Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all marketing message. With social media, companies are extending their brands and making personal connections. Learn how these tools help your business, and why you should care about the conversations already happening online.
Social media was still a new toy in June 2009, when a group of aerospace manufacturers and business recruiters from Rockford set off for the Paris Air Show, the world’s largest aviation exposition. Among them were companies like Clinkenbeard, a manufacturer of plastic and metal prototypes, and Kaney Aerospace, an aircraft performance tester.
While representatives from these small companies made face-to-face contact with engineers and global executives, they were also nurturing digital relationships.
When new events unfolded and business deals became finalized, members of the group fired off updates to a social media consultant back home, who in turn spewed out Twitter updates and blog posts detailing the Paris experience. Potential aerospace clients, friends and Rockford-area media were watching.
@Clinkenbeard: Area media: any questions you’d like answered by me or others at the show? #parisairshow #RFDLBG
@Clinkenbeard: Three of our most valued clients are here: Hamilton Sundstrand, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce. Strong presentations all. #RFD2LBG
“We actually got an award for being one of the most progressive companies at the air show that used social media,” says Reg Gustafson, who represented Clinkenbeard at the show. “There was a lot of attention being paid to that. We were keeping people up to speed on the show.”
Although the manufacturing group had arrived on a national stage, its experiment was ahead of its time in Rockford.
In 2009, Facebook was just opening its doors to business pages. Twitter, to most people, was the sound a bird makes. LinkedIn was something you did with a chain, and Flickr was what happened to a bad lightbulb.
Fast-forward to 2012. Today, social media is not only a powerful tool in the marketer’s toolbox, but also part of everyday life.
Use of social media occupies nearly 22 percent of our time online, according to Nielsen Wire, and nearly 66 percent of American adults use some form of it, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Younger people are more inclined to use social media, but nearly half of adults age 50-64 also are engaged.
While social media helps to make personal connections, we’re slower to use it for business connections. In 2010, The University of Maryland’s business school found that 76 percent of small businesses had no engagement with social media.
Like it or not, there’s an online discussion taking place about your business right now. By joining the conversation, you can influence potential customers and build valuable relationships. In today’s new media environment, the one-way broadcast is becoming a two-way personalcast.
This new mindset isn’t as hard as you might think. Just ask our region’s early adopters.
Get Them Talking
Beer is second nature to Zak Rotello. He grew up at his family’s restaurant, The Olympic Tavern, 2327 N. Main St., Rockford, and has spent the past decade promoting his menu of nearly 100 beers. So it was a no-brainer when he posted a fun turn of phrase on Olympic’s marquee in February 2012: Beer is now cheaper than gas. Drink, don’t drive.
Rotello snapped a picture of the sign and put it on Olympic’s Facebook page. It went wild on reddit.com, an aggregator of humorous and interesting content and conversations online.
“I had a friend from Portland call me and say, ‘What the hell is the Olympic doing on the front page of reddit?’” Rotello says. “I get calls like that, and I say, ‘I don’t know. Somebody else posted it.’ I’m not even pushing it, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
The 31-year-old beverage manager uses a combination of website updates, email blasts, and Facebook and Twitter postings to promote upcoming events, new menu items and daily specials. Patrons connect with him and he with them.
“They’re not looking for the same old $2 beers and $3 shots – that doesn’t work anymore,” he says. “Give people something different.”
Rotello gives them something to talk about, using fun, sometimes cheeky – yet always professional – conversations.
“Hey RPS 205 teachers – we have our own version of the Golden Apple award for you,” he wrote on Twitter this March, linking to a photo of a caramel appletini.
As a buzzword, social media is most often associated with social networking, like Facebook and LinkedIn, where people connect one-on-one. But that’s just one of six general forms of social media. A second type would be collaborative projects, like Wikipedia, which are designed by a large network of contributors. Third are blogs – online columns – like those written by Hollywood gossip Perez Hilton, technology and business writers on Mashable.com, or millions of individuals on platforms like WordPress and Twitter. On a blog or microblog, contributors share messages, information and links. Fourth are content communities – literally, communities built around shared content – like YouTube and Vimeo. The fifth and sixth forms – virtual games and virtual worlds – connect audiences through games and fantasy characters.
