Social Media For Business: Imagens de MarcaAn interview I did with Portuguese website Imagens de Marca on the role of Social Media in Business has just gone live on their website. It’s in Portuguese, and while Google Translate does a reasonable enough job for you to get the gist of what I was saying, I thought it might be handy to post the English transcript here. The interview is a prelude to a workshop / training session I’ve been asked to run at the Catholic University of Portugal’s Executive Social Media course in March.

Here’s the interview in English :

Imagens de Marca (IM): What are the topics that you’ll talk about in Advanced Training in Social Media at Catholic University?

Calvin Jones (CJ): I still need to finalise the specific topics and the format of the session with my contacts at the University, but broadly I’ll be covering the huge impact social media is having on the marketing landscape, how the conversation between consumers and brands, and among online consumers themselves, has the power to radically transform business.

To do that I’ll be drawing on industry information from various sources, and offering a few relevant case studies to show how big brands and smaller businesses are using social media effectively.

I prefer to focus on concepts: exploring how the widespread adoption of social media influences people’s behaviour, and through that alters the reality of doing business today.  I think the focus is too often on specific platforms and technologies — and while there’s no getting away from social media heavy hitters like Facebook, Twitter and, increasingly, Google, I think there’s more value in understanding the human side of the equation, and how that might apply to a specific business case.

IM: This area is very requested these days. What is the importance of lectures on this topic in the business world?

CJ: I think it’s vital for businesses large and small to understand the potential of social media channels to help them add value for their customers, gain unparalleled insight into what customers really think, use that information to inform business strategy and build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships.

While almost anything you could ever want to know about social media is available online, if you look hard enough, busy people running businesses don’t have time to wade through oceans of information and keep up to date with the latest trends. They need people who can sift through that information, sanitise it and present relevant, easy to understand ideas that apply to their business.

That’s where talks / lectures / seminars / consulting can add real value.

IM: In your opinion, what is the importance of social media in society today?

CJ: People are social creatures… we’re “hard-wired” to interact with other people. Social media is so popular because it taps into that very biological human need to belong to a community.

Its success isn’t down to the technology… technology is just the enabler that allows richer and more diverse connections between people. Social media breaks down boundaries, and lets us find like minded individuals across geographic and cultural divides. Today we can all find communities where we “fit in”, where we belong. That’s the real power of social media.

The other aspect is the speed at which information spreads through social media — and the proliferation of connected mobile devices that allows real-time sharing of information on a massive scale. The most obvious examples are when global news breaks on Twitter long before it hits traditional media channels… but that ability for instant sharing has profound implications for business too.

In an age where bad experiences can be shared in an instant it’s more important than ever to keep your customers happy — and to be part of the global conversation around your brand.

IM: What are the dangers of social media?

CJ: The dangers of social media from a business perspective stem from the very same characteristics that give it so much potential. The interconnected web of social connections is wonderful for learning about, listening to and connecting with customers in a positive way… but if anything bad news travels across and between those networks twice as fast.

A good online reputation is vital for businesses that want to maintain customer trust and develop strong online relationships. Earning that reputation is hard work and takes time… but a few social faux pas can destroy that reputation alarmingly quickly.

The other big danger… particularly for smaller businesses… is a tendency to “hop” from one shiny-new-social-media platform to the next. It can easily result in spreading yourself  too “thin” across multiple platforms, and investing limited time and resources into areas that are never going to add tangible business value.

I wholeheartedly believe that investing time and resources in social media is vital for many businesses (although not necessarily all — know your business, know your customer, then decide what’s right for you), but it has to be done strategically, in a way that’s going to deliver value for both your business and your customers.

On a social level there are all sorts of dangers surrounding privacy, bullying, identity theft and all of the other risks inherent in any society — the same rules… and the same threats… apply, but the lack of boundaries and constraints add a particular set of challenges for online social communities. I suspect that topic is beyond the scope of what I’m likely to cover in Lisbon.

IM: Social media are powerful communication tools. How can they enhance the relationship of brands with costumers?

CJ: Where do you start? There are so many ways that social media can enrich the business-customer interaction. Keeping customers up-to-date with brand news; offering convenient, cost effective support channels; giving customers a window behind closed doors; putting a human face to your business; building advocacy.Word of mouth… personal recommendations of products or services… has been the holy grail of marketing since business began. Social media lets savvy businesses tap into the richest, most effective “word of mouth” distribution network on earth to reach more customers, and offers them the tools they need to engage productively with them.

