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How marketers can best engage in social media marketing

How marketers can best engage in social media marketing

By Michael Goldrich, Director of Global Web Services and e-Commerce, Dolce Hotels and Resorts.

The most common mistakes marketers make when approaching social media is forgetting that social media is about relationships.  Social media marketing is an extensive two-way conversation that yields what you commit to it.

Social media seems intimidating to marketers.  Therefore, believing you need social media experts to help you reach your audience is another common mistake of marketers.  You may need someone to show you how to setup your social media account and give you the basics.

But to reach your customer base properly, you have to be willing to begin the relationship courtship.  To be truly successful in the long run, this can’t be outsourced.

Another common mistake is social media marketing is forgetting about the power of keyword and SEO.  Twitter and Facebook are indexed by the search engines.  Therefore, the content is available to people searching.  Failing to leverage relevant keywords in social media is a large lost opportunity for marketers.  Essentially, you are leaving money on the table.

The last common mistake is treating social media as traditional marketing.  Marketers think in terms of the Five P’s of marketing: product, promotion, path, pricing, packaging.  However, there is a fundamental shift now to the Five C’s for marketing in terms of social media marketing: connectivity, conversations, credibility, collaboration and community.

You can see the shift of the C’s to the social aspect.  Connectivity is as simple as being on the Internet.  This can be either through Facebook and Twitter or through an Internet application.  Conversation is the online dialog between the marketer and the audience. 

Credibility is a key component because it transforms the conversation into a deeper relationship.  Collaboration is achieved once the marketer is deemed credible and viewed as a viable resource.  Community is the ultimate goal in social media.  Community is achieved when a series of collaborations establish the marketer as a social media resource in the mind of the user.

1. Getting your house in order.

Each brand needs to understand its core values before embarking on social media campaigns.  Core values should be simplified by narrowing them down to a series of three to four words.  These words should be the test to make sure all brand communications properly represent the brand image. 

Advertising and marketing should be framed within the context of these words to ensure a connection with the audience.  For example, Dolce Hotels and Resorts uses the following three words to represent its core values: nourishment, connectivity and community.

Senior leadership must buy in to the company’s social media approach.  I created the following Social Media Manifesto for Dolce that was shared with our management team and properties: “To create a virtual community filled with rich content through the interconnection of our brand and all of our properties to each other and key social media applications that will drive brand awareness, revenue and increased profitability.”

2. The best way to strike up a conversation with users

The best way to start a conversation is to encourage users to initiate one.  While this may seem like an oxymoron, I believe the best way is to have users seek you out.  To put this as a real world example, say you are an expert on hotels and you are at a cocktail party. =

You don’t go up to people talking about hotels.  Rather, you talk to people and if they ask you a question about hotels, you start talking about hotels.  Now, people in the party may see you and overhear your conversation.

At this point, they may stand next to you quietly as you talk to the group.  At some point, someone might pipe in with a question that you can answer.  The same concept applies to social media.  The trick is to be where people are that might be interested in your topic.  Also, you need to conceptualize that you are at this virtual cocktail party that you never leave.

Then when you are in that place or other places, you must participate and be a resource to others.  The shear fact of being a resource will make you a person that people will want to know and will seek out  to start a conversation.

3. How to build rapport and trust to encourage engagement

Building rapport and trust goes hand in hand with building and sustaining relationships with the virtual community.  As in any relationship, you only get out of it what you put into it.  Moreover, you must remember that while you cannot control online conversations, you can influence them.  This influence is the bedrock upon which your economically viable relationships will be built.

How do you influence the conversation?  If you think of the traditional marketing funnel of: awareness, consideration, preference, action, loyalty, the conversation is happening in the middle of the funnel.

Therefore, the marketer needs to be where people are talking about their products and listen.  The marketer has an opportunity to disclose key pieces of information about the product and address issues quickly before they can become viral in a negative fashion.

The marketer can also create a location where people can congregate to discuss the product.  Whether this is a blog, website, facebook page.  The most important issue is to constantly be listening and then speaking without lecturing or shouting.

Forester addresses this issue of influence as well. They define the ingredients that influence conversations as the Four Pillars: 1) communication (It’s all about electronic conversations!); 2) collaboration (We will participate in and leverage the collective wisdom of the online community); 3) education (We will share our expertise in hotels & meetings with the online community); and 4) entertainment (We will make our content interesting and compelling).

4. How to manage the dialogue

We have several tools that can show a filtered view of all comments and posts on online travel agencies (OTAs), Facebook and Twitter.  These tools such as SearchView or Revinate allows us to see how a property compares to the competitive set.  Revinate collects every review, news story, blog post, photo, video and social media mention of your hotel. Everything is presented in a single, intuitive dashboard, accessible anytime via your web browser.

Tools help us listen and join the conversation, but you need a resource to take action.
Therefore, at Dolce Hotels and Resorts, we have designated a Social Media Mayor at each property who is responsible for communicating what’s new and exciting at their property and in their local community. 

The mayor is the true insider.  They are a great resource of information and love to share this information.  We hold weekly global meetings of the Mayors to address best practices.  We firmly believe that the sum of our Mayors working together and supporting each other is greater than them working solo.

5. How  best to respond to negative comments?

Negative comments are a double-edged sword.  However, you frequently can turn a negative into a positive.  The majority of the audience understands everything is not perfect and things sometimes go wrong.  How a company deals with things that go wrong shows the true character and value of the company.

The first step is to acknowledge the negative comment.  Second, the issue should be investigated to determine whether it has merit.  Third, the company should respond on two levels -- publicly online and privately to the individual by e-mail about the steps that are being made to improve the experience in the future.  If a company responds diligently to negative comments, users will be more likely to judge the company by balancing posted positive and negative comments.

6. How to assess the marketing effectiveness of social media channels

We track a series of metrics to determine the effectiveness of the social media channels.  Each factor helps us gauge how well we are doing in the social media arena.  We understand that social media is new and engage is “trial and error” until we determine what sticks.  The metrics help us determine what is and is not sticking.

For Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook we have established the following four levels of evaluation 1) Increase fan/follower base from baseline;  2) Increase existing fan/follower interaction (comments, likes, retweets, e-mails); 3) Organic search (the number of times the property appears in search engines as a result of the social media content being indexed for each property’s100 keywords); 4) Traffic sent to property Web site (brand awareness) or directly to the booking path (revenue) as a result of social media.

7. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter…. What’s next?

Social media is here to stay, but the platforms we currently use will continue to change.  Facebook has lost its cool factor with young users as it went mainstream.  Furthermore, as parents and grandparents go online “friend” their children/grandchildren, post on their walls, Facebook loses some of its allure as a “secret haven” for youth.

On top of this demographic shift, more and more companies are establishing Facebook sites because, to paraphrase Willy Sutton, “that’s where the users are.”  This influx of businesses creates an invisible tension between Facebook users and companies.  Facebook was conceived as a tool to enable users to socialize.  Users are not there to shop.  Therefore, businesses should take a very soft approach with this community lest they alienate them.

When another application comes along that will allow the youth to connect, share without the prying eyes of their family and business, they will migrate away, just as MySpace lost part of its audience to Facebook.  For a social media marketer, the challenge is to stay on the pulse of the youth and identify the next great application and be a first mover.

Twitter continues to be integrated into Web applications to allow a two-way communication between marketers and users.  YouTube will evolve as the production quality of videos improves. YouTube’s success may lure audiences away from traditional broadcast and cable television programs.

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