One of the basics with having wisdom is to know what you do not know. That is, realizing that you’re not the all-knowing person you’d like to think that you are. With that in mind, I’m sharing this article to other members of the Social Media Club’s (SMC) Editorial Team to learn from them and to pass on their wisdom to you!
What you’re about to read is a Q & A involving some of the best people that the Social Media Club has to offer, coming from very diverse backgrounds and experiences. Together, we will discuss some of the major topics involving social media today and where it may be headed in the future. For each question, I will include some of the more interesting and thought provoking responses by some of my fellow Editorial Team members. I expect that we’ll all learn something and enjoy doing it at the same time.
My sincerest thanks to the members of the Editorial Team that helped me with this article. I literally could not have done it without you!
I got started in social media almost by accident – one day a few years ago, my boss simply asked me if I had used Facebook. When I said yes, he replied that I was now our company’s social media administrator. How did you get started in doing social media professionally?
Assaraf: I was working in sales at Kred, a company that leveraged influence scores. I started learning what to look for in Twitter campaigns and would manage it on a daily basis for some amazing brands like Interscope Records and The Grammys. A year into it I decided that if I can sell campaigns and manage them too, then I should go out on my own and learn SEO, paid campaigns, email campaigns, and some code. I did just that and I’m now CMO of an exciting startup that syncs cloud apps: cloudhq.
Hanford: My story is very similar, in that I became part of a voluntary social media team for the company I was working for at the time. I was just interested in blogging at first, but soon became intrigued with social media marketing and community management. One thing led to another, and I became the company’s social media director a few months later. Not long after that, I decided to venture out on my own, so I could work with my own clients.
Holtz: About 5 years ago, I was working in the non-profit sector and as one of the youngest staff members, I was asked if I understand social media (specifically Facebook). I had a basic idea of it and knew that this would be a valuable tool to engage, promote and recruit for that organization. After that, I got addicted to the value and real time conversation with the community. The rest is history.
Lis: I was a partner in a strategy practice at Accenture. We were working on the strategy for the Starbucks – my idea site. It dawned on me that the Web was becoming more social instead of just e-commerce driven. I left Accenture and started my own social strategy firm in order to improve on social crowd sourcing and working with MySpace – and then Facebook started to boom.
Rochas: I’ve always been passionate about the Web. In 1999, I started learning to build websites on my own and launched my first site in 2000. I created my PR agency in 2006 when bloggers started getting a bit of attention. It was perfect timing for my clients and I immediately thought social media would be a good way to reach their customers in a different manner. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter represented a perfect way to have a discussion instead of sending unilateral messages. I naturally headed in this direction, started my own blog and was recruited in 2010 by a company monitoring e-reputations.
What skills or education should someone have if they are looking to get into social media as their career?
Assaraf: Learn how to listen and talk to different audiences, on different platforms. That’s the most important skill. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can get into more fun stuff like link tracking, Google analytics, command center setups, and so on. Something to always keep in mind is that everything online is intertwined with each other, so the more skills that you can acquire, the better, which will give you a well-rounded perspective.
Hanford: As for skills, I think it’s so important to be a good communicator. You need to be able to have conversations online. You also need to be very disciplined and organized – effective social media management requires consistency, even though the world of social media itself changes all the time. As for education, I don’t think it matters what degree you get or don’t get.
Holtz: Great interpersonal skills, creative, ability to think on their feet, writing skills – not term paper writing but short, compelling content. A passion to add value to an industry or product. Ability to cross-pollinate content and a drive to try new platforms as they arise.
Rochas: There is no miracle training to get into social media. No school that can teach you how to “do the buzz”. The basic and necessary skills are to be able to listen and write correctly. Listen, because this is most of what you do: you listen to your customers, to your competitors, to everything that concerns your field so that you can react, create and discuss in consequence. Write because people expect you to master spelling and grammar. The Web is not just another place where you can express without following the rules. Managing social media means representing a client. And your client doesn’t want to “talk in an SMS manner’.
