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Social Media As an Investment

In its brief history, Social Media, as called New Media, has traditionally been viewed as a place to meet new friends, reconnect with old friends and interact in an online social environment. In short, social networks were “a cool place to hang out” but held little applicability beyond that. There has been no shortage of funding in Silicon Valley for firms launching new media platforms. With the emergence of sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, there is no question that there is value in the vast amounts of information on people that these platforms have been able to collect; however, there has been no clear monetization strategy beyond bringing in advertising revenue. Arguments have been risen as to the true value of these firms; some would state that their valuations are inflated and artificial, while other claim that the value of their databases alone are enough to justify multi-billion dollar price tags.

The New Value of Social Media and The Social Media Firm
More recently social media has spawned a new value proposition, which is the business applicability of the vast user-bases these social networks have created. Regardless of which side of the valuation fence you sit on, it can be said that social media holds vast utility for businesses looking for a new way to reach out to customers and engage in two-way communications. This has never been done before from a traditional marketing, advertising or public relations perspective, and has given rise to a new business model: The Social Media Firm. This brings forth the argument of whether or not The Social Media Firm is a good investment. Is The Social Media Firm a fad that will die out in the coming years, or is this a long-term, sustainable industry that will one-day drive obsolescence to the traditional methods of advertising, public relations and marketing?

Given the state of the current economy, Venture Capital and angel funding sources have been keeping their portfolio dollars close to their chest, reserving investment only to businesses with a decent operating history, solid revenue streams and unlimited growth potential. Does the Social Media Firm fall into this category? My answer is yes. The bottom line is: social media is not going anywhere. Social media has become a staple of the lives of younger generations, and the fastest growing adopters of new media are people over the age of 30. Since the recognition of the business potential that social networks holds, large Fortune 500 firms are devoting a good portion of their marketing budgets to social networks and new media campaigns. For instance, Pepsi has devoted $20 Million of their marketing budget for a social media program called Pepsi refresh, and many large firms are beginning to follow suit. Needless to say, the earning potential for The New Media Firm is substantial.

Is it sustainable?
As mentioned earlier, new media is not going anywhere. For the most part it has become a standard part of the Internet experience similar to email. The sites that are considered the gorillas in social media may churn; however, there will always be something new to which these Internet-based communities will migrate. For example, the social media migration to-date has gone from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, and the next major shift and/or addition to this massive online social sphere is likely just around the corner. The long-term sustainability of The Social Media Firm is largely dependent upon these companies’ ability to identify and pre-empt the next big shift, and to develop effective methods of leveraging both the old and new platforms for the sake of driving revenue, profitability, sales volume and identity to their clients.

Why Outsource to The Social Media Firm?
One question that may arise is: why would large companies hire a social media agency when they have the monetary resources to do it in-house? The answer to this is the simple fact that it is cheaper to outsource a new media campaign to a firm that has a skilled team already in place that is intimately familiar with navigating the complex world of new media. In the same manner that large companies hire advertising agencies to design traditional media campaigns, this approach can and will be taken for new media. By hiring The New Media Firm companies can eliminate both the administrative burden that comes with hiring a multitude of new employees, as well as the learning curve that will inevitably be present when trying to integrate those employees into their corporate culture. It is more cost effective, in both monetary and administrative respects, to outsource these campaigns to professional teams that are fully adept at leveraging the potential of modern media, navigating the codes of conduct of these online communities and staying ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying the exploiting the latest new media trends.

Closing Remarks

In summary, I do believe that investment in The Social Media Firm holds great potential for many funds; however, it is imperative that when vetting these agencies, Venture Capitalists and Angels need to ensure that the company contains the correct personnel and management team to fully exploit this budding industry. The ditch is full of one-man shops and so-called social media experts that are no more than victims of the recession who happen to be adept at Facebook or Twitter. It is imperative that the architects of new media campaigns are familiar with the intricate details of new media, and the vast array of assets that exist online to for a business to take full advantage of the social media world. Utilization of the lesser known social media outlets such as Digg, BrightKite, hi5, Xanga and countless others could be the difference between a full-scale robust campaign that shows real results, and an ineffective and unorganized attempt at new media that wastes marketing dollars.

Due to the infancy of this industry, there are few companies out there that truly know how to unlock the value of new media for business. The one’s that do will quickly rise to the top, and if sufficient due diligence is done, these companies are ripe for investment. A strategic infusion of capital is likely the boost needed to take these companies from a sustainable cash-flow business to the next industry giant with A-list clientele.

Is Social Media Marketing Relevant to Design and Architecture Companies?

You may have noticed that there’s been a bit of an explosion around the subject of social media of late. Companies are clambering around trying to work out how to harness the power of this relatively new marketing phenomenon, and it seems this has spread to the design and architecture world. I’m regularly asked for advice from design and architecture companies about whether they should add social media to the marketing mix and, if so, how they should go about it.

