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Ask the Expert: Sally Falkow, Rebecca Lieb talk about social media engagement

Earlier this month, Econsultancy’s Vice President, North America Rebecca Lieb and Sally Falkow, president and social media strategist at Expansion Plus, presented “Engagement: The Key to Success in 2010 [1],” a webinar that highlighted case studies and other research to show how engagement in social media and other online channels is tied to financial success. Appropriately, this second installment of our Ask the Expert [2] interview series features Rebecca and Sally as they answer Nick’s questions  on social media engagement.

What process do you use to test social media engagement efforts against a company’s overall strategy?

Sally: That depends on the goals that have been set for the social media program.  You set a benchmark at the start and then monitor progress.  It could be things like comments/conversation on a blog, whether it is the company blog or other blogs, conversations about the brand online, tweets, retweets, traffic to a site or a blog, followers, fans.

Rebecca: The process is relatively – and somewhat deceptively – simple: Apply metrics to your social media efforts. The trick, of course, is determining what metrics to apply. And you can’t do that until you have clear goals, which are define by your social media strategy. You do have a social media  strategy, don’t you? Once goal and strategy and tactics are determined, you can apply KPIs (key performance indicators) to your social media metrics. And that’s what you need to test, and to measure, and continually refine.

How do you integrate social engagement into a company’s overall strategy?

Sally: Since reaching out to audiences is always part of the company’s marketing or PR strategy, this fits in easily. You align the goals with your overall strategy and use social media to reach and engage audiences where they are congregating.

Rebecca: Ensure that social media engagement is aligned with your overall strategy.  It’s not enough to have “followers” or “friends” or “fans.” You want to create value for customers who are engaged with you, and that value must align with your goals, strategy and value proposition. For a company like Zappos, it’s customer service. For Comcast, it’s customer support. For SAP, it’s enabling a community of users to share knowledge and expertise. Perhaps you’re after loyalty, or sales, or feedback, or word-of-mouth. Once you know what you want and need, and determine how customers can benefit from playing a role in those goals, you’ll be in a position to determine social media strategy that’s in line with your broader company goals.

What is your definition of “innovative” social engagement?

Sally: Making strategic use of new tools to reach and influence your constituents.

Rebecca: “Innovative”? Well, anything that pushes the envelope, hasn’t been tried before, or leverages technology in a new way. But please — don’t get too caught up in “innovative.” You want results, be these loyalty, or sales, or service, or whatever. That doesn’t necessarily mean going all out with bells and whistles and never-before-seen feats of social media gymnastics. It means developing a solid program that’s in line with goals and strategy.

What do you think is the psychology behind active social engagement (i.e., commenting on a post versus passive social engagement; “liking” a post, but not commenting)?

Sally: Forrester Research has identified many “rungs” of the social technographics scale.  Some people are content creators  (13 percent).  Others lurk and read. We have been conditioned for a hundred years to be passive receivers of corporate communication. Standing up and  being counted – just being there and communicating — can be scary for the consumer and the company.

Rebecca: The Pareto Principle, aka the 80:20 rule, applies just as much to social media as it does to the rest of marketing and business and sales. ALL of your target audience is not going to become fully engaged in talking to you, or creating content for you, or commenting, or whatever. You’ll always have those who sit and watch, versus those who actively participate on higher levels. It’s human nature. Watching is good, too — don’t expect everyone to react to your program as avidly as your most enthusiastic and engaged participants. But do think of ways to encourage and reward the involvement of your most active and vocal advocates.

Once a company gets comfortable with social engagement and measurement, how can it use this data to impact its corporate strategy?

Sally: There are many ways – they can tap into the consumers and stakeholders for market research and intelligence that can guide future strategy.  It can inform R&D and product development.  It can improve customer service.

Rebecca: There are numerous ways social media can impact  corporate strategy, given social media is largely a feedback mechanism. Product development, new ways to provide customer support, and any other learnings a company can glean from listening to what people are saying — not only about you and your company, but your competitors and industry in general — are a gold mine of information that should inform moving forward.

On February 25, 2010, join us for a presentation by the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) and Middleberg Communications as they reveal the results of their Survey of Media in the Wired World [3], which examines the ever-changing relationship journalists have with social media. Stay tuned for a recap and another Ask the Expert interview.

Are you a PR pro? Are you savvy in social media? Are you in-the-know in investor relations? Are you a media professional who’s been transformed by the digital revolution?  We’d love to interview you for our Ask the Experts [2] series! The Ask the Expert series () is Marketwire’s way of delving into the minds of industry leaders and experts, asking them the most salient and pertinent questions that affect PR, IR and marketing communications professionals. Please contact Nick Shin (nshin [at] marketwire [dot] com) for consideration.

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