Social Media Boot Camp: My thoughts and experiences

A few weeks ago I attended an absolutely amazing “boot camp” organized by the social media king of Lawrence and owner of Social: IRL, Ben Smith, and led by “PR Sarah Evans“. With six full hours of social media training and discussion, this conference very easily could have contributed more to global warning than a freeway full of SUVs. But in reality, it wasn’t six hours of social media, and I think that fact was the whole point of the conference. It was not another echo chamber of “you should be on Facebook” and “what can you do on Twitter?”

Social media does not exist in a vacuum (hot air aside!) Professional users integrate social media into a business strategy–and that was my big “take away” from the boot camp. Companies that try to create a social media strategy in and of itself are the biggest joke on the internet. Check out this link (warning: contains profanity), for examples of these type of strategies. It’s hard not to get caught up pruning the trees while not viewing the forest.

Sarah started the day on the right foot reminding us that social media is just another tool in our arsenal to achieve our profit (and non-profit) business goals and then explained the tools.

I missed the first part of the conference due to a wi-fi emergency. Go figure, 127 people with multiple internet devices will challenge any network. Just like the doctor on a flight delivering a baby, tech people are sometimes called upon in such situations. I quickly went from participant in the conference to support staff. Fortunately I had a spare router and configured it for a large DHCP range to accommodate all the users. Love your job and never work a day in your life, so this wasn’t work for me.

The opening portion of the conference (and the part I missed) was to explain the basics of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the rest of what’s out there. She defined these tools and the jargon such as likes, retweets, followers and so on. Fortunately for her audience, she included a large number of statistics to keep us engaged. Who knew the average social network user was 37 years old?

The highlight of the day for me was the “ah ha” moment when Sarah presented a Content Generation chart (see slide 42 here) that had social media tools listed in the rows of a spreadsheet and key goals in the column. Content is merely the intersection of a key goal and a tool. It’s that simple and complex at the same time.

As Community Liaison for the Social Media Club of Lawrence (often wearing T-shirts that engage people in a social media discussion) and in my travels as DoctorDave Computer Repair, I hear the statement “we need to be on Facebook” and cringe. What’s wrong with that statement? This is a social media conference after all.

It’s the same thing that is wrong with the comment “We need to a TV commercial!” Most savvy business owners realize the danger of that statement – there’s no reason and value in it by itself. Sure, it may be cool to have a TV commercial, but how does it help your business? Do your customers watch TV? Which shows? Always put your goals first and spend time and money in such as way that achieves your business goals.

Sarah used a great phrase when discussing making the business case for social media: not “Return on Investment” but rather “Return on Engagement.” Are you engaging your customers? Yes, engagement is a buzzword that is terribly overused and has too often lost its meaning. (Again see this website). The conference had that In Real Life (IRL) focus. Businesses have been doing this off-line since time eternal. It may be called “small-talk” or schmoozing, but it’s about creating comfort and a relationship with the customer.

When you go into the average retail store and they ask “Can I help you”, the response is always the same “Just looking” and the engagement opportunity is lost. Go to the Etc. Shop sometime and speak with Linda Lester. She is the master of off-line engagement and I’m sure still thinks a tweet is the sound a bird makes. She will engage the customer by asking them about the item they are looking at or might compliment them on their attire. She won’t sell to them, but the visitor’s comfort with her creates trust and increases the likelihood the customer will buy. That’s engagement without a clear measurable return on investment!

Other parts of the bootcamp wasn’t as relevant to me, but I’m sure it was to others. Sarah covered bigger organizations and the legal and policy implications of social media. The key, again, pointing to the Social: IRL theme, is to treat social media as another part of your strategy. How quickly should you respond to a tweet? Well…how quickly do you pick up the phone when a customer calls? Similarly, your social media strategy can be used to change the perception of your organization. If your company is perceived as big and unresponsive, an effective social media policy with quick and helpful responses can completely change the perception and be the catalyst to rebranding. Just ask Comcast Cares as well as the local Sunflower Broadband (recently purchased by Knology). If your brand is already perceived as having fantastic response times to customer issues, failing to follow that strategy online will hurt your brand.

Sarah also covered fundraising and advocacy on social media. I wasn’t as much interested in this because I’m just not a fundraising type of guy. Nonetheless, she did have some innovative ideas on using twitter for such efforts. She hadn’t covered this yet, but the perfect example is this celebrity twitter auction.

For DoctorDave Computer Repair in Lawrence Kansas, not much will change after my attending this boot camp. I’ve never used social media for the sake of using it. Of course I enjoy it personally for keeping up with friends family as well as being part of my general information stream. While at the conference I pulled out my business plan and Goal #1 of DoctorDave has been “ubiquitous accessibility”. For me that means being always accessible to customers and potential customers as much as possible. Quite often a customer won’t call me on the phone or email me, but send me a Direct Message or a Facebook message. For me that’s great: we meet customers where they are both figuratively and literally. Involvement in social media is simply an extension of making “mouse calls”!

Over the next few weeks, I will work with Sarah’s content generation tool in order to integrate more business goals and more social media tools. When I get it more together I’ll be sure to post it here. It’s time I revisit my business goals. I try to do that every year in order to keep pace with where I’ve been and where I’m going. Social Media didn’t really exist seven years ago when I first wrote my plan but I’m delighted that social media tools have delightfully risen up to fit into it.

Thanks to Ben for organizing this and Sarah for visiting!

If you went to the boot camp, what was your takeaway?

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