Navigating Social Media

This story originally ran in the August issue of Toys & Family Entertainment.

Klout score. Alexa ranking. Google analytics. Search engine optimization. Hashtag. If these terms are una lingua straniera—a foreign language—then it’s time to get educated. At one time, reaching a target audience was relatively easy. Everyone knew that TV ads worked in certain instances while a print campaign was better in other situations. There were tried-and-true ways to get the word out about a product. The plan was crafted and implemented and then everyone waited for the sales to start rolling in.

However, over the past few years, the landscape has changed dramatically. While TV ads and print campaigns as well as a lot of other “traditional” methods still work, the now-ubiquitous term “social media” has changed how people process information. While implementing a social media plan may seem daunting to some, it is actually an amazing tool to communicate directly with a target audience. Never before have companies been able to interact with real consumers in real time. Outlined here are a few tips for navigating the social media landscape.

What Are You Trying to Accomplish? What Is Your Voice? Most companies know they need to be on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but many of them don’t know why and don’t know what to say once the accounts are set up.

“Social media is not an endgame,” says Catherine Ventura, principal of Venn Diagram, a social media strategy company. “The purpose is to support your marketing goals. What goals can social media help achieve? What is my positioning in the market?”

From there, develop a voice for your digital strategy. This is the toy industry so, more than likely, the voice will be fun or silly. But as Betsy Smith, digital media specialist of Digital Power and Light, the social media branch of G.S. Schwartz, which handles Goldberger Toy, Techno Source, and Pressman, points out, client Goldberger Toy explored the safety route when developing a voice, which makes it stand out from some other toy companies.

Social Media Should Be Social. Most companies think social media is nerdy or it’s a tech thing so they give the job of running social media campaigns to the company’s IT person. But that is the wrong way to go about it, according to Smith. “Think about it this way,” she says. “If you are going to run a trade show or host a cocktail party on behalf of your brand, who would you choose to represent the brand? Is it the same guy who runs your server? The social media person has to be outgoing and friendly,” Smith says. “It has to be someone customers can relate to.”

Research and Build Relationships. When talking about social media, the buzzword in the toy industry is mommy blogger. It’s become an umbrella term encompassing just about any mother sitting in front of a computer. Yet separating those with a legitimate following from those who are not as successful is no different than researching who’s who in traditional media.

“It’s all about legwork and relationship building,” says Melissa Winston, of Litzky Public Relations, which also handles part of aNb Media’s social media strategy. “Read their posts everyday. What are their followers interested in?”

Since social media is, well, social, it’s all about give and take. Communication can be broken down like this, according to Ventura: 60 percent of what you share on social media should be valuable content for your community. Think of yourself as a magazine that provides valuable information. Reinforce yourself as an expert and thought leader. Thirty percent should be networking, which means responding to other people with “likes,” “retweets,” and links. Then the last 10 percent should be the “ham sandwich,” says Ventura. “This is the part that everyone jokes about,” she says. “What did you have for breakfast? What are your interests? Charities you support? Hobbies? This is what makes you a real person.”

Not All Social Media Sites Are the Same. Social media has become a catch-all phrase but each site serves a specific purpose for a specific audience. The sites that will be of use to those in the toy industry are Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Think of it like this, says Venn Diagram’s Ventura, “Twitter is like your AP wire. It’s how you let the world know what you are doing,” she says. “Facebook is a community. It’s your campfire where you sit around and talk to folks you know. LinkedIn is your Business Wire.” Don’t cross-post because each platform is unique. Your tweet probably won’t make sense as a Facebook posting.

Ventura points out that LinkedIn is an often overlooked business tool. It easily connects you to every person you have ever worked with. Once a week post a media mention that your company achieved, a conference you attended, trade show where you’ll exhibit, or business-related book you are reading.

Don’t Be Afraid of Customer Service. Most companies live in fear that their brand or product will be bashed on the internet and there won’t be a thing that they can do to address it or resolve it. When something does happen, companies tend to recoil and watch from the sidelines, which only exacerbates the problem. It’s better to take the bull by the horns and address the consumers’ needs or gripes—whether real or imagined. The reality is that the majority of consumers are not raving lunatics that want to hold your brand hostage for free stuff. Most people just want to be heard. Then they want someone at the company to address the incident. A simple acknowledgement will usually work.

Every company needs to have a social media customer service strategy. The person posting needs to be knowledgeable about the company, products, and services. The person also needs to have the authority to respond quickly whether it’s with a simple message, replacement part, coupon, etc.

Social media is the here and now—especially for the toy industry. It’s how today’s young moms are reaching each other. There is no better or more cost effective way for a company to join in the consumers’ conversation.