The first answer I give is, yes. The marketing function is undergoing an evolution, the social media express has roared into town and design and architecture companies that don’t get onboard now risk being left behind. There are conversations happening all around us online that design and architecture companies could be involved in. Conversations that include clients and potential clients and if you don’t get involved, your competitors will. This goes for pretty much any type of business as more and more are joining in, daily.

But getting involved in social media is not straightforward. It takes a lot more than simply adding a profile to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al. As with all things marketing, it needs a strategy. But before I get into that, let’s start with a gentle introduction to the wonderful world of social media.

Social media is an online tool that builds communities of people with shared interests who are interested in networking with each other. The focus here is on networking and conversation, which is the underlying premise. It’s a bit like ‘offline’ networking at events, but without having to leave your home/office and with a little less alcohol. It allows you to connect with people that can benefit you or your company, which is useful for anyone wanting to hook up with potential clients, peers, journalists, industry guru’s and anyone else that could be useful.

The key uses of social media for marketing purposes are:

Brand awareness Brand reputation management New business generation News distribution and PR Research (through online polls) Customer support Specific product/service launch campaigns Connecting with affiliate companies Improving SEO

Not bad for an activity that needs little investment other than time.

There is a raft of social media sites available to us, from blogs to microblogs to networking to bookmarking. It’s easy to get lost in the quagmire, so here’s a brief description of each:

Blogs : a blog is a company’s communication tool that allows two way interaction with its readers. They are different to standard ‘brochure’ website as they ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk at’ the viewer. The blog shouldn’t be used for ‘selling’, instead it should contain advice and opinion that the reader will find useful and which will make them want to subscribe for updates (and thus extend the interaction further). It might even make them want to get in touch. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Microblogs : Twitter is the most talked about, and the most useful, microblog. In contrast to a blogs longer posts, Twitter contains 140 character ‘statements’. It is a powerful networking tool that allows you to interact with people in a much faster environment. It has a global reach that breaks down the barriers of communication and allows networking in real time on a very large scale. Tweeters share information, give advice, debate real time issues and generally chat.

Social networking sites : these include Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo, Xing etc, and this list is growing. So for now I’m going to stick with the main two I find useful: LinkedIn and Facebook. Xing can be useful for architects, however this isn’t being used to a great extent in the UK so far (that could change in the future so it’s worth keeping an eye on). Networking sites allow you to connect and network with others in your field. The group discussions and forums are particularly useful here and should play a major role in their use.

Social bookmarking sites : this includes sites like Digg and Stumbleupon. They allow us to bookmark a web page we like or find interesting and ‘save’ it to these sites. They also have a voting system that allows viewers to vote on pages they like. The aim here is to get your blog post or web page voted on and then, in turn, encourage others to view it.

Social media strategy

There are definite rules of engagement when it comes to social media. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about networking and conversation. But before getting into any conversation, get your strategy sorted:

1. What are your objectives for using social media? Are you looking to increase brand exposure? Are you looking for new business leads? Do you need to improve your brand reputation? Are you launching a specific product or service? Are you looking to recruit staff? The objective/s need to be clear from the outset as these will drive your messages.

2. Who do you want to reach? Write down a list of the types of people or companies you want to interact with and be clear what messages you want to get across to them. But remember! Social media is all about two way interaction so you can’t fully control any conversation. However, having a clear idea of what you want to communicate at the start will be useful to your strategy.

3. Who should be responsible for running social media activity? Should there be a team or can one person take responsibility? Take heed here, not all conversation on social media is positive so you will need someone equipped to deal with any negative comments on behalf of your company.

4. Next you need to identify the right platforms for you. The model I have been using and am recommending to clients is an integration of the following: company blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook with, of course, links back to the main website and YouTube and Flickr as necessary. As with other marketing activities, they ALL need to be integrated for optimum results. There are tools that allow you to link these platforms to save on time, for example Twitter updates can now appear on your Facebook profile through Tweetdeck, WordPress blogs can be embedded into LinkedIn profiles, Twitter updates can appear on blogs etc.

5. Agree the wording of profile names before setting them up. For example, on Twitter do you want all profiles for your company to be prefixed with the company name then the employee or just the employee or do you want to have one company profile name that can be used by all or just your name? Clearly this has branding implications so it’s important to get this clear at the outset. I do prefer real names for Twitter profiles as it feels like you’re talking to a real person, rather than a member of a company. Once this is done, set up all profiles with clear bio’s and apply the branding to backgrounds where possible. If you don’t already have a blog, it would be a good idea to get this set up now. This needn’t be costly or time consuming. WordPress provides a very good system which is free. So get blogging with relevant, useful posts.

6. Now you need to find the people you want to network with. Get together a list of those you want to reach, search for them and connect. Once you’ve connected don’t make the mistake of diving into conversation before you get a feel for how they do things. Listen to what they talk about for a while and if you have something relevant to add to a discussion, add it. But remember, don’t sell! What you want to do here is build the relationship. So be relevant and give them sound advice. They’ll soon be nattering away with you and may even want to take it offline for a coffee at some point. How very yesteryear.

