Soc Med 4 Biz Innit

I recently chaired the Social Media for Business conference, aka Soc Med 4 Biz if you want to get down with the kids. As well as chairing I joined in with the live tweeting (#sm4bconf) and captured the tweets and presentations in Storify; I donned my “googles” and spent the day fully immersed in social media. The conference was well received by the audience of wide-eyed (rabbit in the headlights) construction industry professionals, all wondering what this soc med stuff is all about and if it is of any use in business or just another bandwagon. So much so that the organisers are planning a second conference this autumn.

The aim here is for me to blog, what our American cousins call, the takeaways. What were the practical and most useful outcomes of the conference that I can just get on with. I do not profess to being a social media expert, rather an enthusiastic user, so what I spout here is simple regurgitation of things that the speakers said that made good sense to me and that I can remember.

My motivation to write this blog came from the Berkhamsted 360 local business network and support group. They invited me to make a short summary presentation of the conference. I’ve always considered myself more of an informational speaker rather than an inspirational one, something I am working on with Toastmasters. But the enthusiastic response from the Berkhamsted 360 audience, and the fact that I inspired some to create LinkedIn profiles and open Twitter accounts, encourages me that I am on the right track. Perhaps I finally pitched the presentation at the right level for the audience. So please encourage these guys in their social media endeavours and look out for the #berko360 hashtag on Twitter. I was going to post my presentation on SlideShare, but to be honest I have just plagiarised the speakers slides so it’s better you view their presentations on Storify or the event website to prevent copyright suits against me.

We were treated to a session on blogging by Neil Usher (@workessence). The session was actually about how to write good prose, whether it be a blog, journal article, news column or speech etc. Neil guided us through: idea, title, humour, reality, story, angle, self-deprecation, challenge, and end. I learned enough to know I am neglecting most of his guidance in this blog and I can only apologise. I did like that he suggested instilling a sense of “British humour” and self-deprecation into a realistic and credible story. My concern is that I can’t find an angle or challenge to this blog, but I promise it will have a proper ending rather than just fade out (the biggest music copout as Neil put it). I also note this is my first blog for over a month whereas Neil suggested “saying you do not have time to blog is not a valid excuse … by blogging we write ourselves into existence“.

The speakers who topped and tailed the conference, Andrew Gerrard (@andrewgerrard) and Bernie Mitchell (@BernieJMitchell), focussed on social media marketing strategies. They made the point that there are many many social media platforms out there (I am on ten, woo hoo) but social media is not simply about the tools or technology (oh bollocks). No social media is about connecting people and business. Apparently Jeff Dachis, CEO of the Dachis Group a social marketing company, postulated “All of the web is becoming social; all business is done on the web; all business will be Social Business. Beyond influence and media, the real opportunities lie in creating a more collaborative, dynamic and connected business”. Andrew showed an image (left) of outside the Vatican at the pope’s inauguration in 2005 and at the more recent one to illustrate how, thanks to cheap(ish) smart phone technology, everyone has a voice and is connected globally in real time. He also quoted Vivek Badrinath, the CEO Orange, as saying “You can’t expect employees to look at email at 11pm … but try stop them looking at Facebook at 11am”. So basically, we can’t ignore social media as a marketing platform as its reach is huge.

Another key point that both Andrew and Bernie made is that most of us probably tinker with social media rather than treat it as a serious marketing tool. Andrew told us it needs a marketing strategy “goaloriented and informed by good old-fashioned business principles and tactics … social media will not benefit your business unless you are prepared to plan and allocate time and resources to ensuring it meets your business objectives e.g. signups, sales, contributions, user actions, affiliations”. The first step is to understand whether you are marketing business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) as this will dictate the best social media platforms i.e. Facebook is more B2C.

Bernie went on to inform us all of “inbound marketing”. Outbound marketing is lazy marketing involving the occasional email, mailshot or handing out leaflets at trade fairs. “Hi, I’m Brad give me your business card and have a toffee” or “Would you like our brochure … yep, that’s another great lead!” were his examples of lazy marketing. In contrast, inbound marketing is about creating a credible profile, offering free useful information and building a community or network, such that your customers come to you and your website. Bernie sees marketing as conversations and he uses social media as a means of getting in front of people.

I asked the speakers to comment on how much time should be spent on social media, what’s the Return on Investment, but in hindsight that’s like asking how much time should be spent on marketing. I reckon I spent around 15 minutes a day on work–related social media activity, equivalent to say £6K per annum. It’s generated a few leads and raised my profile but generated no income to date. I still think it’s worthwhile as I get invite to speak at conferences which puts me in front of potential clients and also, via tweeter, my presentations go out to much larger global audiences.

