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The Green Sheet Online Edition

July 11, 2011 • Issue 11:07:01

Social media: Putting your company's best face forward

By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Strategic Marketing

Not a day goes by without a new hot topic du jour from the world of social media. It's a popular subject in many business circles. While most people have dabbled in social media in their personal lives, using these new tools to your company's best advantage is even more important.

As a member of the Electronic Transactions Association's Program Planning Committee, I can tell you social media was a "must have" topic on the agenda for this past May's ETA Annual Meeting & Expo. I was fortunate to join in planning and participating in the session "Tweets, Posts and Networking - Social Media in Payments," working alongside talented professionals who are putting social media to work for their payment businesses in innovative ways.

Joining me were panelists Scott Goldthwaite, Vice President of Product Management and Marketing for Planet Payment Inc.; Rhoda Steward, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing at First American Payment Systems LP; and Kathy Tuite, Senior Vice President of Marketing for TransFirst LLC.

Brand can't be built in a day

For a payments industry perspective, we assigned high value to new twists in social media for brand building, customer service, e-commerce, merchant acquisition, recruitment and reputation management. I will recap the session's topics for you here.

As I've said before, brand is the value your business promises and delivers to the marketplace day in and day out. The role social media play in building your brand is to help create awareness, communicate your company's key messages, develop credibility and instill trust. They also may be used to propagate information about who you are, what you do, how you're different, and why people should care and want to do business with you.

Among social media, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr, Blogger, WordPress.com and others can all be effectively employed in the brand building process.

Follow your customers and they'll follow you

Kathy Tuite recommends going where your customers are to offer them customer service. She demonstrated the importance of leveraging social media for customer service by highlighting interesting statistics from eMarketer.com and SocialMedia B2B:

  • The top business-to-business (B2B) social media focus is customer feedback (45.7 percent).
  • 46 percent of customers search out social media information to solve problems.
  • 40 percent of customers want to give feedback regarding their experiences.
  • 78 percent of online consumers trust recommendations from other customers, versus 14 percent who trust company recommendations.
  • 86 percent of consumers quit doing business with a company due to poor customer service.

Tuite said you'll want to develop an outlet where your customers can proactively talk to you and others via message boards, blogs and help pages with live attendant engagement. You should also make available product and service related content such as overviews, frequently asked questions, tutorials, video demonstrations and downloadable instructions for customer self-service.

Tuite suggested soliciting and sharing customer feedback through testimonials, ratings and reviews. She also reminded us to take the opportunity to increase customer communication, test additional offers and concepts, cross-sell and up-sell relevant products and services, and track success.

Develop social media as a sales channel

In the merging worlds of e-commerce, mobile commerce and social media, Facebook will be the new e-commerce, in the view of Planet Payment's Scott Goldthwaite. He urged merchants to use the emerging tools to reach new markets and expand sales opportunities globally. Merchants large and small can easily create micro shopping sites promoting limited product lines or offering featured specials from their bigger e-commerce websites to a potential audience in excess of 500 million users.

Goldthwaite believes merchants who adopt social media as a sales channel can build deeper relationships with customers by offering special pricing based on wall post "likes" or "shares," plus personalized pricing based on profile parameters such as currency, language and product options. Merchants can also use social media analytics to drive their target marketing efforts.

Although Facebook e-commerce is in its infancy, the opportunity for growth is explosive. Today, PayPal Inc. has Facebook e-commerce payments all sewn up, but traditional card-based payments are scheduled for roll out later this year. According to Goldthwaite, payment companies should primarily consider how they want to participate in helping existing and new merchants capitalize on this fresh and exciting sales channel.

Exploit a burgeoning B2B opportunity

Using social media for B2B customer acquisition is growing fast. I shared remarkable statistics from a spring HubSpot report about the percentage of businesses that have acquired business customers through specific social media sites. It indicates LinkedIn is the B2B lead-generation leader: LinkedIn - 61 percent; Company blogs - 55 percent; Facebook - 41 percent; and Twitter - 39 percent

HubSpot's 2011 State of Inbound Marketing report is based upon its survey of some 600 marketing professionals. The report also indicates professional communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and other niche sites are being used more frequently to develop business strategies, support new product and service introductions, and accelerate decision processes.