No matter the platform, social media begins with community – a network of individuals rallying around a common element.
Digital Links, Real-World Connections
David Griffith is proof that the Internet is a World Wide Web. The Rockford-based marketing and social media consultant maintains real-world and online networks that span two continents.
His global audience includes nearly 24,000 Twitter followers, more than 5,500 LinkedIn connections and 4,800 Facebook friends. The 24,000 people he follows on Twitter alone represent everything from social media afficionados and high-profile businesspeople to personal friends and random contacts. On each platform, his comment streams are rich with shares, likes and conversations, as he exchanges knowledge, humor and interesting content.
“I don’t know all these people,” he says. “But I actually can know all of these people because I have tools that help me filter information and discover strangers.”
Griffith, who spent 20 years marketing companies in Europe before returning to the U.S., knows the social media landscape because he’s been involved since its infancy. Using online bulletin boards and discussion groups in the 1990s, Griffith would introduce his big-name clients to potential customers, putting sellers and buyers into the same “room.” As communication tools grew and evolved, so did his tactics. The more he connected with individuals, the more they returned the favor.
“As people talk about themselves and what they want, companies can provide what customers want,” says Griffith. “It’s Marketing 101: Find out what people want and give it to them.”
Today, the one-size-fits-all message doesn’t fly. Thanks to his work in culturally diverse Europe, Griffith understands why a personal marketing message is more effective.
“When you’re dealing with people in different countries, or in different places or positions, you deal with them on a basis of, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,’” he says. “You don’t take one single-channel blast and tell everybody, ‘This is our brand, buy it, accept it.’ People were pushing back, saying, ‘In France, we do it this way. In Italy, we do it this way.’”
Through social media, companies can interact directly with individuals and groups of customers who share common interests. Companies can say hello, answer questions, target new markets.
“Social media, for me, offers an environment that allow something to take place in marketing that has been necessary for a long time, but is only available now,” says Griffith. “And that’s an inbound approach that makes it easier for us to help customers buy, rather than to help companies sell.”
The Paris Air Show offered an early glimpse of this two-way street. Gustafson, vice president of business development at Clinkenbeard, 577 Grable St., Rockford, worked with Griffith to send out more than 100 tweets related to the three-day event.
@Clinkenbeard: #RFD2LBG Paris Air Show takes flight! Just arrived around 9:15 a.m. Paris time. Look forward to communicating. Parler avec nous!
@Clinkenbeard: New blog post: Paris Air Show: Show Mock-Ups…What I’ve seen that has impressed me and why [link omitted].
@Clinkenbeard: New blog post: Rockford’s Kaney Aerospace Finalist for Prototype Development [link omitted] #RFD2LBG #ParisAirShow.
@Clinkenbeard: Departed Paris and now back in Rockford. Not the end, just the beginning! Let’s stay in touch. #RFD2LBG #ParisAirShow.25
When business blogger Ludo Van Vooren mined the “trending topics” on Twitter, he noticed that little Clinkenbeard was the air show’s third most prolific tweeter. In all, the manufacturer’s account posted nearly 62 of the nearly 2,471 tweets about #ParisAirShow. Every appearance Clinkenbeard made in the conversation earned Gustafson free publicity.
Nearly three years later, Gustafson is still using social media for valuable PR, as he exchanges information and makes direct contacts through his Twitter and LinkedIn networks. His business is rapid prototyping, both milling and casting mock-ups of things like fighter jet engines and race car cylinder heads. When customers need a part, they need it fast – or “fasterestest,” as he’s branded it. Using a combination of Twitter updates and LinkedIn groups, Gustafson keeps his company front-of-mind with the engineers with whom he does business.
“It’s all about staying in front of customers and keeping them thinking about you,” he says. “Sundstrand has maybe 1,500 engineers sitting over there, and they know Clinkenbeard, but when they’re sitting at their desks working on something, we may not come to mind.”
Gustafson also relies on direct mail and advertising to spread the word. But in his office, he pulls out a stack of postcards that have been returned by the post office; they never reached their intended target.
Gustafson can’t prove that social media marketing works any better, but it’s less expensive than costly mailings. And, he’s optimistic that there’s a greater potential to reach beyond his targeted audience.
