As people use more social media platforms, how can our organizations stay relevant online? How do we build a persona that actively engages our followers? On this episode, Associate Faculty in Marketing, Sharmin Kent offers four tips to expand our digital outreach through social media.
As we pass the torch to Generation Z, it’s important to understand the magnitude of their influence in our culture. Whether we’re ready or not, they continue their journey through the later years of their teens and into their 20s, creating a profound footprint on society that’s becoming more evident with each trending hashtag or popular YouTube video. So how can our organizations stay relevant in a hyper social society? Let’s get to the podcast…
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Welcome to another episode of the ROI Podcast, presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, where we help organizations make better decisions. I’m your host, Matt Martella alongside Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Phil Powell.
And Phil, we’re at an exciting point in culture, where we see another generation come of age; just as we’ve seen Gen-X & Gen-Y pass the torch, this time it’s Gen-Z’s turn to take over. In fact, the U-S Census says that by 20-20, Gen-Z will make up one-third of the entire U-S population.
And it’s nothing we should fear either. As organizational leaders, we simply need to understand this generation so we can stay relevant. According to the Pew Research Center, Gen-Z uses more social media than all previous generations. They released a study back in February of 2018 that broke down social media use by age group. If we look at their results, adults between ages 18 and 24, 94% use YouTube, 80% use Facebook, 78% use Snapchat, 71% use Instagram and 45% use twitter. This generation leads in all categories, except Facebook, which they’re number 2, just behind Millennials. So as leaders, if we want our organizations to grow, we need to leverage good social media practices to keep up with the next generation.
We sat down with Sharmin Kent, Associate Faculty in Marketing, who carries over 15 years of writing experience and has been featured on websites such as The-Atlantic-dot-com, Think-Progress, and Social Media Today. She helps us look at 4 ways our organizations can create a better social media presence.
If we’re going to improve our social media platforms, the first thing our organizations need to do is actively engage our audience.
Sharmin Kent: I would say start by thinking of social media as a "top of the funnel" channel. Social media is where you want to engage people who may not know who you are, but depending on the channel, it can also be a place to actually start a dialogue… That's one of the things I love about social media, because when you get right down to it, no matter what you're buying or selling, it's always a person selling to a person… it’s about getting back to the human element.
JetBlue is a great example of active engagement with their followers. Here’s a massive company that employs over 16,000 people with almost 2 million twitter followers – yet, they find time to quickly respond to their customers, via tweets. Not just to the complaints either. One follower jokingly tweeted at JetBlue that she expects a welcome parade at her gate when she gets home – so what did they do? JetBlue made a few personalized welcome posters with her name, gathered a few employees at the airport, and then snapped a photo that they posted online with the caption, “a little something to remember us by.” That’s just one of numerous stories this company does to make their customers feel valued and appreciated on an individual level.
It’s also finding your brand’s voice. Like, what if your brand were embodied into a human? What would your brand look like? Sound like? What’s their personality? Answering these questions help make our brands feel human. If we study the toilet paper company Charmin, we can find they know their “human” identity on twitter. They embrace light-hearted, toilet humor while engaging their audience by asking questions and responding to tweets their followers send them. In fact, Time Magazine named them the sassiest brand of twitter in 2014. One trend Charmin leaders noticed was that 40% of young adults admit to using social media while using the bathroom – mind you, these are only the people who actually admitted it. So in response, they made a hashtag – Tweets from the seat – to specifically engage that audience – which became their most popular hashtag. Charmin states, quote, at our core, Charmin is all about giving people a better bathroom experience and it is important to us that this translates to how we engage with consumers on Twitter – end quote.
So as leaders, we need to treat our social media accounts like the front lobby of our brick and mortar office. Our audience must feel like their voice, in this case tweets, matter, then reach them in a personal way. We need to start real conversations and ask authentic questions – because our followers are, after all, human.
Once we create active engagement with our followers, the second way to having a better social media presence is to study our competition.
Sharmin Kent: Start with your competitors: what are they doing that works, not working, what is your key differentiator, and how can you do it better than them? … Then, try to find something and put together a campaign that fits your products and target audience.
The key is identifying our opportunities that set us apart. If we exam all the social media outlets from our industry competitors, it’s important to study what’s working and what’s missing. Let’s start with what’s working. Don’t simply look at what we think works, look at how their followers respond. Take note of the personal attention they give their consumers. How are their most popular posts worded? How often are these organizations posting on each channel? Can we imagine their brand as an actual human being? Once we figure out their strategy, next we need to focus on what they’re missing or where they can improve. This stage is key because what our competitors lack in their campaign could be our organization’s break-through.
