Online social media marketing: Don't make people come to you, go where they hang out
Wake up and good morning. The marketing panel last night before a packed room of 300 at Tampa's Quorum Hotel was a great primer about how diverse companies are trying to market themselves online. But it should have been called: Everything You Wanted To Know About Online Social Media... But Were Afraid To Ask.
Pretty cool people talking about pretty cool and quickly morphing ways for companies and businesses to be a compelling piece of the online social world. We're talking about businesses taking themselves where hundreds of millions of people spend online time: Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn, and company blogs like GM's FastLane just to name a few.
Panelists ranged from Christopher Barger (see photo), director of global social media at General Motors (how to reintroduce GM after bankruptcy) and Diane Chang of Google (how to make "Search" functions work for you) and to Shiven Ramji, vp of online solutions at Nielsen Media Research (if you can't measure your online work, why bother?) to our own local and nonprofit Florida Aquarium pr/marketing chief Tom Wagner (ways to get folks online to help market your cool ocean stuff for free). The event was held by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. Kevin Hourigan of Tampa's Bayshore Solutions moderated the panel and reminded us that Facebook alone has 300 million users (and rising) -- which is about the size of the entire U.S. population.
Let's distill a couple hours of good commentary and corporate strategy:
* Barger: He has to immerse GM into the online world following the biggest corporate bankruptcy in history. His No. 1 suggestion? Listen. Don't lecture and don't just throw ads at people online. Control of the GM brand, like all brands, is shifting from the marketer to the public, Barger says. "They are more in control of GM's brand than I am." Go outside the box (meaning GM's own Web site and even GM blogs), he advises. "Go where the conversations are happening. Don't wait." The ability online to reach individual people, not just GM customers but its critics, really matters -- and it's possible with interaction on social media sites.
* Chang: She characterized the online world as one of "instant gratification" in which people can blog and tweet their personal views, buy stuff they want, get information they need, listen to music they like and watch movies. And it is quickly migrating away from the stationary PC to mobile devices like the iPhone and Razr. Her advice to companies? Always be "on" so people can access what you offer at any time in any way. And "experiment," she says, but always be able to measure the success of those efforts.
* Ramji: Know your online audience. Facebook may be dominated by younger users, but older adults now are its fastest growing segment, he says. As for Twitter, "teens do not tweet" so that's not the platform to reach them. Pay attention to the trend and opportunity of more people watching TV and being online at the same time. Being from Nielsen, he was the panelist's reality check. If you cannot measure your success online, how do you know anything is working?
* Wagner: Tampa's Florida Aquarium has no marketing budget (yet) for online social networks but that does not stop Wagner. He listened and learned online for awhile then peppered Facebook and Twitter with fun facts about the ocean with links to the Aquarium. Then, despite resistance from above, he organized a "tweet-up"(a gathering of Twitter users) with free admission at the Florida Aquarium so people could experience various exhibits. It was not perfect but everyone who came put their views on Twitter. And the ten people with the greatest number of Twitter followers reached a potential audience of 125,000. Not bad for no online marketing budget.
I've only scratched the surface of rich ideas of a quality panel. As was admitted throughout the evening, what they said Wednesday in Tampa will become outdated by the speed of digital change very soon. But you gotta start somewhere.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist