This past Monday I attended the Publicity Club of New England’s event, Best Practices in Social Media PR: A View from the Frontlines. (I’d link to the specific event, but apparently they do not archive past events online). Moderated by Kel Kelly of Kel & Partners, the session included four panelists – A.J. Gerritson of 451 Marketing, Mike Hollywood of Cone, LLC, Dianne Huff of DH Communications and Ted Weismann, Lois Paul & Partners – who each presented case studies of social media strategies in action with their clients.
With case studies ranging from B2B technology to large retail and even cosmetic dentistry, I found all of the panelists to be very engaging. I’d never met or heard Kel Kelly before but she was perfect for setting the stage of the event.
Here are my five key takeaways from the panelists and their social media case studies.
- Choose the Right Communities
Too often companies want to build a profile or strategy around a social media community simply because it is the “hot topic”. While there are certainly communities with a broader reach than others, every panelist indicated that they invested time in making educated decisions on why they chose the particular communities for their clients. For example, for Timberland’s Earth Keepers strategy, the agency chose Facebook and YouTube Channel to reach the broader market but also created the Earth Keeper blog and worked with a niche social media community, Changents to connect as directly as possible with those most passionate.
- Find the Right Advocates
Mike Hollywood pointed out the importance of recognizing who is excited about these social media efforts and getting them to help lead the charge internally. Getting internal buy-in is critical for success. When a person in the audience asked for tips on how to gain better awareness of their client’s fan page on Facebook, one recommendation was to find a few people (in their agency or in their networks) who were very active Facebook users, to help lead the initial awareness effort.
- Sure It’s Free, But You Must Invest Time
While there is little to no financial cost to join a social media community, there certainly is a cost in time. These time requirements usually fall into two main components. Reading, listening and research into the designated social media communities and ongoing communication and management once your client is actively participating. As one panelist indicated, once your company is up and running with something successful, it needs to be monitored continuously. There are no weekend vacations, especially as their profile grows in popularity.
- It’s Not Always About the Home Run
An important tip from Dianna Huff was that there can be smaller wins as well. Her case study did not result in hundreds of thousands of visitors or even hundreds of links (right now). But her client was able to get mentions (and links) from a select group of high valued blogs, improve the client’s brand successfully and increase revenue by 20% in 2008.
- Finally, ROI is Not Always Easily Defined
An audience member was quick to point out that other than Dianna Huff, no one else was able to draw a straight line to a financial return on investment. Understandably, business needs to be profitable, but the panelists were able to provide a few key points worth considering.
- There’s a long-term value to opening up direct communication channels with hundreds or thousands of customers. To an extent, companies can bypass media and even marketing agencies to engage directly with their customers – at little to no cost other than time.
- Social media gets customers excited. Ted Weismann’s case study on how Kronos – an enterprise B2B technology company – was able to get 35 of their customers to create videos for their “How Do You Kronos?” video contest, was an excellent example. The contest generated tremendous buzz at the company user conference and provided energy internally to continue down the path towards further social media development. (learn about contests for B2B companies)
- Lastly, most of these efforts were not really “finished” as it relates to an official end. There are still Facebook groups, Twitter profiles and blogs increasing in brand awareness and drawing in more people. And each client has different metric objectives and points in their timelines for review. I appreciated the honesty of one panelist who admitted their client probably is still in the red, but they’ve built a long-term communication channel via their social media strategies that will continue to grow.
If any elements were missing, two possible ideas come to mind:
- Three of the four panelists clearly had larger budgets to work with. More advice and guidance could have been given to those requiring a more grassroots effort or lacked larger resources.
- Panelists could have provided more “best practices” or specific tactics that were successful in these communities. To be fair, some of that was there (especially in the Q&A), but I’m not sure how many people in the audience picked up on it (and it seemed like many left after the presentations).
Overall it was a good event and was interesting to hear the creative ways companies were engaging their customers in social media communities. The most important last words had to be that in every example, each panelist had prepared a plan for their clients. They did not enter a social media community without being informed and took time to make educated decisions to avoid potential missteps.
I’d love to hear others thoughts if they attended as well via comments or links to other posts and thanks to all the panelists for presenting their case studies.