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VOL. 124 | NO. 211 | Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Expert: Social Media Here to Stay

By RICHARD THOMPSON | Special to The Daily News

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For businesses, the first secret to leveraging Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other networks is not to be afraid of social media.

After all, as social media consultant Glen Gilmore has noted, social media is where a business will most likely find its customers as well as its competition. Social media is simply a fundamental shift in the way businesses communicate, he told about 102 people at a social media conference late last week.

Yet, to delve into the world of tweets and status updates, Gilmore said businesses need to come to grips with a fact of social media: mistakes happen. It’s just part of the process.

“Yes, you’re going to make mistakes. Do experiment (with social media). Do play with it,” said Gilmore, a former mayor (Hamilton, N.J.) now better known as @TrendTracker on Twitter, where he has more than 57,000 followers. “Do know that when you do make a mistake, to let people know about it right away” because trust is the foundation of social media relationships.

“That’s how I’ve been able to achieve some success (in social media),” Gilmore said.

Big, viral reach

Gilmore was the featured speaker at “Leveraging the Conversation,” the third in a series of social media discussions that began with “Joining the Conversation” this past spring and followed by “Continuing the Conversation” in the summer.

“Leveraging” was held at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on Thursday, presented by Amy Howell of Howell Marketing Strategies Inc. and Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, The Memphis News and Chandler Reports.

The Peabody hotel and information technology services provider The Vanick Group also co-sponsored “Leveraging,” which focused on analyzing how social media trends are impacting business as well as strategies for implementing social media and developing best practices.

In addition to Gilmore, who provided 10 secrets of social media success, the event also included short presentations from a variety of social media experts from Memphis companies.

The experts included Brad Wilkerson, founder of the digital consultancy firm 68 Comeback; Bryan Simkins, marketing specialist adviser at FedEx; Rowena Track, vice president of Internet marketing at The ServiceMaster Co.; Kevin Kern, public relations director at Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.; Charlie Hill, a lawyer at Glankler Brown PLLC; and Mark Norris, Republican state Senate majority leader from Collierville and special counsel at Adams and Reese LLP.

“‘Does social media really matter?’ is a question that a lot of people ask, particularly businesses,” said Gilmore, noting businesses often don’t have enough time for social media and that traditional methods of outreach are still effective and simpler.

“In picking up a phone, you’ll never have the reach that you have in social media,” he said.

On the offensive

The statistics speak for themselves as to why social media is integral for business.

Consider, Gilmore said, a recent Forrester Research survey of more than 1,000 businesses revealing that 95 percent of them plan to use social media. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it grew to more than 300 million users from 200 million in just five months. The largest demographic of Twitter users are 35 years old and older, he said.

The stats go on and on, emphasizing that social networks are places where conversations are being held about businesses, their brands and reputations ­– whether businesses partake in the conversations or not. Ignoring social media is dangerous because things could be said about your company on these networks before it hits normal channels, he said.

Gilmore said it’s important to have a plan when using social media. Just signing up for a social network doesn’t mean a person automatically knows how to use it. Gilmore advised that companies ask themselves about their future objectives, create a niche and identifying a target audience as well as weaving in consultation from public relations, marketing and even legal resources.

While it is possible to get sued for what you say using social media, Gilmore said, one shouldn’t overly rely on legal resources because social networks demand quicker responses than legal sometimes allows.

“You’re not going to have much social media success if the legal department has to look everything over,” he said. “It will kill your social media.

“You have got to respond rapidly. Mistakes will be made. Well, we can get sued,” said Gilmore. “Go boldly and do whatever you think will inspire new customers, inspire new networks. The legal department can certainly give you some parameters; but if they are going to run your social media, they are going to run it into the ground.”

Gilmore reiterated that there’s a learning curve for everyone in social media, but it still comes down to having conversations and building relationships.

Businesses can form those relationships by being authentic, human, listening to others in a way that empowers them and, most important, providing content that turns businesses into reliable, unique and transparent sources of information, he said.

“The change that we are going through right now is not going away. It doesn’t matter that MySpace has fallen off a cliff. What if Twitter falls off a cliff? Or Facebook falls off a cliff? It will be replaced by something else that is social media,” he said. “We are all content providers.”

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