What advice do you have for people looking to make a career out of social media?
Hanford: Don’t do it! No, I’m just joking. The main advice I would offer someone who wants to turn their love of social media into a career is to really understand everything social media marketing entails. It’s more than just posting witticisms to Facebook or Twitter. There’s real data – and real people – involved. If possible, I would recommend getting your feet wet, so to speak, in an agency setting, or as part of a corporate social media team. That way, you have the chance to earn while you earn…then you can really decide if it’s for you.
Holtz: Be prepared to tell people that there is actual ROI in the ongoing, real time conversation with customers. Social selling is the wave of the future but, right now, that is a tough pill to swallow for many more classically trained marketers/companies.
Rochas: Making a career out of social media can mean many different things. Some are happy with doing community management and exchanging with as many people as possible even if they don’t know them, whereas others are more inclined to be more “strategic”. It is also a great opportunity for writers who don’t want to be journalists or novelists. In each case, social media demands a high implication in order to always be up to date and proactive.
What are the biggest opportunities and obstacles for companies using social media?
Hanford: The biggest opportunities for companies using social media include good brand exposure and a way to build their reputations online. The biggest obstacle includes the higher costs of hiring a person or people to manage social media for them. It can get expensive, especially if you want it done well. Another big obstacle is the constant risk of “messing up” in a public setting.
Lis: Opportunities – the chance to talk directly to their customers and engage their though and opinions. This is also the biggest obstacle. Too many organizations have plugged social into their to-do list and don’t look at the conversations that are taking place about their brand.
Rochas: Companies using social media have a tendency to think it’s magic. If the managing team is not aware of what it represents effectively (in terms of results, engagement, work, human needs…), they might just look at other companies and say “we want this”. Huge misunderstanding! However, if they trust specialists who know what they’re talking about – whether in house or as consultants – they might get the best of social media: more visibility, more customers, more trust from those customers, more recommendations and eventually more sales.
Jay Baer has said that social media applies to all businesses, without exception. Are they any types of businesses that should not be using social media? B2B companies, for example, often feel that social media has no value for them.
Hanford: I read a lot of Jay Baer’s articles and respect his opinions. As such, I agree that social media *can* work for all businesses. As to whether it’s successful for a business depends on a variety of things. A couple of things are (1) whether upper-level management supports social, and (2) if the business is committed to it.
Lis: Small businesses are usually the first to jump into social because of low cost. But they usually expect too much out of social early on. I think social applies to any business but it is a long tail approach about creating value over time.
Rochas: B2B companies can also benefit a lot from social media. However the process is different from what B2C companies will do. It is crucial to understand that each domain has different opportunities and will need a different social media strategy. I always hear prospects asking me for quotations when I haven’t even met them and have no idea what they are looking for, who their customers are, etc. There is no miracle recipe and even B2B can benefit from social media, though probably not by opening a Facebook page.
Yeager: I have to disagree with Jay on this one. While every company has the potential to use social media to help them, they need to realize what social media is and use it accordingly. It is not simply an extension of their own website, for example.
The companies that should not use social media are those that do not have quality goods/services or those that have poor customer service. In those cases, all they are doing is giving people a place to complain and if they have poor products and poor customer service, it’s unlikely that they will use social media as the great tool it can be to help improve customer relations. Companies that have inferior products or poor service and don’t provide good customer service have no business being on social media – it will only show off how inferior they really are.
Another of the common criticisms of using social media for business is the lack of ability to measure the ROI that a company will experience. This can be especially difficult in the B2B environment. What would you tell a company that felt that way?
Assaraf: Honestly, I doubt I’d even want to work with a company who felt that way. If I HAD to tell them something, I’d say “Be patient, test and track everything, and you’ll see what works for you.”
Holtz: For B2B companies the ROI is in creating the relationships with potential businesses that otherwise might not be aware of the product. Gary Vaynerchuk has actually said that B2B is easier than B2C because you know who the consumer actually is.
Lis: Establish goals, set mile markers that can be accomplished using social. ROI is a broad term; if you break it down into small goals social can be an excellent driver.
