Remember when businesses were built by personal engagement with customers?

My grandmother sold shoes for a living. For 30 years, families went to see Dorothy Popović at Jackson’s Shoe Store in Hopewell, Pennsylvania, every time they needed a pair of shoes: a church holiday, the first day of school, a wedding, a new outfit, a high school dance, or the first job interview. Founded in 1925*, Jackson’s also had other stores in other neighborhoods, but Dorothy took care of hers. Whenever somebody needed shoes, they went to see “Dot.”

dorothy-popovic-jacksons-shoesMothers were confident that Dorothy would make sure their ever-growing children got the right size – it’s what she did. Men trusted Dorothy to get them a pair of boots that were comfortable and would hold up to the mill floor – that’s who she was. Kids looked forward to a riding on the Buster Brown pedal carousel after they were done trying on multiple colors of Keds®. Each customer had a relationship with their salesperson, and it meant something – to both of them. That’s what you got when you went to Jackson’s.

As the number of local shoe stores grew, so did the number of sales and promotions from the manufacturers. The shoe companies would pick a line of shoes, suggest a promotion or sales strategy to generate more interest in the product to create more traffic, and the sales people were incentivized to participate – including my grandmother.

Then something started to change. Chain stores headquartered in other cities came to town and offered lower prices than Jackson’s, and some of the customers followed the money. Dorothy still did what she did: She listened to her customers and helped them find the shoes they needed.

A few years later, the area got its first big mall, and it attracted curious shoppers from all over the region, including many of Dorothy’s customers. Some bought shoes from the department stores that sold just about everything, including shoes. There were styles Jackson’s didn’t have, and many of her customers tried them because they were on sale or advertised in the newspaper. She continued with what she knew: helping people.

Jackson’s closed their Hopewell store and moved into the mall to compete – carousel and all. The big stores had big sales and were staffed by many, many people, most of who did not know the families or the children or the shoes. But they did know how to ring the new registers, how to send customers to the other departments and how to get them to open a store credit card.

The department store office would use the customer information from the charge account to market other things to the new customers. The store would send them letters in the mail from big databases on spinning reels of tape that sometimes read, “Dear <first_name>,”as if they knew to whom they were selling.

kp-gramIt was time for Dorothy to retire.

She was getting older – near 60 at this point. Although some of the children of her longtime customers would bring their children into the store to meet her, to share a story about getting shoes when they were a child, and to ride the now very worn carousel, it wasn’t the same. Neither was the money she made.

Sales were off, margins were down, and nobody seemed to be in retail as a profession any longer. It was a part-time job or something that was done when somebody got laid-off or while they were working on their next big idea. There was no customer engagement – only numbered accounts, computers merging big data with form fields and bulk postage filling the sales funnel to move the inventory purchased by remote buyers.

For the committed sales professional, it was tough too: matching prices, coupons, buy-one-get-one sales and the never-ending allure of the well-branded department stores. Their options were limited. They had a telephone, but who wanted to be bothered at dinner? They had the postal service, but who was reading mail? They had their reputations, but the distance between interactions slowly diminished the impact they had on a customer-buying decision.

Well, relationships are changing – again.

Social media is providing the ability to engage customers like businesses used to engage customers: by first name, asking about their kids and knowing something about them from the last time you spoke.

 

Social Media and The Return of the Customer Relationship

Social media has become ubiquitous. It transcends age, gender and geography. As of June 2012, Facebook has 955 million active users (Yung-Hui, 2012). Twitter has 140 million active users (Bennett, March 2012). LinkedIn has 161 million members and 1 million LinkedIn groups (Bennett, Nov. 2012). And YouTube sees 800 million unique visits each month, with those users consuming a combined 4 billion hours of video (YouTube, 2012).

But social media is more than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Social media encompasses social bookmarking, slideshares, podcasts, blogs, user-powered news sites, forums, check-in apps, product and service reviews, email newsletters and more. If people are sharing information and engaging in conversations through some form of technology, they are using social media.

Businesses worldwide see this gathering of consumers who voluntarily segment themselves into niche groups as marketing opportunities. Sixty-five percent of the world’s top companies maintain a Twitter presence. Ninety percent of marketers use social media channels for business, and 72% of experienced social media marketers (three or more years working in the medium) see a boost in turnover because of social media (Pring, 2012). This shift is likely occurring because consumers are less trusting in paid advertising and more in “earned” advertising, which the 2012 Neilsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey confirms.

