Social and Local: The New Killer Platform

In preparation for their next conference in Boston (which I will be attending third week of March), BIA/Kelsey recently organized a webinar titled “Social and Local: The New Killer Platform”. For the first time (I think), they used a very interesting Q&A discussion format between Neal Polachek, Jed Williams and Andrew Shotland. Here are the interesting tidbits I excerpted from the presentation and some of my thoughts:

Is social media still experimental or can it be measured?

Jed Williams replied that it’s “both” and it depends on size of the business (he probably meant bigger companies are moving past the experiment stage). They see more pressure towards ROI calculation but there will still be experimentation in 2011-2012.

I agree with BIA/Kelsey that we will still see social media trials but I think some sorts of ROI calculation will have to be part of those experiments as well.

What else should be on your radar other than Facebook and Twitter?

Andrew Shotland replied that the social media market is incredibly fragmented. He mentioned blogs and message boards but basically summed it up by saying you should go where your customers are.

I would add Linkedin, Foursquare and YouTube are probably key components of a comprehensive social media strategy. You also need to be interested in up-and-coming services like Quora and Namesake.

How do you create more engagement with your customers?

Williams replied that small merchants (SMBs) must do three things: 1) they must be present and active in social media. 2) they must do real customer service and do it quickly, thoughtfully and personally and finally, 3) they have to empower their audience.

I completely agree that SMBs must be present. Social media (especially Twitter) is currently a land grab with the first local businesses establishing credibility with a huge local consumer base. Customer care is obviously important but that’s not the bulk of the opportunity for small merchants. They have to share relevant content and make themselves useful in their local social media ecosystem, not just be glorified customer care representatives.

How can you really measure social media?

Shotland answered that it’s tricky to measure. For metrics, he mentioned that there’s probably a way to do a pre/post analysis on things like revenues, foot traffic, transactions, positive brand mentions, negative brands mentions, etc.

It’s one of the important things we’re focused on with Needium, our social media lead gen service. Right now, we provide advertisers with a basket of ROI data points including number of fans/followers, number of messages sent on their behalf, number of meaningful conversations we’ve engaged into, number of check-ins at their location and number of clicks to their website. Tracking phone calls will probably become useful in the future.

How should SMBs be thinking about social reputation management? What about media companies?

Williams said it needs to be top of mind and mentioned this is a big big opportunity for media companies.

Today, I would say reputation management for SMBs encompasses two concepts: listings management and reputation management. I’m a big fan of listings management because, in a fragmented local search world, it gives small merchants the assurance that their basic listing will be present everywhere and that the information is the same everywhere. That’s the entry-level product in presence management. As for reputation management (i.e. what’s being mentioned about SMBs in social media), there is certainly an opportunity but it’s probably not as useful as people make it sound. When looking at our Needium small merchant advertisers, most of them have just a few mentions of their name/brand over a given month (versus a large amount of business opportunities). It can be interesting data but SMBs (or media companies) can’t expect a huge volume of natural conversations around them. Reputation management is probably a good social media training-wheel product but I expect small merchants will want to migrate quickly to better, more active social media presence management.

All in all, a very interesting webinar. You can listen to it here and see the slides here.

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