Goldthwaite said you must identify decision-makers within your target market to be successful in using social media for merchant acquisition. The key is really networking. Get to know all your Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections through online and offline sales activities and encounters. Actively participate in groups, posts, tweets, etc. Plus, make sure you maintain your website, fan page, company profile, blog and other social outlets as places for fans, friends, connections and unknown prospects to go to for research. Make it easy for them to learn more about you and your company.

I believe sharing high-quality content is a way of exerting influence and affording transparency and credibility, which can have a significant positive impact on merchant acquisition. In my experience, social media enhance the merchant acquisition process when combined with traditional sales and marketing activities like telesales, advertising, events, mailers, emails and sales calls. It's another marketing tactic in the arsenal of tools that payment companies can use effectively to win new business.

Reach out and hire someone

Rhoda Steward believes social media can be a key strategy for recruiting sales agents. While a social media recruiting program is fairly easy to put in place, it takes time and commitment. She touts the benefits of social media recruitment as being cost free, providing information instantly, allowing focused interaction with your target audience and building positive online content about you and your company.

First, define your message when recruiting via social media, Steward said. Be clear and concise, because the audience has a short attention span and needs to learn quickly who you are and why you should matter to them.

Facebook and LinkedIn groups, discussions, questions and answers, fan pages, blog feeds and direct interaction all can be employed for recruiting. Steward suggested joining groups whose members belong to your target audience and then actively participating. You will educate, influence and establish leadership by posting relevant content, starting or joining discussions, and answering questions.

Steward recommended promoting your company without overdoing it, which could result in losing credibility, getting flagged by others as being inappropriate, or worse, getting kicked out of groups. Although you can take a low-key approach to recruitment by letting candidates come to you, Steward said the best way is through direct interaction. She advised reaching out to active group members through private messages and public wall posts to engage and let them know you value them. Steward stated that in an industry of churn-and-burn agents, potential candidates really appreciate personal attention.

Take control of your 'buzz'

People love to talk. They're out there right now, discussing your company, your people, and your products and services in ways you never before could have imagined. They're doing it across the spectrum of social media - whenever and wherever they want. As such, Kathy Tuite regards search engine reputation management (SERM) as a critical business activity for purposes of brand monitoring as well as understanding customer loyalty and prospect engagement.

Tuite relayed statistics from a November 2010 Meltwater Group study indicating companies need to take online brand monitoring more seriously. Although 84 percent of companies consider it important, only one in five had invested in tools that can leverage good news while proactively addressing the bad.

Tuite recommended payment companies:

  • Monitor company sentiment (how you're being described online), visibility and presence (every instance you're mentioned on the Internet), and participation and reach (your engagement).

  • Designate an experienced social media and industry resource to monitor the web daily, proactively post content and leverage Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques.

  • Establish a corporate-wide plan.

  • Develop a response policy, private and public, to address negative information and prepare for the worst.

  • Utilize tools like Samepoint.com, HowSociable.com, Scout Labs from Lithium Technologies Inc. and Radian6.

  • Be patient - SERM takes time and vigilance.

Although these new twists on social media present many opportunities, developing a strategy and tactical plan, as well as focusing on and committing to executing it, should be priority number one. As my fellow panelists cautioned, doing poorly can be worse than doing nothing at all. end of article

Peggy Bekavac Olson founded Strategic Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications firm specializing in financial services and electronic payment companies, after serving as Vice President of Marketing and Communications for TSYS. She can be reached at 480-706-0816 or peggyolson@smktg.com. Information about Strategic Marketing can be found at www.smktg.com.

The Green Sheet Inc. is now a proud affiliate of Bankcard Life, a premier community that provides industry-leading training and resources for payment professionals. Click here for more information.

Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.

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