At the recent Corporate Social Media Summit in NYC, I had the pleasure of hearing some of the most prominent Fortune 500 companies talk about…tweeting?

That’s right. Dell, Aflac, SAP, Whole Foods and Cisco were some of just a few companies who spoke about their experiences developing, deploying and measuring effective social media campaigns.  And the more case studies I heard, the further I realized how similar companies of all sizes are when dealing with online marketing and social media, as the questions echoed what we at TMC hear from our clients regularly: What works best? How do you measure results? How do you get your C-suite to buy-in?

Here are some lessons I learned

1.      Figure out your strategy and figure out a way to measure it

Most companies have social media accounts, but the biggest takeaway from this week’s Summit for me was that the most successful campaigns were ones that started out with a clearly defined and measurable purpose. For the WWE, it was to get a community of all their fans to go to an open forum and “like”, “dislike”, comment, post pictures and be truly passionate “fans” of their wrestling stars (who also Tweet across dozens of accounts. Yes, the wrestlers tweet.) But for Marriott, their approach is quite different as they host a closed community for certain members of a status club and use that as a way to keep that group of customers engaged. All the companies who had a clearly defined objective were clear that the vision needed to be vetted with leadership and approved so when results or ROI were requested, everyone was clear on just how successful the campaign was.

By establishing up-front what the objective of the community was, the easier it was to deploy those initiatives and know what to measure. Was number of “likes” and “fans” for the WWE important? Yes. But, for Whole Foods social media is more than likes and friends- their objective is to have a number of fans who are interactive and contribute to the site, even if in smaller quantities.

Plus, as a speaker from Adobe pointed out, the CEO might not care about how many tweets or “likes” you have. They want to know what all these activities are doing for the bottom line – and the sooner you figure out what your goal is, the sooner you can measure.

2.      Use communities to serve your customers better

The TurboTax approach for social media is a great one. Get retired CPA’s engaged online and have them answer customer questions during tax season. This not only saves money on the company’s side in reducing how many people need to be hired during that busy time, but also creates an open community of people with a common interest. Whole Foods has a corporate Facebook page, but encourages each individual location to have sites, run promotions and get involved in their local community charities and events. Using social media to actually generate leads and sales is quite difficult to achieve and even measure, but using social media for customer engagement and retention is a lot easier. Answer customer questions online and ask them how satisfied they are. Take polls, give them exclusive offers and make them feel valued and important to your company. This creates a tribe of loyal followers which is one of the most important things a company can have.

3.      Nurture your community of followers

We all know what Lead Nurturing is: Take your leads and instead of bombarding them with sales pitches, slowly over time engage with them, feed them relevant information and nurture their needs until you’ve formed a trustworthy bond with them. Communities and social sites also must be nurtured to grow over time and take collaboration, openness (too much monitoring or cutting off conversations restricts people from doing what’s in their nature: discussing openly). Nurture your groups by asking them questions, giving them special deals (Aflac ran a great campaign that was a competition asking people to submit videos explaining what Aflac was- which was extremely successful) and give them relevant content that will make them interested in what you’re going to share with them next.

One of the best quotes I heard during the summit was “track, listen and learn what your customers and prospects want – and give it to them.” A simple formula that any company, big or small, B2B and B2C  can use and be successful with.

What are your biggest challenges with social media? What are some ways you’re overcoming them?

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