How to make your business a social media superstar

The number of outlets available to marketers these days is staggering, and the options — particularly in social media — appear to be growing by the hour. But if you sometimes feel like a hyper-sweetened kid in a candy store, you can take comfort in knowing that the world’s oldest medium, word-of-mouth advertising, remains as relevant as ever. It’s simply taken a form that would be unrecognizable to merchants in the ancient world.

In fact, a 2012 Nielsen survey, Global Trust in Advertising, found that 92% of consumers around the world trust so-called “earned advertising,” such as word-of-mouth — a number that’s risen 18% since 2007. Meanwhile, 70% of consumers said they trust consumer opinions posted online.

“In many ways, the managers of these social media properties are the frontlines of a company, and so I’m always astounded that you would put someone who has very little life experience in front of thousands of your customers.” — Dana Arnold, Hiebing

But while word-of-mouth messages are highly trusted, they tend to move much more slowly — and have far more limited reach — than mass media advertising.

That’s where Dana Arnold and Dave Florin come in. Florin, president and partner at Madison’s Hiebing, and Arnold, the firm’s director of PR and social media, will present “Word of Mouth Advertising in the Digital Age” on June 5 as part of the IB Seminar Series.

The two will discuss social media and influencer strategies that can help businesses generate persuasive, positive messages — and leverage them — in an age when word-of-mouth advertising often moves at the speed of light.

“We still need to really, really care about word of mouth,” said Arnold. “However, our opportunities for intercepting people and amplifying opinions and beliefs — that’s where our awesome opportunity is within digital. [We’ll talk about] the context of where word of mouth is today, the opportunities for actually executing digital word of mouth, both the proactive and reactive elements of digital word of mouth, and then how can you measure it?”

Part of that 21st century word-of-mouth and social media strategy is simple: When it comes to customer service, do what you’ve always done, but be cognizant of your opportunities.

“Small companies have always done a good job at customer service, they just have a whole lot of other places that they need to manage that today,” said Arnold. “With reviews on Yelp and things like that, yes, they need to care about those spaces. One thing we always talk about with our clients is, if you’re not doing a great job offline, you’re never going to do a great job online. So making sure that you’re doing an excellent job at whatever your product is, whatever your service is, is a great place to start. And then kind of extending from that and looking at those online ways to amplify that.”

After you you’ve taken care of those basics, the second step is making sure that you’re taking your social media strategy seriously.

“Given the level of complexity, you need to be strategic and tactical in social media,” said Florin. “You need to be both proactive and reactive, and you need to have a breadth of understanding. And given the complexity of that environment today versus even two or three years ago, I think more and more companies are recognizing that whether it is an in-house or outsourced function, it does require broader resources than what they were attempting to do in the past.”

That means the days of handing your social media responsibilities to an intern, simply because he or she happens to be a millennial who was practically raised online, are in the past.

“In many ways, the managers of these social media properties are the frontlines of a company, and so I’m always astounded that you would put someone who has very little life experience in front of thousands of your customers,” said Arnold. “It requires somebody who has navigated that space, who understands the importance of messaging, who understands some of these subtle nuances that a college intern may not.”

Lemons into lemonade

With the rise of review sites like Yelp — and the blowback that companies can sometimes receive on social media sites like Facebook when customers feel slighted — customer service is perhaps more important than ever. Today, customer complaints can be amplified through social media, just as engaging content can give companies a boost in the other direction.

But according to Arnold, those complaints can be viewed as opportunities for intercepting and redirecting potentially negative responses.

“Reacting is important, and reacting just like you would in the real world as opposed to the digital world is how you should behave,” said Arnold. “You shouldn’t have a completely different persona online than you would if somebody were walking into your business or restaurant or calling you up on the phone to talk about that.

“At the same time, I just had a question from somebody the other day who was asking, ‘if someone writes something negative on my Facebook page, do I answer it or not?’ And I told them there’s no cookie-cutter approach with how to intercept that, and so [you need] to determine, all right, what’s the motivation behind it, and what’s the opportunity? If the motivation is truly a complaint, by all means, use that as an opportunity for your entire fan base or your entire online audience to see, hey, this company cares; they’re addressing it. And even if you’re not getting into the ticky-tacky details of addressing it there on the page, just letting the world know that this person was heard and the issue is being addressed, even if it’s being addressed offline, is really important.”

In their seminar, Florin and Arnold will also share some of the tricks of the trade businesses can use to create engaging, shareable social media content.



“There’s this balance between art and science within that content,” said Arnold, “and we will definitely dig into how to get to a really rich space from the art side of the equation. So it’s important to really try to understand what motivations your customers have when they’re considering products or services in the category, and then your products or services in the category.

“So how do you write to really move that person on an emotional level? And with the way that all of the digital content exists, there is an absolute science to the development of that content, too. Is your photo the right size so it appears the correct way in mobile? When you’re writing a tweet, are you creating a space for an easy retweet from other folks? So there are some basic nuts and bolts from a science perspective. They perform better when you do them that way, so we’ll also tease out some of those.”

Above all, though, it’s important to avoid viewing one’s social media efforts as simply an add-on or a sidelight.

“Also important is training in what the brand’s story is, as well as understanding customer service,” said Florin. “Both of those are critical pieces, and that’s on top of having the competency and the skill to really create posts in that arena.”

If you would like to attend Dave Florin and Dana Arnold’s June 5 IB Seminar presentation, click here for information on registration.

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