The More You Know

By
Paul Reuter, Chairman emeritus and contributing editor

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I am hanging out my official “gone on vacation” sign for this column. I’m taking 14 folks, including seven grandchildren, on a cruise to warm ports of call with Mickey and Minnie, and the excursion means a treat for me—and for you. After reading this column from Abbie Westra, executive editor of our Faremagazine, I decided this timely topic and her opinion are just too good not to share. Enjoy!

Evidently, ignorance is OK—even correct— in the Wild West of social media. “If you think you know social media, then you’re in trouble,” says Jack Abbott, chief client advocate for online marketing firm Oak Creek Trail. Abbott was one of three speakers in a social media workshop I attended, titled “Riding the Social Media Wave,” during the annual International Foodservice Editorial Council conference. Abbott was joined by Steve Bava, director of strategic development for WhittmanHart Interactive, and Morgan Brown, director of marketing for TurnHere Internet Video. The three spent the day teaching us how social media has changed the way a company effectively markets itself.

Bava explained how marketing today is all about push and pull. Back in the “Mad Men” days, getting your brand into the world was simply about “push.” In a linear fashion, you pushed your brand into the minds of consumers through TV or print.

Eventually, that “push” turned into a “pull”: Companies pulled people in with emotions and lifestyle, using the Internet as a channel. Today, people are also channels, via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other social-media sites.

Consumers now collaborate with others before and after purchases. There is a constant push and pull between technology, people and the once-linear consumer route of awareness, familiarity, consideration, intention, shopping, purchase and loyalty.

As a result, companies must act collaboratively, too, or else they’ll be lost in the noise. They must participate in the conversation, even create the conversation, and share everything.

The key is to keep technology at the core of your business, and control your company’s message in the online realm. Bava offered the example of the summer 2009 movie “Brüno.” The movie was expected to fare well at the box office, but the studio didn’t anticipate the throngs of people tweeting their dislike of the movie the moment they left the movie theater. The movie flopped because the studio had a system based on push marketing. They lost control of the message.

So how do you keep control of the message? All the speakers that day agreed you must remove the silos from your company’s structure so that technology is a part of everything. They also said to invest in one data service or tool and drown yourself in that data, and then set benchmarks for your online goals.

Other gems from the workshop:

  • Each online venue you use should have a concrete purpose. How does your company’s Facebook page differ from your main site? What message does each send?
  • In the social-media realm, companies must earn the right to be a part of the conversation. They must pay their dues and establish credibility before pursuing their own agenda. Then everything must be transparent.
  • Give your audience a place to share amongst each other, and you’ll learn a lot about them. Engage consumers and get them to create ideas and feedback for you. It’s like an interactive customer comment card.
  • Look out for “trolls,” Internet dwellers who just want to pick a fight. If one infiltrates your site, ignore them, do not become defensive, and continue the open, public dialogue.

Take solace in the fact that no one really understands this new online world; no one knows the bottom line, or exactly when the ends justify the means. All that matters is not pretending it’ll just go away.  

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