“Some of the conversations you get involved with, you just know it’s helping,” he says. “I just know in my heart that it’s doing good things, even though I can’t point to certain orders we have and say, ‘That and that and that are from LinkedIn.’ You’re positioning yourself as a thought leader, and then the word’s going to spread, and more people are going to find out about you.”
To make sure his message hits home, Gustafson has hired Mark Ricotta, a Rockford-based marketing and social media consultant, to manage his online message. With Ricotta’s help, Gustafson can keep pace without taking too much time away from other work.
“A company like Clinkenbeard will use social media in a business-to-business context, and its objectives will be more mid- to long-term,” says Ricotta. “These objectives include establishing expertise, owning knowledge, explaining solutions to issues both current and anticipated, building trust, and driving leads.”
It’s like direct marketing, without the cost of postage.
Eric Voyles shares a similar philosophy. As vice president of national business development for Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC), he’s constantly seeking new opportunities to draw attention toward northwest Illinois. Like a business, he’s selling a product – seeking potential customers and discovering new markets. But instead of hawking a bag of potato chips, he’s selling an entire region and its economic assets.
“Any time there’s a piece of good news surrounding one of our larger companies, which might have some name recognition in an industry or a household, we’re trying to push that out,” he says.
On average, he spends about a half an hour per day browsing through his LinkedIn groups, sharing interesting news and responding to ongoing conversations.
“If someone says Rockford’s a lousy place to do business, we want to join the conversation and differ with their opinion in a very polite way, by sharing information about why we’re a good location,” he says. “Not by telling that person they’re wrong, but by making sure the facts are in there, so that it’s a balanced discussion.”
At the same time, Voyles is busy rallying communities – local businesses, potential national clients, economic development professionals – and connecting with those who otherwise would be out of reach.
Voyles’ goal of reaching new markets and gathering loyal fans is the ultimate purpose of social media, says Griffith. Find those who use your product or might use it, and then talk to them about it. Fiskars scissors launched a blog for scrapbookers to share creative ideas. Proctor & Gamble started a blog for mothers.
“You can put maybe 30 percent information and 30 percent shares and personal statements,” says Griffith. “Maybe you have an evangelist within the organization who has a public face. You look at Comcast’s Frank Eliason, Scott Monty at Ford, Christopher Barger at GM. They were public faces and they had lives, and people actually liked them because of their blogs, so there was an affinity for the brand as well.”
At RAEDC, Voyles helped to launch a new community dedicated to local aerospace manufacturers. After returning from Paris, he helped to launch an advisory panel, and in November 2011, RAEDC launched a LinkedIn group. The public group attracts more than manufacturers.
“We have bankers who want to be part of it,” says Voyles. “There’s a woman who joined from South Carolina, who’s in the aerospace industry, and she does employee recruitment for a company that specializes in engineers. She wants to be part of it, so that she can either recruit talent or provide HR recruitment services for companies here.”
In business-to-business interactions, recruitment and knowledge are key components; in business-to-customer interactions, emotions and calls to action should be emphasized.
“It seeks to trigger quick responses,” says Ricotta. “These can apply to specials, sales, price-off savings, grand openings, expansions – anything that can resonate as an emotional or rational appeal.”
That’s why Olympic Tavern’s Rotello, who earned a degree in marketing, uses social media to update fans about new beers, upcoming events and daily specials. Online communities have also helped him to reach new audiences outside Rockford.
At the same time, he reaches out to existing communities, connecting with brewing companies and beer bloggers. “There are Chicago beer groups that will repost our stuff and you end up finding markets you never even knew were out there, or you knew it was too difficult or expensive to try and hit,” he says.
Make the Toy a Tool
Social media is a marketing tool, but also, by definition, a social tool full of distractions. Avoid the temptation, and don’t get sucked in. Know your priorities, and set some goals.
“I was probably the first person in the office active with any kind of social media, and we had a real hard time deciding that it was going to be worth the time and effort,” says Voyles. “I kind of had a free pass from my boss, and she wanted someone in the office to test it. She didn’t want us to use too much time on it, and she wanted us to be very careful about how we presented our information.”
