As my colleagues prep for our webinar tomorrow, “Developing Social Media Strategies for Cross Platform Branding. I kept the social media marketing momentum in the office up when I spoke with Neal Schaffer, who is recognized as a leader in helping businesses and professionals embrace and strategically leverage the potential of social media. An award-winning published author of “Windmill Networking: Maximizing LinkedIn,” frequent speaker at social media events, and an avid blogger. Neal is President of Windmills Marketing, a social media strategic consultancy in Orange County, California, and has led social media strategy creation and educational programs for a range of companies ranging from Fortune 500 to Web 2.0 startups.
Elise Redlin-Cook: Can you describe what you do in 140 characters or less?
Neal Schaffer: I help businesses leverage social media for marketing and business development through social media strategy creation, training, & coaching. (I think that was exactly 140! Phew!)
Elise: What are some of the biggest mistakes or misconceptions that you see novices consistently make?
Neal: The biggest mistake that I see in social media is way too much automation, and this isn’t limited to just novices who are doing this. I believe that many automatically send Direct Messages on Twitter because applications have given them the ability to do so. But has anyone ever thought what the receiving side might think of these DMs? Furthermore, there are many applications out there like Ping.fm that allow you to completely automate communication by entering a tweet or integrating an RSS feed and simultaneously broadcasting that content to several platforms. That is no different than the traditional broadcasting model that those in social media have zero tolerance for. Each social media website has its own demographic and functionality, not to mention limitations on characters as well as the ability or inability to show full links and/or photos, so a spray and pray approach is ineffective at best. Another related mistake I see a lot of is the constant retweeting of an entire RSS feed from a popular news source like Mashable. What value does that add to the conversation? If you follow many on Twitter, you will often repeatedly see the exact same impersonal tweet, sent from either TwitterFeed or HootSuite, show up simultaneously. This mistake manifests itself in many other ways, such as those who automate their FourSquare check-ins and post them to Twitter, which then are integrated with their LinkedIn account, an improbable audience to announce a check-in to your favorite restaurant on. I also see people who spend an hour or two to create a blog post only to send out automated messages to multiple platforms after publication that do not advertise the content very well and thus will attract fewer clicks. If you spend that much time crafting content, why not spend an extra minute or two to craft your message to the unique demographic and culture of each social media platform? Too much automation is the root of all of the above issues, and thus it should be utilized with caution and understanding that it is the most time efficient but probably not the most effective way to communicate in social media. It takes time to engage with others in real life, and social media is no different.
Neal: To be honest with you, I never proactively planned to get into the social media business. My background is actually in B2B sales & business development in the technology industry, and I spent the first 15 years of my career in Asia. My early days of immersing myself in social media happened very naturally, first with becoming a heavy LinkedIn user in early 2008 and utilizing it as a professional tool, then starting my first blog in July of 2008, followed by beginning to write my book “Windmill Networking: Maximizing LinkedIn” in early 2009 and publishing it in September of last year, which led to many speaking opportunities on various social media-related topics in the second half of 2009. It was early in 2010 when I was approached simultaneously by several companies to help them in a consulting role, and I determined that helping educate them while creating a social media strategy that mapped into their corporate objectives was the thing that businesses needed most to get started in engaging in social media. I already had a strategic understanding of these tools that had been shaped by both my career experiences as well as establishing my own brand, and since I was always on the front line establishing sales organizations from scratch for companies in Asia, I found a lot of similarities in helping handhold companies into this new era of social media. Once social media strategies were created with clients, there was often a need to optimize their website for social media as well as train, coach, and report back to them on analytics as well as social media monitoring, so these services were all added to my repertoire. All of this happened very organically, but throughout it all I have thrived as I am passionate about the education of social media in a strategic fashion and empowering my customers to be truly self-sufficient in their implementation of social media. To me, a “Fan” is not someone who “Likes” my Facebook Fan Page: It is a customer who will always come back to me should they ever have any other needs vis a vis strategizing on or implementing social media.
