Social Media is Mainstream Media

Here is my Publisher’s Outlook which will appear in the March 2010 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine. I hope you find it useful

Last month I spent some time discussing how social networking will impact your company on search engines. In this issue, it is worth discussing how these technologies are changing marketing, media and sales. A company recently contacted me because they were falling behind… A competitor of theirs had amassed over 100,000 Twitter followers and they had fewer than 100. They surmised correctly that if these 100,000 people who follow the competition are qualified, the balance of power in marketing has just shifted wildly. You see, the 100,000 followers belonged to a person working for a very small company in the market. Traditional marketing – even e-mail – is becoming less effective.

Virtually all forms of customer outreach are declining in value. Radio, TV and print media are losing more and more eyeballs to the Web. Direct mail is being destroyed by e-mail and e-mail is being destroyed by Twitter and Facebook. You see, many people in their twenties and under are not using e-mail or even the Web, they use Facebook as their Internet portal and Facebook and/or Twitter for messaging.

Social media is transforming how we communicate with customers and the later you are to the game, the worse life will be for you. The competition for eyeballs is increasing by the moment and you need to climb on board as soon as possible because it takes time to build a network of followers.

But the question I hear most often is: How do companies grow their Twitter followers and do it quickly?

If this is a situation you find yourself in as well, you have arrived very late to the game and Twitter has made it more difficult as of late to add massive amounts of followers without hard work. In fact, the summer of 2008 seems to be the time they started to impose a 2,000-follower limit on accounts.

This limit depends on factors such as how many people follow you so it isn’t a stringent limit per se. Still, this limitation makes it more difficult to grow a large following, but the flipside is it limits the damage spammers can do in this basic social networking service.

I recently started using a software package called Hummingbird, which helps people increase their Twitter followers. In order to use it, you enter in keywords you want to track and then let it “listen.” When it finds a tweet with one of the keywords used in your query it auto-follows the person mentioning the term. For example, if your search terms are “Geico, Insurance, Progressive,” you will auto-follow anyone using these terms in their tweets.

What I have found is if you allow this program to run overnight in the U.S., you start to follow a lot of international people. This is likely not the way to use this program unless you are looking for a global Twitter audience. If you try the program, which costs just under $100, be sure to use esoteric terms first to get comfortable with the followers you attract – you see people you follow will likely follow you back.

I have been spending considerable time cleaning out my own Twitter account because I chose to auto-follow people based on the keywords “Skype” and “video” – bad choices if you are looking for people in the communications and tech spaces.

Perhaps the best way to add related followers on Twitter is a directory such as “Twellow,” which allows you to search for people based on interests. You have to follow them one-by-one, unfortunately, but without question, the directory seems to contain the thought leaders in the few industries I checked.

Another important tip is in order to get people to follow you must add insight in your tweets and generally share important information. Humor doesn’t hurt either. In addition, you need to seek out others on Twitter and have conversations with them. You don’t want to send them direct messages but instead use the “@” sign so your communications are searchable and show up to the persons’ followers.

In other words, you could send me “@rtehrani I really liked your last column” and this tweet shows up to my followers and some of my followers may see the tweet and choose to follow you.

The transformation of communications is quite real and contact centers have the potential to be your gateway into social media. In fact you already have very social people working for you as agents and they are likely the same people who are experts in Facebook and Twitter in your company.

I suggest you engage them quickly and find ways to implement their social media knowledge and, in the process, help your company communicate with current and future customers more effectively. Remember, there is absolutely no question that social media has become mainstream media.

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