How to ‘Like’ Social Media
02 Jan, 2013
By Mark Kleszczewski
In This Article
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As the rapid adoption of social networks for personal communication and entertainment continues, businesses and organizations have gotten more involved in leveraging social media channels to accelerate communication while expanding the visibility and reach of their brands. A recent Harvard Business Review study reports that 57 percent of businesses plan to increase spending on social media, with 38 percent of CEOs labeling it a high priority.
Economic developers and site selectors are no exception to this phenomenon. “One of the reasons for social media’s growing importance within economic development is that it can have a relatively large impact with little capital investment, especially when compared to expensive marketing strategies like printing brochures,” says Anatalio Ubalde, co-founder and co-CEO, GIS Planning, Inc. “This certainly helps explain why economic development organizations plan to increase their budget allotments for social media more than any other marketing strategy besides websites.”
With numerous current and emerging social sites available for engaging company decision-makers and community stakeholders, selecting the right ones, then executing a well-thought out strategy for those platforms is key.
“Economic development professionals are becoming more comfortable and fluent with social media, but there is still room for improvement,” adds Eric Simundza, product manager, GIS Planning, Inc. To reach the right audience, economic developers must be active where their audience is present, he says, noting for example, that according to GIS’ surveys, site selection professionals used LinkedIn.com and blogs more than economic developers.
“If you’re not strategically focused, you’re going to be spending a lot of money for very little results,” agrees Ed Burghard, CEO, The Burghard Group. “Social media only works if the people you want to talk to are engaged in the platform that you’re using. You have to understand your target audience, their social media consumption and then decide which channels make the most sense for you to participate in — and they all require care and feeding. You can’t just throw up a Facebook page, wash your hands of it and call it a day; you’ve got to support it.”
Social Network Climbing Continues
Among the top social networks on comScore’s September 2012 list of the top 50 U.S. web properties were Facebook with 150 million unique visitors, LinkedIn with 40 million, Twitter with 37 million and newcomer Pinterest with 25 million. Of the Top 10 social media websites tracked by Experian Hitwise, the share of total weekly visits in mid-November 2012 for Facebook was at 59 percent, YouTube at 24 percent, Twitter at 2 percent and LinkedIn at just below 1 percent.
Though such online traffic counts are hard to measure with complete accuracy, their scale is certainly impressive, especially for communication channels that barely existed less than a decade ago. However, for site selectors, economic developers and local stakeholders, quality matters much more than quantity, as in knowing what techniques to use and when.
“Social media only works if the people you want to talk to are engaged in the platform that you’re using. You have to understand your target audience, their social media consumption and then decide which channels make the most sense for you to participate in — and they all require care and feeding.”- Ed Burghard, The Burghard Group
As the prospect of reaching national and even international audiences draws EDOs further toward integrating social media into their daily operations, it’s important to consider what businesses and site selectors are really looking for and where.
Valuable, well-organized content is what separates social media success from failure, yet the No. 1 place to start is actually an EDO’s website, Burghard suggests. “With so many available places to choose from, the process of identifying a location is a game of exclusion, not inclusion. As an executive, when I’m looking for information, I’m likely to go to a community’s website as one of my first stops to find out what’s available and what kind of data I can pull out and help me decide whether they should be on my short list or not. So as a community, you better make sure your electronic footprint is findable and sufficiently robust to convince a company to at least consider you as a location option.”
In a 2011 study by Development Counsellors International analyzing the behaviors and perceptions of corporate decision-makers in the United States, executives named “information on available incentives” and “workforce statistics” as the most useful features of an economic development organization’s website. “Demographic information,” “available buildings and sites” and “comparisons to competitor locations” also were strongly valued by the respondents.
Interestingly enough, although “planned visits to corporate executives” and “Internet/website” rated highest among all economic development marketing tools, executives in the 40-to-49 age group were found to use every type of major social media channel more than their older and younger counterparts.
Integrating online and offline marketing efforts as part of a multimedia communications mix is essential. “If you aren’t using every possible tool to attract, inform and sustain the interest of your client base, you aren’t doing enough,” says Dr. Alissa Sklar, vice president, social media services, ROI Research on Investment. “You also need to be monitoring what’s out there, because people are talking about you, your region and your competitors all the time, whether you’re listening or not.”
Two of the largest potential pitfalls EDOs should watch out for are venturing into several social media tools at once without a plan and not having a proper content strategy. To develop content, Sklar recommends highlighting key announcements, trade shows and job fairs, and covering key events happening for businesses and industries in the community or region. Putting out good tangibles such as industrial corridors, incentives and subsidies can be a bridge between a website and the somewhat less formal venue of social media. They’re distinct but need to work together in a dynamic way, she says.
You should have clearly-defined objectives and measurements in place to give you some insight as to whether or not your effort is panning out and you shouldn’t bet the entire farm on the execution, considering that this is still, in many ways, experimental, Burghard cautions.
A good plan should also include the practical steps of optimizing profiles and pages for search engines; developing and scheduling future content with the help of an editorial calendar; and having a process in place for responding to negative feedback. Taking advantage of emerging social media tools and techniques also serves to boost effectiveness as users become more comfortable and sophisticated in using social media to interact at a professional level.
“In recognition of social media’s growing importance in economic development, we’ve developed the first Facebook applications — freely available at www.facebook.com/ZoomProspector — which allow EDOs to add properties and demographics to their Facebook pages,” Ubalde says.
Connecting Saratoga to Singapore
A great example of how a strong social media plan can help an organization find success is illustrated by the Saratoga (N.Y.) Economic Development Corp. The group took the initiative of engaging more with social media, including it in its five-year marketing plan and as a result, generated hundreds of new connections reaching as far away as Malaysia.
“Industry follows people, that is why we felt the need to connect with our customers on a human basis,” says Shelby Schneider, director of marketing and economic development specialist, Saratoga Economic Development Corp. “Social media gives us that opportunity. Our goal was to educate people about our mission, our business activity and our assets here — and to do it on a day-to-day basis.”
Just like using paid ads, direct mail and other tools to reach out to prospects, you have to find out where the target audience is, reach them in the right sequence and stick to a plan, Schneider notes. “The first steps in putting together our social media marketing plan was knowing who was to contribute and when, setting up the appropriate pages and profiles and then going all out to invite people to participate. Also, we had to answer the questions, ‘once you have a captive audience, what do you do with them?’ ‘And not only keep them, but how to engage and grow with them?’ It doesn’t happen on its own.”
Whereas in the past, it would have been all telephone calls, trade shows, emails or printed material, social media tools are a fabulous way to warm up those connections and to continue to nurture them. – Says Dr. AlissaSklar, vice president, social media services, ROI Research on Investment
Social media will continue to be an evolving tool. As the economic development profession gets more experience with this media channel, its role in helping get a community’s message out will become clearer, Burghard notes. There’s a big opportunity for communities to invest more time and funds to make sure that they solve the kind of information problem that executives have when they’re searching for locations to even consider, he says. Don’t design content for yourselves as opposed to solving the problem of the team trying to find that very small number of communities to take into due diligence.
In the end, deals are made between people, nothing replaces face-to-face communications, Sklar says. So whether it’s picking up the phone or getting on a plane, there is a point at which you need that more direct contact and personal connection with someone, to show how much you value their business and how seriously you’re taking their prospects. Whereas in the past, it would have been all telephone calls, trade shows, emails or printed material, social media tools are a fabulous way to warm up those connections and to continue to nurture them, Sklar adds.
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