Elise: What are your favorite tools for social media?
Neal: Whenever I speak on social media, the one question I always get asked is, “What are your latest favorite tools?” I think we focus too much on the tools and too little on the engagement. That being said, there are tools that we can utilize to help us reach specific objectives. While some tools come and go, my most recent 10 favorite tools for social media would be:
- Google Analytics – What is the ROI of social media? It is in the metrics, and at a minimum you need to be looking at the types of traffic and conversion rates for visitors that are coming from the various social media sites to your own website. Larger enterprises may need more robust analytics programs, but for most small businesses Google Analytics is more than sufficient to track their social media marketing efforts.
- MailChimp – When I look at email marketing programs, I immediately look for how much social integration they have. I found MailChimp to be superior to Constant Contact in terms of its social media features, not just in being able to easily plug in social elements to the newsletter content itself, but also the ability to analyze email subscribers by a number of factors, including Klout score and number of Twitter followers, and then sending these subscribers a segmented newsletter. Powerful.
- Feedblitz – Many blogs tend to use Feedburner for their RSS syndication. Feedburner is a free service that was bought out and is now managed by the friendly folks at Google. I was using Feedburner until I ran into a technical issue that couldn’t be resolved. What was I to do, call Google Customer Support and ask for help? That’s where I found out about the Feedburner alternative, Feedblitz, which charges a nominal fee but has actual customer support, which is excellent. Furthermore, Feedblitz also offers full email marketing capabilities as well as a plethora of options with regards to customizing your RSS feeds. Highly recommended.
- HootSuite – HootSuite helps me manage multiple Twitter accounts and allows me to stay active on Twitter from my iPhone. It also allows me to easily help manage and/or contribute to the accounts of clients as well as events that I am involved with. Comes with a great URL shortener with metrics to boot. And did I mention the bookmarklet that they have as well as the ability to schedule tweets in advance? Far and away the best Twitter management tool out there.
- Bit.ly – I use the Hootlet bookmarklet to automatically create Ow.ly links to manage the content that I share on the Web in social media sites. When it comes to special links that I want to customize and send out very often, I will use Bit.ly because of its ease of use as well as analytics.
- Trackur – Every company needs to be monitoring realtime conversations for a variety of reasons. When you’re ready to move beyond Google Alerts and utilize a paid service to better monitor social media, I would recommend you start out with Trackur. If budget is not a concern there are other choices out there, but if you are unsure as to the ROI of social media monitoring, Trackur is an excellent and cost-effective start. Very reasonable rates with a series of levels that can support you as your organization grows.
- Klout – Part of any social media marketing efforts include outreach to the “Influencers.” Of course, with social media, even someone with 1 follower could potentially be an Influencer, but it is important to try our best to see who has authority on certain subject matters or who already has a great deal of influence over others and try to reach out to them. Klout provides a great start by giving us scores for popular Twitter users in terms of their potential influence on Twitter. Facebook influence has now been added to this score as well.
- Topsy – Sometimes 3rd party Twitter search engines do a better job of searching Twitter than search.Twitter.com does. I prefer to use Topsy when I want to see what tweets are being sent out on a specific topic. Topsy gives you the ability to sort through tweets during the last hour, day, week, or month and also includes the number of people who retweeted the tweet complete with a list of the actual tweets. Fantastic way of getting a grip as to who is talking about what at any given time on Twitter.
- TwitterCounter – TwitterCounter is a great way to monitor the statistics regarding the history of your Twitter account in terms of number of followers, following, and tweets. They also offer a free widget that shows the most recent visitors to your website to encourage visitors to follow you and also show who else has visited your website (you can see this in action on my website). TwitterCounter also offers the following two paid services that your business might be interested in: Analytics of who is engaging most with you vis a vis ReTweets and mentions as well as advertising on the many TwitterCounter widgets that appear on blogs throughout the Internet. There is also a paid option that can make the website widget “invisible” and provide you targeted web analytics.
