Interview with Dorothy Beach

Dorothy Beach (LinkedIn; Blog) is a social media strategist and researcher. Staying on top of the latest trends in social media, especially Twitter, is her passion and feeds her avocation of Human Resource and Marketing professional. Dorothy has a broad perspective on how social media is being leveraged and in-depth experience in its effective use for herself and for a professional organization. I thought it would be helpful to get her perspective on what works well, what doesn’t work so well and what our expectations should be in measuring the effect of social media.

  1. Question: Social media is exploding in popularity as a channel to connect people, ideas and information. There are so many different social media sites available from Twitter to LinkedIn. Which are the top sites in your opinion for economic development professionals to consider when putting together a plan to promote their community, region or state for business attraction?

    @dorothybeach^ says: RT @abrahamlloyd: @jowyang "Expect soc media adoption 2 incr during a recession. At Forrester (Research), this is 1 of the few spaces growing." #140tc** 5:03 PM May 27th from web

    Actually social media has been around for a while – Facebook (200+million users) and LinkedIn (40+million users) launched 2003. There are several reasons that in the last two years both have exploded. One is the economic downturn, its layoffs and need for networking and connectiveness to help manage the stress. The other is that the Millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2001, a US cohort of 92 million) is now entering the workforce and have been used to being connected all the time in "real time". They are demanding companies comply with their needs to be connected through the workday and feel work and personal life could be mixed throughout a 24 hour day. This is well-discussed in the 2008 book "The Trophy Kids Grow Up" by Wall Street journalist Ron Alsop. The channel of choice for that cohort today is Twitter and coming off of MySpace to Facebook. More Millennials are going on LinkedIn but the critical mass for that channel is really for those over the age of 40 at this time. Companies are trying to change FAST to attract that talent using all the top social media channels – are state and local governments doing that? State and local governments have not only businesses to attract but also people whose skills these businesses need. Social media channels are for people to engage in and of course they make up business. Concentrate on people or citizens and what they want for themselves and their children.

    As far as setting up a plan for a local or state government, just like for a corporation, a plan needs to be in place before a channel can be chosen:

    1. Document where you are (Who is already in social media and is a state/ local government employee? What is being said right now about our state or local government?) so that it could be used as a benchmark.
    2. Determine your goals and what is to be achieved.
    3. Assess risk of using social media and understand its tolerances and how to control it.
    4. Determine what the target audience is. When are most of them in that particular channel? Who are the influencers in that audience? How can the influencers be engaged?
    5. How to achieve the goals. What channels to use, what process to put in place, who owns this responsibility and how are they evaluated and what policy to implement for its official use?
    6. Determine what is measured and that should be behaviorally based metrics. Follow link click-through numbers? Web page traffic? Increased business inquiries? College grads stay in Ohio?
    7. Determine what the timeline is before the plan is to be re-evaluated. In 3, 6 or 12 months?
    8. What resources are needed in both direct and indirect costs, fixed as well as variable costs. Should this responsibility be full time, part time and how many FTEs needed? Need IT integration to improve web accessibility and security? Need resources to make the technology interface mobile-accessible? Count on training needed for employees and managers? Will reports have to be done by IT, hence another cost, or can the FTE access and tabulate them?

    Once this is done then a company or government can assess which social media channel is best to use and start out with. The companies that do not "get" what social media is all about usually use it to just push out information as a goal whether it is about their products or jobs or in the case of a local government, their state. Social media is about engagement in a two-way conversation. So a plan has to allow people within the government to represent the brand of the government with a keen understanding as to what the brand is, what the culture is and what the goals are in even being on the medium. This isn’t something you hand over to an intern or outsource to a person overseas or to a part time contractor. These people have to "get" what the government is all about, can answer questions intelligently or find out the answers, will pay attention to learn of new ways to connect and to improve the brand and also listen, assuming that they have a good handle on the technology. An initial plan for social media channel adoption will have to be exploratory, be owned by a number of people for various goals (Handle citizen complaints? Disseminate event information? Keep citizens up to date about legislative process? Debate issues?) and then tracking and improvement needs to be what the initial end result should be. I would advise keeping it to two or three goals, making the timelines short term – three to six months, and having a process of reporting results and documentation of what exactly is being said in any channel compared against those results.

