The Trade Show Lesson: Using Traditional Marketing to Learn About Social Media

I attended a great presentation yesterday that was put on by The Essex Group at the GNHCC.  The topic of the presentation was Secrets to Trade Show Success.  To most in my age group, this topic may not spark much interest, and I would be lying if I said I couldn’t sleep the previous night in anticipation of attending the meeting.

However, thanks in part to the presenter, I became very interested in the business of trade shows, and the planning and effort that goes in to a few hours or a few days of promotion.  The lessons that were covered ranged from body language and tone to set up and booth location.  When the meeting was over I was able to go through some of the information that was provided and relate it to my line of work, social media.

There were some keywords that I took out of the presentation, and I am going to explain how they are significant to online networking (social media strategy) and offline networking (trade shows in this case).

Goals

Before you decide to enter the new media world you need to make sure that you have goals set, and you are not just jumping in with no idea what you want to gain from the work you put in.  In trade shows it is a similar situation.  You need to decide why you are there, do you want new customers, do you need market research, or are you there to introduce a  new product or service.

The key here is to set your goals and determine your message based on those goals.

Preparation

The main difference between trade shows and social media is the amount of time you should take to plan for the event.  The Essex Group recommended that planning takes between 6 and 9 months, and can take even longer for some shows.  If the preparation time to implement social media take that long you will start way behind the current trends.

There were some strong similarities in the preparation however.  These included the importance of budgeting, staff selection, and training.   From a budgeting perspective, though most tools in social media are inexpensive, there are costs involved if you want to do a good job, and do it right.  Staff selection and training are both an important part of branding online and offline.  Your company’s brand is tied directly to whomever is representing you, so making sure you have the right people and they have the skills necessary is worth the time or cost you put into it.

Engagement

The engagement at a trade show is literally shaking hands, smiling, and making eye contact.  Online engagement however, is a little different.  Online, companies need to make an effort to build conversations around topics important to their brand.  Companies also need to be prepared to respond to discussions about them that are going on everywhere online.

The Essex Group made a great point about engagement, and one that I could relate to.  They explained the importance of the Killer question.  The Killer question is that one question that will draw people in and encourage them to speak with you.  This works online as well, and the power of it online can create successful viral campaigns.

Follow Up

The follow up at trade shows is comprised of qualifying leads and sending out information that you may have promised them, or that they may have requested.  Online it is similar, but there are more opportunities here.  Qualifying candidates can be done in advance by finding them first, and then placing your brand and your information in front of them on a regular basis.  This can also lead to relationship building, and engagement.  The follow up is the most important part of the networking, and doing this online using CRM tools can make that process easier and more organized.

These are just a few connections I found between trade shows and social media strategies.  There is a much longer list that includes; contests, incentives, and measurement.

As someone that has little experience working the set up and execution of a trade show booth, I believe there is a lot to learn from the traditional ways of marketing, and there are many common themes with new media marketing today.

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Press Release: New Haven-Based Social Media Team Takes Integration to the Next Level

New Haven-Based Social Media Team Takes Integration to the Next Level

Connecticut agency embraces the direct channels of social media

NEW HAVEN, Conn., (Nov. 4, 2009) – The public relations industry is changing the way businesses connect with people. More than ever, it is imperative for business leaders to recognize that conversations about their brands, products and services are occurring with or without their participation. In the digital age, social media is an essential part of a complete, integrated brand marketing strategy.

From public relations to traditional advertising, Mason provides social media strategy and services before, during and after the start of the program. Mason’s social media team includes Dan Healy, Derek Beere and Neil Johnson.

Dan Healy, Manager, New Media, works with clients to first conduct a social media analysis by identifying where conversations in their industries are occurring, who the influencers of those conversations are and how visible any competitors may be.

Derek Beere, Brand Supervisor, successfully integrates social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in social media conversations as a means of further targeting his clients’ campaigns. Beere seizes opportunities that social media offers through his research.

Neil Johnson, Manager, Interactive & New Media Design, designs e-marketing programs to support to online activity developing original and functional design solutions for a wide range of applications.

“Mason provides a closed-loop program, and we take integration to the next level,” said Francis Onofrio, APR, executive vice president, Mason, Inc. “With our social media expertise, we help clients build better relationships with their constituents and make it easy for them to participate in conversations where they previously did not have a voice or understand the rules of engagement.”