So once we actively engage our audience, then study our competitors’ social strategy, the third way we can better our social media presence is don’t be afraid to keep trying new ideas.
Sharmin Kent: Trial and error is also a big thing because social media changes so often - what works on a Tuesday might not work on a Thursday... The only constant right now is change.
Back in early 2016, Hamburger Helper identified their twitter audience, millennial males, and created a persona for their brand – an urban male who likes hip hop music. Even commenting on hip hop news from their company account. Hamburger Helper’s Marketing Communications Manager, Liana Miller told Ad-Week in an interview, in part, quote – we would definitely comment on hip hop news and it caught on because as you can probably tell there aren't a lot of brands commenting or playing in the space. We're one of the few – end quote. Miller goes on to say that as their validity within hip hop news grew, their followers started to push back telling the company that if they knew so much about this music, they should write their own rap. So, Hamburger Helper’s marketing team reached out to up and coming rappers for help because, Miller says – quote - At the end of the day, it's most important to create something worthwhile… The millennials on our team were like, 'Let's make something we would listen to, not some marketing ploy.'" – end quote. The results? When they released this rap on Friday, by Monday, the brand garnered over 432-million social impressions and received over 4-million plays on SoundCloud. This stunt was a massive success. Why? Miller says that’s accredited to being authentic, speaking the language their followers speak and not putting anything down their throats.
Along with trying a new and engaging social media campaign, we need to be timely too. A great example is Oreo’s twitter stunt during the 2013 Super Bowl infamous power outage. Just after the Ravens scored against the 49ers in the 2nd half, the stadium lights suddenly turned off, stopping play for 34 minutes. Oreo took advantage of this moment. Just 10 minutes after the lights went out, Oreo’s marketing team quickly made a picture of an Oreo cookie surrounded by darkness with text saying – quote – you can still dunk in the dark. The timeliness of this tweet during the blackout had unbelievable success. In fact, this one post received over 16,000 re-tweets and 20,000 Facebook likes. Brands spend millions for 30 seconds of time to get on the Super Bowl. With one quickly edited photo and a timely attention to culture, Oreo hit the spotlight with next to no cost. Again, it’s going back to that human element. Making our followers believe we’re one of their friends and actively engaging within the world around us.
Once we actively engage our followers, study our competitors’ social strategies and then get comfortable trying something new while being timely. The fourth and final way we can better our social media presence is to hire a professional social media expert.
Sharmin Kent: Hire an expert - don't do it yourself, and don't think you can hire an intern over the summer, and because s/he is 20 years old, they know "the Twitters… if you can't hire somebody full-time, then get a consultant… and if you have an executive who's been in business for 30-40 years, but has never touched a Twitter account, that is not the person you want running your social media! Have someone who knows what they're doing, pay them, and invest in the technology to make their job easier.
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, 78% of businesses now have teams dedicated to social media. That’s up from 67% back in 2012. And if we want to build a successful brand engagement with Gen-Z, we need to invest into people who know what they’re doing when it comes to social media.
This is a professional sector of business now, whether we want to believe it or not. Professor Kent is right. As an organization, we cannot bring in some intern to build our campaign just because they’re young and get it, or allow an inexperienced team member try to engage our social media audience. This will take careful planning and moving resources around within our organization to give the proper investment this sector needs. If we are to stay relevant in this generational transition, we must work to improve our social media footprint.
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So let’s recap. Generation Z is coming of age and taking their place as cultural influencers in a large way – by 20-20 they will make up one-third of the U-S population. So to stay relevant as an organization, we need to improve how we view social media. The first way to having a better social media presence is to actively engage our audience while finding our brand’s personality. How can we take part in the conversation of our followers? JetBlue and Charmin toilet paper offer great examples of social engagement. Second, we need to study what our industry competitors are doing through social media. What’s working for them? What are they missing? Where can they improve? Answering these questions will help us build a successful campaign, potentially moving us ahead of our competitors. Third, we cannot be afraid to try something new while being timely. Hamburger Helper made a mix tape – a food company makes music, think about that. And Oreo stayed current on culture during the Super Bowl. Yet, in trying something new, they both exploded their social engagement. And finally, in order to build a better social media presence, we need to hire professionals and invest resources into this sector of business. Social media takes full-time attention in order give our audience the personal care they desire.
If you want to hear more episodes, search for the ROI Podcast through your favorite Apple or Android device. While you’re there, hit the subscribe button to get the latest podcast directly to your phone. This has been another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business where we help organizations make better decisions. I’m your host Matt Martella, signing off until next week.