The heads were down and the fingers were furiously a-tweetin' yesterday at the inaugural Social Media Junction (SMJ). And an array of big social media brains spilled their secrets and gave tips, tricks and advice on best practice to around 200 conference goers at Sky City hoping to get to grips with this increasingly important but at-times intimidating marketing realm.
One of the most enlightening discussions was, perhaps surprisingly, the Kiwi social media practitioners panel, made up of Tom Bates from Air New Zealand, Duncan Blair from Orcon, Paul Brislen from Vodafone, Bryony Hilless from 2degrees and panel chair Vincent Heeringa, who kicked things off in typically disruptive social media fashion with a question that was well off the brief about each panellists' best and worst experiences with social media.
Brislen says Vodafone started off using Twitter to respond to questions and now uses it mainly as a customer support tool and product release channel. It's important for the Twitter account to have a personality, he says, because using it solely for the marketing pitch just doesn't work. He learned this first hand when the account was handed over to 3G guy, and as soon as a corporate tone was detected, the followers let Vodafone know that all was not well.
Infusing personality into the brand was mentioned regularly. But it's not always that easy with corporate gatekeepers and PR goons keeping watch. It's still an interesting and unknown dance between commercial and personal, and Brislen says he was fortunate not to have those kind of people there to say no in the first place when Vodafone's social media push first began four years ago.
Hilless says Facebook and other channels were actually used to launch the 2degrees brand, before the mobile network had even been launched, and managed to get 24,000 followers, often treating the interested parties to snippet of ads before they were released to the public. So it can be used as a centre to reward loyalty.
You just need to look at Jetstar and Cadbury to see that social media isn't all positive. And Brislen has recently detected an increasingly aggressive tone from some Twitterers making demands and expecting things for free. Bates agrees and says it is often a place to vent. But the key marketing message from the chat seemed to be that if you can engage your audience online with a brand personality and some interesting content, then the followers are likely to be more receptive to your sales offers.
Julien Smith, one of the keynote speakers, spoke of the importance of building up social capital with followers by offering them content and keeping them interested and it's particularly important for small to medium-sized businesses to embrace the technologies, as he discussed in an interview with the Herald (analogy of the day: you've to get past the guard rail if you want to touch the element). And Andy Beal spoke about the importance of measurement and tracking tools (many of them free, like Google Alerts), to find out what people were saying about your brand. Social media ROI is a tough one, like PR, he says, in that it's difficult to quantify in pure sales terms just how much of an impact social media can have (although Dell attributed sales of $3 million directly to Twitter).
Mike Hickinbotham, Telstra's social media boffin in Australia, detailed how a very traditional corporation was forced to embrace social media.
He says Telstra's social media push started because of Google. The company wasn't ranking in the search engine and to increase that, it needed to create content, which led it down the social media road. And just as cereal is competing for limited shelf-space, so too, he says, are companies competing for limited Google space.
He pointed to the Comcast Cares case study as an example of the way Twitter can be used as a customer service tool. And he says it's also an effective method to release a product. Because these people already have "latent interest" in the sector, they are more likely to be aligned with the message than if the message was sent out via the mass media. But when used in conjunction, like the "social review" campaign for HTC's new Desire handset, which tapped into an external stimulus created by mainstream journalists, it can be a great awareness – and relationship – tool.
"If you want to get serious about social media, you need to listen," he says. The social media team has been integrated into the customer service department, so when the powers that be demanded a corporate tone was used on Twitter to respond to questions about iPhone tethering, the followers weren't happy and, despite attempts to explain, "perception ruled the day." Like many, he says social media is still something of a watching brief (he did create the Telstra social media manual, however) and it's making mistakes like this that leads to learning.
Justin Flitter, of Flitter media, believes there's no such thing as B2B social media. It doesn't exist, he says. It's people talking to people and business is personal. He says companies that use social media well seem to have integrated it into the company's DNA and if you can engage and entertain, you might just entice followers to buy your products.
Paul Reynolds of McGovern online spoke about the way social media tools, tagging and crowd-sourcing is changing the museum space, particularly Powerhouse, Trove, the British Museum's partnership with the BBC and the Brooklyn Museum.
The blogging panel of Mauricio Freitas, Geekzone, Greer McDonald, Stuff.co.nz, Russell Brown, Public Address, Alistair Helm, Unconditional.co.nz, Bernard Hickey, Interest.co.nz and chair Simon Young also delivered plenty of pearls about how best to create content and gain eyeballs.
Hickey kept it simple with 10 points for success, including picking fights, worshipping Google, breaking news and shamelessly using the traditional media to promote your blog. And for Young, blogging and social media boiled down to: "What story does your story spark?"
Of course, there was a definite sense of preaching to the converted, as there often is at such social media events (although there were a few social media greenhorns in the audience). And there was also a fair amount of common-sense being espoused by many of the speakers. But there were also plenty of insights and a number of engaging speakers, so roll on next year, when, presumably, everything in the social media space will have completely changed.