Randall Beard, global head, Advertiser Solutions at Nielsen, says, “Although television advertising will remain a primary way marketers connect with audiences due to its unmatched reach compared to other media, consumers around the world continue to see recommendations from friends, colleagues and co-workers and online consumer opinions as by far the most credible. As a result, successful brand advertisers will seek ways to better connect with consumers and leverage their goodwill in the form of consumer feedback and experiences” (Grimes, 2012).

Social media is the ideal tool for leveraging online consumer opinions. A community that is actively engaged with a brand will say positive things about products, both in the form of formal product reviews as well as through more casual channels, like posts, comments and likes, which can spill over into word-of-mouth support. For business-to-business (B2B) marketing, these facts and figures continue to apply, as the ultimate goal of B2B marketing is to influence key decision makers within a business. According to the 2012 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 93 percent of B2B marketers use social media to market their businesses, up from 88 percent in 2010 (Mershon, 2012). The survey also noted that B2B marketers tend to be veteran social media marketers, having three or more years of experience over business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers (Mershon, 2012).

The research demonstrates that social media is a powerful tool for brands working both in B2C and in B2B, and chances are that if you are not on social media, your competitors are (Formalarie, 2012). Social media marketing is no longer an option. It’s a must.

 

What This Book Is Not

This book is not theoretical. I will not use pretend names and cities or call something a widget for lack of a more accurate name.

This book is not about Facebook. It is not about Twitter or LinkedIn or YouTube or any other specific social media site or service or channel.

This book is not about how to make viral videos (because you can’t make a viral video, only a large number of people that watch a video can make a video “go viral,” or spread like a virus).

This book is not about any secrets or shortcuts because there are no secrets. You can know everything you need to know and there are still no shortcuts. You just have to do the work.

 

What This Book Is

This book is strategic. This book shares how we have come to learn to successfully use social media to engage with people. We share our actionable process, field-tested since 2009 and improved with knowledge gained from each project to which it has been applied.

This book will share with you my perspective of how things work, what is required to be successful and what I have learned about social media from my real-world experience as a professional, an educator and a thought leader.

In the end, this book provides a thorough understanding of social media, its potential for creating engagement and a demonstration of a complete process for application.

 

How To Read This Book

This book has been written to provide the information you need to know to understand social media in the context of communications, in the order in which I believe it should be addressed.

The process is based on the understanding we have of social media, as well as what we have learned from other types of communications, and has been structured into what I believe are logical steps.

The exercises at the end of each step in the process are designed to immediately apply what you have just read to something important to you: your business. This creates learning. Doing so after each step clarifies your thoughts about the requirements of each step and helps you move forward with engaging your audience.

 

References

*Beaver County Times (Jan. 31, 1969). Jackson Shoe Head is Named: As retrieved: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2002&dat=19660127&id=MPUuAAAIBAJ&sjid=rtsFAAAAIBJ&pg=1718,5203352

Bennett, S. (21 March 2012). Twitter Now Has More Than 140 Million Active Users Sending 340 Million Tweets Every Day. Media Bistro. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/twitter-140-million-active-users_b19729

Bennett, S. (1 Nov. 2012). Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram – Social Media Statistics and Facts 2012          [INFOGRAPHIC]. Media Bistro. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-stats-      2012_b30651

Grimes, M. (10 April 2012). Neilsen: Global Consumers’ Trust in ‘Earned’ Advertising Grows in Importance.     Neilsen. Retrieved from: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/press-room/2012/nielsen-global-consumers-trust-in-earned-advertising-grows.html

Mershon, P. (24 April 2012). How B2B Marketers Use Social Media: New Research. Social Media Examiner. Retrieved from: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/b2b-social-                                          media-marketing-research/

Pring, C. (10 May 2012). 99 New Social Media Stats for 2012. The Social Skinny.  http://thesocialskinny.com/99-new-social-media-stats-for-2012/

YouTube (2012). Statistics. YouTube: Press Room. Retrieved from:             http://www.youtube.com/t/press_statistics

Yung-Hui, L. (30 Sept. 2012). 1 Billion Facebook Users on Earth: Are We There Yet? Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/limyunghui/2012/09/30/1-billion-facebook-users-on-earth-are-we-there-yet/