When looking to hire a company to help them get started in using social media, what should people look for in a consulting firm?
Hanford: People should look for a firm with a proven track record…one with references and real data they can show from prior campaigns. They may also want to look for a firm that has worked, or currently works, with companies in similar industries as yours.
Holtz: When looking to hire a consulting firm, the brand should see their competence in working with similar industries. Their ability to create consistent brand value to other clients and their innate ability to offer creative solutions for marketing a product. At the same time, the company should be responsive in dealing with the company and strategic in its approach.
Rochas: The most important thing is not to look after the numbers; How many followers, fans, etc; is not a good indicator even though one might think a company that manages its social accounts so well is probably the best. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean anything (see all the articles about buying followers, etc.). The good company is the one that will take the time to listen to you, understand you, help you define your goals and walk step by step towards success. Dream phrases and promises should raise the doubt.
In a consumer based market, which social media platforms or aspects do you feel are not being utilized by companies?
Assaraf: Social media is constantly being redefined, and the aspect of having niche mini- audiences is being under-utilized. It’s always “the bigger the better”, and for some companies that motto might ring true, but most companies will notice that in order to truly win over your audience, you need smaller groups to engage with so that you can form relationships with them.
Hanford: One simple word: blogging. Regardless of how “social” your company may or may not be, I think every company would benefit from starting a blog and posting regularly to it. I don’t think enough businesses blog.
Rochas: Generally, companies forget what social media is all about: discussion. Don’t forget the word “social”. Whatever the platform, what is really missing in most companies’ strategy is a real sense of sharing with their audience. Traditional marketing is far behind us and trying to talk about yourself all the time, whether by posting articles, pictures or videos, is a major mistake. Companies should stop self-focusing.
Yeager: As a newcomer to the field of social media, Yik-Yak can seriously help local businesses, especially for younger target audiences. I have some issues with how it might be used in some cases, but it has tremendous potential.
One of the biggest concerns that people have about using social media is what might happen when (notice, I did not say “if”) critics post something negative onto a company’s social media site. Should that keep them away from social media? Who is doing it right or wrong in your opinion?
Assaraf: Social media is full of trolls. It’s your chance to decide if that critic is worth responding to or not. If it’s just a troll, ignore him/her, but if you see that the person is a prominent social media figure, go with it and engage back with him/her in a meaningful way. If anything, it can actually help your brand.
Bad example: Fox & Friends made a horrible joke about taking the stairs next time you hit a woman to avoid cameras (referring to Ray Rice).
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/09/09/fox-friends-punts-on-take-the-stairs-joke-over-ray-rice-situation/ – They didn’t apologize to the audience and made light of a rather serious offense.
Good example: Digiorno pizza was awesome when they accidentally misused the hashtag #whyistayed; a hashtag to raise awareness about domestic abuse: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/digiorno-really-really-sorry-about-its-tweet-accidentally-making-light-domestic-violence-159998 – they took ownership of their bad tweet, and responded to everyone they offended with a personal message for about a day. They were genuine, and they’re actually my new social media heroes for handling it so well.
Hanford: This is absolutely *not* a reason to stay away from social media. Instead, it’s a wonderful opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. The most recent example was the DiGiorno Pizza Twitter gaffe. They made a mistake. They used a hashtag inappropriately. They got called out. They apologized. No harm, no foul. (http://www.wxyz.com/news/digiorno-pizza-tweet-using-whyistayed-leaves-company-apologizing-on-twitter)
Holtz: No, it shouldn’t keep them away. With that logic no company should exist. Companies of all sizes have contingency plans and public relation issues both online and offline. Every company should put in place proper brand related responses to various situations, as they would before social media. Devising a timely, relevant, and direct response will work on any medium. Examples: Best Buy, Oracle, Walmart. Coca Cola is also doing a great job.
