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Social Soaring

Unique approaches to social media marketing success help northeast Wisconsin companies stay out in front of their customers

Story by Rick Berg

December 2017

In little more than a decade, social media has grown from a quirky add-on in a few companies’ marketing efforts to a must-have marketing staple for most businesses. Whether social media succeeds or not for those companies depends a lot on how well it is integrated into an overall marketing strategy.

When the Pew Research Center began tracking social media in 2005, barely 5 percent of the American adult population used social media regularly, and most of them were in their 20s. Little surprise, then, that few businesses put much time or effort into social media as a marketing tool. As recently as 2010, fewer than half of all U.S. adults were regular social media users. Today, social media use is well above 80 percent and recent surveys find that more than 90 percent of businesses use social media in some form as part of their marketing efforts.

That some of those efforts fall short has a lot to do with the relative newness of social media and the resulting misconceptions about how to use the medium to full advantage. Marketing strategists in northeast Wisconsin say there are some key factors to consider when designing a social media strategy.

“Some companies feel social media is the answer for all marketing needs, while others feel social media isn’t right for their brand so they avoid it altogether,” said Lisa Piikkila, owner and creative director at Appleton-based Coalesce Marketing & Design. “The truth is social media is a necessary component of marketing communications. Due to its prevalence, your company should have some presence on social media, and you should be paying attention to what’s being said about your company online.

“It’s the ‘who is driving the bus’ scenario. If you’re not driving the message, then someone else might, so it’s important to put your message out there the way you want to be seen and heard. Monitoring what is being said about your company and who is saying it can also provide an opportunity for you to provide rapid response customer service.”

Greg Linnemanstons, president of the Appleton-based Weidert Group, said that to succeed at social media marketing, businesses need to move beyond having a social media specialist or team to developing a company-wide “social media mentality” – especially one that is driven by the company’s salespeople.

“You need to have your customer-facing people buy into your social media protocol,” Linnemanstons said. “Whenever you publish a blog, you want your salespeople to share that on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook and comment on it. If you have 40 or 50 people doing that with discipline, you’re going to get thousands of prospect eyeballs on that and hundreds of shares and that creates credibility.”

Relevant content is key

Successful social media marketing is tied to creating an interactive component with the organization’s clientele, said Michaela Paukner, brand manager at Oshkosh-based Candeo Creative. Candeo started out as strictly a social media marketing firm, Paukner said, and now integrates that social media expertise into a broader marketing strategy.

“People often forget that there is this interactive piece that needs to be there,” Paukner said. “It can’t be ‘Oh, I’m just going to write this quick little post and immediately see these results.’ It really needs to be relevant, because if the audience doesn’t care about what you’re communicating to them, it can actually hurt your business.”

Linnemanstons said the notion of creating relevant content is paramount in any successful social media effort. Weidert, he said, encourages clients to post sales-neutral information designed to help improve the client’s business to capture their customers’ attention and build trust in a way that sales-driven content cannot.

“It starts with understanding who it is you’re trying to have a conversation with and then understanding the questions they’re asking,” Linnemanstons said. “It’s about getting in their shoes and anticipating how they need help. You’re being as intentional as any focused publisher. That’s what we tell our clients. Stop thinking of yourselves as sales and marketing and think of yourself as publishing to help your prospects. Social media fits naturally with that, because social media in its purest sense is about having relevant, intelligent conversations about topics people care about.”

Weidert used that strategy with its client Gordon Flesch Company (see “Aligning Sales and Marketing Through Information-Driven Content” on page 20) which, like many companies, struggled to get its sales and marketing teams aligned. The solution was a series of scheduled blog posts on relevant topics, developed by the marketing team and promoted externally by the sales team.

The key to that strategy, Linnemanstons said, was a lead-tracking system that would show the sales team how the social media strategy was benefitting them, which would in turn motivate them to actively promote the social media messaging to their clients and prospects. Less than a year into the program, sales had reached nearly $1 million.

“Sales people are nothing if not pragmatic,” Linnemanstons said, “so the best way to motivate them to be active participants in the social media effort is to have them see some early success.”

The Gordon Flesch campaign won Weidert an Impact Award from HubSpot, a developer of inbound marketing software platforms.

Choosing the right media for the message

Success at social media marketing depends on adapting tactics to a specific goal, said Adrian Bredeson, director of search engine optimization and social media at Oshkosh-based E-Power Marketing, rather than adopting a cookie-cutter approach.

“Success is going to be defined differently, depending on your goals, and that’s going to look very different if you’re selling a specific product or you’re trying build brand awareness,” Bredeson said. “You have to understand what your goal is. Also, the brands that do social well are very picky and strategic about what social media channels they’re active on for a given campaign. It’s more important to be active on the right channel than it is to be all over the place.”

