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What Can Small Businesses Learn from Intel’s Social Media Strategy?

July 28, 2011

Last month at the World Chamber Congress in Mexico City, Ekaterina Walter, Intel’s Social Media Strategist, spoke to thousands of attendees on how small-to-medium businesses (SMB) can utilize social media for engaging and growing their customer bases. (JESS3‘s Leslie Bradshaw joined Ekaterina there to help her navigate follow-up Q&A sessions.) Ekaterina also recently contributed to “Be Social: Intel’s Global Social Media Conference” in Portland, Oregon. Despite her jet-setting schedule, Ekaterina generously answered a few of my questions about how SMB’s — and the rest of us, for that matter — can pick up what she preaches and practices so well: expanding her personal and professional reach through social media channels.

Jesse Thomas: In your view, what’s the biggest obstacle to small- and medium-sized businesses launching a social media presence and how do they overcome that?

Ekaterina Walter:  Resources, whether it is time, knowledge or money. In a small business, one person usually wears several hats: s/he is a marketer, a sales person and the CEO. It is very tough to find time to learn everything about social media (an industry that moves extremely fast), keep up with all the tools, and produce marketing campaigns as you go. True deep engagement with your customers can be a full-time job. Small businesses who truly believe in that personal connection with their customers and going above and beyond to deliver true value to them, usually find time to jump in and try different platforms. If they do it right, they are amazed at the results and they get hooked. It is hard though, because it requires effort to be creative and available every single day.

Jesse:  You’ve observed that 40 percent of Fortune 100 companies show website traffic decreasing. How do you account for where those web-surfers are turning for information?

Ekaterina:  This is a “Now!” economy. People want answers fast and they believe the best way to find the high quality information is two-fold: from friends and family and through third-party reviews. Unless they want support or need help with solving an issue, they won’t be coming to your site; they will be looking for answers inside trusted communities and most of the time these communities are on Facebook, third-party forums, Q&A sites, Twitter, etc. There is, of course, another big reason they would want to hang out on your site day in and day out – it is really amazing and highly valuable. But how many sites like that do you know?

We, as businesses, are also training consumers to go to these communities. How many websites implement easy-to-use comments functionality, integrate reviews or invite engagement? But we do give personalized individual attention to our customers on Facebook, so that’s where they go.

Jesse:  You’ve said before that the majority of small-to-medium business marketers worldwide spend less than 10 hours weekly on social media for marketing, with most of those dedicating less than 5 hours to the craft. Do you think this is enough?

Ekaterina:  It is not up to us to say how much time a business owner should spend on social media marketing. They need to settle on what works for them. Keller Fay Group consistently found for the past six years that about 80 percent of word of mouth happened offline. Local business owners might have it already figured out for all we know – they may already engage with their customers effectively offline. Social media is definitely time-consuming. To truly connect with your customers on a personal level you have to put forth a lot of effort. However, social media is not the only effective approach out there and business owners need to figure out what is it that makes their business work and their customers happy.

Jesse: In your presentation, you said that only 43 percent of social media marketers rank “improved sales” as a benefit to social media marketing. If only a minority are reporting increased revenue, does that mean that social media is not for everyone?

Ekaterina:  Well, first of all, any social platform is just a channel to communicate with your customers. And just like with any channel, it may not be appropriate for every single business. However, I believe it is a perfect fit for any business (large or small) that truly cares about its customers and not only wants to connect with them, but to provide the best customer service out there. I think the issue here is not that this is the wrong approach for small businesses; the issue is that most of them don’t know how to tie social media marketing back to sales. Besides the lack of knowledge, there is also a severe lack of cheap but easy-to-use tools that would allow a small business owner with limited marketing budget to track return on investment successfully.

Jesse:  LinkedIn seems to be the only social media site with a dramatic difference in business-to-business use versus business-to-consumer use. Why do you think that is?

Ekaterina:  LinkedIn is geared towards professional connections. Nowadays people are using their LinkedIn profiles as their electronic resumes as well as their electronic rolodex. If you pay attention to group discussions on LinkedIn, there is not a lot of personal sharing going on there; it is more of a professional support group than anything else. So it stands to reason that people have the same mindset when they market on LinkedIn. The professional segmentation is highly valuable to marketers and it is easier to tap into it because you know you have exposure to quality leads.

Jesse:  You advocate making online content share-able via social networks. With such an array of sharing tools available, what are the bare essentials that you recommend businesses make available?

Ekaterina:  I love Brian Solis’s new KISS principle interpretation as it applies to social media: Keep It Significant and Sharable. If you don’t allow for ease of shareability of your content on your websites, blogs or community forums, you are losing precious organic exposure and significantly decrease the traffic to your online properties. At a minimum, make it really easy to share on key networks where you know people are looking for interesting content from trusted sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and any others where either you are active or you know your customers are.

Jesse:  Is email on its way out as a marketing tool?

Ekaterina:  Absolutely not. If you look at the data, you will see that email is still very much alive and thriving. As a matter of fact, according to eMarketer, social media users check their email more often than non-users. Email remains the top choice for marketing communications among all age groups.

Jesse:  What place does engaging visual content have in an effective social media strategy?

Ekaterina:  Center stage. Content always was, and is still, king. That will not change any time soon. There is a ton of content clutter out there and people are starved for the content that is valuable and is also displayed in the easy to digest form. Visual content is easy to reuse in your presentations and just plain fun to share with others. But is it more than that. Sixty-five percent of us are visual learners, and there is a way to make your brand story stand on its own visually in a very impactful way.

Jesse:  On LinkedIn, you describe yourself as “enthusiastic [and] innately curious.” How have these traits served your work in social media strategy?

Ekaterina:  Having passion for your work is critical in anything you do! You don’t take initiative if you dislike your job. You don’t come up with creative approaches and solutions if you don’t care. You are not excited about your challenges and your successes if you don’t strive for the new heights every time the problem presents itself. And you don’t grow if you don’t learn consistently every day.

It is especially true in social media. If you are not wildly passionate about your customers, you don’t delight and you don’t create ‘wow’ experiences, you don’t provide the best customer service they deserve. If you are not innately curious, you don’t learn every single thing you can learn to be the best you can be. With social media moving so fast, with platforms changing every day, with new tools being added to the mix constantly, it is impossible to succeed if you are not “curious” – trying new things, not being afraid to take a risk every now and then, and learning as you go.

One of my favorite quotes is “It is kind of fun to do the impossible!” by Walt Disney. I don’t know if I am achieving the impossible every single day of my career, but I sure try to prove the nay-sayers wrong every chance I get.

Jesse:  How do you use social media differently for personal and professional objectives?

Ekaterina:  I don’t use them differently. I believe that social media is a perfect opportunity to build relationships with people (either personally or professionally). I talk to our customers like I talk to my friends. We may be discussing different topics and use a more professional tone where appropriate, but the approach is the same. That is why I am a big believer in having just one Twitter handle, for example. I don’t separate my personal life from my professional life, because that’s just it – my life. And I talk about all things I am passionate about on Twitter – social media, personal branding, travel, dancing, my favorite quotes, my relationships with others – because this is who I am and these are the things I authentically care about.

If there is something I only share with a limited number of people, I don’t put it on social networks (no matter how awesome the privacy settings might be). For example, I don’t share pictures of my daughter anywhere online – I believe when she grows up she should be the one to have a choice what pictures of her are floating around online. Otherwise, I am pretty much an open book. Plus, who has time to maintain multiple different accounts on the same social network anyway?!  🙂

Jesse Thomas is an executive creative director. Visit his web site at jess3.com or follow him @jess3.

Disclosure: Intel is a client of JESS3.

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