The Noodle

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Social vs. Corporate – What site do your customers frequent?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Instagram. Google+. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to drive customers to your brand and build your audience. Or is it? No, that’s not a trick question. The inquiry is one that holds a legitimate place in the online-all-the-time, social media-centric world we live in today. And it’s a question that every brand must ask itself while placing a heavy emphasis on engaging with its customers and prospects on social media sites.

You know the old saying in social media, right? “Don’t build a house on rented land.” That’s the advice Dan Grody tells his clients looking to take dead aim at owning the social media landscape. Grody, a partner with Tellem Grody Public Relations, likes to remind his clients that they don’t own social media – the Facebooks and Twitters of the world do.

At the end of the day, you want to get people to your website and build your email database since you own that site. …It just seems crazy to rely only on social media for your web presence when you don’t own it.

Dan Grody, Partner, Tellem Grody Public Relations

So, how you use social media depends on your organization and its eventual endgame. But as you build your overall strategy, Grody recommends employing a clear set of goals and putting extra emphasis on understanding why they are in place. “At the end of the day, you want to get people to your website and build your email database since you own that site. Everyone still needs a basic website. It just seems crazy to rely only on social media for your web presence when you don’t own it. Consumers will decide whether or not they will follow your company on social media.”

The value of social sites is not to be taken lightly – they are an efficient way of showcasing a brand’s credibility – a means to remaining “trendy” and a method for demonstrating if your brand is gaining traction with consumers. Companies can use social to provide strong customer service and customer care, maximize brand awareness and increase visibility for their messaging, send their customers to the content they own, and drive email signups and engagement through activities such as contests.

When brands use social media, they stare with wide-eyed wonder at key benefits such as customer acquisition and retention, increased online reputation and the ability to contribute to conversions.

But Jean Doebey says that finalizing conversions and sales require the transition to a brand’s website. “The ideal situation is to combine the two,” says Doebey, CEO and founder of Hibe.com, which enables people and organizations to build their own micro-social networks atop and beyond traditional social platforms. “Available technologies now offer the opportunity to connect your social environments to your brand’s website. Ultimately, you want to send people to your website and have your social setting there, too.”

Sending consumers to social sites offers brands a number of advantages in terms of customer acquisition and retention, conversions, and online reputation through customer advocacy and user generated experiences (UGX). It also can afford brands the opportunity to react to trending events and exhibit their social influence. The disadvantages of this approach include the limits on the amount of information that can be provided, the ability to carry out sales and the question of discoverability through SEO as opposed to websites, which can be indexed by search engines.

“The truth is, the approach a company adopts will depend greatly on the nature of the business or brand,” Doebey says. “The question is whether or not conversion and discoverability (through SEO) are issues for the brand. To seal a conversion, there must be a transition from social to a brand’s website. For that reason, a brand involved in e-commerce, for example, cannot rely solely on social. Equally, the absence of indexing by search engines from most social networks will impact a brand’s discoverability. But if a brand is not concerned with these factors, there would be less of a need for a strong company website. If their main focus was reputation management or engaging with consumers, a brand could conceivably operate primarily through social.”

Having your cake and …

If you’re looking for a brand that has married the art of social and web marketing, Pepsi is your answer. The soft drink leader continues to show that it’s possible to humanize a brand through social media, tap into trending topics and increase social influence.

For example, its 2013 “Iconic Summer” fan engagement program gave fans a chance to earn prizes as well as gain access to music and entertainment events. The campaign also invited Pepsi loyalists to share their iconic summer moments through the brand’s various social media channels. The fan-submitted content was used at Pepsi events, and repurposed for TV, the web and social platforms. The Pepsi Pulse social-media dashboard also gave the brand a chance to interact with its fans on trending events, house engaging and entertaining brand-related news and features, and showcase user-generated content.

To take advantage of the benefits offered by social, companies must humanize their brand.

Jean Doebey, CEO & Founder, Hibe.com

“To take advantage of the benefits offered by social, companies must humanize their brand,” Doebey says. “By involving its employees and enabling them to post using their own avatar/name/title and not the brand’s logo, a brand can recognize and respond to trending topics and develop its social influence. In doing so, it can shape the perceptions of its consumers, thereby opening up the opportunity to acquire and retain customers, manage its online reputation and potentially develop conversions.”

As long as the potential for social remains promising, the marketing world will debate whether it’s best to have a brand that provides relevant, educational content or to be the belle of the social media ball.

“Being a social media darling isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Doebey says. “It all depends on what a brand is trying to do on social. It’s a question of what they want to achieve. If the sole purpose of a brand’s social media campaign is to engage with consumers, then there’s nothing wrong with being a social media darling. If the objective is to educate people in order to get them to buy your product or service (i.e., conversion), it’s better to provide relevant content. However, if the goal is merely to raise brand awareness, then being a social media darling pays dividends. It can also help in terms of conversion, as the content you provide through social media can change how people perceive you. It can help you attract followers, gain credibility and ultimately increase a brand’s online reputation.”

Where some brands hit the wall is when they try to engage customers through both social and website campaigns. For example, small businesses are more likely to consider making their social channels their primary means of communication with customers. This can be a viable strategy, especially if you don’t have the resources to create and continuously improve a quality website.

Danny Maloney says brands should have a website to anchor their social or other traffic. In the simplest form, they can be one page websites that explain who they are, what they offer, and include address and contact information for customers on the go, i.e., mobile, to find them.

You can and should invest in building other marketing channels, but if the traffic you acquire lands on an ineffective company website, you’re wasting much of the value in that traffic.

Danny Maloney, CEO & Co-founder, Tailwind

“That should be the bare minimum web presence for any small business,” says Maloney, CEO and co-founder of Tailwind, which delivers tools that help companies harness and make sense of social data. “Your website is your primary communication channel with your customers about your products, services or initiatives. It impacts how and when people will find you through search, social and other channels. For many businesses, it’s a key direct sales channel. You can and should invest in building other marketing channels, but if the traffic you acquire lands on an ineffective company website, you’re wasting much of the value in that traffic.”

By Michael J. Pallerino