Social media hot topic at TechPoint summit

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To some, Mark Zuckerberg is the demon-seed of disruptive technology.

Old-school marketers fret how his Facebook has undermined traditional methods of manipulating consumer impressions.

And businesses complain they’re forced to become slaves to Zuckerberg’s site, if only to monitor and counter negative consumer perceptions about them, telegraphed among Facebook’s 800 million users.

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“Each and every day, he makes money out of our time!” says one person at the profanity-strewn “I Hate Mark Zuckerberg” page on Facebook.

Even his dear sister, Randi Zuckerberg, took a jab while speaking at TechPoint’s 13th annual summit on Nov. 8, noting that at least she has a degree in psychology from Harvard University.

“The only reason I make a big deal of it is, I had a sibling who didn’t graduate,” Zuckerberg said of her brother, sparking laughs from a luncheon crowd of more than 600 people at the Indiana Convention Center.

Zuckerberg—Randi, that is—may be Facebook’s best ambassador.

The crown princess of social media is the gregarious, engaging sibling Mark isn’t. Until recently the marketing head at Facebook, she presented the upside potential of social media for businesses.

Prophets of social media’s coming have for years warned that businesses must repent of their old ways of marketing and embrace the new genre—or perish.

“You have to understand what consumers are doing, how they’re interacting. We don’t control our own brand anymore. … Your brand is the sum of all conversations,” Mitch Frazier, an executive of Indianapolis-based e-mail marketing firm ExactTarget deftly told a TechPoint session earlier in the morning.

Zuckerberg told reluctant businesses, as Dr. Strangelove might put it, how to learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.

She acknowledged that some businesses aren’t comfortable with the idea that consumers want to relate to one’s brand via this form of cyberspace, but she gently advised: “You want to be part of the dialogue.”

For one, give people a reason to like your online presence, she said. Delight them by putting customers on your site. Cisco Systems, for example, has a “super fan” spotlight.

Facebook apparently stumbled accidentally onto one way of doing this—attracting them to its company cafeteria’s Facebook page. Intended for Facebook employees—who enjoy the perk of gourmet meals prepared by chefs on-site—it turned out that people outside the company started flocking to the page, “who just want to see what we eat every day.”

Zuckerberg also urged that businesses make their online presence timely and relevant. She pointed to how Britain’s official visitor’s bureau did a deft job of putting together online content pertaining to the recent royal wedding.

“If you’re a local business here, start to talk about what you could do around the Super Bowl,” she suggested about the game set for Indianapolis early next year.

By contrast, some businesses missed the boat to use social media to manage a crisis, Zuckerberg said, referring to consumer uproar over Bank of America’s plans to jack up fees. Instead of dealing with it on Facebook and Twitter, the bank’s social media channels “went radio-silent,” she said. “This would have been a good opportunity for Bank of America.”

Another potential use of social media Zuckerberg noted is for “crowd sourcing.” For example, retail chain Target asked its customers online to what charities it should donate $3 million.

Zuckerberg said she made some surprising discoveries in her six years at Facebook. For example, perhaps the most engaged demographic is new moms who like to upload photos of their children. While younger Facebook users as a whole tend to visit the site about 40 minutes each day, new moms were on it about two hours daily. After having a child, she realized why moms had time to kill: “You don’t sleep when you’re a new mom.”

She urged companies to better engage with followers by, for example, uploading photos of employees working on a community project. “The era of having a high school intern running your social media is over.”

Indeed, one industry expert and TechPoint summit speaker, Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media Examiner, advised firms to work diligently on content.

Rather than focusing on promoting the company and what it can sell, how about providing practical content as a “gift”? It might be free research or surveys or helpful video presentations that don’t cost visitors anything and don’t demand that they register before receiving it.

For example, his how-to site employs people to monitor and answer visitor questions on social media issues, 24 hours a day.

“Build a gathering place,” he said. “Shift your mentality from being a salesperson to an advocate.”

That might take some convincing for companies desperate to make money off their online presence. One way Stelzner does it is by relegating advertisements to an optional online newsletter he offers. Still, he contends free content that people can use and share with friends circulates, builds good will and, eventually, sales.

“This is the kind of stuff that takes a lot of effort to produce, but it has a very long tail.”•

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