Onofrio added that as a full-service agency with a specialty in brand development, integrating social media into a public relations, new media and traditional advertising campaign is essential. “Social media is a critical channel to connect your brand with people, and it provides you with an opportunity to create a community among your brand. Its direct communication value goes beyond traditional marketing campaigns.”

New Haven, Conn.-based Mason, Inc. provides clients with strategic communication programs including marketing communication planning, public relations, advertising, interactive services, and promotions. Mason clients include Acadia Insurance Co., the Connecticut Sun, Yale-New Haven Hospital, The United Illuminating Co., Hospital for Special Care, Kardea Nutrition, Odyssey Logistics & Technology and Enthone, Inc. Please visit http://www.mason23.com or http://www.masononofrio.com/blog.

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The Key to a Successful Facebook Fan Page: Goals and Strategy

Here at Mason, Inc. we are getting our Facebook Fan Page started and beginning to promote it.

Because we believe in practicing what you preach, and an effective social media strategy is something we preach often, we knew that we needed to go into this with goals and of course, a strategy. We want to point out a few initial goals we set, and outline our process of getting there.

(Basic) Goals:

– Get 100 fans in the first week
– Update the page at minimum 3 times daily
– Provide useful content
– Make the page a point of contact
– Represent the Mason, Inc. brand appropriately

You will see that these are just the basic goals that were put into place while starting our fan page.

We will look at the page in about two weeks, review its progress, and identify any changes and/or improvements we should make. At that point, we will also reassess our goals and put more realistic long-term goals in place.

Our strategy for the initial page launch addressed a few key points that would lead to its success. I want to share what two of them were and how they were put into action.

Content is King:

First, and most importantly, we wanted to make sure that we had content. We did this using two methods. First, we started to actively blog. We are blogging about many topics, everything from traditional PR to New Media and current trends. Blogging not only put this content out there for the world to see, but it also got everyone talking internally and began many brainstorming conversations.

The next thing we did was gather a list of links that we get information from about our industry. This list, right now, is on an excel sheet. However, we are in the process of finding all of the sources on Twitter and creating a list there so that we can easily bring news and links from one network to the other.

Build a Fan Base:

Inviting fans started internally. We began reaching out to people at our company, and then a few of us began to suggest the page to our friends. Identifying close friends and inviting them first improved the chance that they would accept the suggestion and become a fan. To begin, it is a numbers game, it is important to create a base of fans that are influential either in the industry, or within your network online. As the fan base grows, and we provide useful and interesting content, we will see our fans reaching out to their friends and suggesting they should become a fan.

We have done a good job of managing our goals and tasks. We are approaching the point that we will review our page, and make sure we are providing value to our friends. We want to continue to add fans, and now will begin to focus on the next goal… User Generated content.

In a few weeks, I will write a post on User Generated content and its value in the social media world. It goes back to the importance of engagement online and offline.  Feel free to comment here if you want to help me prove a point!

Ad Age, Paid Media, PR and Earned Media

Kudos to the Council of Public Relations Firms for using paid media to promote a profession that has until recently been based on earning media for organizations.

As I tell many clients, advertising can be a very effective pr tactic.  Especially if you are trying to guarantee that your message is delivered as intended.  Crisis situations, leadership building through op-ed ads, etc.

One of the challenges that our profession faces is getting reporters to write pleasant things about the true nature of public relations.  Most times, the “s” or “f” or ”p” word is used to describe the public relations profession.  Thankfully, today we also have more direct channels via social networks to help us communicate our value beyond media relations.

But, what I really like about the Council’s approach in the October 26 paid supplement in Advertising Age is the tone of the articles.  No pleading, no convincing, no dreary academic language that obscures the point:  Brand development, marketing and public relations are blending.

Thanks for advocating for our profession by taking the road less traveled — traditional advertising.  I’m pretty certain that you’ll see a return on this investment.  The only criticism here is that I cannot link to the actual article — or in this case the ad — since Ad Age doesn’t show it on their home page.  The next best thing for the Council to do would be to have a link on its site.   It’s not too late.

Telling a story beyond the product

Sometimes it’s just a company’s inherent brand philosophy that leads to telling great stories and connecting people with the brand.  The fact is brands struggle to find their niche, their voice and more importantly, a way to be relevant and truly connect with people that goes beyond the product or service they offer.  That connection can, and does happen, in lots of different ways, ranging from corporate philanthropy to social responsibility.

