BY KEVIN MOE
For many Carlson School alumni, social media is a large part of their job; sometimes their whole focus. We’ve asked several of our graduates to share with us their experiences and insights in working with and using this growing technology.
Helping Brands Reach Their Potential
As a student at the Carlson School, Peter McCormick, ’91 BSB, ’99 MBA, (Twitter:@pdmuk) was interested in all of the majors so much that he says that if he didn’t stop to pick one, he would have been in school forever. He ended up focusing on finance for his undergraduate degree and in marketing and human resource development for his MBA.
Equipped with this knowledge, McCormick went on to co-found ExactTarget Global, a cross-channel interactive marketing software company. He serves as general manager and is the company’s senior executive outside of North America where he oversees the sales, partner development, and client service operations for customers around the globe. In March, ExactTarget’s management team rang the bell at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the company’s initial public offering and first day of trading.
When ExactTarget was first founded over a decade ago, it helped brands explore and realize the value of email; a medium that was in its infancy and has since fueled a revolution in marketing, McCormick says. Now, social media is that next revolution. “At ExactTarget, I have the great fortune of helping many of Europe’s greatest brands realize the opportunity social media presents,” he says. “We help marketers harness the power of social to interact with their customers alongside more traditional interactive channels like email and mobile.”
The big power of social media is how it is transforming how businesses communicate, McCormick says. “The hyperconnectivity that Twitter and Facebook create presents tremendous opportunity for brands to interact with their customers, serve their unique needs, and build loyalty that ultimately results in greater lifetime value,” he says.
This is an incredibly exciting time for marketers, McCormick says. “Social media has created a new requirement for engagement. Customers expect real-time interaction and reward companies who connect and serve customers via social media,” he says. “It reflects what we see as the next generation of marketing – an era where the lines between customer service, marketing, and communications are blurred.”
As customers are now interacting with brands across an unprecedented number of online and offline channels, companies such as ExactTarget spend a lot of time helping their clients understand this new world to make the most of the opportunity.
“Social media has fueled a transformation in business and created a new generation of empowered consumers,” McCormick says. “This is a fundamental shift from brand-centric to customer-centric interactions shaping the very nature of marketing itself.” As customers can now significantly contribute to a brand’s image, reputation, and value through ratings and reviews, comments on blogs, Tweets, and Facebook posts, brands are no longer just what marketers define in a marketing plan, but are the sum of the conversation happening about them.
“Brands who can engage with this new era of customers and contribute to the conversation will find themselves rewarded with passionate, engaged customers who drive positive online interactions that contribute to the bottom line,” McCormick says.
Leading Others Through Unfamiliar Terrain
While at the Carlson School, Mike Chlipala, ’10 BSB, wanted to study technology and business. He found what he calls a “fantastic pairing of the two” in Management Information Systems. Studying the intersection of these two disciplines helped him land a position as a developer-in-training in Washington, D.C. at LivingSocial, an online business offering daily deals and discounts. After his training period concluded, he joined the organization full-time as a software engineer. He also does some web development consulting work on the side.
“As a developer, I use social media to observe how consumers are responding to product changes and updates with which I’m involved,” he says. “If my team is rolling out new features to our site, we can use Twitter to gauge feedback on those changes and determine what might need additional tweaking in the product. Twitter is a fantastic source for real-time feedback.” Chlipala also uses social media heavily to share useful articles or resources with his colleagues, especially those who are working remotely.
“Although a bit less concrete than the previous examples, we’re simply thinking a lot about social media on the job,” he says. “Social media is changing the way consumers interact with, share, and talk about our business, so we’re always asking ourselves how we can build better products and better leverage these new channels.”
One major change that Chlipala has noticed is the creation of an entirely new professional industry around social media. “Businesses are now hiring social media coordinators to manage the organization’s social presence across the web. Consultancies are forming to help educate businesses on establishing effective social media strategies,” he says. “For the first time in history, a large, multinational organization can proactively engage its customers and instantly respond to feedback. It’s become essential for consumer-facing organizations to have a presence across the major social media outlets or else they risk being viewed as out of touch with their customers.”
At LivingSocial, Chlipala says he is hearing a lot from merchants who are still very new to social media and know they should be doing something with it, but unsure of what. “It can be difficult for a business to adapt to this new paradigm,” he says. “For the businesses just beginning to develop a social media strategy, they’re likely asking themselves, ‘What sites do we monitor? Who do we respond to? When do we respond?’ These are difficult questions to answer and it’s far from obvious where to begin.”
As social media is still very much in an experimental phase for most organizations, Chlipala thinks it will mature by being supported by a number of tools and best practices to demonstrate the importance of social media interaction. “In time I think we’ll see fewer social media coordinators. Instead, their responsibilities will be implied across most of the traditional departments of an organization,” he says. “Marketing departments will measure the quantitative impact of social media outreach. Communications and PR departments will be crafting the content to be shared across social media sites. And customer service departments will be monitoring Facebook and Twitter to respond to complaints and feedback on behalf of the organization.”
