Is social media a waste of time for business?

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BANFF, AB – I’m nervous about live tweeting this event. Sure, there are plenty of followers waiting on news from the Alberta Motor Transport Association. But Kimberly Allison, a certified social media specialist with Marketing RX, is asking whether social media is a real valuable tool or a real waste of time.

It depends how you use it.

There’s certainly no ignoring the size of the potential audience. Twitter records 347,000 tweets per minute, and there are 1 billion Facebook users. But businesses need to ask themselves if they are properly engaging users, friends and followers.

Allison turned to Wikipedia to define social media as “interactive platforms via which individuals and communities create and share user-generated content”. Notice what isn’t there, she said. “There’s no ‘sell’ in there.”

Those who are always trying to deliver sales pitches are like the guy at a party who won’t stop talking about himself, she said. They don’t get invited back. Conversations on social media need to be genuine. Think of it like an outside salesperson who is building relationships.

“The customer owns your brand. You don’t own your brand,” she added. “What are they saying about you on social media? … It’s better if you’re there and you can actually address those conversations.” Especially since 90% of people trust peer recommendations.

The traditional four Ps of marketing are product, price, place and promotion. But on social media, Allison stressed, the focus should be on the four Cs of creating, curating, connecting and culture.

The tone of messages can be equally important as the information, she said, recommending that businesses adopt a brand voice. Consider putting one person in charge of the voice to make that happen.

She used SOCIAL as an acronym to consider when posting on social media. Are you being Sincere, Open and Collaborative? “I would encourage collaboration between businesses,” she said. And are you Interested? For that matter, are you Authentic and Likeable?

“You don’t have to be perfect being authentic,” she explained, referring to something that has become known as loveable imperfection. “People love it when you screw up … Don’t worry about being perfect.” And the likeability can’t be overstated. “Nobody falls in love with a business, logo, card or building,” she said. “They fall in love with you.”

Each social media platform, though, has different strengths and voices. She likened Facebook to a keg party. LinkedIn was like a business breakfast, where people join groups and have business conversations. (“You’ll get booted out if all you’re doing is selling,” she warned.)

Then there’s the question about a Return on Investments. But people don’t ask that question when having a conversation with the sales team or receptionist. “Not everything you do is going to lead to a sale,” she said.

Still, there needs to be a decision about what success looks like. The results can guide decisions about where to focus resources. Choosing a social media channel is a matter of researching the audience. “Where are your customers? Ask them,” she challenged the crowd. “Do a little survey for a prize. Ask where your employees are.”

From there, it is a matter of developing content.

There are still opportunities to post things about the business, but it shouldn’t be the primary topic of conversation. And the content should involve more than sharing or retweeting the posts of others. “Don’t you have something original to share that’s yours?” she asked, suggesting that businesses adopt a content calendar to schedule posts with different themes. “It doesn’t take a lot.” Tasks such as creating content or contests can also be assigned to specific people. Even the type of content can vary, including images and videos. “People want to hear the stories, the real stories from your business,” she said. Educational tips can help as well.

Ultimately, the goal is to engage followers and friends. “Shares are gold if you can get them,” she said, noting that Facebook users typically have about 200 friends who will see such posts. “Live interaction is huge. The more you connect, the better your social media is going to be.”

Creative and conversational social media ads make a difference, too. While prices vary, so can the results. LinkedIn is the most expensive, but it generates high-quality leads.

Allison recommends monitoring traffic monthly or at least quarterly, and running “split test” versions of ads to identify the ones that are most effective.

“When you’re thinking about social media, think ABC,” she said. No. Not Always Be Closing. “Always Be Connecting.”

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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