IM: What is the best way for brands to work the social media? Can you give me good examples of brands that promote themselves this way, in a good way?

CJ: That’s a tricky question, because there really is no “best” way — and if any social media consultant tries to peddle a generic “fits all” solution for your business you should show them the door.

It’s about building relationships… it’s about doing “human business”. Social media doesn’t really connect brands with people… it connects people with people.

It’s the people behind brands that build enduring relationships with customers, and that’s what ultimately drives value on both sides of the equation. It’s one of the reasons why handing your social media over to the college intern who’s just joined the team for three months isn’t such a great idea.

The real key here is understanding your business, understanding your customers and using social media intelligently in a way that adds value on both sides. Who should be in charge of your social media? People who are knowledgeable, passionate advocates of your brand, your products and services; who are eager to share and love helping people get more out of their relationship with your company.

For me the brands using social media effectively aren’t the ones you see listed in the “Top Social Media Campaigns of 2012” type blog posts. The whole “campaign” mentality is a throwback to traditional advertising, and really misses the point of social media as a perpetual platform for growing relationships.

Anyone with a budget can throw money at an agency to deliver a viral video campaign, link it to twitter and Facebook, measure the views, follows, retweets, likes and shares and say “hey, aren’t we great…”. But the brands that really “get” social media are the ones who quietly go about building those enduring, value-adding relationships with their customers day-in, day-out. They may well use specific events, content or contests to drive a particular action from time to time, but that’s built on the foundation of a solid platform of ongoing social engagement.

It’s easy to find examples of the former… they’re the ones in the “top-ten” lists and featuring on the industry awards websites. The later are harder to pin down, because they’re not shouting about their successes… and the numbers are harder to quantify.

IM: You have already released two books on these topics. What is the importance of having powerful content as you say? These contents can revolutionise a business?

CJ: Great content drives everything online: it’s your content that helps customers find you, via search and other channels; your content that engages and retains their interest; your content that drives your social media engagement; your content that builds trust and authority; and ultimately it’s your content that convinces your customers to buy your products and services.

Online success hinges on the strategic development and distribution of outstanding content.

Exactly what that content will look like depends very much on your business and your customers — but trust me… nothing is more important online than great content.

IM: One of your books is called “The best digital marketing campaigns in the world”. Can you give examples?

CJ: The examples in the book cover a lot of different digital disciplines… and for the reasons I mentioned earlier many of the case studies featuring social media are centred around big brand “campaign” based marketing. Although they are ageing a bit now there are a couple in there that resonated with me, and demonstrate some of the power of social media.

Pampero’s “Ephemeral Museum” in Lisbon was interesting because it blurred the lines between the digital / social media world and the real-world streets of Bairro Alto, creating a “pop-up” museum that brought the iconic street art of the area to  life for a much wider audience. The €30,000 spent on the campaign generated more than €200,000 of measurable media publicity (thanks largely to viral propagation through social media channels), and thrust Pampero ahead of its leading competitor in the Portuguese market.

There’s more background on the Ephemeral Museum in this YouTube video by Leo Burnett Portugal.

I suspect the real value… in terms of enduring social media engagement and relationships could be substantially higher… it all depends on whether Pampero treated this as a one off campaign, or part of a broader strategy to build and maintain their social media community.

Another that I found interesting was the grass roots Facebook campaign by English music fan Jon Morter to stop the UK X-Facor winner taking the coveted Christmas number one slot in 2009. With zero budget Jon used social media to whip up public sentiment, and ultimately drove the very “non-Christmas” Rage Against The Machine track “Killing in the Name” to the Christmas Number One spot ahead of X-Factor winner Joe McElderry.

It’s a classic example of the power social media has to mobilise opinion, disrupt convention and affect real change in a relatively short space of time.

IM: What are the best marketing strategies for businesses entering the digital generation?

CJ: There are no prescriptive formulas — social media is about building relationships with the people who matter to your business.

  • Be genuine, add value, understand your business, understand your customers and find the right blend of channels that let you bring the needs of your customers and your business goals together.
  • Remember that Social Media doesn’t replace your other marketing channels — it augments them. It gives you more opportunities to learn from, interact with and engage your customers.
  • Listen!