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Social Media Sustainability Involves People, Planning, and Listening

Featuring Amber Naslund, Director of Community, Radian6 Writer, Speaker, Blogger

Posted on 06 Oct 10

There’s so much out there about social media, but one of the few resources I find both insightful and useful is what I get from Amber Naslund’s blog, BRASS TACK THINKING. She breaks down what works (and doesn’t) in this arena -- both from her own experience and from her involvement with what other companies are doing. I spoke with her recently, thinking it’d be great to feature a social media expert outside our industry. We began with one of her blog posts about the role and work involved when it comes to social media, and the conversation evolved to other key areas you’ll find helpful in getting your own strategy going.

Amber NaslundFirst some background on Amber: She is a communications and business strategist and Director of Community for Radian6, a company that provides platform and tools for listening, measuring, and engaging with customers across the social web. Amber works with businesses of all sizes to solve their problems through better communication. She speaks at conferences and private events, talking about the intersection of the web, communication, and business culture. And she’s an avid writer and passionate content creator; her blog has been recognized among Forbes’ 20 Best Social Media and Marketing Blogs By Women, as PostRank’s top community management blog of 2009, as one of the Top 10 Social Media Blogs of 2010, and among the AdAge Power 150.

Annie George (AG): I read your blog, “Are You Sure You Want That Social Media Job?” and thought you brought up some valid points about what the role entails and how it should be approached. So let’s start here. Who would be the “right” type of person for managing a firm’s social media?

Amber Naslund (AN): “It has to be someone whose current role is aligned with the company’s social media purpose. If you’re interested in social media for customer service, for example, the person who owns that responsibility in the company should be customer service-oriented. Likewise, if you’re looking at social media as a brand enhancement play, then you should have someone who knows and understands your branding and corporate communications approach.

“There are certain things, however, that I caution many companies against, such as simply adding the role of social media management onto somebody’s job responsibilities, and making it mandatory. Part of the full essence of social media is the social part so you really want someone who is passionate about doing it. If you saddle someone with the responsibility and say, for example, ‘We’re going to start a blog and it’s your job to do it’, if that person isn’t interested or it’s not something he or she wants to do, you’ll end up with him or her floundering.

“Furthermore, undertaking social media has to be something that’s culturally accepted throughout the organization. Until your company and people have a vested interest in the space, you’re going to struggle to find the right person. Yet it doesn’t have to necessarily be a huge undertaking. Everyone starts somewhere. You may decide to start by having an employee participate in a few industry forums or in one or two LinkedIn groups. This can be done in a couple of hours a day. The person will need to spend some time listening, finding those conversations and tracking down where he or she ought to be conversing in order to begin interacting and responding.

“Social media is something you can build over time, it doesn’t need to be a full-time job right out of the gate. But that being said, it does take a consistent effort. You don’t want to dive into social media on a whim and then find yourself in a few weeks or months in the position where you disappear. It can be far worse to show up, be really enthusiastic, and then fall off the grid than to not be there in the first place. Social media has to be something you’re willing to adopt operationally and culturally over the long term. Because it does take time.”

AG: To your earlier point, what if your goal is to use social media for both customer service and branding/marketing, can one person achieve all that?

“Probably not. Depending on how deep your organization is planning to go into social media, you will likely have to make a human resource commitment that goes beyond a single person.

“Radian6 is a B2B company and obviously deeply entrenched in the social media industry. But we have community managers, people monitoring, creating content, conducting reporting analyses, working on the lead generation side – looking at how we can take people from conversations to interest in our company. It’s a hefty, coordinated effort.

“Companies not as deeply entrenched in social media should still consider building a team, even if that team is comprised of individuals who do social media as part of their existing roles. Having said this, you do need a central hub where social media folks can get together, coordinate their goals and outline plans. The online community doesn’t distinguish between departments…they’re not, for example, looking at me and saying “Oh she’s in Customer Service so I won’t bother her with marketing-related stuff. Your online and social media efforts need to feel seamless to your community.

“If you have broader business goals for social media, it’s unlikely that you can put it all in one person’s hands. You can’t deploy a strategy if you don’t have the infrastructure to support it. Just because you want to mine social media for leads doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen. You need someone dedicated that as part of his/her role and who is resourced-back by the firm.

“Social media gets a lot of hype, and the tools can feel kind of fluffy sometimes, but the intent behind social media is not fluffy at all. It’s the same kind of business element, communications, network building that we’ve been doing for centuries. Now we have new technological tools, but the strategy needs to be taken as seriously as you would any other aspect of your business. Social media needs to be woven into your business strategy, not just something you bolt on.”

