Many businesses missing out on social media potential

Though most savvy businesses now use social media to spread their reach and connect with customers in more intimate ways, many are missing out on the full potential of this expanding network of communities.

So says Spencer Smith, a social media speaker and consultant who spoke yesterday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. Smith teaches social media strategies at UW-Madison, and works with Fortune 500 companies like IBM, Kohl’s, Kimberly Clark, Oshkosh Truck and others.

“Social media — for all of us — is the greatest opportunity there has ever been to help other people look good,” he said. “So if you ever question, ‘Well, what do I say?’ or ‘How do I spend time effectively?’ look for good things happening in the community, your customers… and highlight what they do first, because there is an inherent virality to that.”

And that’s important, because as Smith pointed out, public relations is a $14 billion industry in the U.S. Using cheap social media tools can keep costs down for companies as they work to mitigate negative exposure while elevating the positive.

One common issue with companies is that they are simply giving up too quickly, according to Andrew Foxwell, co-founder and CEO of social media advising firm Foxwell Digital. He focuses much of his work on using Facebook for digital marketing.

“Social media takes time if you want to do it well,” he said, emphasizing the importance of determining which channels will work best to achieve an organization’s strategic goals.

Setting specific, long-term goals for social media stats can also help a company stay on track, he added.

“That’s a common frustration I hear from people — they’ll start, it won’t work in one week… it’s an expectation-setting game they’re doing,” he said.

He advised companies to understand and get familiar with the numerous options available for specifically targeting certain individuals.

“It might take you six months of smaller spends to figure out OK, that’s working, this is good, we’re now seeing success,”‘ he said. “So setting that expectation and playing the long game, it will pay off in the long-run.”

According to Don Stanley, co-founder of Wisconsin-based 3Rhino Media and social media lecturer at UW-Madison, the most important thing businesses can do with social is to be helpful, providing info and resources online that their potential customers want — not simply peppering them with ads.

“It really comes down to thinking like the end user, your customer, really getting into the mind of them,” he said. “It’s OK to ask for a sale, but you really have to think from their perspective, what’s of value to them. Otherwise, why would they follow you?”

–By Alex Moe