A short description of how and why you got started in social media

When I started Spark Strategic Ideas in 2008, brands were just starting to uncover how they could connect with their customers through social media. At first, it was just me in a coffee shop but as we started to grow, we immediately saw the value of integrating social media into our advertising, marketing and public relations plans. The second employee I ever hired was a social media manager and the benefits of using social media were immediately clear.

What do you believe the benefits of using social media for business?

In today’s business world, social media plays a huge role in spreading awareness and communicating with current and prospective customers. The goal is much more than simply posting updates. Instead, we strive to create conversation and build true connections. Additionally, the interactivity can be tracked and, at times, used as a direct response tool. Encouraging open feedback facilitates the remedy of negative situations while highlighting positive perceptions. When properly managed, social media is a customer service arm, a goodwill builder and a creator of brand advocates. At Spark, we believe targeted, brand-specific content with a distinctive voice both invites non-fans to learn more about your company and encourages existing fans to become more passionate. Unlike traditional advertising, social media allows a brand to gain the most important insight of all: the customer’s. When Spark is managing a social media page, we engage. We pose our own questions. We put out fires before they’re built. Most of all, we give our clients a voice in the conversation already surrounding their brand.

What do you think are common mistakes business owners make when building brand awareness on social media?

The biggest mistake business owners make when building brand awareness on social media is not having a true strategy. Often when a company decides they are “ready” for social media, they don’t step back to think about their overarching business goals and what role social media can play. All too often companies will blanket social media platforms with no real strategy, which results in a mediocre presence instead of starting with a few strategically chosen platforms and seeing lasting results. Companies can also fail when a social media manager who is capable of responding to customers on a timely basis is not specifically designated. Another mistake a lot of business owners make is not putting a budget behind their social media efforts; the content may be impactful but it’s a businesses job to ensure the right people are seeing it at the right time and place.

What qualities do you think social media managers should have?

Social media managers must be nimble and customer-focused. After all, to the end consumers, they are often the face of the company. They have to be able to multi-task and be dedicated. Social media doesn’t stop at 5 p.m. It’s not about just creating good content – it’s about going above and beyond to build a relationship. They must be pro–active and craft protocols for situations that may or may not ever happen. It helps if they have had a background in public relations and crisis management considering they will be acting as the voice of a brand. A strong social media manager is a team player and integrates social media with other aspects of an advertising and marketing plan. They also have to know their limits – when they can be comfortable responding and when things need to be brought up the chain of command. It’s a delicate balance but when found, it’s a beautiful thing.

How do Business owners know if their social media campaign is working?

First business owners need to define what “working” means – they need to define the goals of the campaign and how it will be measured. With a pro–active plan, there’s not much social media can’t do. These days, social media can build awareness in new markets, drive product trial and even drive traffic to a website or a physical location. The key is to define success and measure your progress so you can adjust. It’s okay — even preferable — to experiment but there must be consistency in the overall campaign and KPIs must be consistently reviewed.

How do you see social media evolving over the next 5 years…What do you hope to see?

I think social media will continue to become more fragmented, while also becoming further integrated into our daily lives. I’m hoping that we will find the right balance between the two without forgetting how important genuine human interaction and actual face-to-face conversation truly is.

If you could share one best practice about using social media to grow a business, what would it be?

Think of social media as a virtual coffee shop – it’s your opportunity to build real relationships with your customers and prospective customers. Talk to them. Go where they go. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to learn.

What are your favorite platforms for social media marketing?

The social media mix usually changes with each client based on their goals and needs but some of our favorites include: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.

Describe one of your social media campaigns that went really well.

This example is more than just a campaign; it’s the establishment of a social media presence for an internationally known brand. Schleich, a toy figurine manufacturer, is a European-based company with their North American headquarters based in Charlotte, N.C. In October 2013, Schleich tasked Spark with creating and launching the company’s first ever social media program. When Spark was initially hired to manage Schleich’s social media, our first step was to get to know the product as if it were our own. We scoured the website, met with the management and sales team, toured the warehouse. And yes, we had a chance to play with the toys. We had multiple conversations about the Schleich philosophy and mission, cultural and brand beliefs, key audiences, tone of brand voice, needed tools, timelines, expectations, and more with their management team. Together, we crafted a cohesive social media plan for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and decided which KPI’s would be most telling. Not only did the Spark team surpass all initial goals, many of the KPIs were adjusted during the year as the benchmarked goals were surpassed. This progress continually challenged the team to constantly seek new ways to enhance brand awareness and engagement. Between October 2013 and June of 2015, Schleich gained approximately 55,770 fans on Facebook. Schleich has accrued 867 followers on Twitter and gleaned more than 1,540 Pinterest followers.

How is your social media strategy adapted to your industry?

Our social media strategy is constantly changing because the industry never stops moving. Most of the more popular platforms have programs in place for clients who have millions to spend on their social media strategy. However, the small mom and pop locations are consistently overlooked, which can create a constant struggle for the middle guys. That’s where you have to really focus on standing out, building campaigns that have an impact on the right audience and setting your company apart from the competition.