7. Next ensure all platforms are integrated as I mentioned earlier. Make the most of all available tools to streamline your social media activities.

8. Finally, timing. Social media can be very addictive so it’s worth scheduling the time you feel is appropriate to spend on these activities. There is a plethora of tools on Twitter that help cut down on the time you need to spend online. For example you can schedule your tweets to be sent out during the day so that you can get on with something else. But remember, don’t do too much of this as the conversation will be one sided which is against what you’re trying to do here.

Social Media and Trade Shows – Five Musts Before You Post

Are you apprehensive about incorporating social media into your event marketing strategy? Perhaps you’re not sure if it’s right for your company, or you simply don’t know where to begin. Following are the first steps any trade show marketer should take before posting one word on a social media site.

1. Learn: It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the many social media sites out there. Start by focusing on only one to three*:

Twitter – Considered a “micro blog,” your posts are called “tweets” and are limited to a maximum of 140 characters in length, including any links you want to add. (Twitter has a new link-shortening tool, or you can use to shorten a long link AND track how many folks have clicked on it.) In my own experience when implementing social media for my clients, I’ve found a higher number of Business to Business followers on Twitter. Here’s an example of a good tweet:

This speaker is really nailing it. I think her slides are brilliant! #web2expo

• Note that this post included a “hashtag” (#). When you place a hashtag in front of a “tag” (in this example the tag is “Web2expo”), Web2expo will be able to see that someone read their post, and that helps with measurement. But remember, right now you are just observing. See how many others use hashtags and how they use them.

Facebook – On Facebook, you can post longer messages. To me, engagement is a bit easier and more transparent on Facebook.

• Both Twitter and Facebook offer ways to include website links, photos, and videos.

LinkedIn – Even if you never use LinkedIn for your company business, it is a great resource. You can join discussion groups (the EXHIBITOR group is one of many terrific active groups). As part of a group, you can put forth questions to the rest of the members, and give input when requested. LinkedIn is also good for job-seekers and those looking for qualified employees. And it’s a great way to stay in touch with former and future colleagues.

* I chose not to include information about blogs in this article. Although blogs are another viable social media strategy, I decided to keep content as simple as possible for the beginner.

2. Observe: Even if you’ve never tried out any of the social media sites, you will find they are very easy to learn on your own, or have a friend or colleague show you. It’s fun! At first, it might seem awkward but like anything else, once you play around with it a few times, it becomes second nature.

• Signing up on social media sites is easy, but be sure to read the small print first. It is very important that you read the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and the Twitter Terms of Service. There are many legal issues with using social media, and these will help you get up to speed. This is important for your own – and your company’s – protection. Work with your company attorney if you have one. (More about this in section 4.)

• Research what is being said about your company’s area of expertise. Are your competitors out there? Industry analysts? Respected online and print press?

• Where is your target market? Are they following your competitors and/or reading industry blogs? See if there are groups devoted to your company’s industry. There seem to be groups for everyone, from architects to volunteer fire fighters to green technology. Poke around and see what you can find.

A few industries are not there for myriad reasons including strong legal constraints. There is no point in posting to a non-existent audience. However, that’s no excuse to keep from learning about social media yourself. There are enough exhibition industry resources alone on social media to make it worth your time.

• Consider taking a class about social media and the law, either through the EXHIBITOR conferences or perhaps a webinar.

• It’s interesting to see how folks in other industries use social networking. See how they are able to incorporate the human element into their posts.

How do they get interactive conversation going? How often do they post? What do you perceive to be far too infrequent posts and what do you consider bombardment? Who do you think does it well? Prepare to be inspired!

• Browse through Kodak’s great booklet on social media tips.

• I recommend the book Power Friending by Amber Mac. You can find it on Amazon.

3. Objectives: What do you hope to realistically accomplish through social media? How will you measure success (number of followers, number and sentiment of responses, links to your website, or reposts by others are a few examples)? What are you inhibitors (not enough resources, executive support, no budget for outside help)?

4. Review and Define Roles and Responsibilities: Is a team or a person already responsible for social media at your company, or will it be your responsibility? If you are leading the effort, you – and your executive management – will feel more secure (with good reason), when you develop a solid set of social media guidelines for the company. Here are two good ones from which you can pull ideas.

• Many companies have used IBM’s social media guidelines as a template.
• Intel’s social media guidelines are worth reading, too.

5. Brainstorm: There are so many fun things you can do to extend the trade show experience, so before you even type that first post, you can start developing ideas like:

• Create contests/promos that will bring people to the booth. Maybe you can even find a way to bring some followers who aren’t at the show into the fun.
• Develop a “show special” discount or free product trial just for your social media followers who are at the show.
• Offer a white paper, gift card, or special gift to those who come to the booth with a secret word or a completed survey.
• Post pictures. And ask your followers to post them too.
• Once you get going, the sky’s the limit!