Another Channel of Marketing
Chelsea Chung, ’09 BSB, has always been interested in consumer interaction with brands and how those interactions affect society and culture. Her interest influenced her studies at the U of M as she majored in marketing at the Carlson School and minored in strategic communication at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“Brands play a large role in how we define ourselves and those around us, and the role of marketing is to define and maximize the relationship between brands and people,” she says. “Marketing is a mix of psychology, trend watching, creative thinking, and strategic execution rolled into one,” she says. “I find it fascinating and multifaceted! It’s a forward-looking field where if you’re not planning for the future in the present, you’re already behind.”
Currently, Chung is an integrated communications planner in the Snacks Division at General Mills working on the Nature Valley brand. “My role is to help plan and execute integrated marketing campaigns for brands,” she says. “I work with the brand marketing team and agencies to bring our brand to life through promotions, social outreach, sponsorships, public relations, multicultural touchpoints, and more. It’s exciting and meaningful to be a part of managing the relationship between our brand and the consumer.”
Of course, social media channels play increasingly important roles in building and maintaining these relationships with consumers, she says. “However, it is important not to think of social media in isolation–they are merely tools in the marketer’s toolbox, and they are often used in tandem with other vehicles to support a brand or campaign.”
As an integrated communications planner, it is Chung’s job to match content with vehicles—so when it comes to social media, she helps determine which information and content is appropriate to share with her audience. “Social media can be effective in helping to achieve a variety of goals, such as deepening engagement, helping to build a lifestyle brand, or delivering a strong call to action and providing incentives,” she says. “The real-time nature and level of personalization opportunities allow brands to engage with consumers on a deeper level than other platforms. Social media sites are also a great place to test and learn – they allow for quick and candid feedback. It’s like having a test market at your fingertips.”
As she witnesses the changes wrought in the business world from social media, Chung can’t help also noticing the changes in social media. “Just when you think you have one platform figured out, it changes or another one comes along,” she says. “Five years ago, everybody was trying to figure out Facebook. Then it was Twitter. Then Foursquare. Now it’s Pinterest, Instagram, and Spotify. Oh, and time to reevaluate Facebook and Twitter.”
Chung says developments in the social media world have a ripple effect because they change the way entire campaigns are built and executed. “They are continuously evolving and thus always affecting the way we engage with consumers, and it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint which social medium should be used for which message. TV used to be video. Radio used to be for audio. Print was for visuals. Now there’s a whole digital world where formats are interchangeable and the lines are blurred—and information shows up whether or not you want it.”
Managing a brand in the social space where anybody and everybody can share information is difficult, Chung says. “All you can do is do your best to manage messages and position your brand in the way you want it to be perceived,” she says. “Marketers try to make the brands the best they can be, and social media allows for some of the most genuine, quick feedback you could ask for. I think social media also requires brands to be more transparent and responsible.”
Chung says she anticipates social media will continue to integrate with other platforms and there will be a more seamless transition in the ways people consume messages and content. “Customization will only improve, and we may very well find ourselves engaging with social media and brands without even realizing we are doing so,” she says. “I also think mobile will play a large role in the way people interact with social media moving forward—a world of hyper-connectedness is only a fingertip away.”
Opening Up New Avenues of Business
Wanting to enter a field in which he could still focus on his creativity but having the background of the business world, Taylen Peterson, ’08 BSB, decided on marketing. Now a web marketing manager at RealPage in San Francisco, he brings his skills to the digital work. His main duties lie in handling search engine optimization and Adwords campaigns for clients while also acting as the main consultant when clients need introductions to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.
“Most of the clients we work with have never used or have very limited knowledge with social media, so I walk them through the benefits, best practices, and general guidelines to gaining a meaningful and engaged audience,” he says. “It is like teaching someone to ride a bike. I help them in the beginning, giving them the knowledge and confidence to succeed until I can let go of the handlebars, and watch them ride away with a great campaign.”
Peterson says he sees the effect social media has on the business landscape each and every day. “To paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, we went from the ‘Ma & Pa’ corner stores where customer service was everything, to outsourcing call centers for support, and have come back full circle with social media being the new front line of the company,” he says. “It is giving customers a chance to interact with even the biggest companies on a one-to-one level again. It is also becoming a new source for brands to reach audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. New avenues of doing business and reaching potential customers have opened.”
As a relatively new product, social media can have some serious consequences if not used correctly, Peterson says. “Ask a few politicians or celebrities who have over-shared and gotten into hot water,” he says. “But, with every new technology, people learn and adapt. I think for every negative effect social media brings, there are many good ones on our lives. As we learn how to use the tools we’re being given, fewer mistakes will take place and the impact will be extraordinary.”
Peterson expects social media will be ever more ubiquitous as the years continue. “With products like Google Project Glass already hitting the streets in beta testing, social media and the web will be intertwined in lives with the most basic tasks,” he says. “Finding the nearest bookstore, capturing your daughter’s first steps, and when you’re bored and want to scan your newsfeed on a bus, the capability is a voice prompt away,” he says. “With the rise of smart-phones, our world is at our fingertips. Soon even laptops will be a thing of the past as people store more information in their social networks and in the cloud. Data will be a click away, news will come to us instantaneously, and those close to us will be even closer.”
