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November 3, 2010

Still Struggling to Make Social Media Work for Your Company or Client? Author and Firm Owner Martin Offers Strategic Vision to Accompany Your Cyber-Presence — and Impact the Bottom Line

Gail Martin Richard Carufel's exclusive interview this week: Gail Z. Martin, Owner, DreamSpinner Communications; Author, "30 Days to Social Media Success"

As most companies today know — especially their PR departments and agencies — there's a lot of pressure for businesses to be "on" social media. Unfortunately, most businesses create profiles on a few sites, and after taking a half-hearted stab at content, drift away without ever really harnessing the power social media offers. This is more akin to going through the social-media motions — the failures of which leave many organizations scratching their heads over the most productive ways to exploit new media and get actual results.

In a new book called 30 Days to Social Media Success, author and DreamSpinner Communications owner Gail Z. Martin debunks many of the social media myths and false promises that surround this explosive genre and gets down to the nuts and bolts of exactly how to incorporate social media into your company or clients' marketing plans for bona fide bottom-line results — not just the vacuous visibility that an uninformed cyber-presence generates.

Here, Martin sheds some light on the book's formulaic strategy — and on some the overlooked fundamentals for PR success on the social media highway:

I know you are speaking to a broad swath of marketers in the book, but you often home in on PR–specific strategies. What would you say are the 3 key social media opportunities for PR people?

It's essential to remember that social media is truly social, not another broadcast media. I see a lot of one-way communications on social media sites, which do not take advantage of the genius of social media. The first key is nurturing relationships, and making that your prime goal. The second key is to maintain a dialogue, and not just using social media for one-way broadcasting. Third, make sure to focus in on a specific target audience or audiences and don't get caught up in the numbers game that many feel is the true measure of success. People get so caught up in who has the biggest percentages and largest number of followers, etc. These are the wrong metrics because social media success is not the same as that of traditional advertising or media relations. The measures of success in social media are more like the reasons for joining a trade group or getting an association membership. Why is it worth so much to belong to those groups? Because you meet people with whom you share commonalities, and you are notable in your absence. These are your networking contacts, and ultimately, social media is chiefly about networking.

One problem: If you put up a sign that says "free beer," people will come pout of the woodwork for it, but when the beer is gone, the people are also gone — and they probably missed out on the real reason you wanted them to come in the first place. And in social media, when you get caught up in flashing big numbers, it's the same result — most of those people are not your audience. You want people who are interested in your product or service and who are more likely to become prospects.

One of the key terms in the book is developing and defining your transformative value. Could you describe this term, and explain how ego gets in the way?

Your transformative value is what your product or service does to change the lives —in a small or large way — of your consumers. Are you offering them safety, or can you free up their time, or reduce their confusion — what real value do you offer them? Its not the name of your product that people care about, it's the benefit derived. This benefit is psychological as well, which goes beyond the mechanics of your product. For example, if you have AAA membership, the mechanics of the product is that a tow truck will come and tow your car if it breaks down, but the transformative value you offer is security and safety. Some marketers get so hung up on mechanics of their product that they don't think about its transformative value — which should be the real marketing angle because its the kind of content people want to read about and know. That's what tells me your company is legitimate.

I like your you-get-what-you-pay-for logic. You make the point in the book that effective marketing is not free. Can you elaborate on that?

There's always a trade off between time and money. Traditionally, people have hailed PR as free publicity because its not paid advertising — you're not paying for column inches or broadcast seconds. But PR is a time-intensive discipline. You have to make the pitch, aggregate the contacts, put together the press releases, build the media lists — it's very time-intensive. Yes, it's free in that you don't have to pay for the article or mention. But there's always an opportunity cost to your time — so you must make sure you are talking to the right people and drawing the right audience.

As all seasoned marketers know, every person who watches TV is not necessarily the target consumer for their product or message — they need to reach specific audiences. But people seem to forget that when using social media — it's like they think everybody out there is interested in their product. Segmentation is key — you must find where conversations are happening about your topic and join in as a good neighbor, not as a pitchman. You wouldn't move into a neighborhood and go door-to-door shoving your business card in everyone's face, but people will do that in social media. To be most effective, marketers need to offer solid, free information at a 10-to-1 ratio to their pitches. In other words, you tweet 10 times with instructive, relationship-building information, and then your 11th tweet can offer a discount or coupon, or describe a special offer as a reward for people who have "friended" you. But if it's all about you, then who cares – it's not a conversation anymore.

You make the point that for social-media marketing to truly work, you need to "find your real personality" and "tell your real story." Does this mean that adopting the "personality" of a particular campaign in order to fit around or emphasize the message or mood is going to backfire in the long run?

It's interesting how those image ads you see for cars and such that seem irrelevant to the function of the product, and you can't even remember which company it was — that's great indulgence for huge companies. Small businesses can't afford that kind of ego trip. When describing the need for a true voice with a real story, I wasn't thinking hard vs soft sell, but rather that, to gain peoples trust, you should be consistent in all of your campaigns. Nobody likes a politician who says what the crowd wants to hear and then says the opposite to another group. The deeper piece to your "real story" is that most people who own a company probably started it for a personal reason, and there's a story behind the company particular to the individual — maybe the owner is out to right a wrong, or has another personal reason for being passionate. And if they don't tell that story, they lose the opportunity to make that kind of passion-focused imprint.