Yeager: It will happen, I guarantee it. I had it happen at my company just recently. However, the customer was nice enough to send the complaint via a private message, so nobody else saw it. Paul Gillan was right when he wrote that, “They know the customers who complain are asking for permission to continue as customers.” He reported that Dell Computers averages 3,000 complaints each week via social media. The overwhelming number of them are resolved, helping to increase brand loyalty. Could you ask for a better conclusion?
Recently, LinkedIn lowered their minimum age requirement to 14. What do you think about that decision?
Holtz: The age limit is not the core issue. The core issue is whether the 14 year old understands and is sufficiently educated to the potential ramifications of social media. It’s not the company’s responsibility to educate.
Rochas: This is something pretty confusing to me. LinkedIn is a professional network, meaning it is meant to help people find a job or hire the perfect employee. Fourteen seems too young an age to be part of this; However, when you look at young digital native who get successful before they reach the age to be hired (i.e. Tavy Gevinson), one might argue that they have a legitimacy to be get on LinkedIn. In my opinion, however, their own social media should be enough for future recruiters to find them.
Yeager: A little scary, if you ask me. I know it takes time for anyone to develop a following on social media, but 14 seems a bit young. I’ve heard that they did it to allow the teens the opportunity to interact with alumni association from potential schools. I don’t know – maybe.
Give us some social media sites that are on the verge of hitting the big time or that you think may be gone in a few years and why.
Assaraf: I think that the years of having one big social media platform is gone. The truth is that we engage differently within different groups. The more the opportunities we get to have with different groups, the better the opportunities. So, I foresee many smaller and more niched platforms versus one big platform that encompasses everyone.
Holtz: Does myspace count? 🙂 Facebook was the innovator and laid the foundation but it’s a matter of time (can be 5-7 years) before they’re replaced. The real question is whether or not companies will be able to integrate and shift marketing focus as the trends/ platforms change.
Rochas: Very targeted networks have a great future. Instead of aiming to be number one, they focus on small groups but bring a real value. I’m thinking about networks such as MyHospiFriends and MyGolfFriends, both created by the same French startup. MyHospiFriends is the most visible social media in France now (apart from giants Facebook and Twitter) and there’s no wonder: the social network, inside hospitals, offers patients to meet with each other. It is totally anonymous and data isn’t sold. The user’s benefits are put ahead of the actual benefits and the network has been created so as to provide a solution to help patients feel less lonely. This kind of social network is probably what will become big over the next few years.
What would you recommend for companies that are using social media on a limited budget?
Hanford: I would recommend they focus on having a presence on only one – or maybe two – of the major platforms. They need to find out where their audience is and engage with them there. I think scheduling social media is a good idea – Hootsuite and Buffer both offer free options, which is great for organizations with limited budgets and time. This type of automation gives the social media administrator more time to devote to engaging and creating content.
Holtz: Choose 2-3 platforms and dominate them. Really embrace these platforms as core tools to business growth. Don’t be intimidated by other brands using these platforms, outrun them with sweat equity. During this time, look around and stay tuned to new trends/ platforms and see if they can be easily added into core marketing strategy.
Rochas: A limited budget only means there’s a need to get more organized and focus on the most important networks in order to optimize the company’s presence. Hence, if you are on a limited budget, the first thing to do is to sit around a table with all the people having knowledge about the company – it may be managers, sales, marketing, etc. – and ask them what they think is most important in matters of goals, customer relationship, brand identity. Once you’ve listened to them all, and only then, can you identify one or two networks that will be coherent with your strategy and won’t demand too much investment (both financial and in terms of time). Also, giving the responsibility of managing the social media to one person in the company both willing to do it and who knows what it’s all about is necessary if you can’t afford hiring consultants.
Which companies or industries excel at using social media to build their brand/image?
Assaraf: There are consumer brands who do social really well like Nordstrom, IKEA, Airbnb, DiGiorno, Domino’s, Charmin and Westjet. There are also lots of b2b brands that are knocking it out of the park like SAP, HP and UPS.