- Paper.li – Paper.li creates a daily “newspaper,” which is actually a web link to your Paper.li profile, of a collection of popular tweets from either a 1) Twitter user and those being followed by that user, 2) a hashtag, or 3) a Twitter list. It is both an easy way to digest a day’s worth of tweets while also helping promote those who tweeted the articles by announcing them in a tweet sent out to your followers. I met the founder of Paper.li at the recent Blog World Expo and was stunned when he said the site had only been around for 3 months! A unique old school solution to a new school problem of digesting lots of tweets with valuable information. Look for it to keep growing.
Elise: What is one of the biggest myths you’re seeing perpetuated about social media?
Neal: As marketers, it is important to understand the demographic trends of social media websites. One of the biggest myths that prevents us from doing so is the belief that somehow sites like Facebook and Twitter are just for younger people or LinkedIn is just for people looking for jobs. Let’s look at some facts here. There was an excellent study on the ages of social network users that came out earlier this year that shows that social networking is truly transcending generations and is not just for the “younger generation.” According to this study, the largest demographic of users is the 35 to 44 age group. The fastest growing age group on Facebook in 2009 was the 55+ crowd. If you ask a lot of people about Twitter they will say it’s for young people, and those same young people will say Twitter is for the older crowd. I recently spoke at a technical writing conference where the age demographic was in the 30 to 50 years old range, and when asked, approximately 80% of the attendees said they were active on Twitter. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is also not just about jobs but is truly the premier professional networking site where business is being conducted daily. I have found business on LinkedIn simply by participating in a LinkedIn Group discussion. In fact, LinkedIn should be your hub for B2B social media marketing. Without marketers themselves experimenting with these sites and keeping track on the demographic trends, these myths will only continue to perpetuate.
Elise: Can you share some tips on how companies can decide where to start in social media marketing?
Neal: Since I consult on social media strategy, I am obviously going to tell you that companies need to start in social media marketing by first looking at themselves and figuring out what their objectives are for starting on it in the first place. When I work with a client on creating a social media strategy, we first discuss their objectives in embarking on a plan to integrate social media into their corporate strategy. For social media marketing, it would be looking at what their overall marketing strategy is and seeing how we can utilize social media to help them reach any or a combination of these objectives as part of an integrated approach: Lead generation, brand reputation management, increase brand awareness, SEO, develop website traffic, competitive analysis, understand current market trends, increase sales, etc. Once the objective is created we start creating a strategy that looks at what channels their target audience is on and then how we can use the unique functionality that each channel has to engage with their potential customers to achieve their objective. Before implementing any tactical plan it is important to listen to the conversations and understand the different cultures that each site has. Furthermore, when it becomes time to participate and engage, one of the most important things that needs to be decided upon is what information or resources the company will share with social media users. After all, social media is a place where people are going not only to communicate with others but also for information. This is where a robust content strategy will separate those who merely broadcast their products from those that become a resource of information and share that content to effectively engage with their audience.
Elise: I can’t find enough hours in the day, how do you find the time and more importantly manage it to stay active with social media?
Neal: Great question! As someone whose industry and expertise is in social media, my clients hire me to stay ahead of the curve, so it’s only natural that I am spending most of my day in social media. That doesn’t mean that YOU do not have to spend all of YOUR day in social media! Managing your time effectively with social media comes down to three important principles: 1) What is your objective for being on social media to begin with? If you don’t have an objective you shouldn’t be on in the first place, but assuming that you do have an objective, the next question is asking yourself 2) What your ROI of social media is. Yes, there IS an ROI in social media, and it is determined by whether or not you are reaching your objectives. Finally, there is a need to 3) Create social media boundaries. Just like with email and cell phones, you need to create your own rules and avoid social media distractions. With these boundaries you need to have a daily social media routine which determines how often you stay on and check each of your sites. It can be as little as a few minutes each morning before and evening after work. The choice is yours!
Thanks so much Neal!
Have you set your social media boundaries? Feel free to elaborate in the comments below?