Furthermore, most my social media activity is in downtime, on the train or in the bath, so doesn’t cost me anything really – my advice is get the social media apps and use your downtime more productively. On the other hand, a couple of the speakers were adamant that social media generated £10K to £30K per annum of income for them – but by offering social media consultancy! My wife organises conferences, including Social Media for Business, and was inspired at the conference to do more marketing via LinkedIn – she gained four paying conference delegates for around 30 minutes effort so not a bad ROI.

Su Butcher (@subutcher) gave us an excellent informative and practical insight to LinkedIn; I recommend going to one of her full-day training session’s on social media. Su told us that she will talk about people rather than technology, as people are the building blocks of LinkedIn. Su describes LinkedIn as the Yellow Pages for the internet generation but much large – it has 200M members worldwide with 11.5M in the UK (and ~0.5M in the UK construction industry). She warns that LinkedIn is not a substitute for your real-life network and it will never take the place of meeting people. However, she continues, LinkedIn can expand you real-life network and the people in your real-life network you are connected to on LinkedIn are more valuable to you. A key principle of LinkedIn is “degrees of separation”. For example, I have 777 connections on LinkedIn but those people’s connections give me access to nearly 200,000 people as secondary connections. I can use the referral system to get my connections to make an introduction to theirs – it’s a warm introduction rather than a cold call.

LinkedIn has a much higher SEO score than your website and it has around 8M visits per month compared to say 20K on a typical website. It is important that your headline (the bit of blurb under your name) has a good description of you, rather than just your title, as this is what appears in Google and other search engines. It is also important to include the right key words in your title and bio so that searches on the web and within LinkedIn can find you. Regularly updating your status is also key, and not just for promoting to your own connections. If a connection likes your status update or comments on it then it appears on their page, so they are in effect marketing on your behalf.

Paul Wilkinson (@EEPaul) started his session on Twitter with some factoids: 500M users worldwide of which 28% are active, some 4,600 tweets per sec, UK has 4th largest tweeting fraternity with 32M accounts (50% of UK population) of which 11M are active. Of the main social media platforms, Twitter appears to be growing most rapidly mostly due to mobile devices with apps. Paul gave us some good reasons for using Twitter but I am going to be bold here and list my own reasons:
  • engage in real-time on-line conversations
  • early insight and keep abreast of breaking news
  • share knowledge globally, invite comments, interact
  • find new contacts, build network/community
  • proactive customer service and updates
  • generate leads and website traffic

One thing I really like about Twitter is the global reach. At the Workplace Trends conference there were around 200 delegates present but the tweets reached around 50,000 people. I have made many good connections on Twitter, it has introduced me to several valuable networks and I have even received a Request for Proposal via Twitter. Paul recited some research which found that whilst social media sites only currently account for around 5% of B2B traffic, Twitter out-performs LinkedIn and Facebook when it comes to generating leads.

Paul provided some good practical advice on gaining followers, which I have tweaked:
  • create an interesting and useful profile
  • search via key words and follow the followers of peers
  • use hashtags including “Friend Friday” (#FF)
  • offer interesting and useful tweets
  • interact and don’t just broadcast
  • retweet (RT) but RT with a comment
  • target tweets so they appeal to your target market
  • add your twitter handle to your website, business cards, email etc
  • include a Tweeter feed on your website
  • start blogging and tweet your blogs
  • use filtering tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite to track key words

It wasn’t all good news regarding social media and Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) took us through some of the pitfalls and gave examples of when social media (usually Twitter) goes bad. My favourite example was Starbucks – they provided Twitter walls in their coffee shops over the Christmas period and asked customers to tweet with the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer, to which the responses included “pay your f’ing tax” and “tax dodging mofo’s”. But Doug reported more serious and harmful social media fails. Doug explained that such social media failures were actually basic human error, business stupidity and marketing failures. The social media platform just makes such errors public more quickly (which is the advantage to social media marketing when it is done well). A case of don’t shoot the messenger, even if fit is an annoying little blue bird. One of my IT friends always says “don’t put anything on Twitter or Facebook that you wouldn’t say in a face to face conversation or write in a newspaper”.

So now for my big challenging finish as instructed by @workessence. Well I wanted to say: at minimum if you are not on LinkedIn or Tweeter then do so immediately and give social media marketing a good go. But the chances are that if you are not already on any social media platforms you won’t be aware of this blog. So it looks like I am going to have to make a few phone calls and do some real-life networking – however I promise not to collect your business card in return for toffees.

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