that companies and organizations are using social media, but just how significant is it and will it grow your business? Not every company has the marketing muscle of Ford Motors or President Obama, but many businesses can implement some of the same techniques. To be successful with social media you must first decide what your specific goals are. Increased revenue is always important but that is an indirect result of deeper customer engagement and building your brand equity. To better engage and build brand equity, many companies focus on improving the following: brand awareness, Web site traffic, customer service, thought leadership (providing unique insights and value), search engine optimization (SEO), and lead generation. Social media can readily assist with each of these goals. Deciding which ones to emphasize is also a function of a company’s industry and target audience. For example, a B2B software company may focus its efforts on “thought leadership,” whereas a women’s apparel manufacturer could emphasize brand awareness. And, in a few cases, your business may not benefit at all from social media. Table 2, “Social Media Goals by Company Type,” can assist a company in determining how social media may best suit its marketing objectives.

Table 2: “Social Media Goals by Company Type”

B2B Company Social
Media Goals

B2C Company Social Media Goals

Companies with Least Benefit From Social Media

Thought leadership

Brand reputation

Defense contractors

Web site traffic

Customer service

B2B companies whose potential target market is highly limited.

Lead generation

Web site traffic

Any company unwilling to devote some time and resources to it

Once clearly defined goals are established, companies must be realistic about the resources they’ll need. Management buy-in and investments in personnel and other resources will all be necessary to create and maintain a social media presence. Buy-in can pose a challenge, as social media is still in its early stages and correlations between social media activity and revenue growth are slowly emerging and not yet fully formed. To make the most of your investment in social media, employ these three methods: listen to the audience, participate in the conversation, and measure success against predefined metrics, (i.e., increasing Web site traffic by 20 percent in the second quarter, reducing customer service wait times, etc.)

Social Media - sales are up!

Listening

Whether you already have a social media presence or not, the key to getting into the game is getting a better feel for what people are saying about you in the “interactive marketplace.”[5] Some of the top tools for monitoring and listening include: Twitter Search, Google Alerts, Radian6, and PR Newswire’s Social Media Metrics. By signing up for these services, you will be notified any time your company’s name comes up online. You can also set them up to receive notification of your competitor’s names or key words for your industry. From this information, companies can discover what social media channels to participate in (i.e., social networks vs. forums), and how best to engage with customers. The key is to be willing to hear the good and the bad that’s being said about you online, and where it’s being said. Then companies can best figure out how best to reach out to their target audience.

Location

Some of the more significant “locations” where your business should have a social media presence include Facebook and microblog Twitter. But there are other social networking sites out there where your audience may already reside including Hi5.com, Plurk.com, Bebo.com, Jaiku.com, Xanga.com, and Vox.com. Deciding where to get involved will depend on where your audience spends its time.

For example, if you are a manufacturer of performance after-market parts for Volkswagen vehicles, then chances are you have some passionate fans outside the mainstream social networks in a dedicated enthusiast forum like www.vwvortex.com. Updating customers about your products and services on that forum may be just as, if not more important as your Facebook and Twitter presence.

And once you’ve accurately found the locations where your audience spends most of its time, you can use aggregator software to create messaging and status updates from one source and broadcast it out to all your social media locations—software like Hootsuite and Ping.FM do this very well.

Participating

Participation is the crux of making social media work for your business. Participating is the act of contributing to different social media channels to effectively interact with your audience. The key to participation is knowing which exact locations to target and what tactics to use. See Tactics below.

Tactic #1: Blogging

With an understanding of where to participate, the next question is what tactics to use.

An excellent way to do this is through a company blog. Company blogs fulfill the goal of increased “thought leadership” and product/brand awareness. In 2010, already 65 percent of U.S. companies were using a corporate blog.[6] A good corporate blogging technique is to focus on relationship building and less on selling. Engage with your audience by building trust based on shared principles, instead of just talking about the features and functionality of your products. Jeff Swartz, president and CEO of Timberland, an outdoor clothing and shoe company, spends a lot of his social media efforts blogging about social causes he is passionate about instead of just talking about the company’s shoes and apparel. His biggest cause is Timberland’s environmental charity, Earthkeepers.[7] The idea behind this technique is that the more personal and human you can be in your social media interactions, the greater the connection you’ll make with your audience, which will translate into greater brand recognition and eventual revenue growth. It is also important to keep the blog active by updating a few times a week, but not so often that you’re simply writing just for the sake of saying something.

