By Peggy Bekavac Olson
I had the good fortune of attending the recent Midwest Acquirers Association's Annual Conference in Schaumburg, Ill. I was surprised, but pleased to see three educational sessions on the agenda that addressed social media. Since I field numerous questions in my business from clients and prospects in the payments industry about how to employ social media, this was the perfect opportunity to hear what others have to say on the subject.
Before getting into the details of the presentations, I'll define social media. I like to look at the two words individually and then combine their meanings. Media is a vehicle or channel for communication that reaches an audience. Examples are magazines, newspapers, mail, radio, television, telephone, email and the Internet. Social typically means belonging to a community and having relationships, interaction and friendship.
Social media is a category of media involving people who interact via talking, participating, sharing, networking and bookmarking on the Internet. It is the blending of technology-based media and social interaction for the exchange of information in a two-way dialog for the co-creation of value.
This can be as simple as posting information and asking for comments or as complex as recommending products and services based on the ratings of other people with similar interests.
Back to the MWAA conference: the three sessions on social media were Impacts of Social Media on Payments, Social Media Marketing and the Merchant World and Driving Sales through LinkedIn.
There was considerable anticipation and excitement for the Impacts of Social Media on Payments keynote. Jack Dorsey, co-founder and Chairman of Twitter and Chief Executive Officer of Square, shared how he drew upon his interests in computers and maps in his teen years to develop rich, dynamic pictures of living, breathing cities in terms of tracking police cars, fire trucks, taxis, dispatch vehicles and even bicycles.
This led to creating an application that enabled roundtrip emails of short-format updates like, "I'm at the lake," which ultimately became prototypes of tweets from Dorsey's first BlackBerry. When short message service text from one carrier to the next became available, Dorsey capitalized on his idea for Twitter and built the system in just two weeks.
Dorsey articulated three key takeaways about social media: immediacy, transparency and approachability. He said every post your company makes can be seen by virtually anyone around the world instantaneously, forming a global communication network for your business.
He also said that social media creates openness, communication and accountability and that this transparency can be used to build brand and drive sales.
Social media can also be used to turn a customer service disaster into a positive experience. Dorsey explained that your fans will root for you if you convince them you're honest. From an approachability standpoint, social media makes information more human so that people become more engaged.
It enables a greater understanding of how people are living and what affects them, resulting in more empathy, which hopefully builds image, reputation and awareness while reducing conflict.
In 2008, Dorsey formed Square because, as he said, "Payments are inherently social." He likes the immediacy factor that Square provides of being able to accept payments anytime, anywhere - even making sales and completing transactions in dressing rooms or in store aisles where consumers select merchandise, rather than making them stand in line for checkout.
Dorsey believes social media can provide transparency around card payments. He said most people don't understand fees or how the payment system works; they want easy-to-understand information and simple explanations, and they don't want to be kept in the dark.
From an approachability standpoint, Dorsey is focusing Square now on receipts and hopes to provide additional value-added promotional information based on what consumers buy.
Dorsey conveyed that Square is still trying to figure out its distribution model and needs help from players in the industry and groups like the MWAA. He said the company would be in pilot mode for a few more weeks and then would begin mass rollout.
In Social Media Marketing and the Merchant World, payments industry advisor Mary Winingham from Mirror Consulting indicated that although still in its infancy, social media marketing is now a proven method for building brand and attracting new clients. Social media campaigns can also be used to improve search engine standing, drive traffic to websites, promote products and services, and serve existing customers.
Winingham defined the four C's of social media marketing as being consistency, connections, content and courtesy:
You must make valuable and engaging contributions, beyond simply promoting a person, product or service to a community that may be challenging, questioning or even hostile.
Use search tools to identify individuals, companies and groups whom you should be connected to and make these connections.
When you are invited, send a personal response via email or pick up the telephone and make a call. Make sure that when you offer an opinion you remain polite.
The keys to social media success are education and execution. Winingham recommends educating yourself via platform tutorials, webinars, news articles and simply by learning from others.
Regarding execution, Winingham cautioned that social media marketing takes time. She advises developing a systematic approach, working in blocks of time, discovering efficiency best practices, utilizing tools and seeking professional outsourced help.
In the Driving Sales through LinkedIn educational session, Melissa Giovagnoli, President of Networlding, a social media consulting, training and coaching firm, differentiated the various social networking sites. She likened LinkedIn to the boardroom, Facebook to the office, Twitter to the water cooler and MySpace to the bar.
For payments industry companies and professionals, Giovagnoli believes LinkedIn is where time and resources should be spent. She cited Nielson Online, which references LinkedIn as, "The world's largest audience of affluent, influential professionals."
She likes that LinkedIn's membership is highly educated (over 80 percent have bachelor or graduate degrees), wealthy and successful.
Giovagnoli indicated that the average household income of a LinkedIn user is about $108,000 per year, and over 20 percent of LinkedIn users are senior level executives and managers. Further, over 60 percent are either decision makers in their companies or have direct influence over key decisions related to product or service purchases.
Giovagnoli said achieving the best LinkedIn results depends on how you go about building relationships and trust. Here are her tips:
Giovagnoli referenced a recent HubSpot survey that found inbound marketing is more than 50 percent less expensive than outbound efforts. Her belief is that social media, and specifically LinkedIn, can be used effectively and successfully to drive inbound leads resulting in new business.
My view is that social media is not going away and will only have more impact in the future. You need to start thinking about it as a component in your overall marketing strategy and plan. Social media is a long-term commitment and not a marketing gimmick. It's truly about connections where content is king and a consistent approach yields results.
It's understandable for many acquirers, ISOs and merchant level salespeople to not be able to commit to a comprehensive social media program today, but I believe it's reasonable to get started by dabbling, testing and experimenting before tactically embarking on and executing a full-fledged social media initiative.
Peggy Bekavac Olson is the founder of Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payments companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS Acquiring Solutions for more than five years. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.
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