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I’m a big fan of our local farmers’ market. The market offers a huge variety of fresh locally grown produce, dairy products, flowers, fresh baked goods, honey and more.

While most of the products offered in the farmers’ market are available in grocery stores in a more presentable way and even at cheaper prices sometimes, people love to shop at the farmers’ market for the social aspect. My family and I love to go there to meet our community and to support our local farmers and vendors.

My kids go around and try every sample, my wife talks to different vendors about their products and recipes and I network with my friends and neighbors.

The farmers’ market provides a unique environment hardly found in grocery stores. (I’m not suggesting that either business model is more important; both serve consumers differently.)

The uniqueness of farmers’ markets in enhancing social interaction is similar to expanding social media sites, as compared to regular brand websites, in the online sphere.

Unfortunately, most businesses have not grasped the idea of social networking! Many still deal with social media as another advertisement platform rather than a unique interactive platform. Businesses/organizations treat social media pages as an extension to their main website rather a completely different platform of communication with clients.

Businesses need to know that by participating in social media that they are no longer the hosts but visitors; audiences are now leading the conversation. Businesses need to respect the evolving culture and ethics of social media and adapt to the language and habits of their audience. This shift in mindset might sound scary but I strongly encourage businesses to better engage their audience.

In the past, businesses were limited in online marketing by the number of visitors vising their sites. Today, the game has changed and the number of potential audiences can be multiplied if businesses adapt and follow the new rules of social media.

What internet users think of social media
First, we need to understand what internet users think of social media. According to a study done in 2011 by the IBM Institute for Business Value, 70 percent of consumers go to social media sites to “connect with network of friends and family” while only 23 percent noted that they go to social media sites to “interact with brands.”

What marketers should think of social media
In my humble opinion, online marketers should ask themselves: How can I make the 70% of consumers who go to social media sites to connect with their networks see the real value of my product/service and talk about it?

Achieving an effective social media presence:

Because there is no one solution, each company must apply the strategies that best optimize their business model. Here are some general best practices for how to go social and reach larger audiences:

  1. Strategy

  2. Create a concrete plan for going social. This includes:
    – Defining your business and social objectives
    – Defining your target audience
    – Deciding on the relevant social content [not just “offers”] and needs of the community
    – Defining the engagement elements
    – Deciding on the committed financial and human resources

  3. Selecting the right social media platform

  4. Once you successfully outline your social strategy and the value it will add to your potential target audience, select the most appropriate social media technology to help achieve your social goals.

    A big mistake many companies make in the selection process is starting their campaign via Facebook and/orTwitter. Remember, although very popular, these are not the only social platforms available on the web. Because of the huge success these two platforms for personal accounts, many businesses assume it will be just as successful for their business needs!

    Let us take the “Google Analytics” as a brand example and attempt to measure how people talk about the brand in the social media. While there may be thousands of Facebook users who use Google Analytics on their personal and corporate sites, it is less likely that these users discuss web analytics when logging into Facebook pages. Instead, LinkedIn might be the more appropriate platform for Google to invest their social media efforts in for this specific product.

    Here are some media platforms to consider: Blogs, Photo Sharing [Flicker, Picasa], Video Sharing [YouTube, Vimeo], Podcasts, Social Networking [Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn], Wikis.

  5. Give to get

  6. Social media is for social interaction and with that interaction, users expect to get something in return [new friends, news, knowledge, entertainment, reviews,..], just like my family and I hope to get at our local farmers’ market 🙂

    Companies need to think of different ways to add value to their audience’s experience by interacting with them through social media before expecting anything in return.

  7. Overcome your fears

  8. We all have a fear of being publicly criticized especially because social media provides a platform for unhappy customers to easily express their opinion. While to some extent I share this concern, we must realize that our brand lies in the hands of consumers as social media slowly takes control over information circulation.

    Businesses need to take an active role in shaping the image of their brands by carefully listening to and participating in the conversation about their brands. These conversations will help businesses improve their products and services and provide more relevant solutions to the world.

    One of the best recent examples of participatory branding is by Domino’s Pizza. The company dedicated an entire campaign to address their shortcomings by seeking customers feedback.

    The “Pizza Turnaround” campaign used social media, along with other means, to deliver a clear message to their customers: we’re listening to you. In response, consumers were very honest and didn’t hesitate to express their opinion about Domino’s Pizza (some blunt critiques included: “pizza crust to me is like cardboard”, “totally void of flavor” and “the sauce tastes like ketchup”)

    Domino’s has since been improving their recipes. Though I have never had a slice, and thus cannot confirm or deny their claim, I am impressed by their courageous and frank approach.

  9. Dedicate resources

  10. First you need executive buy-in; successful social media marketing requires integrating social media with the culture of the organization. Without the buy-in of the leadership of the organization, it is very hard for marketers to get the human and financial resources to truly go social.

    In the 2008 presidential race, we witnessed an unprecedented social media movement. Because of the clear vision and understanding of Obama and his team, the digital campaign team was empowered and well equipped to utilize social media tools and reach a large segment of society who would have been hard to reach otherwise.

    The Obama administration continues to pay attention to social media by dedicating valuable resources to social campaigns. This can be seen in their consistent communication with the public through weekly addresses on YouTube, administration updates on Twitter, events photos on Flicker and supporter recruitment on Facebook. Obama even formally announced his re-election in an online video!

    Ironically, while writing this post, I received a tweet reminding me about the live Facebook town hall with President Obama. (Yes, I was listening to Mr. President while writing this post 🙂

  11. Fan participation

  12. As businesses/organizations evolve their social media efforts and their social media fan base increases, businesses/organizations need to facilitate and encourage fan participation in marketing campaign creation. If fans feel they are trusted and given ownership of these social platforms, they can be very helpful in achieving the businesses’ social media goals.

    In July 2010, Old Spice came up with a very creative idea to market their new brand of shower gel. They created 180 personalized videos, released them over 3 days, in which they responded directly to fan and celebrity comments.

    Regardless of whether Old Spice sales increased, the “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign was the biggest social media buzz ever created for a brand. The company credits this success to audience participation and involvement. The graph below shows the rise in Google searches for “Old Spice” during and after the campaign, which confirms the success of the campaign in increasing interest around the brand.

Finally: Measure and optimize

Like any other campaign, you need to know how social media campaigns are helping in achieving your business goals. Number of fans, followers, and visitors don’t tell much, if any. You need a more robust mechanism to measure the involvement of targeted users with your brand, product or service.

Here are few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) just to give you an idea in what to look for:

  • Volume of social media mentions
  • Visitor loyalty
  • Sales/conversion by social campaign
  • Improved search engine ranking
  • Number of advocates
  • Number of customer service issues solved by social interactions
  • Number of reviews and feedback

Go social!

Share with us your own best practices and thoughts by dropping a comment below or connecting with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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