AG: One of things you wrote about in your blog is letting go of how many followers you have or measuring your success by the number of “likes” you get on your latest post. You make the point that what you’re accountable for is the success of the business and your performance on the projects is what matters. Social media is just the vehicle. What should you be looking at?

AN: “Fans and ‘likes’ can be an indicator toward something, but we get a bit hyper around the idea of people liking our page or whether we have followers on Twitter. You can have a million fans on Facebook, none of who are really interested in your company or are going to do anything for it. And moreover those one million people are only your potential reach, not the actual reach, so you’ll never get a million eyeballs paying attention to what you happen to be conversing about on-line at any given moment.

“We love things like ‘likes’ because they’re easy to see and to track. It feels as if it can and should be an indicator of our success. The problem is that clicking ‘like’ takes about a half second. I can’t tell you how many pages where I have clicked on ‘like’ and never been back. As a company would you really see me as a valuable, interested individual if I’m not invested in your business or care about what you’re up to? I would rather have a community or audience of 500 people who care about being part of my business than 50,000 who are indifferent.

“What’s more important to us as businesses is to find the segment of the community that’s really interested in what we do and has the potential to make an impact on our business. This is something especially true in business-to-business, niche industries, or smaller companies. It’s really important to find that relevant community and not just gather eyeballs like bottle caps.”

AG: How do you find and keep that relevant community?

AN: “Having a listening strategy really should be the foundation for your social media.

“Radian6 provides a listening platform, so I am biased. But it’s incredibly important to spend the time finding out what your customers and the people you want to become your customers are talking about. What’s interesting to them, what type of content are they sharing, what do they find valuable? When they’re not talking about insurance, what are they discussing? What other challenges and issues can you help address and solve through the lens of your expertise as a company?

“Think about what your customers care about in between the times they’re not buying insurance that you can add value to. For example, is it something about home improvement to make their homes safer? Is it about encouraging a healthy lifestyle or looking at preventing child obesity? It’s the conversations two or three levels above your brand that are really important to the people you want as customers.

AG: How do you employ a listening strategy?

AN: “You have to have some type of mechanism in place to listen. You can get started with Google Alerts and free tools such as There are three layers of how to listen:

1. Brand-centric.
You type in search terms on your company, the products you offer, and brands that fall under your umbrella and see if anyone is talking about these things. Those are the people first and foremost on your radar screen.
2. Look at Your Competition. What are people saying about competing insurance agencies or competing carriers or providers? What do they like? What don’t they like? What are the opportunities for you? Become a part of that discussion. Do you agree, disagree? Do your competitors have fans, raging detractors? Get a pulse of what the industry overall looks like online and who is doing the talking.
3. Broader Industry Conversations. For example, if you provide health insurance there are any number of conversations that could relate to the topic. What kind of relevant conversations do you want to be a part of?

“The important piece is to recognize that there are different types of consumers on social media, and not everybody creates content. A lot of people consume content. They passively will read or share. They will make themselves known in very subtle ways. That’s where the ‘like’ comments or subscribers can be useful. You know they are there, they may not be paying attention all the time but they are reading. What are you doing that makes the number go up or down?

“Listening involves a little bit of art and science. You have to have the tools in place to find the conversations, which can be either free or a platform like ours so that can you make sense of that information. Then you have to spend the time evaluating those results. What does this mean to you? Where are these people? Are there any surprises or is this what we expected? The important discussions are out there and it takes some time and investment to get your searching really refined.”

AG: Then yes a listening strategy should really come first…

AN: “It gives you a sense of where you should be spending your time. Let’s say you put your brand and products on various platforms. With a listening strategy, you can see where people are talking more about you – perhaps on specific forums but not as much on Twitter. You can determine that there are blog posts about topics you care about that you should be a part of, but not spend as much time on Facebook. The strategy helps you target the right places in which to be present. You don’t want to be spending a lot of time on LinkedIn if your customers are not there. So spending the time to actually listen to inform that strategy is really important.

“We’re still in the early stages of how social media will transform business, so there are plenty of reasons to take a methodical, well-thought-out approach to social media. Even if that means starting out simply. Setting goals and establishing a plan that supports your overall business strategy is the way to go. It takes a little longer and requires more effort, but in the long term it means that your social media can be sustainable.”

Learn more about social media at Amber’s blog: BRASS TACK THINKING, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.