Bredeson cited E-Power’s work with the International Housewares Association (see “Building Year-Round Brand Awareness for a Seasonal Organization, page 21) as an example of targeted social media marketing. IHA, she said, had often been hampered by the perception that it was largely a seasonal organization, best known for its annual International Home and Housewares Show. Typically, a flurry of social media activity occurred around the time of the March event, but fell largely silent the rest of the year.

Primarily using Facebook and Twitter, E-Power helped IHA develop a year-round series of posts focused on educating the housewares industry and driving more traffic to the association’s website.

“The idea was to keep people engaged after the show is over,” Bredeson said. “We wanted to create a consistent level of engagement. There were always webinars and other events going on throughout the year, but people weren’t necessarily aware of them because there was such a drop off in engagement after people left the show in Chicago.”

The goal for the IHA marketing efforts was brand awareness, as opposed to product sales, but Bredeson said setting metrics to track success in brand awareness is no more complicated than tracking sales.

“You can easily measure page likes, of course, but you can also dive down deeper into how they are engaging with your website, whether they are sharing your content, and you can track the reach of your hashtags.”

Likewise, platform selection is another key to social media success, said Annie Mares, account strategist at Coalesce.

“Companies must take time to determine and define their audience demographics to make sure they are utilizing the most fitting social media platforms for their brand,” Mares said. “For instance, surveys show that of all the social media channels available, ages 16-24 use Tumblr and Instagram most often, while 25-to-34-year-olds use Instagram and Pinterest the most, and ages 45-64 primarily use Facebook.”

Finding the right tone to fit the strategy and the medium is also essential.

“Companies should also consider how and why people use and interact with various social media channels,” Mares said. “For instance, while Facebook is typically more conversational, LinkedIn is more business-focused and used to reach professionals by industry or job type.

“Making sure your content is appropriate for the platform is also important. Keep in mind that features on social media platforms are often expanding or evolving, so social media managers should stay up to date on platform changes and overall industry trends. For example, now that Twitter has increased its character limit from 140 to 280, brands are now able to expand their messaging and provide more content to their followers.”

Measuring success

Paukner from Candeo said organizations should not make the mistake of thinking social media marketing is an intangible tool that can’t be relied on to produce measurable results.

“There is a lot of data available from all of the platforms you use,” Paukner said. “That can provide you with tangible business results.”

“There are many ways to measure results and the success of social media marketing activities,” Mares said. “Increases in page likes and followers, the amount of engagement with your brand’s social media channels, the number of leads generated and sales results tracked to social media efforts are just a few. If you don’t know where to set your benchmarks, start by trying to improve previous social performance by analyzing the built-in analytics on the social platforms. The various social platforms can be used differently to produce different results. Other benefits might include talent recruitment, networking, collaboration and fundraising.”

One key benefit of tracking social media metrics is that it helps refine future efforts, according to Linnemanstons.

“You can begin to see patterns developing,” Linnemanstons said. “Then you can double down on efforts that are working and redeploy resources from efforts that aren’t working as well. It’s like a living lab, watching results unfold in real time.”

Separating your social voice from the noise

Piikkila at Coalesce said any successful social media effort should be tied into a broader strategic marketing plan.

“Since there are many ways to reach and communicate with your customers and prospects, it’s extremely beneficial to have a well-defined brand in place and to view social media as one component of a comprehensive marketing strategy,” Piikkila said. “The demographics and interests of your target audience should be taken into account when determining the right media mix for your brand. In some cases, this mix includes TV ads, direct mail and Facebook. For others, it might be outdoor advertising, email and Twitter.

“It’s important to keep in mind that not all social media platforms are created equal and some may not deliver effective marketing results for your brand, and therefore, are not worth considering. A strategic marketing plan will help you reach your target audiences where they are with the most effective messaging and visuals, including on social media.”

“Your social media efforts really need to be part of a cohesive, targeted messaging effort,” said Paukner. “We believe a strong social media strategy is vital to most marketing efforts, either by driving it or supporting the more traditional marketing efforts. It has to be relevant to the audience and keep the right tone for the brand to make sure social media fits into that broader strategy.”

Yet, social media offers no silver bullet, Linnemanstons warns.

“The cautionary note is that people should be skeptical about social media,” Linnemanstons said. “It’s a jungle out there, with a lot of noise and chaos. There’s no easy button for doing social media. You need to be very mindful of what you are doing and how you are doing it, and you need to have a very intentional, disciplined, committed plan.”

Bredeson has been doing social media marketing for nearly a decade and noted its evolution from upstart to mainstream. There’s both good and bad news associated with that.

“It’s become so much more engaging,” Bredeson said. “At first it was as simple as popping up a post on your Facebook page. Now there’s just so much more noise out there, so you have to be more engaging and strategic to make sure your message is heard. What people expect from brands on social has changed so much. People are coming to social to really engage with brands, and if you’re not engaging and doing it quickly, you’re creating a bad customer experience and that damage can last a long time.” 

Rick Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in Green Bay.