Tactic #2: Social Networks



Baby Gap screen shot

Click on thumbnail to view full-size image


Social networks like Facebook are clearly a great way to learn about your audience and interact with them in a dynamic way. These networks also allow you to have your customers do the marketing and advertising for you by simply getting them more engaged. For example, on Gap’s “Baby Gap” tab on their fan page, there is a simple yet colorful collage of pictures of babies wearing GAP denim. Users who become fans of the page have the opportunity to upload pictures of their own babies wearing any variety of Gap denim. Users show off their own well-dressed babies and send the link to the many friends they have in their network, Gap denim gets more exposure, and it is all done for a fraction of the price that a traditional marketing campaign would cost. This type of social network interaction can be used by businesses to boost Web site traffic to the corporate site and help increase brand recognition.

Tactic #3: Microblogging

Microblogs like Twitter, FriendFeed, and Tumblr are a great way to communicate in short concentrated bursts. In the case of Twitter, those bursts are limited to 140 characters or less. One industry that has made the most of Twitter is the food truck industry in Los Angeles. These mobile trucks announce or “tweet” their locations, and followers flock to them. The tweets have grown to include food specials, promotions, and contests several times a day. In fact, without Twitter, these trucks may not have had a future. According to an interview with proprietor Y.L. of Kabob N’Roll truck, “Ninety-nine percent of our business is through Twitter. But we weren’t the first. If it weren’t for Kogi [a Los Angeles-based Korean barbeque truck], we wouldn’t be here. In March of last year [2009], Kogi almost gave up. Their trucks barely had sales of $300 or $350 a night and were going to shut down. But when they started using Twitter, their sales started booming, especially when they started parking at clubs after they get out. It’s thanks to them that we’re here.”[8] Twitter can be used for fun contests to drive sales as well, according to our interview with Jamie Kadzik of the Crepe’n Around truck. Kadzik tells his Twitter followers that the first person to tweet, “Crepes are for Mondays” gets a free meal of their choice at his truck.[9] Contests like these are a free and easy technique that your business can use to generate excitement that will help you engage with your customers, increase your brand awareness, and boost your sales.

Tactic #4: Integrate Multiple Social Media Channels



Emerson Salon Web site

Click on thumbnail to view full-size image


A good example of a small business that integrates multiple social media techniques that complement one another well is the Emerson Hair Salon of Seattle, Washington. Knowing full well that one in five small business owners are integrating social media into their business processes[10], Emerson integrates Facebook, Twitter, and a daily blog into their Web site. This strategy is easy for any small business to emulate. Their Web site is very uncluttered and has a highly intuitive layout. There is a link to each of their stylist’s Facebook profiles right on their home page, and users can book their next hair appointment online. Taking it one step further, Emerson’s site gives customers a chance to share that appointment with other users on Twitter and Facebook. Emerson also encourages patrons to post pictures and talk about local rock concerts, street festivals, and block parties on their pages. Their efforts are paying off: over the last two years, 75 percent of their business now comes from their Facebook, Twitter, and blog.[11]

Measuring

Now that you’ve listened and participated, it’s time to measure your success. If your goal was to increase Web site traffic by 20 percent through your social media campaign, were you successful? Were you able to increase your SEO ranking on Google through social media so that every time people search your Web site, you now rank on the first page of a Google search instead of the seventh? In addition to those more traditional metrics, new social media metrics include how many Facebook followers you have, the number of conversations going on about you, and “sentiment”—what people really think about you. Software like Radian6, Sentiment Metrics, and Argyle Social can help you quantify success in those areas. Finally, how do you measure if your social media has boosted your revenue? While it may be difficult to quantify the connection between each Facebook fan and a certain dollar increase in revenue, by having a good strategy of knowing where your customers are and how to reach them—you will see quantifiable results. Specifically, the more engaged your company is on a whole with its customers, the more your revenue and gross margin can increase—top brands that ranked highest in their social media engagement (such as Starbucks and Dell), saw increases in their revenue of 18 percent vs. non-engaged brands that saw a 6 percent drop in their revenues in the 12-month period ending July 2009.[12] See Figure 1.