    Listening for the messages of what matters to people and engaging their complaints as well as their insights and approvals, is a powerful tool for state and local governments to leverage. Here is a small sample of Twitter posts on late Sunday morning May 31st when the phrase "State of Ohio" was searched for:

    See the Senate version of the State of Ohio budget here: Join us at the Statehouse on June 4th: (says @Ohioable)

    RT @KevinDewine Josh Mandel announced his candidacy for Treasurer of the great state of Ohio today. Watch video. (says @zackupton)

    RT @cpione: Great WSJ story about how the state of Ohio is supporting startups: (says @HYPRcincinnati)

    Obviously some people working in the State of Ohio or who have an interest in building the state brand are already on Twitter – an assessment of who is using these channels has to be made first. Can you piggyback on them and also share tips, tools and cost if they are state employees? Like any corporation, a local government would want to know what people, including your employees, are saying about the government and its services and influences (education, geography, traffic, wifi accessibility, etc). Who will monitor that?

    Another more human resource-centerd question: What will the policy be is using social media by state and local government employees?

    @dorothybeach says: RT @abrahamlloyd: hre R Intel’s Social Media Guidelines: the standard that Intel expects their employees 2 follow #140tc 04:58 PM May 26th from web

    @dorothybeach says: RT @abrahamlloyd: Intel has abt 800 ppl that R ‘Social Media Certified’. ths ppl cn participate on behalf of Intel w/ social media. #140tc 4:57 PM May 26th from web

    A local government might want to include sensitivity training to mitigate risk of employees posting in the name of the state but doing so inappropriately.

    Part of a plan would be to make this job as efficient as possible is to use application tools, which are continually being developed since many social media channels have open source codes. There are hundreds of tools and if you have followed Blackberry and iPhone development, who also have open source codes, thousands more will be developed. Tools are continually being evaluated because they are evolving. For example, on Twitter, @Mashable is one person who makes it his goal to do that on a continuing basis which has created a huge following for him. The future trend is that tools will be used to integrate all these social media channels not only with one another but with other web-based media such as news sites. That was done for President Obama’s inauguration with the live Facebook stream side-by-side with CNN reporting of it in five different story sites at one time. Currently Twitter posts can be streamed to your blog and to Facebook using client interfaces such as Tweetdeck and Sesmic. Look for this integration will only get better.

  2. Question: From one perspective, unlike advertising, social media channels don’t require a huge commitment of cash to leverage. However, it has been my experience they require a significant commitment of time to make them really work well. What has your experience been and what guidance would you offer regarding resource commitments when considering social media as a way to reach people with a message?

    The question assumes pushing out a message is what these channels or conduits to people are all about. Again this has to be a two way engagement and this takes the time. Companies are already using plugin solutions to continually push out jobs from their posting on their websites to Facebook and Twitter. But those accounts do not engage with people, instead other accounts do that for various purposes. For example, in Twitter, AT&T has a separate account for job streaming but @TheRecruiterGuy or Chris Hoyt, represents recruiting for the company. Chris Brogan of New Marketing Labs made this statement during the Inbound Marketing Summit held in Mountain View last month:

    (@dorothybeach) RT @LevelTen_Colin: "social media is very hard & time consuming, need staff of 2-2.5 full time people managing" (@chrisbrogan) #ims09

    (@dorothybeach) RT @hardaway: @missrogue~ tweets 22 times a day. That’s considered the optimal number. #140tc 1:59 PM May 26th from web

    Yet I am not sure of the context of Chris’s answer – what size company is he talking about and how many social media channels are involved? MissRogue is in the marketing business so her tweets and other engagement of channels is her livelihood. The time commitment has to reflect the goals of being in the channel at all and there is no hard set formula for that.

    (@dorothybeach) RT AMEN @agardina: "Zappos dnt sell $1.2 billion in shoes b/c of twttr. They sold it b/c they changed their culture" @giovanni #ims09*

    Would a government and its leaders be on board with using these channels? You cannot have every post go through Legal review – it has to be as close to "real time" as you can get:

    (@dorothybeach) RT @ericdbrown: RT @sarahtsolomon:WHAT! @southwestair does not put every tweet thru legal. Rock it. #ims09

    Can your government accommodate to this social change? As with corporations, the man or woman at the top has to drive and champion cultural change or it won’t happen evenly across the enterprise.

  3. Question: There are any number of articles on the dos and don’ts of using social media. What are some tips you’d offer if somebody is thinking about how to leverage social media in their promotional plan? What are some watch outs that could lead to failure if not addressed?

    We covered some watch-outs in previous answers, such as only pushing out information and not engaging, having barriers for the employee(s) to leap before posting, not having resources if they have to handle complaints or negative press, not listening to what the audience is saying, not engaging with them in various ways, not understanding who the followers are and not trying to build a following. As in consumer research, a company has to listen before being able to provide the product the consumer wants.

    Twitalyzer is a good application to use to track how a Twitter account is doing over time. It measures Influence (tendency of people to pass on your information), clout(number of times people reference you), signal to noise ratio (passing on information), velocity (contribution rate), and generosity(number of retweets). I add to that the ration of numbers of followers to those that are followed, how many updates are made and how many of those are direct messages (email). Ideally one should see improvements in all of these factors. Unfortunately LinkedIn is not as transparent and is harder to assess progress with. However engagement can be done through group creation, such as creating one for "Business Opportunities in the State of Ohio". At the same time include participation in established groups such as OnStartups, Telecom Executives Business Network, Buckeye Alumni Network, OU Alumni, LinkedWorking Cleveland and many others.

    In the beginning of a Twitter account’s life, it can build followers fairly easily because many people follow people back if they are followed. So if the State of Ohio follows all Ohio citizens it can find on Twitter by searching through tweets (posts) and also through biographies( there are applications for this), it is likely the majority will follow back. However if the State of Ohio does not engage by direct messages, retweets (pat on the back) or replies, or its posts are not useful information then that following quickly drops off. It is easy to "unfollow" on Twitter! I do not know of research that has measured the effect of this drop in following but it can’t be good. There are other tools that can assess the popularity of posts and where they are coming from along with other analytics which I won’t go into here. Tools are continually coming out though, such as we saw during the #140tc (140 Twitter Conference):

    (@dorothybeach) RT @AccessibleTwitr: Citing twttr data mining tools #140tc

  4. Question: How can you tell if your investment in social media is working or not? Are there tell tale signs of success or failure that would be worth paying attention to?

    Certainly for a company it is pretty easy:

    (@dorothybeach): RT @mgiwebb1: BTW posting our (Hewitt) jobs directly to twitter drove 44% more passive candidates to our site directly. #TalentNet

    Zappos sold billions of dollars of shoes over the last three years through Twitter and Dell has made over a million dollars in product sales in 2008. Yet let’s look at their commitment: Dell has a VP of Social Media Communications that oversees all social media channel development, they have hundreds of employees tweeting for the brand, they have a number of accounts, each with its own purpose (sell product lines, post jobs, brand the company). Zappos’s CEO has his own account on Twitter and responds to all direct messages himself. Clearly their success was well planned and has a high level of upper management commitment.

    Telltale signs of a backlash would appear in the blogging stream. Someone has to monitor these comments and show increases versus decreases over time and the ration between them. Another sign is if the Twitalyzer tool shows marked changes.

  5. Question: Where do you see social media going? I just read an article that suggested baby boomers are leaving Facebook. Which tools will still be around long enough to warrant including in a promotional effort?

    Social media channels are in a continual evolution. Facebook used to be the realm of twenty-somethings several years ago but now has its fastest growing segment among women 55+. LinkedIn has always been the social media site of choice for professionals and had steady growth but didn’t really explode until this downturn. MySpace is declining – and who would have thought that would happen just a year ago? Twitter has been around since 2007 but now is experiencing logarithmic growth over the past six months and is projected to have 100 million users by the end of this year. Twitter is a good pointer to blog posts and other resources of information and is replacing emails and RSS feeds because it also acts a filter. YouTube is another exploding wave that might overtake all of them because of its ease of use, social media features of ranking and viral capability, and now new technology that will search images. YouTube video posts and real time chat as you find with Twitter I feel will hold up as the most popular venues for the near future. All of these channels have to be accessible through a smart mobile phone – the most common form of internet access in the world today. If the pages that these social media posts point to (like a website or blog) are not mobile accessible then that alone will guarantee failure of a business plan to use them.

  6. Question: If somebody wanted to keep current with your thinking on the topic of social media, what would the best way be?

    My personal approach on keeping current on a body of influence, whether it be science, consumer marketing or human resources is to listen and follow those directly and indirectly touching these spheres of influence. As a social media advocate and HR professional I follow professional organizations, authors and local market blogging about HR topics. I also follow various technology gurus, population sociologists, marketing and PR people and business strategists as well as recruiters and career coaches who watch the cutting edge. I document what they say to my blog that acts as a library but also as an educational resource for blog members who are mainly recruiters. All of my posts are tagged so they are searchable when needed. I continually follow social media conferences, for there you find new people to follow and learn of where the medium is going. I also do continuing research as to who is starting to blog on Twitter or Facebook that might be another expert to listen to. Social media growth means you constantly have to monitor what influencers will be on there.

    When you see a "star" or influencer on a social media channel, friend them, follow them or invite them to your network so that they can easily network with you. I am found in all channels but I spend most of my time on Twitter using @dorothybeach and LinkedIn using for my account.


^@dorothybeach is the handle in Twitter for the author.
~@missrogue is Tara Hunt, author and speaker at #140tc
*#IMS09 is the Inbound Marketing Summit taking place in Dallas May 2009.
**#140tc is 140 Twitter Conference taking place at Google HQ in Mountain View CA May 2009.

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