June 2, 2009

Reflections and Observations from the Burlington Vermont Social Media Breakfast

The below two posts titled, “What I Learned from CC Chapman at the BVT SMB” and “What I Learned from Todd Defren at the BVT SMB” are my notes of the key talking points that were presented to the group of communicators at Burlington’s first Social Media Breakfast.

There was a ton of great information about how social media can be used to help businesses communicate, build a brand community and provide a tool for two way communication.

Social media has become a hot topic in Vermont over the past few months. Click here for a PDF presentation about the changing landscape of online public relations that was developed by myself and Pat Heffernan and was presented on May 15, 2009 at the Women Business Owners Network annual conference (WBON). This presentation gives a good explanation about what is going on in the world of public relations and how online news distribution is changing. It goes nicely with the notes provided in earlier posts from the Burlington VT Social Media Breakfast.

Amongst all the discussions of how and why to use social media there are two important topics that are not being mentioned in conjunction with social media.

The first is ethical behavior that should be followed when engaging in social media and the second, my personal favorite, is the innovation that social media has the potential to create.

1.) Social Media Ethics:
When we get right to the point of what social media offers, it is quite simple – word of mouth marketing (communication). Over the last few years, companies like Kmart and Wal-Mart have been paying for bloggers and other social media players to sing their praise within the social media lexicon.

This may indicate that social media experts, agencies and practitioners are not following ethical guidelines. It may also indicate that clear guideline are not developed. Addisiojntlly, it also tells us that everyone is confused about the ethical standards that should be followed when engaging in social media.

Since social media is a tool to help facilitate word of mouth marketing (communication) it is clear that practitioners should be following a code of ethics. One such Code of Ethics has been set fourth by WOMMA.

Finally, anyone engaging in social media communication should be transparent and genuine in what they are say online. If they are being paid, there should be a disclaimer on each post. As stated by Todd Defren at the Burlington Social Media Breakfast, “authenticity and reputation is everything” in the world of social media communication.

Paid posts should be treated the same way an advertorial is treated. END OF STORY!

2.) Innovation:
Another aspect that I am not hearing much about is the fact that social media creates a community of "brand lovers" and "brand haters." Both are good and neither should be ignored. For the first time in the history of communication we have the ability to literally record every conversation about our product of service. As CC Chapman says, “people love to talk online.”

The online technology and tools behind social media allow for every conversation to be monitored, wharehoused and analyzed.

For a moment, let’s step out of our mind set of the corporate communications officer. Yes social media creates innovative ways to communicate, but beyond that it creates digital focus groups that are filled with product and service INNOVATION.

What, did he say INNOVATION? Yes that is correct. Can you say product development, quality control and engineering?

For many companies that engage in social media, the information that is gathered is mainly used to help shape their communication, marketing and public relations strategy. However, there is loads of data about specific products or services that those social communicators (a.k.a customers and clients) are talking about. If you are savvy, you are also simultaneously paying attention and gathering data (conversations) about what is being said about your competitors.

This information is extremely valuable to product designers, engineers, quality control officers and service providers. Part of every social media campaign should have a section that explains what to do with all the data once collected. It should include what other departments need access to that data and who is responsible for analyzing that data.

After the conference, I briefly chatted with Todd Defren about how product or service innovation is incorporated into their client’s social media strategy. Todd mentioned that they mainly focus on how to innovate the way a client communicates, but he left me with the following example of how one client used the data to create product innovation:

Todd spoke of a client that he had worked with in the past to build a social media campaign. This client was a manufacturer of receipt scanners. Aside from using the data to improve their communication efforts, they took it upon themselves to analyze the data that they collected about their receipt scanner and used it to enhance their current product through incremental product innovation.

Can you say brilliant!

The above example highlights how smart companies can create product or service innovation by using the data collected when engaging in social media.

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