Casual social media users have seen how Twitter has become a place where news is first broken, Facebook gives a glimpse into the lives of favorite sport stars and celebrities, and LinkedIn allows people to find business connections around the world in real-time. “As more niche sites come along, the focus is getting more intense. Kickstarter is just one of many websites allowing almost anyone in any background to start a company, create a music album, or raise funds by crowd-sourcing investments from complete strangers and friends alike who think you have a great idea or product,” Peterson says. “The online generation has only just begun. Consider me one of the most excited to see what the next great innovation will be in the social world.”
As an assistant vice president and relationship manager in the Government Banking Division at U.S. Bank, Dan Miller, ’12 MBA, utilizes social media on the job every day. “U.S. Bank is a relationship bank and we strive to get to know clients beyond their banking needs,” he says. “Part of that is understanding issues our communities and the customers I deal with face on a daily basis. LinkedIn is a great tool for this.”
While allowing Miller to connect with current and future clients, this tool also gives him a better handle on their backgrounds and professional interests. And just as important: They are able to do the same with him. Miller says Twitter is also mandatory in keeping up to date on the issues most affecting his clients and their communities. “Any breaking news in most any industry hits Twitter long before any other news source,” he says.
Miller’s role at U.S. Bank is to manage relationships with state and local public entities to provide services from investments and merchant processing to checking accounts and employee payroll. Social media plays a large part in Miller’s job success, and he says this is true of most other businesses. “If you’re a business and you’re not using social media, you’re not going to be around long. Companies need to be participating in the conversation that’s going to happen with or without them,” he says. “Whether it’s a B2B transaction or a direct consumer purchase, not many decisions are made without online research, of which social media tools are a large part of. Social media sites are the easiest way to see what others are saying about a product you’re interested in and companies need to accept this.”
Social media is also incredible in how it has changed the customer service game, Miller adds. “Have a problem or compliment? Tweet it out to a company or write about it on its Facebook wall and get an almost instant response,” he says. “There’s no longer a need to call that 1-800 number and sit on hold for an hour.”
Miller finds the new business landscape great. “It’s capitalism at its finest,” he says. “Consumers across the world are conversing with each other about the factors that determine where they spend their money—prices, customer service, quality, etc. It’s creating greater free market competition to the benefit of everyone.”
Predicting the future, Miller expects every business will have some social presence, with the most successful companies increasing their customer base through its use, either through abilities like microtargeting with available metrics, implementing grassroots campaigns for product, or by a number of other ways. “This will be especially true for small businesses that don’t have large marketing budgets,” he says. “Proper social media use will allow them to get their message and product in front of the consumer at a fraction of the cost.”
Miller encourages everyone to join the conversation, even if they are a silent participant. “I use LinkedIn for professional connecting, Twitter for information gathering, and Facebook for personal use,” he says. “You don’t have to be a regular user or have a lot of followers, connections, or ‘friends’ to gain an industry advantage. Join and you will find your niche.”
Carlson School’s New Social Media Specialist
Social media has all the benefits and pitfalls of other technological advances, but as it is still much a burgeoning field, not all of these are mapped out yet. The Carlson School recently brought on board Jamie Hanson as its first Social Media Specialist. Her role at the school is to set a strategic vision and plan for social media communication at an institutional level as well as to partner with other offices on campus to facilitate strong social media programs as needed.
Prior to the Carlson School, she worked in corporate communications at SUPERVALU. She also worked at Northwestern College in the marketing and communications department, in charge of public relations, news writing, and social media. She has a BA in communications/media communication from Bethel University.
“Higher education is usually a slow adapter to technology. It’s great to have a position dedicated to monitor and facilitate social media as a step in staying on trend with technology,” she says. “My goal is to help the Carlson School maintain a leadership role in the social space.”
Leveraging Social Media
• Try and keep your usernames/handles as similar as possible for complete social media branding—this applies to both business and personal branding. By doing so, it makes it easy for people to locate you on all the various social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc).
• Set up keyword searches for not only your business name, but your industry keywords, competitors, and products. You’ll be able to see a more comprehensive picture of what’s being talked about in relation to your business.
• With the advent of Facebook timeline and Pinterest, our social networks are becoming more and more visual. An easy way to amplify your content is adding photos where you can. If you’ve got a feature story about something non-image worthy, consider creating an infographic to share detailed information.
• Don’t silo social media into its own marketing/communication funnel. When planning a marketing/communication/PR campaign, include social media as another “tool” just like you would for print pieces, ad buys, etc.
• Just because you can easily create a social media channel doesn’t mean you should. Too many businesses create channels because they think they “need to be on it.” Who is the audience you’re trying to reach? This most basic question is often overlooked. If your target audience isn’t participating on Pinterest, it doesn’t make sense for you to put time and energy there.
My favorite mantras/ideas…
…consumers remember how you make them feel, not the marketing message that you’re pushing.
…think about what you’re trying to sell. Dove doesn’t sell deodorant, it sells beauty.
Apple doesn’t sell computers, it sells innovation.