Fig. 1: Engagement Correlates to Financial Performance

Fig. 1: Engagement Correlates to Financial Performance


Conclusion

The world of social media for business is still in its early stages, but a variety of businesses have already seen quantifiable benefits. There is very little to lose and much to gain by getting involved. The case studies and examples provided are proof that by having a good overall strategy and knowing how to listen, participate, and measure, you can better engage and build your brand, as well as your long-term revenue goals. Regardless of what stage you’re at in your social media marketing approach, the sooner you become more engaged with your customers, the sooner you’ll develop a strong relationship with the people who are most important to your business.


[1] About.com: Webtrends, “What is Social Media?” http://webtrends.about.com/od/web20/a/social-media.htm.

[2] MarketingSherpa, “2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report,”
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/SocialMediaExcerpt.pdf.

[3] Van Grove, Jennifer, “Inside the 2011 Ford Explorer Facebook Reveal,” Mashable.com, July, 2010
http://mashable.com/2010/07/26/ford-explorer-facebook-reveal/.

[4] Datran, “Fourth Annual Marketing and Media Survey,” December 2009,
http://www.datranmediasurvey2010.com/start.php?showtype=page-1.

[5] Solis, Brian, “The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration,” Mashable.com, January 2010, http://mashable.com/2010/01/11/social-media-integration/.

[6] KingFishMedia, “Social Media Usage, Attitudes, and Measurability: What do Marketers Think?” 2010,
http://www.kingfishmedia.com/marketing-resources/research/social-media-usage-2010-ebook08112010.

[7] Charles, Ann, “Five Social Media Tips for Better Corporate Social Responsibility,” Mashable.com, February 2010, http://mashable.com/2009/09/22/social-media-business/.

[8] Y.L., owner of Kabob N’Roll, In-person interview, August 13, 2010, Los Angeles.

[9] Jamie Kadzik, owner of Crepe’n Around, In-person interview, August 11, 2010, Los Angeles.

[10] Swallow, Erica, “Five Small Business Social Media Success Stories,” Mashable.com, June 2010,
http://mashable.com/2010/06/02/small-business-social-media-success-stories/.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Wetpaint and Altimeter Group, “The World’s Most Valuable Brands. Who’s Most Engaged?” Engagementdb, http://www.engagementdb.com/downloads/ENGAGEMENTdb_Report_2009.pdf (link no longer accessible).

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Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

By Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Harvard Business School Press, 2008

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5 stars: Stop what you're doing and read this book!Written by two analysts at Forrester Research, Groundswell offers descriptions of social media, examples of effective application, and a step-by-step approach to the development and implementation of a successful social media strategy. But what is the “groundswell” and why should you care about it? According to the authors, the groundswell is “a trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” The groundswell is important to business-to-consumer and business-to-business companies because it provides Internet users (i.e., your customers) the power to collaborate, talk, and change the way we do business. If you question this shift in power, just go online to Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and LinkedIn to see how many people are active in this groundswell.

This book provides a roadmap through the landmines and opportunities offered by today’s changing social interface. The authors provide a four-step planning process, the POST method, as the foundation for groundswell thinking. POST asks the following questions, which are critical to developing an effective social media plan.

  • People: What are your customers ready for?
  • Objectives: What are your goals?
  • Strategy: How do you want relationships with your customers to change?
  • Technology: What applications should you build?

Groundswell guides you step by step through the POST process, providing examples, case studies, and tools to analyze your business and determine what best fits your needs, as well as those of your customers. In Chapter 11, the book also discusses how you can use these tools inside your company to listen to, talk with, energize, support, and ultimately embrace your employees.

As with all strategy deployment, the authors stress the importance of top-level involvement and long-term commitment. Furthermore, this strategy is best implemented in stages by starting small and building on successes. The authors warn that you will make mistakes along the way. The key lesson is to be honest and to learn to embrace the groundswell because it is happening with or without you. By joining the groundswell, you have the potential to transform your business, enhance your knowledge, and build stronger relationships with both customers and employees.

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