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Social Media for Business

Last week's discussion at the Chicago PR & Marketing Network Lunch and Learn centered around the successful merge of social media into an overall business strategy. Speakers included Allan Schoenberg from CME Group, Sarah Evans – a new media consultant – and Steve Glynn of Spreenkler Creative.

Each of the three talked about social media from a unique perspective. Here is what they communicated about social media's role in business.

Steve Glynn, Spreenkler

Steve talked about how social media can be used by companies to tell better stories. It’s “creativity and technology with a purpose,” he said.

Businesses must consider how their existing processes can be redeveloped to add further value to the business. Social media is one such avenue, if used strategically.

The idea of "social shopping" and "social commerce," for example, will allow some B-to-C companies to take advantage of individuals talking about purchases in real-time -- making recommendations to friends or seeking advice about certain clothing items, as the case may be. LinkedIn, with an Open API, is now great for recruiting purposes as well, Steve added. He also talked about stats for mobile apps and the growing field of consumers engaging with brands via the mobile channel, another outlet to consider:

2009 -- $4.2   billion

2010 -- $6.8   billion (projected)

2013 -- $29.5 billion (projected)

Allan Schoenberg, CME Group

Allan Schoenberg started social media efforts at CME Group in 2007. Executive buy-in wasn't too difficult, since he had documentation that proved CME Group's core audience had a presence in social media channels.

He initially came across a group of traders who had started a Facebook page about the exchange.

After “finding the audience” -- an easy first step, Allan noted, as social media is a public platform -- he started to engage with them. And he found they were eager to engage right back. Now CME Group is doing things like hosting "link-ups" via LinkedIn and often has live focus groups.

Though he's seen success with social media, Allan recognizes several challenges with widespread social media adoption by business:

  • Justification of social media initiatives: Many companies question how social media will fit into the business. As such, Allan thinks the perception that social media is not a business tool – it’s only for the younger generation – will continue to persist amongst today’s businesses. He's hoping to help change that perception.
  • Measurement & evaluation: Most businesses just want to know the ROI behind their social media efforts. While there are some tools, such as Scout Labs and Filtrbox that measure social media success on the cheap, others – such as the Dow Jones Insights – are more pricy. The ultimate question to ask : How does social media tie into what we want to achieve as a company?
  • Privacy issues: The FTC had some concerns with Facebook privacy settings late last year, and there have been several prominent disclosure issues via Twitter. Allan notes that the leak of company information via social networks has to be part of your crisis communications plan today.

He likewise identified some trends with social media:

  • Consolidation of tools: Jive Software recently bought Filtrbox, and there are also talks of Facebook going public. Allan thinks it could happen.
  • Recognition of the forgotten audience: Allan said the forgotten audience is employees. He said companies must invest to educate employees about the use of social media for business purposes. Whether they’re in finance, customer service or in PR/marketing, employees should be equipped with a basic understanding of how social media can help them with their job. The question of who owns the tool will continue to be a topic of debate, however. Customer service, PR and marketing/advertising will continue to fight for ownership.
  • Event promotion: Allan thinks social media will truly become a place for networking and event management.

Overall, 2009 was a year of disruption, he says, but we’ll see the same issues as we move into 2010. While 2009 concentrated on learning about using Twitter and Facebook, 2010 will be more about tactical uses of social media from a business and management perspective.

Sarah Evans, New Media Consultant, Sevans Strategy

Sarah Evans, PR and new media consultant at Sevans Strategy, as well as moderator of #journchat, found that people were asking similar questions on social media sites like Twitter. So she came up with the concept she calls "hijacking the conversation."

As such, #journchat was born -- a live weekly Twitter chat between journalists/bloggers and PR professionals. With a simple hashtag that people insert into a tweet, she found that she could own the conversation.

Since she launched #journchat, around 85 other groups have initiated similar Twitter chats.

As an example of Sarah "hijacking the conversation," she used social media to raise money and awareness for a local crisis center. Using Twitter and other social media outlets, she helped mobilize the audience and participants at BlogWorld, raising more than $160,000 in three weeks. She also made the Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the #beatcancer team that raised the funds, and appeared in a 45-minute slot on CNN about cancer and social media.

Sarah's story is a prime example of how her company didn't have buy-in for her social media strategies, but ultimately converted. Despite her supervisor's refusal to be involved in such efforts, Sarah trusted her motto of "work like you're not afraid to be fired."

To that end, said pursued social media anyway, tracking a measurable impact and convincing others (and ultimately her supervisor) of its importance.

How did she do it? In short, she tracked touch-points with media contacts -- many of whom were active via Twitter/Facebook.

Sarah noted that if one of your goals is to increase Web traffic, social media influencers should be high on your target list. Otherwise you have to hope a person picks up a newspaper, reads it and goes online. While traditional media is still effective, social media allows your audience to bypass a few steps and go straight to your Web site.

A Recap

Overall, the main takeaway from the event was that social media can help a company promote awareness of its products or services. That is the first step of a social media strategy. The other steps include engagement, referrals and ultimately convergence.

While all may not be achieved with every business, social media strategies must appropriately complement a company's end goals.

For example, many companies think they must have a Facebook fan page without considering how this fan page will play into their overall company strategy. One speaker even coined the Facebook fan page "the new press release." It's a great comparison. Businesses must first ask, "what do we hope to accomplish with this?" Much like a press release, a Facebook fan page must also serve some business justification other than "we need one because we need one."

The other factor that plays into the "social media talk" is the question of budget. If companies have limited funds to dedicate to such efforts, where do they begin? It's certainly a legitimate concern.

The suggestion in this instance is to tie social media in with PR efforts. When doing a media push, pitch bloggers and social media influencers with the same information traditionally pitched only to the top reporters. Of course your target contact will depend on the audience you’re trying to reach. Is it Twitter users? If so, it makes sense to reach out to the top Twitter influencers.

To get started:

Steve Glynn recommended Go2Web20.net as a good list of social media outlets.

Sarah Evans recommended Knowem, where you can check if your username is available across multiple social media networks.

All three presenters are active on Twitter. Follow them, they give good advice: @prsarahevans, @allanschoenberg, @spreenkler