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Note: This blog post was originally featured on CareerBuilder’s The Hiring Site on May 3, 2011 where I am a guest contributor. I am not featured on the actual contributor page because I don’t post my photos publicly online (if you look closely at my mini-avatar, you can see me behind my two dogs). For more insight as to my reasoning on the conscious decision to maintain an online persona with the photo of a dog and the real value of online social networking, click here.
The concept of social media is a simple one: people and content. There is nothing new about this. People have been connecting with each other and content since the beginning of time. With the advent of technology, namely the Internet, it should be of no surprise that human beings have taken their desire for interaction to new heights as they connect with friends and family on Facebook, and with professional colleagues on LinkedIn; share and follow others with the same content interest on Twitter; watch stories unfold via video and photography on YouTube and Flickr; and produce and connect with others via the written word on WordPress and Blogger.
People will connect to brands on social media, too. No other medium has afforded brands the opportunity to build this intimate and innate connection with desired audiences. eMarketer reports that the number one reason consumers connect with brands on Facebook is to let their social network know which brands they support.
Realistically though, how can one define the ROI of “support”? Will it be in the form of short-term or long-term sales? Will it be in the form of traffic to a website, in which more robust content is delivered? Is it measured on increased brand equity or sentiment for employment branding? And how does one even quantify brand equity or employment branding?
All too often, our team sees that organizations tend to measure the success of social media via likes, followersand subscribers. Unfortunately, “If you build it, he will come,” is quite possibly the biggest social media myth that I encounter and consult against on a daily, if not hourly, basis. (For more insight on how to resist this Field of Dreams whisper, check out Melissa Murray Balsan’s post, How to Launch in the Social Space.) Just because you are there doesn’t mean that people know or have a reason to care. And just because you invest in content doesn’t mean people will automatically know how to find it.
To begin growing your presence, go to the people that know and love you in the “real world.” You already have an audience with individuals that comprise your organization as well as those who help keep the lights on by buying your products and/or services.
- Employees: Assuming you treat them well, with the appropriate message and reason, your employees should be your first selections for brand advocates. Without them, your organization wouldn’t exist. How can their stories be framed to push your corporate initiatives forward?
- Customers: Assuming you have a good product or service, your current clients and customers are another audience base that you can preliminarily leverage to push your message forward. Again, without them, your organization wouldn’t exist. How can their voices help you with your overarching business goals?
If you are not planning to fund the growth of your social media presence via advertising, how are you integrating and messaging your two core audiences of employees and customers to join you online? If you are not messaging your audiences and giving them a reason to participate, you are missing out on your first brand advocates. How else can you integrate your current marketing and communication materials to make audiences aware of your presence?
Realistically Define Success Metrics
Not everyone will be able to achieve nearly 26M fans on Facebook that consistently sing the praises of the organization, like Coca-Cola has done. Meanwhile, Starbucks has more than 21M fans that not only defend the business against competition but also upload user-generated content and publicly profess their taste preference for the brand.
While 20M to 25M fans might be out of the question for most, every organization can still utilize social media to tell its corporate story. More importantly, social media affords the best platforms to leverage audiences to push that same story forward, like the trend seen on the Starbucks and Coca-Cola pages – everyday consumers publicly “loving” a product. It’s not the simple act of clicking like on a page; it’s the story that each individual shares with his/her 130 friends about your brand.
Get Them Talking
So how do you provide a platform on which those audiences can actively participate with you? Social Media is a visual platform through which people will connect and share content. As mentioned earlier, the heart of this content should tell your corporate story. Understanding that not everyone can be the behemoths of Starbucks and Coca-Cola in size and marketing dollars, Epic MedStaff Services Inc., shares the success it has seen by empowering audiences via social media.
As an organization that recruits only the best nurses in Texas and provides top of the line care for children in their Epic Pediatric Services Division, the relationship that Epic MedStaff has with its employees is essential for its business. By providing a platform for and cultivating these relationships with employees, Epic MedStaff’s Facebook page is a great example of social storytelling. Key tactics include inviting and fostering dialogue with employees. “Social Media has allowed us to cultivate new relationships with our employees,” says Kristian Stevens, corporate recruiter for Epic MedStaff. “By utilizing Facebook, we have created an online platform where we can communicate to our employees and clients without boundaries.”
These new types of dialogues with employees have publicly garnered such commentary:
- Hello Epic, you guys are doing a great job. Keep it up… You rock!
- Day 2 of my new employment with Epic. So far so GREAT
- Today was my first day orienting at [Epic MedStaff]… I love this job!
So what do these dialogues and public testimonials do for Epic MedStaff? Understanding that what was found through eMarketer’s report, “support” isn’t as quantifiable as traditional marketing campaigns in terms of ROI. However, Stevens tells us that these conversations have helped brand Epic MedStaff in “the online world” in a way that traditional media and marketing hasn’t been able to. Along with corporate and employment branding, these conversations “have created more awareness about who we are and the patients we serve.”
Determine Your Wins
Once you have built your preliminary audience, I challenge you to ask yourself and your colleagues how you can increase your organization’s audience base. When doing so, be sure to concentrate on what current and future audiences will give back to you via engagement and how those stories can be pushed through your current audiences to new ones.
In an ever-evolving business landscape, how can you create success out of a corporate story that you already have? The hardest part sometimes will be determining what that story is, but once you have honed in on it, create the emotional connection with your supporters so they push the story forward within their respective networks. Soon you will be on the path to creating a platform created of brand advocates – individuals willing and ready to publish testimonials to your current and future audiences.
People and content. Social media wins are that simple. What objectives can you meet if you empower your audiences to tell your story?