13 Ways to Reach Your Audience on Social Media

Oct 17, 2011

Thanks to Dan Christ, Director of Audience Engagement for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., I was invited to speak to newspaper executives attending the 2011 Inter-State Circulation Managers’ Association (I-SCMA), in State College.

Connecting with Customers in Social Media might seem an ironic topic to share with a room full of newspaper circulation managers, but they earnestly desired to know how to engage and leverage interaction on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

In front of 50 representative newspaper organizations, I began by holding up The New York Times photo of “The Occupied Wall Street Journal.” An outgrowth from the grassroots anti-Wall Street-and-corporate-America protests is the production of a newspaper.  Amidst chants from protestors and tweets on iPhones andiPads, it appears the protestors crave ink on their hands.

David Carr, of The New York Times, wrote in “A Protest’s Ink-Stained Fingers,”: “Somehow reassuring that a newspaper still has traction in an environment preoccupied by social media. It makes sense when you think about it: newspapers convey a sense of place, of actually being there, that digital media can’t. When is the last time somebody handed you a Web site?”

This scenario is an example of melding the power of traditional and new media. Both serve their audiences but provide brute force when complemented. “Since most organizations produce good products and services and offer competitive pricing, the key to disrupting the level playing field must reside elsewhere. It does. It resides in the heart,” writes Susan Scott, in Fierce Leadership.

This is precisely where social media has flipped traditional marketing on its head—by providing channels for businesses to speak to the hearts of people. And for those who engage, loyalty and profits await.

“Isn’t that risky?” asked a newspaper manager after my presentation, “to go out on Facebook and ask the community questions?” “Is it somehow better not to know what your customers want?” I replied. If organizations continue to produce news and package and deliver it in ways that leave the readership unsatisfied and displeased, they will hemorrhage to death. Conversely, if the media initiated conversations with customers online, commented on blogs, listened to  people, created their own blog, and understood how people share content and with whom, it would open opportunities for fresh readers.

I shared several tips for reaching an audience on social media sites. Although this was presented to a group of circulation managers, it’s applicable to any industry of any size.

  1. 800 million people are on Facebook. Regardless if you’re B2B or B2C, you are selling and buying from the people behind the brands. It’s time to establish a strong brand and build loyalty with your community and your customers, and chances are high that they are on Facebook. Engineers, real estate developers, and local coffee shop owners are spending significant time online. Start the conversation.
  2. Make Facebook your focus group. Honesty and integrity are rewarded with truthfulness. Share the strengths of your newspaper, and why you believe in the medium. “If you’re selling what you don’t believe in, you’re in trouble,” stated the presenter before me at I-SCMA. And that’s true for every business. Ask people if they are subscribers; if they aren’t, ask why. Newsflash: Women will talk! Take advantage of the conversations, comments, and opinions that are freely shared.
  3. Start by establishing profiles on one to three channels. It’s impossible to manage 10 social media sites, and share robust content unless you have a full-time team of communicators. If you choose Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, create branded pages and develop a content strategy. Who will post, what is the editorial calendar, who will engage the readership, who is in control in a crisis, who will monitor comments and mentions? Late one night on Twitter, I mentioned that a physician had shared that Hallmark should be in charge of health care because it’s all about relationships. Within minutes, @HallmarkPR thanked me for the compliment, but said they felt they weren’t ready to tackle the health care crisis just yet. They were listening 24/7 to what people were saying and responded to an individual remark with humor and warmth. That’s the beginning of building loyalty.
  4. Tell your audience what you plan to do with their ideas and recommendations. Take the conversation from online to in-real-life by inviting some of the commenters onsite for a tour. This demonstrates that you’re responsive and earnest in your desire to make a difference with the feedback.
  5. Follow the leaders. Once you’ve chosen a channel, start following leaders. Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), the digital communications director for Ford Motor Company, is the face of Ford on social media. You’ll find him teaching the CEO how to use Twitter, sharing energy and safety information, spearheading digital campaigns, and tweeting Cub Scout campout stories about his sons. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (@CMEGroup) has @AllanSchoenberg leading the conversations and Mark Ragan (@MarkRaganCEO) shows how communicators can share content on social media. For a regional example, Dan Christ (@DanChristPN) is quickly adjusting to The Patriot-News’ new position of Director of Audience Engagement. What does that mean? It means Dan is listening when someone says their paper didn’t arrive, or their coupons weren’t in their newspaper, or the grocery store where they usually buy the paper was out of copies. He apprises the community of current events and provides general helpfulness unrelated to the newspaper. Through social media, Dan has amassed a loyal following that supports the newspaper and wants it to thrive.
  6. Post pictures and videos—SEO-rich content—on Twitter and Facebook. Tell stories about your employees and the history of your organization. Add visual and video elements to the print stories. Live the brand proudly.
  7. Be an information Go-To as the frontrunner on safety, weather, and health information. Central Pennsylvania suffered an earthquake, record rainfall, and severe flooding in September. Businesses and homes were destroyed. During the emergencies, the newspapers and county government manned social media platforms 24/7 to make sure the public stayed safe and informed. They created a community sense of “What would we have done without you?”
  8. Set up Google Alerts for monitoring. Monitor your own organization’s name, the names of management leaders,  your competition, and businesses and topics that help your business thrive. First knowledge leads to strategic first responses.
  9. Competitive intelligence is all around you. It is highly probable that more than 50% of your workforce has a Facebook page or Twitter account. Ask them periodically through email what competitive intelligence they’ve learned from social conversations. Did they see a comment from a dissatisfied customer of your own company or the competition? Did someone complain about poor service from the competition? Is there an opportunity for you to respond?
  10. Use Twitter.com/Search to listen to what people are talking about. Use the hashtags #news #media #YourPaper’sName and include community concerns. Begin to follow the conversations of people  in your region and within driving distance. What concerns them? Look for opportunities to be part of the community conversation.
  11. Engage the audience. After you’ve listened for a few days or weeks, start sharing content, asking questions, and repurposing the news of the day. If you have any branding changes on the horizon, or you’re considering adding a paywall or a paper wrap, ask your audience for input. When Netflix announced they were splitting into two firms, the Internet lit up and people shared strong opinions. Within days, the company rescinded their original strategic business decision. That’s the power of social media and the discussion forums it provides.
  12. Comment on blogs .According to the Social Media Report Q3 2011 by Nielsen on social networking in the U.S., Blogger is the second most-visited site after Facebook with more than 50 million unique visitors and 41% earning a household income over $75,000. By every measure, active U.S. social network users are influential: 53% of active Internet users follow a brand; they are 47% more likely to be heavy spenders on clothing and accessories; and 60% create reviews of products and services.
  13. Experiment with different posts, different voices, and a variety of content. Similar to news stories, photos continue to attract a lot of attention as well as videos. YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. Tell your stories and measure what elicits responses and interaction. If you don’t tell your story, your competition will.

Every business, not just newspapers, has had to recalibrate their marketing efforts to understand what customers want and how to deliver it—faster, better, more economical. The advantage to adding social media to your marketing mix is that customers are already in the social channels and waiting to engage you.

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