One brand that’s a good example of this is Chipotle. Yep, you read it right- Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain. I’ve always been a fan of theirs and whenever I find myself in one I can’t resist a delicious taco filled with that spicy, hot barbacoa. Yum! Back to the point. Chipotle is a great example of  a brand that’s built on more than just great food. They’ve built their business around the philosophy of “Food Integrity“, which basically centers around the idea that they only use organic, natural, fresh ingredients. They use unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed vegetables as well as natural, farm-raised, hormone-free meats. You get the idea. They’ve built their brand on a philosophy of social responsibly that doesn’t offer their guests processed, chemically-ridden garbage food.

However, as we go beyond the menu, Chipotle is connecting with people in a whole new way and is reaching out to those who are environmentally conscious and, at the same time, is reminding those of us who aren’t that we should be.  Case and point- the chain is installing solar panels on 75 of its store locations. How cool is that? Talk about leading by example. According to the Denver Business Journal article, Chipotle is seeking to reduce its energy consumption during peak hours, which is generally from 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Not only will this be good for Chipotle’s energy bills and their bottom line, but it also is a great example of a brand that’s doing good for their community and the environment as a whole.

As a PR professional, I love brand like this. They have a great story to tell and the marketing, branding, public relations, social media, you-name-it possibilities are endless.  But more importantly, as a person, I’ll keep them on my list of places I like to eat, not only because the food is good, but because they’ve got their act together.  Now I only wish they had one closer to the Hartford / New Haven area…

What do you tell “PR101” students today?

As I look over my past presentation as I prepare to talk with a local college class today, I have to make some major revisions.  It’s kind of nice to see predictions come true.  Amazing what a year or two will do.

While the Cutlip definition of public relations still holds up, and what is under the public relations umbrella is still relevant, a focus on brand and brand development rises to the top of the list.

A public relations professional’s job today is to help an organization first realize what is true and authentic to its brand, and second, ensure that the organization is aligned internally and externally to deliver the proper brand experience, and third, communicate or deliver the brand message using the best channels.

Which brings me to my final point:  what is the best channel today?  More and more, it is not through earned media.  While media relations will continue to be a valuable tactic for public relations pros to spread company news, it’s not the best channel to reach an organization’s diverse stakeholder base especially if your goal is to communicate organizational values and long-term goals.

Of course, the best solution is an integrated approach that blends direct communication with paid and earned media.  And, at the heart of direct communication is social networking and the opportunities it offers for us to listen, learn and interact as we “establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between our client organizations and the publics on whom our/their success and failure depends.”

For Small Companies, Successful Social Media Strategies Start Internally

In large companies it is necessary to have a very complete social media policy in order to avoid as many issues as possible. In large companies the brand will be represented by one person or a small team, so you need to have set guidelines in place for your other employees, informing them on what they can (or can’t) say in their free time. In small companies, however, when you are setting up a social media strategy you should include everyone, from the ground up.

As your company develops its voice online, it needs to take into account a few specific things. You need to identify who you are targeting, what your message is, and most importantly, what your ultimate goal is. Some companies get involved in order to sell products or get new customers. Others, such as Best Buy use social media as a creative answer to customer service. When you know what your goal is, you can develop your strategy, and assign tasks to your co-workers.

I am a firm believer that you should hire someone specifically for social media. I think that it is an important part of your marketing strategy, and it deserves full time attention. I do realize however, that some companies cannot afford to take on new staff, and would rather not put their online brand in the hands of an intern (which I agree with). If this is the case it is a good idea to make the entire team accountable so that everyone has something to say, and everyone will be cautious about the material they put online.

One great tool to get your company familiar with social media from a professional perspective is Yammer. Yammer allows companies to have an “internal Twitter” stream. Someone can administer who is invited, and should urge people to stay involved. Yammer will keep your employees aware of what they are saying because they will know that their coworkers and bosses are reading it. This message should be translated into the real world. Keep in mind, the people that read your content online could very well be a coworker. Another great use of Yammer is to discuss industry trends, and share ideas on blog topics.

The most important part of developing a successful social media plan for a small company is to create (and follow) a schedule. This schedule can have anything on it from someone finding 10 industry blogs that can be commented on, to someone twittering at 10:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:45 PM in order to keep consistency. Following a set schedule that people are held accountable for will make the tasks routine, and if you are switching each person’s role it will identify who is good at what tasks!

These are a few ways to put the strategy into action. Using these tools and bringing energy and excitement to the office will motivate your team to get involved and take part in your initiative. Social media should not be looked at as another task to your already busy employees. Instead, it should be an exciting new project that your office does as a team!