Making Sense of Social Media – Take Two

The last post on making sense of social media generated a lot of interest.  What I found most rewarding were the emails that said the post made the reader think differently about social media.

I am continuing the discussion for two reasons.

First, there is a lot of learning about effective word-of-mouth or viral marketing that can help you better understand how to create an effective social media program.  This is knowledge that should not be forgotten or ignored.

Second, since I wrote the last post, I have reviewed no less than six new presentations and downloaded two white papers on the keys to social media success.  None of them addressed historical knowledge on what works and what doesn’t work.  And all of them made you feel like if you don’t invest in a social media program you are somehow missing out on a low cost and effective way to communicate with your target audience.  The truth is that maybe you are missing out on a great tactic, but maybe you’re not.

To determine if social media is right for your communication mix, there are two simple questions I advise economic development professionals to answer:

  1. Who are you trying to communicate with?
  2. Do they use social media tools to get information about communities for potential capital investment?

If your target audience isn’t engaged in social media use to get information about locations, then it is not a smart investment for you to make.

Here is an admittedly “out there” analogy to help make the point.

If a magazine for surfing enthusiasts offered you an 80% discount on a full-page advertisement for your community, would you invest part of your limited promotional budget in placing an advertisement?  Chances are you would decline because the readership of the magazine is unlikely to have sufficient reach among your target audience to warrant running an advertisement in it at any cost.  It would be a bad investment at 100% of the cost and a bad investment at 10% because nobody in your target audience would be exposed to it.  It is a bad investment at any cost.

To be fair, if you were a company selling wetsuits it would be a great buy.

The surfing magazine scenario is easy to see, because the decision is not obscured by hyperbole positioning advertising in surfing magazines as a revolutionary new way to create a meaningful dialogue with members of your target audience.

The decision to invest in a social media effort is just as easy to make if you answer the two questions above.  If your target does not use social media tools to get information about communities for capital investment, then no need for you to invest your limited budget dollars in a social media initiative.

If you conclude that your target audience does use social media tools, then the lessons of PyroMarketing authored by Greg Stielstra (another great book in my personal library) will help you ensure a positive return on investment.

Stielstra provides a four-step model to create evangelists who will proactively advocate for a product.  I’ve taken the liberty to interpret the model for reapplication in place branding.  Hopefully, you’ll find Stielstra’s model thought provoking.

Gather the driest tinder: “Focus your promotions on those people most likely to buy, benefit from, and then enthusiastically endorse your product or service. They are the only ones whose ignition temperature is within reach of your advertising. They light easily and burn hot. The driest tinder is where word-of-mouth wild fires begin.”

Who represents the driest tinder in economic development?

One group are the executives and employees who love living and working in your community. These people cannot help but share their positive experience with others.  They enjoy being Ambassadors for your community.  The only thing holding them back from having an even larger positive impact on your community’s image is that they don’t have a way to reach more people.

Another group are people who have had a great experience in your community and may have moved away.  These people reminisce about the “old days”.  When they are asked about your community, their eyes light up and the positive stories start to flow.

Touch it with the match: “To the extent you can, give people an experience with your product or service. If you want people to laugh, don’t tell them you’re funny, tell them a joke. Experience is the shortcut to product understanding. It touches people deeply and generates more heat than advertising, igniting even the mildly interested.”

If you selected people that have had experience with your community, create a unique experience for them.  Chances are they’re not fully aware of all the reasons your community is a great location choice for capital investment.  Help them understand what you are trying to accomplish, why it is important to the economic prosperity of your community and explain the important role they can play to positively impact the future.  If they see the vision and are adequately energized, their genuine enthusiasm for your community will cause them to want to pitch in and help you.

Fan the flames: Fanning the flames means giving people tools to help them spread your message throughout their social network. People spread messages more effectively than advertising. The fire is hotter than the match. This is why the process that spreads your marketing message must be different than the one by which it began. Leveraging the power of personal influence is the only way to expand your marketing fire beyond its point of origin (the driest tinder and mildly interested) to the masses. By understanding the process you can equip people with tools to exponentially increase their reach and influence.”

It is important to make certain the social media tools you invest in are easy to use to tell the story of your community.  You need to constantly educate your tinder on reasons to believe the points you want communicated about your community.  Provide real world examples and storylines that can easily be repeated.  And, you need to be clear in your direction.  For example – “Please retweet this message so your followers can read this great article about our community.”

Save the Coals: Saving the coals means keeping a record of the people you encounter through your marketing so you can quickly and easily reach them to fan the flames or to tell them about new products that match their interests. This allows your marketing to build equity and keep pace with the needs of your growing business.”

You need to create and maintain a database of people who love your community and are willing share their enthusiasm.  You need to talk to these people routinely and make them feel as special as they really are to the success of your program.  These are the people you want to keep as informed as possible.  Do special things periodically to let them know they are loved.

One company I think does an excellent job at saving the coals is Makers Mark.  This is one of the brands that have achieved lovemark status in my mind.  Their Ambassador program is extremely well done.  I have enjoyed their email, snail mail, small gifts, shared cask ownership program, sponsored events, and distillery tours.  You may enjoy studying their Ambassador program in order to get ideas for potential reapplication.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Senior Ambassador for Markers Mark.  I love the program (and product).

Next week, I am going to blog about the learnings from BuzzMarketing authored by Mark Hughes.

In the meantime, I would like to hear about your experience in using social media to communicate your community’s promise.  What have you found works best?  What are the constraints you’ve discovered?  What advice would you give colleagues?  What examples would you recommend people research?  Are there differences in application between countries?

Leave a comment on this post.  Your perspective adds to the educational experience and will help advance the practical understanding of this topic.  Forward this to a friend.  If you are on Facebook, become a fan.  If you are on LinkedIn, join the Group.  If you are Twitter, please tweet about this blog post and start following Brand America.

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