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Geoff Cramer, CEO of SocialMadeSimple

Adam Japko, President of Digital Sherpa

Mark Schmulen, General Manager of Social Media for Constant Contact

Neil Kataria, President of newBrandAnalytics

Catherine Tucker, Associate Professor of Marketing for MIT Sloan School of Management

Social Local Media Program Director Jed Williams kicked off the SuperForum with BIA/Kelsey data that show 40 percent of SMBs have a Facebook page for brand awareness purposes. However, the industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift from SMB social management and presence to targeted, interesting content for users to read and share. Our first three panelists represent companies with three different approaches to social content curation for local merchants: outsourcing, automated and do-it-yourself (DIY).

When it comes to social content solutions for SMBs, Digital Sherpa’s Adam Japko said, “We are platform and strategy agnostic.” His rationale is that tools and platforms are constantly shifting in the evolving social media landscape. What Digital Sherpa focuses on is helping SMBs get better search engine optimization through content on blogs. “Blogging is powerful,” Japko said. “People find content on the Web and blogs are a great way to promote that content.” Japko sees social media as a tool to leverage blog content. “At the heart of social media marketing are the content creators,” he said.

SocialMadeSimple takes a different approach. Its white-label platform helps SMBs manage their social presence with industry specific analytic guidance and curated content. SocialMadeSimple’s content library offers industry-specific content selected by editors in the form of pre-formatted links, articles and news stories along with RSS feeds. Subscribers can click a button to broadcast to one or all of their social media networks and blog. Its media partners can also add their content to the library. “With our platform, we tell [SMBs] what they need to do,” said CEO Geoff Cramer. “We believe that curating and sharing interesting content is a part of an [SMBs] brand voice.”

“Social media is going to kill email.” Constant Contact General Manager Mark Schmulen didn’t believe that when he first heard it a few years ago and he doesn’t now. However, Constant Contact has evolved from a primarily email marketing focus to social campaigns. As a DIY marketing services company, Constant Contact is able to serve SMBs content needs and, according to Schmulen, keep costs low. Schmulen sees social media and email marketing as complementary. “Both are forms of permission marketing,” Schmulen said. But he doesn’t see social media as the holy grail of content curation. “Starting a conversation inside email is the best way to start social media engagement,” Schmulen said, citing an email open rate of more than 20 percent.

In what other ways are SMBs measuring the success of their marketing campaigns? SMBs need actionable results. Some SMBs just look at Facebook fan numbers to gauge their audience reach. But quality is more important than quantity. SMBs want reliable, consistent people to comment and share the content on their Facebook and Twitter pages. “At its core, social media marketing is about word of mouth,” Schmulen said.

MIT’s Catherine Tucker echoed a similar sentiment during her presentation on Facebook ads. Her data showed that 75 percent of increased effectiveness of ads on social networks came from social targeting rather than social endorsements. The current issue with Facebook ads is that it assumes all friends on a consumer’s Facebook page are equal, therefore any friend’s endorsement of a product is enough to create additional shares and conversion. But most users are predisposed to pay more attention to the brands that their close friends interact with.

Local merchants can benefit from segmented data about existing and potential customers. That’s what D.C.-based newBrandAnalytics believes. Its technology allows them to measure social media customer feedback on a store-by-store basis. We’ll continue to examine how social business intelligence can empower local merchants to improve their operations by helping them better understand their individual customers. Here’s a visual example from President Neil Kataria on how it works:

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