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September 22, 2008
People Are Talking About Your Business Online – Are You Listening?

Social media gets a lot of hype. And, a lot deservedly so. But, relatively speaking, it is still new to most people in marketing communications. 

One of the biggest mistakes we can make in any service industry – and marketing communications is about service – is assuming. So, while I and other TalentZoo columnists have written about social media before, let’s get back to some 101-type information about social media, and why it’s important to pay attention to it.
What is Social Media?
Social media can take a variety of forms – and those types of forms increase every day. Blogs are the most recognizable type of social media. There’s also a wide variety of discussion boards. These tend to be focused by a subject, geography, industry, or any other category you want. They range from my local one of ToledoTalk.com to boards about beer or DIY home improvement, and many, many others.
There are also social and professional networks. Think MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn. Ning.com is a company that makes it easy for anyone to create their own social network, such as for a club, or other interest.
Photo and video sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, Viddler, Daily Motion and many others. These are sites where you can upload images and video, see others, comment, rate and share them. They’re also searchable by search engines.
There are also “microblogging” sites like Twitter, Plurk and Pownce. These sites allow you to publish snippets of what you’re doing, or share information to your network of friends or followers. Many of these sites also allow you share files and links.
Another example of social media are bookmarking and link sharing sites like Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon and countless others. Like the “favorite” feature on your browser, you can save links to a Web site accessible from any browser. Many services allow users to comment on links, rate them, and email them to others.
Other social media examples are social shopping sites like Wists and ThisNext. You can browse what other people have bought or recommend by product, geography or other categories.
And, those are just a handful of examples.
Social Media Growth
While still relatively new compared to more traditional means of marketing, social media definitely is not going away – and it’s increasing. Look at these cold, hard numbers:
·  77% of Inc. 500 companies are using at least one type of social media tool in 2008, according to a study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.
·  44% of Inc. 500 companies view social media as “very important” to their business/marketing strategy, according to the above study.
·    By 2010, advertising on U.S. business-to-business online social networks will reach $125 million, according to an August 2008 eMarketer.com report. That figure will grow to $210 million by 2012.
·    More than 50% of U.S. adults are using text messaging, blogging and other types of social media to regularly communicate with others, according to Universal McCann’s “Media in Mind” tracking study.
·    According to a January 2008 study by the Aberdeen Group (“Social Media Monitoring and Analysis: Generating Consumer Insights from Online Conversation”), Best in Class companies are 5 times more likely than Laggards to be “extremely satisfied” with the number of actionable insights derived from social media monitoring and analysis.
Don’t Forget to Think Local
You don’t have to have national markets to consider social media marketing. It can be used whether your market is national or local. Using social media monitoring tools, I found many examples of Northwest Ohio companies or organizations with a tie to the area mentioned in or use social media. Let’s look at some examples:
·    A Toledo, Ohio, native who lives out of the area, according to his Flickr profile, posted a photo of Takacs Grocery & Meats, an East Toledo store – with a great review.
·    On Newsvine, a Northwest Ohio man posted an excerpt of and a link to an article about Libbey Glass’ efforts to build a green supply chain.
·    A well-known East Toledo sporting good store, Reddish Contact Sports has its own MySpace page that focuses not only on its products, but also on community events.
What Do You Do?
I’m not a fan of the “one-size-fits-all” marketing philosophy. Not every company needs to advertise. Not every company needs to use coupons. And, not every company needs to be active in social media marketing (that is, responding to discussion board and blog posts).
But, every company needs to monitor online conversations. People are talking about your company offline and online. Other than ‘phone tapping, there is little we can do offline. However, there are services available for online monitoring. Some are free. Some are not.
At the very least, set up a Google Blog Search alert and have Google scour blogs for your company name. It’s free and you can have results sent to your inbox.
If you want more far-reaching searches, analysis and recommendations on how to respond, either hire a professional or explore what personnel and financial resources are available to establish or expand your public relations department.
Whatever path you choose, be aware that your company is being talked about – whether you’re listening or not.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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