Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leveraging Social Media - Five Lessons Learned

Tomorrow, April 21, is the first Dunwoody Business Expo.  Leading up to this event was a public online vote for "Good Eats" (aka, Best Restaurant) and "People's Choice" - general public favorite local business.

I used Drupal modules and a slew of other tools to create and tabulate the actual ballots.  To spread the word I went by the old standbys:  email, Twitter, and Facebook. 

The poll went viral in a number of venues starting with the above three and we had a full on, old-fashioned, Chicago-style Ballot Box Stuffing Jamboree!  Which is exactly what everyone wanted - it's all part of the fun!

I burned through weeks and weeks of 3G minutes on my iPhone watching the site statistics.  I saw a number of interesting trends:

First, all three of the "People's Choice" entrants had Facebook pages, but not all were getting even close to the same number of votes.

Second, only three of the four "Good Eats" entrants had Facebook pages, but the votes were close to even throughout the voting.

For all of its hype, social media is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of online promotion.  It only works under certain conditions.  Here's a checklist of how to get the most out of social media:

1)  You have to invest time and/or money to get results.
This is not the "Field of Dreams"  - "they" won't come just because you build it.  Before you get your own Facebook page or other online social outlet, be very honest with yourself about how much time you're going to spend using the medium to promote yourself.  Or, if you're going to hire someone to spend that time.  If the answer is "as little as possible", this isn't the place for you.

2)  The first word in "Social Media" is SOCIAL.
As archaic as it sounds, there are still people out there who are loathe to mix business and pleasure.  That's OK - but that means you want to invest in traditional media and go the extra mile in promoting it.  If you're comfortable with starting your marketing with friends and family, then sign up and get your page.  If not, then again, it's not for you.

3)  You have to be ready to change.
Before Facebook, there was MySpace.  Before MySpace, there was LiveJournal.  Before LiveJournal, there was America Online.  Before America Online, there was Prodigy.  Before there was Prodigy, there were UNIX-based email lists and bulletin boards.  Online forums wax and wane constantly.  Sooner or later, Twitter and Facebook will eventually fade into the background and something else will come to prominence.  Pay attention to the kind of results you're getting from your social media outreach.  When the flower fades, start looking for the next latest wave to ride.

4)  Offer something specific and unique in your Social Media outreach.
According to this article in Social Media Today, there are specific things the average Facebook user is looking for when they follow a company online.  In short:
1. 40% want to receive discounts and promotions

2. 37% want to show support for the brand/company to thers
3. 36% hope (want) to get free samples, a coupon (a.k.a. freebies)
4. 34% want to stay informed about the activities of the company
5. 33% want to get updates on future products
6. 30% want to get updates and information on future sales
7. 27% like to get fun and entertainment out of it
8. 25% want to get access to exclusive content
9. 22% mentioned they were referred by someone to follow this brand/company
10. 21% want just to learn more about the company
Why are you on Facebook or Twitter?  What are you offering that is unique to that venue?  Lots of people are looking for freebies or the latest scoop.  If you can plan that into your Social Media approach, you're more likely to get the results you're looking for.
5)  The biggest name isn't always the best route
Facebook isn't the only social network out there.  The AddThis bookmark tool (which I highly recommend to help your visitors do some promotion for you!) links directly to over 334 social media outlets.  Sure, you can take the shotgun approach to anyone and everyone on Facebook, the current big fad.  But on the other hand, with a little audience research, you may find some hidden treasure in another network that could give you a greater ROI. 

Social Media plays a large role in many of the promotions I create websites for.  The Dunwoody Chamber is making plans to make even greater use of social and mobile media in the coming months.  The social networks got the word out, but it was the users who made the votes in the poll count.  By the way, the winners are....

going to be announced at lunch tomorrow at the Expo at Crowne Plaza Ravinia!
(Gotcha!  Made you look!)  See you at the Expo!