UNDERSTANDING THE NEW WORLD : Harnessing The Power Of Social Media

There have been 153 million blogs published since 2002. Did you write any?
Tourism New Zealand has in excess of 100,000 fans on Facebook. How many do you have?
There were an estimated seven million messages flying on Twitter last year. How many did you read?
Maybe your company has website, or you’re keeping up with friends on Facebook, or you’re updating your Linked In profile… but if you’re in business today, that’s just not enough, say the experts. You need to be thinking about social media on much bigger scale.
They say businesses need to see social media as communications and marketing tool, not just as pastime or way of keeping in touch with friends. When conversations are online, that’s where you need to be talking too.
But, they warn, there are risks with dipping your feet into the new media pool – managers need to accept that Twitter, Facebook and blogs demand levels of honesty never before seen in business communications, some of it intensely intrusive. But more on that later.

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In the United States, study by global PR company Burson-Marsteller found that 79 percent of the largest 100 companies in the Fortune Global 500 index are using social media tools. But New Zealand is still about year behind the United States in adopting social media in business, says American-born Auckland Social Media Club member Kevin Ptak. Social Media Club is ‘global network of local groups of people interested in social media and the changes it is having on the way we interact and do business’. He says the US is already moving on rapidly to the next step: using smart-phone technologies to connect to social media.
A Nielsen survey of 166 marketing professionals run by the Communications Agencies Association of New Zealand (CAANZ) showed most of those surveyed believed in the benefits of social media, for its ability to communicate directly with consumers, to deliver knowledge about what customers want and for increased brand engagement.
However, the survey showed 48 of the 166 were not on social media websites. Of those who were, the most popular was networking site Facebook (72), followed by online video site YouTube (52) with 50 on messaging site Twitter. There were 44 using professional network Linked In. And more than third of those surveyed said nobody was in charge of social media in their companies. Many companies that said they used social media had one lone staffer in charge.
One of the growing number of social media evangelists, CAANZ social media committee chairman Tony Gardner, says social media should be part of every company’s marketing and communications strategy.
“The number-one influence in the world for people making decisions is word of mouth. Social media is just magnified word of mouth. You have to accept that conversation has been happening for ever and social media is just revving up of it.”
Gardner, GM of Digital at Saatchi & Saatchi, sees Twitter, for example, as huge step forward in immediacy and engagement. It’s great method of listening to your customers, he says. “If the God of marketing and communications said ‘I can give you tool’, this would be it.”
According to Gardner, not only can it tell you what your customers are saying about you, you can ask groups of customers what they want directly, which is much cheaper than running focus groups – and it’s instant.
Motivational speaker Debbie Mayo-Smith sees social media as the new databases of the next decade. “If you do the job correctly – adding value, educating, having human voice, not being all ‘me, me, me’ – you build up large number of fans, followers, friends and connections. These are simply different names for your modern database.”

If your company is doing it, do you need to be too?
Probably yes, according to Forrester Research, an independent technology and market research company that provides advice to global leaders in business. CEO George Colony told the website www.Mashable.com: “You have new employees entering companies. They’re the Facebook generation. They’re saying, ‘Okay, I’m not joining this company until I see the CEO’s social profile…’ To have limited social profile, although it’s not logged into every week, lends legitimacy to that CEO.”
However, CEOs don’t need to be ‘social heavy’, says Colony. “I’m proposing there would be something called ‘social lite’, which says that the CEO can be social, but in different way, which is much less high-profile.” He suggests six to eight posts year on their blog, and between 12 and 24 short statements year – one or two tweets month.
Surprisingly 99 of the CAANZ survey companies said they did not have blog – something Nicholas O’Flaherty of the Auckland Social Media Club thinks is short-sighted. He believes blogs were initially taken up widely, but have fallen out of favour and many languish, not regularly updated.
But he thinks they are still extremely valuable as brand exercise and he often uses them in his work with businesses for his public relations company Bullet PR. Social media is no-brainer, he says. “You’re in competitive space. Customers are looking online to make purchasing decisions. Are your competitors there? Yes. Do you want to put wall between your company and major area where your customers are playing? No. That’s the start point.”
Marc Krisjanous, director of Wellington-based email service provider Mobilize Mail, aims to take down that wall, without companies having to put in the effort. Social media marketing is not effective alone, he says. He believes email marketing is much more effective than social media marketing, and estimates 40 percent conversion rate for leads, versus 16 percent for Facebook and 0.1 percent for Twitter.
After year researching social media and finding companies were spending too much time on too few leads, the company set up CampaignHub, division that offers social media solutions software to automatically generate presence on Facebook and Twitter, and to filter traffic for likely prospects. They then use email marketing to approach the leads. He says: “If 1000 people join your network, you’ll get 100 prospects, and out of that 100, you’ll get 30 golden prospects who will spend money with you.”

Early adopters
Some Kiwi companies are doing social media extraordinarily well, in fact, ahead of the pack globally. Deloitte’s New Zealand People and Performance Team won SOCRA international social recruiting award for using Facebook and Twitter to create following of over 1200 people for its graduate recruitment programme. The team used blogs, videos, online discussions and world first in recruitment: live and interactive video forums.
O’Flaherty and Gardner both cite rapidly growing telco Orcon, where call centre and sales staff have Facebook and Twitter pages open alongside email on their screens while they work. They offer advice and solutions in whichever medium their customer prefers, CEO Scott Bartlett says.
And Air New Zealand’s controversial Grabaseat ‘cougar’ campaign illustrates how effective viral YouTube campaigns can be. Although it was pulled after some complaints (and some compliments), CEO Rob Fyfe says he sees it as success. “It was controversial, but it increased our profile offshore; it got couple of million hits on YouTube. But we pulled it and I said, ‘We’re sorry if it offended you.’” He’s since used video message to the NZ Listener, www.dearlistener.co.nz to similar effect.
Fyfe says this “human-ness” is one of the traits Air New Zealand prides itself on and adds that 30 percent of feedback he gets comes via Facebook. “A number are staff and customers, but I have photos of my family on Facebook. I don’t isolate work and social life.”
Like Fyfe, to get the best out of social media, experts agree you need to scatter personal information, hobbies and business facts into the

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