Don’t Buy The Cow When You Already Have Milk At Home

The social media job category has come on like gangbusters over the past year as companies scramble to hire social media consultants and create new internal roles to keep up with the new media world. Sure, a consultant can help you work through the kinks of integrating a social media strategy within your business model, but before you jump on the bandwagon, ask yourself this:

Can a consultant ever begin to understand and know your business better than your very own people? The people working on a day-to-day basis to support your customers, create your products, and sell your services?

If your answer to this question is yes, then you may need to re-read the question. Rather than looking outside, try tapping into the individuals within your organization that have proven to be a great source of industry information. Utilize their industry experience to create value that will serve your marketplace and support the existing infrastructure of your business.

cow

Here at Ivie we’ve done this through our Subject Matter Expert (SME) program. Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs as we call them, are individuals selected from each of the core service areas that make up our business. Each person is dedicated to providing social media coverage specific to either the service department they work in or an area of special interest for them. This allows all content (updates, tweets, blogs, posts, etc.) generated within our social media outposts to address all of our core competencies and key service areas. SMEs serve as a key resource for our business and, in turn, our goal is that they also become a key resource online for clients, associates, and prospects.

We have created our SME program based on the personality and intricacies of our company. You’ll have to determine the right fit for your company, but here are some takeaways from what we’ve done over the last year.

  • To start, you will need to identify a program director. Ideally, you will want to transition someone who is experienced in social media and that has also been with your company for a long enough period to truly understand the corporate culture. In our case, it happened to be someone already positioned in a business strategy role, who was also capable of identifying the company’s needs and solving those needs using social media.
  • Elect one to three people from each department that demonstrate a passion or understanding for social media. The program director should work with each department head to get feedback on the best internal candidates since they will be overseeing the company’s day-to-day social media operations. You should also consider tapping into informal networks within the company. Department heads may very often be the most knowledgeable about the business expertise and interests of their people, but social media often starts out as a very personal interest.
  • One key thing we found with our program is that it’s not just about identifying the experts but also about identifying people with passion. If they don’t have passion for social media and passion for what they do, then they can’t effectively fulfill a role like this. If they are just going through the motions, people who follow your company in social media will know it.
  • Create SME role descriptions for each person that’s chosen. This should very clearly outline what is expected of them every day, every week, every month, etc. How often do you want them to Tweet? Should they respond to customer inquiries? What kind of independent research should they be doing and how should they share their findings? What tools should they use? Will they need to do any blogging? In our case, we had each SME review and sign this document to be sure they understood the importance of their new role.
  • Develop an incentive plan to compensate employees selected for the program. Reward employees according to what best fits your business model and the budget you’ve allocated for social media. You can customize your compensation plan based on rewards, quarterly bonuses, corporate recognition, choice of conference or social media events to attend, or even create competitions for highest number of re-tweets, blog subscribers, overall level of contribution, etc.
  • Work with your HR and legal departments to define internal etiquette, code of conduct, and general guidelines for your company’s social media policy and practices. This will be particularly important to uphold the standards of your brand and ensure the best possible representation of your company. You will want to determine appropriate boundaries (depending on the nature and structure of your organization) regarding any sharing of information about your client base, disclosure rights of active client projects, and discussion of your company’s private practices.
  • It is important to provide plenty of training opportunities. Our SMEs have attended a number of internal sessions to discuss the basics of social media, blogging, Twitter, etc. We also occasionally bring in speakers and provide opportunities to attend online webcasts and conferences whenever possible. The training was really key at first to get our team of experts all on the same page. Now we have group meetings and ongoing communication to help them identify where they fit in and can make the most impact. You want to make sure they are fully prepared and support is available if they need it.
  • CoTweet is a great social media sharing platform for your team to track content, re-tweets, send messages, assign tasks, and bring order to the art of having multiple people sharing one corporate account. It helps the program director to monitor activity to ensure SMEs are continually making conversation, reaching out to those that need help, responding to questions, leading by example, and providing timely follow-ups. There are a number of applications available to fill this need.
  • Find a way for your SMEs to present their key findings, ideas for growing business, and trends to the rest of the company. One would hope that all of your employees are following your Twitter account, subscribed to your blog, and have “Liked” your Facebook page, but realistically that is not the case. Hold Lunch & Learn programs and/or quarterly executive meetings so SMEs can present what they have learned and talk about how that might affect your business.
  • Use your SME program to launch or strengthen a corporate blog. Make blogging one of the SME requirements. Give SMEs the opportunity to write their own bios and include a picture to highlight their individuality and personality.
  • Empower your SMEs by allowing them to highlight their new role in their email signature, LinkedIn profile, Twitter bio, etc. This is a positive reflection of your business since you’re empowering employees to remain current and fresh with new marketing tactics. It also invokes interest in others when they see the SME role description to learn more about your company.

Creating an SME program is an ongoing process for us and will be different for any company that chooses to head down this path. I am an active participant in the Ivie SME program and I can tell you first hand that it is working. It is making a difference in-house by highlighting and strengthening people’s expertise and building employee awareness and knowledge of our services. It has also made a noticeable difference externally with clients, job applicants, prospects, and vendors. They’ve noticed our efforts and have complimented us on the enthusiasm and variety of content.

So that is my challenge for you. Look inside your own company and find the people who have passion. Passion for social media. Passion for your company. Passion for their job.

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What impression is left when companies choose NOT to engage in social media? Do they have something to hide?

What impression is left when companies choose NOT to engage in social media? Do they have something to hide?

Think of our day-to-day activities that involve making a deliberate purchase, seeing a movie or a show, going to an event or concert, hiring an employee or babysitter, making a contact or travel arrangements, buying a product, changing doctors or insurance providers, and the list goes on.… All actions that involve doing, buying, going, and seeing, now require some sort of proof. People like to know about the “buzz” that surrounds the restaurant, the hotel, the business, or the product, whether it be the purchase of a new home, a car, or a family pet. Anything that involves using people’s time or money in this “information age” should be carefully evaluated in advance through the validation of others who have already participated in the experience. Actions have always spoken louder than words. However, in an age of instant word-of-mouth, it matters more than ever for companies to focus on behavior, because every action is a potential conversation starter – or a conversation stopper if the buzz is negative.

I will not book a hotel room without going to at least two credible review sites, like Trip Advisor or About Hotels/Inns/Resorts. I want to know what I am getting myself into and, as a consumer, if it is something worth spending my hard-earned money on. Actually, what I really want to know is “the dirt,” you know, the word on the street; what other people are saying. You better believe that if I find even one poor review, in fact, if I find even one “so-so” review, where there was nothing in particular that was just plain awful but the overall experience was mediocre, I am put off and back to surfing the net for the next best looking accommodation with squeaky clean, flawless reviews.

This does not give businesses a lot of room for error these days. The majority of people who are frequenting these sites are counting on these reviews, testimonials, and (my personal favorite) virtual tours to decide where their money and personal happiness will best be spent. People want businesses and brands to have an online presence so they can check it out for themselves. Crummy reviews are definitely a deal breaker for me, but some people need a little more proof or convincing than just taking some random critic’s word for it (who very well may just be out to sabotage places of business due to personal issues).

That is why it is important that businesses also invest in a user-friendly website that is ranked highly in search results, that gives consumers a clear and honest depiction of their product, facilities, and services, and that is easily searchable online. Businesses beware! It’s best to have a site that is detailed and visual enough to give consumers the entire picture, but is still so simple and engaging they don’t feel they need to dig for dirt or seek alternate review sites. If you do not have a lot to work with or you are just starting out, be upfront and honest. Never try to mask what it is you truly have to offer, because people seek truth and they will call you out on it in a second if you overpromise and under deliver.

hiding

If a business does not have an online presence, they really have nothing for others with which to judge their reputation, track record, and credibility. Combining a strong website with outposts on various social websites provides your customers with a perfect balance between details YOU supply as the brand and details others provide as customers and users of your product or service.

Why Social Media?

The possibility of social media is “intoxicating.”

However, there are still some skeptics out there (you know who you are) asking the same questions:

Why should I use social media?

The primary reason why individuals join social media networks is the desire to connect with other people. Social media provides a means for them to share their personality and knowledge with others who have common interests.

Why should companies use social media?

Just like individuals, companies have a need to connect with people – employees, partners, customers – in order to build relationships and grow their business. In order to truly connect, they must share their culture and expertise just as an individual must share their personality and knowledge.

How can I best represent my company in a digital age?

The answer is SOCIAL MEDIA.

This is not to say that social media should be your first means of marketing, but as a company, if you do the same things over and over and expect different results – expect to get left behind. If you do not change with the times, the times will change without you.

Why should I shift my focus to
social media?

People are shifting their focus away from traditional marketing and print. The ever-increasing use of digital media is reducing the demand for printed materials. Consider the newspaper industry, or the ongoing decline of circulated print media.

We are in the age of transparency, where Information should be accessible online 24 hours a day. If your brand is not searchable, explorable, linkable, or part of the conversation – consumers will immediately want to know why.

Think social media marketing is all smoke and mirrors? Think again.

– Red Cross was able to raise over $5 million dollars through a text messaging campaign.

– Obama used social networking to raise $55 million dollars in one month by actively participating in his own online marketing campaigns, creating an Obama platform on all major social networking sites with real time updates, and through email and exclusive video personalization for his online supporters.

– Dell claims to have made over $3 million dollars from Twitter alone and this was all during one of the biggest recessions since The Great Depression!

Social media creates common ground among all players. From small business owners to the corporate giants everyone can be heard. It not only spreads your message to the masses faster than traditional advertising, but it’s also open to the public and free to use. So what do you have to lose, other than a huge opportunity to connect with people who are key to the success of your business?

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