During Social Media Week, I attended an event that discussed the impact of social media and technology on the business landscape, as well as the best social media strategies for businesses. The event was moderated by Lisa Chau, writer and founder of Alpha Vert Enterprises. The six panelists included:
- Clarissa Silva, blogger and founder of Play Ideal Date;
- Jorge Montalvo, special advisor to the NY Secretary of State and director of NYS Office for New Americans;
- Mickey Lukens, social media brand manager at The New School;
- Shala Burroughs, cofounder of Cloudpeeps.com;
- Michael Barret Jones, director of development of social media and advocacy at Iris House; and
- Tim McDonald, director of community at The Huffington Post.
Here are some of the questions asked by Chau and responses from the panelists:
Q: How has the community management job changed with the advent of technology and social media?
McDonald: Community managers existed well before social media, but they were probably called CEOs, receptionists, sports/group leaders, etc. They were the community managers before technology was around. The only thing that has changed is that technology has made community managers a title now. Community managers don’t manage the community; they oversee and try to guide the community. When I look at how I define community manager today, it’s not so much the audience, but the people who are passionate about your brand that you can develop relationships with -- they will go out and create the crowd and spread your message to the audience. I focus on a small group of users that help convey the message to everybody else. What I’m trying to push for in the industry is that this position not be looked at as an entry-level position but as an executive-level position where you’re bridging across different departments in the organization and really helping set the strategy.
Burroughs: Before startups would hire community managers as an afterthought position, but now we’re finding it is the second or third hire they make. Even to exist as a small business or startup, you have to curate a community right from the beginning.
Q: As an entrepreneurial blogger, what is the key benefit to today’s changing economy that is increasingly more technological?
Silva: The ability to do live research and development simultaneously is invaluable. Not only is it a cost-effective strategy, but I also get to run tests in a very short time and re-design whatever aspect needs tweaking while cultivating a relationship with my customers. You’re building and cultivating your relationship with your customers while you’re doing your research and development.
Q: Do you see that the costs have dropped dramatically because of technology and social media?
Jones: In a small nonprofit, all these tools are helpful but really the one-on-one human connection can never be supplanted by mass communications and data. These tools we are going to be using and work with, but they will never replace one-on-one customer engagement. Marketing costs for nonprofits haven’t dramatically dropped. In the nonprofit world, donors want to be reminded that they are the important person to you, and boards -- who you answer to -- aren’t as progressive as you would like to think. Even though we print less, we require more staff now. The staff costs are going up, while the number of copies we’re printing is going down.
Q: Do you find that you have to send out as much paper?
Lukens: For the foreseeable future, it will be part of our marketing efforts, but we really vamped up our reach through social.
Q: What social media platforms should businesses use?
Burroughs: Understand who your audience is and then target the platforms that they are on. Start small instead of jumping on a million platforms and hoping that you can manage all of them.
Montalvo: It is also important to understand how your audience interacts. How do you they interact with their media, because some are more comfortable with broadcast.
Q: What kind of advice would you give someone starting out in your particular field about where to start, the guidelines for putting together a long-term strategy, and how to collect metrics to analyze?
Burroughs: The best strategy is to first figure out your customer and then pick which platform works, so where your community is most active. If you’re looking to start to understand your various communities then I would suggest picking the top three influencers and reading everything they put out.
Montalvo: The most important part when you’re talking about social is ensuring that it’s integrated in your general media office, and having your high-level principles understand it is truly integrated into everything you do. It is really the way now along with your general media outreach when interacting with your customer base.
Jones: Look around and see what exists before you just start with something. You really need to understand what your needs are before you start down the technological path. Do an analog analysis of what you will need. Before you start the tech, figure out what you’re going to need -- not today, but three years, five years from now -- and then invest well and wisely toward the five-year end.
Silva: Before you devote a lot of resources into different things, run short tests and treat social media like it is a lab. You need to first do a short, quick test on how effective your strategy is on that medium. The second thing you need to do is develop metrics based on your outcome. After your do your tests and develop some metrics, you will have a formula that you will constantly replicate over and over again. Each platform will have a different formula.
McDonald: The first thing you need to find out is what your business objectives are, and then you start figuring out how your strategies will align with your business objectives. Also, testing small, fast and often is the best thing that you can do. And don’t be afraid to fail. One of the lessons I learned when I worked for a startup company that I will never forget is put something out in the marketplace, see how customers react to it, and then make adjustments from there.
Q: Can you tell us techniques that you employed to increase engagement?
Silva: I developed the blog with 16 years of practice behind me, so all of it is really cognitive behavioral science. I took cognitive behavioral techniques I developed and put it out there. I am really testing out a new behavior modification model. The second part of the blog is that it is structured in a hierarchical order. A reader can constantly go to the blog and build on what they’re experiencing. I give solutions to the readers and that is what starts up a lot of the engagement.
Jones: Knowing your audience and where they are is very important as well as not wasting resources on audiences that are not going to be reacting to what you are trying to sell.
Q: How are technology and social media going to change the business landscape in the future?
Lukens: Technology today is extremely primitive. A smartphone is fundamentally trying to change the way we communicate with others, and I think for an object to do that is very insufficient. I think technology is moving closer to our bodies, and in the next twenty years we will not have a solid piece of technology to look through but it will be in us.
Burroughs: I think customer service will change. I also think customization, content, and authenticity will continue to be demanded by people. Also the freedom of freelancing, which will really have the power to help people’s lives. I am really excited about giving people the power to not have to live in NYC to make a living. They can be located anywhere and be really good at managing a community and building a customer base.
Jones: The biggest thing to look for in the future is how to find the balance between messaging and medium, because we haven’t found it yet.
McDonald: It’s not about looking at what platform we will be on, because it's still just communicating with people. We’re having all these talks about what we’re allowing our employees to share, and the thing we’re going to realize pretty soon is if we’re trusting them enough to come work for us, then we’re going to need to trust them enough to spread their own message in their words about what they feel about the company. Don’t get held up in what’s going to be the next greatest thing, just be concerned in how you’re interacting and communicating with people, and what effect you will be getting from them.
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