The most interesting thing that’s happening in social media right now is that people that want to raise awareness for epidemics that benefit social issues. This builds “issue” awareness that benefit non-profits. Look at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or awareness for domestic abuse that’s directly associated with the NFL’s Ray Rice case. What this really shows is that social media is not just for personal or consumer brand building, it’s also for issue awareness building. Heck, even one of my social profile picks right now is a green ribbon to promote awareness about organ donation!
Simply put, if brands want to learn how to build their image, just look at what sincerely impacts people for social good and get behind it. If you want to lead it, even better. People will share and be involved because people, generally, have an innate need to help others.
Rochas: An example I often use is Urban Outfitters. They have managed to create a whole universe around their products and build a strong community. Taking the most of Pinterest drives sales and engagement (by means of shares, likes and comments). This is a good example. Another one is Starbucks, of course. Finally, I’d like to name one French brand, MyHospiFriends (no, I don’t work for them): this social network dedicated to patients in hospitals has succeeded in gathering over 5,000 followers on Twitter in less than a year, hence promoting this new concept and service and convincing the hospitals to offer it to their patients. This is, to me, a great example of what can be done when you know your brand, your target, identify what they need and publish likewise.
Yeager: My personal favorites are Sesame Place and Black & Decker. In the case of Sesame Place, they really put the emphasis on the guests to their amusement/water park. I happen to live near it and we used to go there a lot when our daughter was younger. As for Black & Decker, their content always focuses on solving a problem and provides a solution. Of course, they use their own tools and they’re prominently displayed in the pictures/videos, but it’s always a “soft” sell approach.
Recommend one book on social media that people need to read.
Assaraf: Two things to comment on this:
1) Okay, my admonition is that I enjoyed “What’s the Future of Business” by Brian Solis because I like his point of view, but mostly because he writes like my old sociology text books read back when I was in university.
2) My real thoughts: Most social media books have a funny disconnect because it’s not on social media. What this really means is that whatever you’re reading is likely to be outdated. If you really want to read about social media, don’t read a book. Read social media like Social Media today, or Social Media Examiner; don’t rely solely on books.
Rochas: The Digital Crown by Ahava Leibtag. This book focuses on the content which is what companies tend to forget, obsessed by design and self-promotion.
Yeager: Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman. By far, the best book I’ve ever read and that’s all I’m going to say about that (in my best Forrest Gump voice).
Where do you see social media in terms of its impact on society in five years? In ten years?
Assaraf: I really can’t say. It changes all the time. We had personal branding, then we had brand building, and now we have issue building. What will we have in 5 years? Maybe we’ll have an ideology building – or ideology destroying movement. I’m not really sure, but that is gaining impact on a global level. I sure as heck can’t tell you what’s to come of the societal impact of social media in 10 years! And truly, anyone who does, probably doesn’t grasp what social media is.
Hanford: I think it’s going to be a way of life in the next 5 years, and completely pervasive in the next 10. Kids today already know how to make connections on Facebook while they’re in middle school. It’s going to only become more natural to use social media for communicating and doing business.
Holtz: In the coming years, all industries will realize that the paradigm shift has moved to favor consumer opinion and social, real time selling will be the most valuable asset to a company. Platforms will remain just that. What social media will enable is the classic word of mouth and user-driven opinion as the driving force behind growth. Regardless of the actual platform, more important is the ability to offer consumers the opportunity to distribute and share their opinions in a way that significantly impacts other purchase decisions.
Lis: Social in ten years is going to change how everyone communicates. I would go so far as to say that texting will be what email is now.
Rochas: It is very hard to foresee the evolution of social media in such long term. For sure, even though some say the phenomenon is experiencing a decrease, I think we will be even more dependent on it. We look forward to get advice from other people, to share experiences, to go further than the street corner. Today, we can purchase an item direct from the factory even if it is overseas. We share thousands of pictures and videos with friends who have moved to other countries. We also meet people online because it is simple, either next door or while travelling. Therefore I think social media will only evolve in order to meet our expectations even more. It won’t be a matter of brands designing the web but rather services brought to you via your computer, tablet or smartphone to make your life ever simpler.
