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“Smaller Businesses Must Use Social Media”

As we know, social media is still a fledgling segment in the pervasive digital universe. While it’s trying to gain maturity, today most marketers are at sea in the sea-like social media market.

To help them understand the finer nuances of the subject, RMN Digital invited social media connoisseur Janine Popick, CEO, VerticalResponse (a company offering social media management solutions particularly to emerging businesses) to discuss an array of relevant issues.

Here she shares her views in an exclusive interview with Rakesh Raman, managing editor of RMN Digital.

Qs & As

1. For businesses, is social media ready for use or is it still in the embryonic stage?

I think small and medium businesses (SMBs) know they need to be on social media, but it’s tough for them to find time in their busy day to get their messages out through “yet another” marketing vehicle. However, they absolutely do need to start using social media. Your messages need to be where your prospects and customers are. And if the stats are right, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn alone will reach over 1.5 billion consumers in 2012. That’s a huge audience that businesses can’t afford to miss, especially in today’s economy.

2. While large companies use social media as a supplementary channel along with other promotional platforms for their brand communications, can smaller companies rely totally on social media?

Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky. That said, some industries are inherently more social than others. If your customers are active on Facebook and Twitter, then you need to be active there, too. If you’re in an industry where most of your leads and sales come from phone calls, then put more focus on that. Also don’t underestimate the power of email marketing. The Direct Marketing Association just released its annual response rate report, which said email has the highest ROI compared to direct, phone, display advertising and paid search.

3. It’s believed that social media marketing costs are nil or negligibly low as compared to traditional or other digital media channels. Is it true?

It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. A blockbuster social media campaign can certainly cost as much as a TV campaign. But if you are trying to get your name, products and message in front of your followers, it can be as simple as a daily post to Facebook and Twitter. It all depends on the size and depth of the effort. You need to be listening to your networks, engaging your audiences and building those relationships. Thankfully, there are some low-cost tools out there that can help you manage things and save you time.

4. What skills should a company possess to use social media effectively for brand promotion?

Your business has to embrace transparency. It’s a tell-all world out there. Did you screw up something? Say you’re sorry, talk about how you’ll try to avoid it and move on. Doing some really great things with your employees? Share it. Giving people a window into your business makes them feel closer to you.

Your business needs content, whether it’s a great offer or something you want to repurpose. When I talk to SMBs, that’s one of their biggest challenges. They know they need to post on a regular basis, but they don’t know what to publish. It’s really not that hard. Things like having a blog, taking pictures or video of your day-to-day (work), or having an RSS feed of all the major sites or blogs in your industry so you can select what’s interesting to pass along are all great for content.

You need to embrace new technology. It’s abundantly clear that things are moving faster than ever so you need to keep up on as much of the “new” as possible for your business to compete.

5. While content is the lifeblood to run social media, can companies that don’t have fresh content to share with others leverage social media?

Yes. I always tell small businesses that you have interesting content, you just might not think so. The story of you beginning your company, a bump in the road, your first customer, an award you won … These are all great things to put out there to make people feel closer to your business. But also, so much of the content out there are things that aren’t created, but passed along. We do that here at VerticalResponse. We’ll share photos that have come across our radar, and links to marketing or social media articles that we’ve found on other sites. This helps build relationships, too, because who doesn’t like having their content shared?

6. Can social media conversations around a brand be monitored and analyzed correctly? If yes, can such analysis be used by companies to refine their campaigns?

Social media analytics is a very hot field right now. The important thing is to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, because a lot of these tools have their own proprietary algorithms. At my company, we use Radian6 to measure social conversations, Facebook Insights to measure Facebook engagement and growth, Twitter Counter for Twitter stats, and Google Analytics to see what’s driving traffic to our site. If we find a particular type of content performs well, we might think about doing more of it.

7. Can the social media impact on a brand be measured empirically?

It depends on the business and what the goals are. I have a direct marketing background, so for me it’s all about the data. I need numbers!

8. How will your company’s VerticalResponse Social help businesses use social media effectively?

VerticalResponse Social is all about saving SMBs time and money. It’s the only platform that lets SMBs re-use relevant, industry-specific content, share it with their social network and engage with their social audiences, all from one dashboard. You can create and schedule a social campaign for the entire month in as little as 20 minutes a week. You can also respond to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn conversations without leaving the dashboard. And you get full reporting on retweets, comments and likes, so you can monitor how well you’re doing.

This interview is published under the RMN Digital’s “Thought Leaders” series in which top tech market leaders of the world express their views on different burning issues and market trends.

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