For example, there was one man who was supposed to have breakfast with his sons one morning, but considered canceling because he had a lot of work to do in the office. That morning was Sept. 11, 2001, and he worked in the World Trade Center. He did have that breakfast, and was therefore not in the building when the tragedy occurred. The experience had a remarkable impact on him, and he became a life coach, teaching people how to have proper balance and keep things in proportion. That's clearly a story he shares with his clients and prospects. Obviously most stories aren't that dramatic, but there is usually a back-story for every business owner — and that's the kind of personality I talk about in the book.

You describe an interesting concept called the Social Media Marketing Matrix that I thought was a great place to start. There's a lot of deep detail about this in the book, but can you briefly describe what this means and what purpose it serves?

Social media can't give you a magic wand or make you rich overnight. Social media is just another communication tool — but it's a great one. It's a networking event that's open 24/7 and it draws a global audience. It gives you a way to stay in touch with contacts in an interesting way — using just one medium such as email gets boring, and social media gives you a variety of channels that don't seem as intrusive or repetitive. On the other hand, social media won't force people to buy products they don't need right now, but it will improve the likelihood for connecting with people who are in a "window-shopping" phase and may buy later — people who enter the top of your sales funnel. In those ways, it's a powerful communications medium, not at all a get-rich-quick scheme.

Many think that Facebook, despite its obvious power and wide functionality, is not a good site to focus on for business, but you've described ways to make it work? Can you touch on a few of the many that you describe?

Facebook is a great tool if you're talking to the right people. You obviously need to keep personal and business information separate. You can share your pictures, etc, but on a separate page from the one you do business on. For business, you really want to start by reaching out to the right people. You can start with your own mailing list, then reach out to clients and prospects, and even put your Facebook address on your biz card and put the the link on your website — put it everywhere so people can find you and identify the page with you. Then you go out and look at the Facebook groups — there are tens of thousands of them, and people are talking about every topic under the sun. Get involved there, contribute meaningful ideas without being forceful, and then invite those people to be your Facebook friends. That way, you're talking to people who've shown interest in your topic — not just mass-friending. Now, you're building a new list of people with interest in your information.

Then you offer things like case studies, video and audio, testimonials and other ideas to get a conversation started — this gives people a chance to check you out to see if you're for real, if they like the personality you present, and if what you're saying is consistent and rings true. You can also recast your live events on Facebook — you can have a page for your live event, and also put your Twitter feed or blog posts on your Facebook page. That way, you can extend the conversation around the event long after the gates were closed.

Many aren't familiar with Squidoo, the cool site you describe as more focused on content than reach. Can you talk a little about how this site fits in strategically?

Squidoo was invented by Seth Godin, a veteran communicator who always has a fresh perspective. He came up with this different social-media concept of not being a traditional networking site like Facebook where you make a lot of new friends. Squidoo pages are called lenses, are very easy to build, and you can build them about something you're passionate about – the top 10 of whatever or how-to pages — and then people find your lens comment and rank it. Squidoo pages show up in Google very well, which makes it easier for people to find you. The focus is on good content, which also showcases you as an expert. It's not a selling tool — you might find a link or two that are promoting something — it's designed as a fun place to be. It's also a good place to develop rapport with others and give people one more reason to contact you.

Part of the book focuses on social-media strategies for local businesses, which many of our PR readers represent, and you offer a lot of approaches. Could you recap a couple of the best ways to use social media, which, as you point out, many think serves more of a global function, can be used locally?

People automatically think that, because of the Web's global reach, anything you post will be read by a global audience. But in truth, you're only going to reach people who are interested in your information. Your social media approach can be as local as you want. If you have a local coffee shop, you can tweet your daily specials to your contact list, which are all your regulars, and you're bound to see incremental sales boosts. If you want to be intensely local, make your social media site the place to find out what's going on in the community. If you sponsor a kids' soccer league, then highlight the games, teams and stars on your page — in other wards, talk about your passion, and if your passion is local, like-minded people will find and follow you, while people in China won't bother. Your audience will self-select.

Finally, there's a chapter on social media and branding in the book, and building brand seems to many to be social media's greatest PR function. Do you agree? How important are social media's interactive qualities for building and maintaining brand?

The social media qualities of brand building are essential because all client interactions come down to relationships. People will sense a personality around a brand, and they want it to be consistent — we're talking about graphic and stylistic consistency with things such as photos, logos, colors and voice. If you create cognitive dissonance by being inconsistent, it will confuse and alienate people. For example, if your brand is supposed to be perceived as trendy and cutting-edge, then your voice in social media channels better sound that way. If your brand is supposed to be warm and comforting, then it better sound like that. A lot of small companies have problems with consistency across the board — they may be trying out different personalities to find just the right one. Larger and more visible companies tend to be more focused this way — but even small inconsistencies can be damaging as a result.

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