Voyles homed in on LinkedIn, where he could connect with professionals and create groups for businesses and industries. Because he doesn’t want to divulge closed-door meetings or display bias, he’s careful not to act rashly.
“We cannot lose our credibility in the discussion,” he says. “That’s the hard part, because we get paid to be positive. But if we go overboard with that, I think we’ll lose any credibility we’ve built up through other good comments.”
Rotello knows it costs time to use these free-access tools, but believes it’s worthwhile. He isn’t afraid to try new things. He regularly sends email announcements. He encourages diners to share photos on their own social media, and to send him questions.
“I think the best way to get people to respond to my business is with food, and the more pictures you put up, the more you can show people something that I wasn’t able to show with radio, and I couldn’t do through TV,” he says.
Occasionally, on Facebook pages or sites like Yelp that encourage reader reviews, the reply isn’t very nice.
“You always open yourself up to negative reviews on sites like Yelp,” says Rotello. “I always take those with a grain of salt … I definitely use those sites to help me find something if I’m going into Chicago, but just because there’s a bunch of bad reviews doesn’t mean I’m not going to go there.”
Avoiding social media altogether isn’t an option, either. Like it or not, your business is being discussed somewhere, somehow.
“A lot of companies are getting dragged into social media because of events that are taking place, like Dell’s issue with poor customer service, or Domino’s YouTube fiasco, that shows workers spitting on and contaminating the pizza,” says Griffith. “These companies have found, through this process, that whether or not they were ready or willing to participate in a conversation, it was already taking place.”
It’s vital to be prepared. When you’re in the conversation, don’t say anything stupid. Plenty of people have unwittingly thrown their companies into the spotlight with half-baked comments. Stay professional, stay off the soapbox, watch your use of humor and don’t respond out of emotion, says Griffith.
Global Platform, Global Audience
For Carrie Zethmayr, international relations manager for RAEDC, social media has become a key tool for cheaply and efficiently reaching a global pool of potential clients.
“Everybody’s operating in the same pool, no matter where they are in the world,” she says. “You can directly link up with them, identify them based on their interests and reach out to them in a way that’s not screened by standard barriers of access.”
Like Gustafson, neither Zethmayr nor Voyles can directly trace any local investments to social media, but they’re certain that it helps put Rockford on the map.
What they’re really hoping for is amplification – that is, if your comment rings true to someone, they’ll repeat it, and their audience will repeat it, until it’s created a buzz.
That’s what happened to Rotello’s sign, the one that found its way to reddit. His photo showed up because the right people shared it. So long as your message connects with the right people, there’s no stopping the social media megaphone.
“I still have grandmothers from Florida saying that my fish special looks great,” Rotello says. “So you never know. Just like being posted on reddit, you never know who’s going to see it.”
Fear of the unknown prevents some businesses from joining in. But Rotello is jumping in head first, taking his chances on finding new audiences and spreading the word. It worked for aerospace technology. Why wouldn’t it work for beer?
“Why do it? I don’t think you have a choice anymore,” Rotello says. “If you’re an older and established business, it helps you reach a younger crowd, helps them figure out what you’re offering, and the price is great. Who knows if it’ll be around in five years? Bigger things have come and gone on the Internet. You never really know.”
Popular Social Media Platforms
WordPress, Blogger: Easy-to-use platforms for blogging. Both are as well suited to the tech-challenged novice as the advanced web guru. Free account.
Twitter: Enables users to share 140-character messages. Supporting services ensure space-saving shortlinks and easy organization of Twitter messages. Reminder: Stick to your character limit. Free account.
Facebook: The most popular social networking platform. Users post personal information and share links, comments and private messages. Free account.
LinkedIn: Consider it the Facebook for business. Users connect with other professionals, post resumes and portfolios, and open/join groups based on professional interests. Free account; pay for additional services.
YouTube, Vimeo: Places to share and watch short videos. On YouTube, find just about anything. On Vimeo, tap into the content communities created around video categories. Free account.
Pinterest: Share images you’ve found by “pinning” them to your “pinboard.” Start collections of like-minded pinboards, and share the cool photographs posted by your friends. Free account.
Flickr: Share your photos with the world. Join in content communities or share a link with your friends. Free account.