The survey says social media builds solid relationships

September 24, 2010
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Grandma updates her Facebook status on a semi-regular basis. It’s how she stays up to date with her grandchildren. Tim suggests staying current with contacts via LinkedIn. There’s always an interesting photo on Flickr and YouTube can be a black hole of video information — or wasted time. And of course, one Twitter post can update almost all of them. Social media is relevant whether it is for personal use or part of a company’s marketing strategy and everywhere in between.

The 2010 ArtPrize kicked off last week, once again featuring a key element: The only way to win the top prize in the competition is through social media voting by those who register to do so. And that’s certainly not a surprising phenomenon anymore.

New social media platforms are popping up every time a bell rings and each one is touted to be the next best thing. One dies out and another comes in. Remember MySpace? Or what about this Foursquare thing? More and more companies are getting involved and not every platform is relevant for every company. The Grand Rapids Business Journal conducted an extensive survey recently of more than 4,000 local companies to understand what makes social media a success and what platforms companies are favoring.

Although the technology is constantly changing and the latest and greatest social media platform is constantly shifting, the Business Journal’s survey revealed one main common thread for what makes a company’s efforts in social media a success — building relationships.

“We’re able to build relationships in ways that we haven’t been able to before,” said Susan Huls, senior writer with Herman Miller Inc. Herman Miller is the No. 1 company on the Business Journal list of Top Area Social Media Users found on Page 9, which was ranked by number of followers.

Traditional advertising is mostly considered one-way communication. It’s the company talking to the consumer. Social media allows for two-way communication; a back and forth conversation between the buyer and the seller.

“Being human within the response,” said John Kim, Better World marketing manager with Herman Miller. “It’s being conversational in how you respond. That builds trust in us. You build that trust and the really powerful part of social media is that you let others speak on your behalf to their networks.”

Spearia, an online marketing and Web site firm, emphasizes the impact of transparency in web-based communications.

“It’s very humanizing. It’s pure transparency and being real,” said Jesse Mahorney, social media strategist. “We use it as a communication device. We don’t focus on the tool, but the message.”

And the message doesn’t always revolve around business.

“One of the things that we do is generate some conversations that (people) might have with their friends,” said Mahorney.

Spearia balances its social media efforts with an array of regular events, such as Free Lunch Fridays. Such activities bring people into the Spearia office and enforces the company’s efforts to build relationships with its surrounding community.

“Social media is crucial to a lot of these events,” said Mahorney. “The way we drive a lot of those events is through Social Media.”

The company also helps clients with their own social media efforts, but recognizes that it’s not for everyone.

“It’s 100 percent, hands down, case by case,” said Jason Dodge, director of marketing at Spearia. “If a client has an agency that tells them they have to get involved with social media I wouldn’t walk away, I would run away from that agency.”

Dodge stressed that the type of approach a company wants to take and the market it serves is a determining factor in which platform that business should use.

“If I’m a hardware store on Fulton do I have a large group of followers base on Twitter? Probably not, but I might be able to connect with local business owners over Facebook,” he said.

The platform may vary from company to company and some may not have a need at all, but the important ingredient no matter which platform is used is the message.

“Don’t focus on the tool,” said Mahorney. “A Web site is a tool for communicating; your cell phone is a tool for communicating; the telegraph is a tool for communicating. The thing that hasn’t changed is the need for communication. Too many times people focus on the tool.”

Herman Miller made its decision to engage with social media after conducting some research.

“We realized that people are taking action or making purchasing decisions based on information that’s being shared on social media platforms,” said Huls. “We went out first to see what people are saying about Herman Miller. If you go on Twitter and do a search for Herman Miller you’ll see a lot of people talking about a purchase they made on one of our products; or asking questions of other followers if they enjoy their Aeron Chair or where to buy one of our products.”

Herman Miller does track the ROI on its social media efforts and Huls noted that besides the labor hours, which can be significant, social media is free. And just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Social media has had some good returns.

“There’s numbers out there that say if you put a social media logo on your TV, radio, or paper ad you’ll get an 18 to 20 percent better return rate,” said Spearia’s Dodge. “Marketing has been turned upside down. It’s not the same as it used to be.”

Some like to be social, some don’t

The Grand Rapids Business Journal survey of Top Area Social Media Users (on page 8) was conducted this summer and figures reflect the deadline date in early August. Results showed that most companies favor Facebook with Twitter closely following and LinkedIn third.

A few film companies favored YouTube and one company said the return on social media wasn’t worth the time spent on it. The top reasons for using social media are to build relationships with clients and customers, brand building and advertising.

One of the lesser reasons for using social media is for educational purposes. However, with the advent of social learning companies such as Kalamazoo-based Bloomfire.com, this could be a hot growth area for social media endeavors in the near future.

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