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The Green Sheet Online Edition

May 14, 2012 • Issue 12:05:01

Experts reveal their social media strategies

By Peggy Bekavac Olson
Strategic Marketing

When the Electronic Transactions Association's Program Planning Committee began setting the agenda for the spring 2012 ETA Annual Meeting & Expo recently held in Las Vegas, sessions on social media were considered a top priority. While the commercial use of social media continues to generate significant buzz, the committee, on which I serve, agreed conference attendees should learn what acquirers and ISOs are actually doing today with social media.

From the plethora of social media platforms available, we wanted to know what is being used by payments industry companies and for what purposes. We hoped to hear about real successes and even some failures. We wanted to see examples of how payment companies, big and small, are putting social media to work for their businesses.

Answering pressing questions

And so, a lineup of distinguished social media experts from the world of merchant acquiring addressed the issues we'd identified in a one-hour session during the ETA's recent expo. As moderator, I was fortunate to have on the panel these social media professionals:

  • Hal Gudmundsen, Director of Acquisition and Retention for Merchant Warehouse
  • Alexia Marcous, Vice President and co-founder of Dharma Merchant Services
  • Jason Putnam, Vice President of Sales, Strategic Partner Channel, First American Payment Systems LP
  • Glen Turpin, Director of Communications, overseeing social media for First Data Corp.

In case you missed the session, I will provide a synopsis here of the highlights, key points and wisdom shared by our panelists, beginning with Turpin. First Data employs social media primarily to promote awareness of business activities and thought leadership. Turpin indicated the company uses Twitter as its main social channel because of its broad appeal. Corporate news is updated through frequent tweets, or Twitter postings.

Turpin favors YouTube for other marketing channels because the company can post video vignettes that provide corporate or product overviews, customer testimonials and case studies, as well as address merchant operations, training and customer service issues.

Getting the content right

Regarding Facebook, Turpin said First Data is moving toward deploying less content but ensuring that it is richer and more focused on specific audiences, such as the small business sector. He cited the creation of First Data's Small Business Center. The processing giant also uses Facebook to empower business partners of all kinds with information and tools to help them reach their customers. First Data uses LinkedIn primarily for recruiting, but Turpin admitted this social media platform is still somewhat of an enigma for the company. The processor is experimenting with websites SlideShare, Quora and Storify, as well as other social media tools. Turpin recommends being generous with useful information shared via social media, while at the same time conveying a human voice and tone that encourage conversation.

Selecting a platform for each audience

When it comes to social media, Merchant Warehouse focuses on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and blogging, Gudmundsen said. To a lesser degree, the company also uses Flickr, Tumblr and YouTube. Merchant Warehouse uses each social media platform to target a different audience, with the goal of better engaging with new and existing customers, partners, agents and industry players, such as the news media.

Gudmundsen indicated Merchant Warehouse employs a content strategy of thought leadership to provide valuable information that breaks through marketplace noise and clutter. The company leverages social media as much as possible to dominate brand search results and improve overall search engine optimization performance.

Social media serve two roles relating to merchant acquisition, according to Gudmundsen. From a demand capture standpoint, Merchant Warehouse showcases the company and its employees, resources, expertise and credentials to merchants ready to engage in the buying process.

Regarding demand generation, Merchant Warehouse believes focusing solely on credit card processing is thinking way too small. Gudmundsen recommends talking with merchants via social media about the things they care about most, with the goal of becoming a resource and eventually the go-to firm when merchants are ready to purchase payment processing services.

Leveraging a platform's strength

At First American Payment Systems, all public-facing employees actively utilize LinkedIn, Putnam reported. He indicated the company uses the site primarily for recruiting purposes, while Twitter is used to post news about First American, industry information and recruiting messages.

Putnam indicated that First American's Facebook use is geared mainly toward its sales channel with postings of business updates, sales advice, product launch information, company news and details about philanthropic endeavors.

First American just began using Google+ because its postings are readily picked up by bots and spiders for use by Google's search engine. The company also takes advantage of YouTube and Vimeo for sharing corporate commercials and product information via video.

Broadcasting your mission

Marcous shared with the audience Dharma Merchant Services' two main social media objectives:

  1. To demonstrate to the company's niche target market for payment services that it walks the talk regarding commitment to sustainability and social responsibility

  2. To convey industry-specific information and processing tips to clients, prospects and the public

When it comes to social media, Marcous recommends content sharing at least two times a week, with website links so that consumers can digest further information about your company.

Dharma uses LinkedIn for community building and to participate in conversations started by clients, partners and thought leaders in the sustainability space. Marcous said her company uses Twitter to promote client events and to tweet about the company's Sacred Commerce business model, which focuses on creating a better world while caring about customers, business partners and employees.

Dharma also utilizes Facebook to do the following:

  • Post personnel updates pertaining to new hires, moves and anniversaries
  • Post press releases and company events
  • Promote client events
  • Use the "Like" button to publicize clients and thought leaders
  • Post comments and information on clients' walls.

Walking diverse social media paths

From the panelists' remarks, you can conclude that merchant acquirers and ISOs are using a wide variety of social media platforms to support a number of important business initiatives, including brand building and awareness, merchant acquisition, agent and employee recruitment, customer service, search engine optimization, and more.

Panel participants delivered a common, clear message that social media can be approached in a variety of effective ways. First, take your company's culture and business goals into account; then focus your efforts at sites where your customers and prospects will most likely be found. The key to successfully putting social media to work for your business is to develop a plan that aligns your people, prospects and customers with the appropriate channels and platforms. Then stay committed to and focused on continuous execution and ongoing adjustment. 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.

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