Posted on 03 Mar 10
Lisa Trank, owner of One Purpose PR & Communications, began her session on social media at the Peak Performance Insurance Ski Conference by simply stating: “It’s here, it’s not a phenomenon. It’s the way we communicate; it’s changing the way we live.” She followed that up with statistics that made you take pause: Eight-five percent of on-line consumers in the United States made use of social technology in 2009. This year Generation Y will outnumber Baby Boomers, and 96% of Gen Yers are on social networks. In fact, the US Census Bureau says that Generation Y is more than three times the size of Generation X and they use technology every day. And if Facebook were a country, it would be the 4th largest in the world! No doubt, social media is indeed the way we communicate.
I followed up with Lisa to get more insight on her take on social media and to provide you with more information and direction in moving forward with technology that is changing the way we do business.
Annie George (AG): Lisa, as you saw at the Peak conference -- whose attendees are representative of our industry -- some are using social media in innovative ways, while others have not embraced it. What do you say about those who are hesitant, weary of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
Lisa Trank (LT): “This is an industry that weighs risk, makes recommendations based on risk analysis. So it’s not surprising to me that there is a healthy amount of trepidation about social networking and social media. The technology was first used for social reasons; we are now seeing it being adapted for business applications. Across all industries businesspeople have realized the incredible opportunity that exists for them. It’s almost as if industry as a whole is trying to catch up to see how it can adapt social media for its own purposes. For strong consumer brands, such a Coca-Cola or Pepsi, it’s kind of a no-brainer because there is so much that is inherently social. For insurance giants or smaller entities, it is more of a challenge, which is why I am a huge advocate of investigating everything before you jump into this field.
“I have a lot of respect for those who are cautious, but I’d like to push back and say if you choose not to participate in this medium [social media] then you need to have good reasons to articulate to your customers, to the industry, and to your colleagues as to why you are not participating. The benefits are high in terms of just getting the attention in a field where so many other people are playing…
“Social media provides you with unprecedented opportunity to speak directly to your customers and your industry in ways not previously possible. It gives you the ability to build “mindshare” easily by providing utility and availability.
“And as with any other technology wave, there are the innovators and the adapters. Look at how we conduct business today. Take Peak Performance as an example. The attendees, many of them between the ages of 30 and 60, were using their PDAs to communicate, to conduct business. They all embraced this technology as it moved from office phone to cell phone to the Blackberry and iPhone, etc.; they need the mobility the PDA offers to do business. The technology crosses generations, it is accepted, and used for a specific purpose.”
AG: What would you recommend to those who have yet to incorporate social media into their marketing strategy? We have suggested in previous issues that our members start with blogging. One agent we recently featured used his blog to communicate during an ice storm and his agency became the community hub for people to find out which stores were open, where to go for repairs…
LT: “I think blogging is a great way to begin. You generate content, which is what everyone wants and you are establishing yourself as an expert in your field, becoming a resource for your customers. From there, you get pushed out to press and industry publications as well as to colleagues and peers.
“You need, though, to see how this [a blog] works in your overall marketing strategy in your organization. How are you getting the word out about who you are, about your brand, about your experience, about your customer service? How is that message being delivered and how can social media applications support that message? What are your goals with doing a blog?
“You also have to look at your people, what kind of support do you have for this. You need people who are going to lead, who are advocates, and then you need to have those that will implement your overall strategy, create the blog or who will tweet and manage the platforms, monitor content. These are not necessarily the same people. All these factors have to be clearly established before proceeding.”
AG: How do you see traditional media – advertising, telemarketing, direct mail, etc. – fitting in with this new communication medium?
LT: “You have to determine who you want to reach and how often you want to reach them. There are about seven touch points needed before you get someone to respond. I believe, therefore, that social media can be a way of supporting and extending the benefits and expense of direct marketing and outbound marketing. You get the tangible, in-your-hands delivery that direct marketing offers or the voice communication telemarketing affords…and then you also offer customers ongoing complementary or supporting information via Twitter, Facebook, your blog, email blasts, microsites. This gives you that repetition you need to reach consumers. Social media serves to work together with traditional marketing to give you top-of-mind awareness within the audience segment you are targeting.