Imagine now that you work for Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, what would you have them do differently or something completely new that they are not doing at all?
Assaraf: Big question. An obvious one is to always tweak social media service for both (1) the marketers and (2) the users. Strive to find that balance and continue to define what differentiates your platform from another.
A less obvious one, and maybe more of an app idea, is to treat their platform like a funnel, and try to suck in all social media platforms to feed into one main platform, where users can listen to all their social media feeds and actually post to all their different social media assets. It would be a social platform that meets Marketing Cloud and Sprinklr all rolled up into one. Imagine if Facebook did this- if it offered a free listening service coupled along with a free posting service that gets dispersed as though the post was created natively in other platforms. The technology exists and it’s foolish to believe that people are loyal to only one platform. Many posts on FB are already Instagram posts that just get pushed out to FB. I get that people want to experience the native feel of the app, and it makes sense. But for many, it’s also a drag to have so many social media accounts to manage. I think that the first platform that simplifies this process will win big.
Holtz: Enable or offer the user to modify or customize the look and feel of the platform. Giving users the ability to optimize their space on the platform will translate into more usage and higher value long term.
Lis: Focus more on the 3rd party firms besides the large brand small businesses use a social a lot. These small business have 3rd party firms managing it. Give these 3rd parties better tools for analytics and better support.
What concerns you the most with regards to social media?
Assaraf: Bullying is a big one; especially for teenagers. It can be a cruel world, and without proper guidance/rules, it can be a very malicious place. If we look at Secret for example, they’ve come under fire for not moderating bullying enough, and have left the platform to grow (like a cancer) in a very laissez-faire fashion. If someone is going to own a platform, then they need to step up and lead it by defining it. Bullying should be a top priority so that all people can have a voice, and feel welcomed and inspired to be there. User experience is the most important factor in any platform, so create a good one.
Hanford: I’m concerned about the complete lack of privacy. Somewhere, someone knows *everything* you’re posting online.
Holtz: The spammers and the bad name that many ‘fake’ marketers are giving to this industry. The hackers or those taking advantage of these tools for inappropriate means should also be a primary concern.
Lis: How accessible it is.
Rochas: The biggest concern I have regards big data and fake accounts. Big data is what scares people and might prevent them from trusting the web. Ask around you: even people in their 30s (or their 20s) still refuse to publish pictures of themselves, afraid tomorrow someone with Google glasses will know everything about them. This goes along with privacy settings: you can potentially share your position with total strangers. Why not let your house door open as an invite to visit it during your holidays? As about fake accounts, they are another problem which endangers trust from the customers: look at the critics on TripAdvisor and the agencies getting paid to write reviews.
Yeager: The amount of inappropriate content and cyberbullying will only get worse. It’s pretty much impossible to regulate/police the internet and kids are becoming more active on computers at younger ages. Parents can fall into the trap of expecting their kids’ online experiences to be like their own. Technology is changing too quickly and as parents, we’re not keeping up with it as we should.
Name Naomi Assaraf
Twitter ID: @nassaraf
Job Title/Experience: Chief Marketing Officer
Company Name: cloudHQ
Location: San Francisco, CA
Name: Jennifer G. Hanford
Twitter ID: @jennghanford
Job Title/Experience: Freelance social media management and blogging
Company Name: j+ Media Solutions
Location: Lewisville, TX
Name: Mordecai Holtz
Twitter ID: @mordecaiholtz
Job Title/Experience: Co-CEO
Company Name: Blue Thread Marketing
Name Michael J Lis
Twitter ID: @mikeylis
Job Title/Experience: Owner
Company Name: speck media
Location: Napervile, Chicago, Las Vegas
Name: Audrey Rochas
Twitter ID: @trendsetting
Job Title/Experience: Digital Strategist
Company Name: Creative Slashers
Location: Paris, France
Name: Joe Yeager
Twitter ID: @JosephMYeager
Job Title/Experience: Social Media Administrator
Company Name: Premier
Location: Bucks County, Pennsylvania