This past weekend, myself and my fellow social media-aholics Tonja Deegan and Allen Arnold traveled to the Windy City to attend Ragan Communication’s UnConference. The goal of the conference was to create a forum for communicators to discuss their uses and challenges in the social media and digital marketing space.  No surprise to us, Twitter remained a hot topic for most of the day along with other tools including Flip cameras and Facebook.

During the four-hour forum, it became clear that communicators and clients alike have reservations about engaging in social media for fear of opening the flood gates and receiving negative responses from customers or competitors.  Several suggestions were offered and if companies use them wisely, it will be hard to argue against online engagement:

  • Have a social media policy – Develop rules of engagement for clients and fellow communicators representing your brand. These are no longer the days of the Internet wild, wild west and developing guidelines for types of posts made on blogs, Twitter or Facebook is necessary.  Moreover, it will give your fellow communicators a framework for developing the type of online persona that consumers can recognize.  For those considering developing these types of policies, the NewPR Wiki links to several corporate policies.

  • Break the rules – Nobody ever said the ways companies and communicators are using social media sites are the only ways.  A fellow communicator shared a great initiative that utilized several facets of social media to present an online event called “Sleepover 2.0.”  The communicators invited friends on Facebook, looked for sponsors on Myspace, promoted it on blogs and streamed the event live.  The four women at the event used Twitter to solicit other users to contact MC Hammer by enacting a TweetBomb and received national coverage for this initiative and accolades on social media sites, not to mention a phone call from Hammer.

  • Measure – Our role as communicators is to gauge the overall sentiments about the brands we represent and improve the perceptions. Opening a forum for consumers to complain can be scary, but it can also become a way to improve (and more importantly, measure) public sentiment of your brands.  Through engaging with customers, influencers and media, the brand is able to build relationships and measure improvement.

  • Rethink what you already know – Consumers are changing their behaviors – accessing more information online before making purchases, reading online versions of their daily papers and looking for the best deal possible. Social media has become a powerful tool to get in front of these consumers and provide them direct communication and updates.

  • Have a strategy – Oftentimes, communicators can get caught up in social media tools as a strategy.  Twitter, Facebook, online video and MySpace are not strategies.  Rather, they are tools and tactics.  A strategy with goals and metrics is the best way to ensure a brand’s integration into the social media world and to track success.

The most important take-away for any communicator who attended this unconference does not have to do with the tools, tips or advice offered by colleagues.  The most important advice is that when it comes to social media and your brand, use these tips and start exploring digital media.

— Nicole Yelland

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