“I have worked in traditional media for years and I would by no means say that social media will replace it. There is a different way of covering your story when doing a blog versus a press release, article, sales pitch or an ad. Yet each serves to complement one another and add value to your message.
“Look at social media as a lead-generation tool, much like traditional marketing. You have a bunch of data and followers. You can use social media to drive customers and prospects to you with rich content, responsiveness and speed. But you also need to begin to pull in all these pieces, and realize that it’s not only about having a presence but the way in which you’re analyzing this presence. Those metrics need to be established, and there are companies that provide these services, but it’s new, which brings us back to your initial comment on people having trepidation about forging ahead with these various social platforms.”
AG: Yes, people are constantly asking about the ROI. They feel that social media is something amorphous, not as tangible, clear-cut as sending out a direct mail and receiving X number of responses.
LT: “It doesn’t have to be, though. You can decide to use social media to deliver your message, and monitor and track it each quarter. Connect with your IT department or person and use Google analytics to measure hits, to see where people are coming from, and begin to understand who your followers really are. So if you have 50 followers [on Twitter, Facebook], decide to grow the number organically. That is what I began to do with my Twitter usage. I set criteria. What was my purpose in using Twitter? I wanted to establish myself as a social media participant, I wanted to engage in conversation in and around areas that are related to my consulting business. I work with many sustainable companies, “green” companies, small- to medium-sized businesses, women, entrepreneurs, non-profits. I looked into the on-line communities in these areas that I would be interested in following and I studied what they were posting and began to comment and share content. Now I have over 1,000 followers a year later. It’s been a slow, organic growth, but I can go into my list of followers, which is an incredible database for me to use for various things, such as sending out a newsletter about my services, etc. This is a way of building a strategic social media plan that will provide many of the same metrics that you rely on from traditional media. And in many ways the metrics can be more reliable than sending out a direct mail piece.”
AG: During your Peak session, you showed us how some major insurers were using social media, such as Allstate. What are they doing?
LT: “Most of these insurers are using social media to establish leadership presence in a specific segment. Allstate has a social network that is geared to Generation Y. They also
Launched Next Gen Self-Service, on-line tools that enable customers and agents to access information and perform claims tasks over the Internet 24 hours a day. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield across the country piloted Twitter and Facebook to identify members who may have questions or concerns about their health benefits. Anthem has also formed both a Facebook and YouTube channel to promote wellness and member interaction. These are just some examples of organizations using social platforms for very specific purposes.
“What businesses need to do is bring in their sales and marketing teams and human resources department and look at whether there is an aspect to what [they can] offer on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that would work well [in terms of] delivering their message and furthering their brand presence. Have a discussion with your staff to determine how social media can serve you.
“There is literally no industry that I have worked with that can’t use an aspect of social media. Choose a platform to begin the process. If you find it’s not working for you, then let it go. It really isn’t that much of an investment.
“But also be aware that too much time is spent on creating social networking strategies that are separate or add-ons to an existing organizational and marketing strategy. The entire package, from brand message, traditional and next-generation marketing, to customer interactions, should have the same face and the same focus -- the customer. Create your social media strategy as what it should be -- Customer Strategy. You won't go wrong.”
Lisa makes one more critical recommendation: Establishing an internal social media and Internet policy. “Social media is about your brand and it needs to be managed with clearly defined parameters so that everyone in your organization is on the same page.”
About Lisa Trank
Lisa specializes in sustainable public relations and social media, and has developed and led national PR and grassroots marketing campaigns for organizations in civic, non-profit, education, high technology, SMBs and the arts sectors. She maintains two active blogs, is a member of Ladies Who Launch, Boulder Media Women, and is a frequent presenter/trainer on social media for a wide variety of industry audiences.
You can contact Lisa at: 303.579.4522 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is: www.onepurposepr.com. And follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ltrank.