Posts Tagged ‘Mary Beth West Consulting’

‘Social media use analyzed’

September 17, 2010

We were thrilled to be interviewed by Carly Harrington for a piece on the Interactive Springboard social media study.

Social media use analyzed

By Carly Harrington, Knoxville News Sentinel, September 17, 2010

Businesses and organizations across Tennessee recognize the importance of social media, but most aren’t sure how to use the technology trend to its fullest potential.

That’s according to a new survey of communications professionals from across Tennessee that was conducted over the summer by Knoxville firms Interactive Springboard and Bryant Research to determine the relevance and benefits of social media.

“Social media is here to stay. It’s not a fad. Communicators say they feel very strongly about that,” said Mary Beth West, founder of Mary Beth West Consulting and partner in Interactive Springboard with Tori Rose of Blue Media Boutique.

The statewide snapshot provides a glimpse into where such professionals think social media stand and the trend’s potential to be applied within companies and organizations.

It was conducted in conjunction with the Public Relations Society of America members from the state’s five chapters in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Tri-Cities, Nashville and Memphis.

Respondents placed the highest importance on monitoring social media for comments about their organization and using social media for crisis communications.

But while most surveyed believe social media are important tools, there’s a significant gap in how companies are actually applying them.

“For much of the market there is an unclear path,” Rebecca Bryant of Bryant Research said, adding, “There are solutions to help close the gap.”

For some, the uncertainty lies in how to use social media in conjunction with traditional media. For others, it’s how to measure a return on investment.

“The myth is social media is Facebook,” Rose said.

Some businesses are looking at their competitors who are using social media and they throw up a page on Facebook “because everyone else is doing it,” she said.

“What this is showing is it’s back to strategy and planning. These are very set goals,” Rose said.

Social media represent a two-way communication model, West said, that isn’t limited to Twitter and Facebook. It needs to be specific to the needs and goals of that particular company. And that means they need to step back and do their research first.

“There’s a huge case to be made that companies need to go about this in a defined process,” West said.

It’s understandable that a business could be overwhelmed by it all, Rose said.

“It’s huge. It’s new. It’s coming at them like a freight train,” she said. “They want to pretend it’s not there and hopefully it will be gone.”

But it’s something customers are coming to expect.

“You can make a choice not to engage, but you do so at your own risk,” West said.

A copy of the report, “Tennessee Communicators’ Social Media Attitudes and Utilization: A 2010 Snapshot,” may be viewed at http://interactivespringboard.com.

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Blue Media Boutique’s Tori Rose on social media strategy

March 16, 2010

 

Read what Tori and Mary Beth West had to say about social media strategy in an article from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Strategy before execution essential in social media

By Amy Nolan, March 15, 2010

PHOTO BY DON WOOD

Tori Rose shares a secret with businesses excited about how many fans their Facebook page boasts.

“A lot of them are hiding you,” says Rose, founder of Blue Media Boutique, a Knoxville Web development firm that recently joined with Mary Beth West Consulting to promote their strategic interactive expertise.

The former Rivr Media Interactive executive launched her business two years ago as social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter exploded in popularity, and she’s watched as clients and prospects “jump in with no direction.”

They start a Facebook fan page believing “if we build it they will come.”

They start a blog, but no staff member is charged with writing it.

They want an iPhone app, but don’t know why.

To be sure, the Internet’s vast audience is alluring the corporate world, and so is its promise as a free, easy, do-it-yourself marketing platforms. The trend has been keenly by those businesses helping them shape their message.

“I think a lot of people think if you have the tools, you have the skills,” says Cynthia Moxley, CEO of Moxley Carmichael, who likens the situation to the Macintosh computer putting graphic design in reach of any user, giving rise to the term, “Mac ugly.”

Not unlike many industries affected by seismic economic shifts, marketers have used the downturn as an opportunity to take stock and reinvent themselves.

Advertising, public relations and Web development firms are consolidating and creating joint ventures, as well as tapping high-profile talent to boost their digital media credibility in the marketplace.

And businesses big and small, those already taking part in the online conversation and wondering whether anyone is listening as well as those considering jumping into the fray, are increasingly seeking expert assistance on how to be efficient and successful on the online frontier.

“Social is now at the curve where it’s becoming a more mature medium and people are expecting more out of it,” says Dan Alton, of Bluegill Creative, which recently merged with Internet marketing firm Eluminare.

Adds his business partner, Billy Rivet, “I think one of the challenges we face within the realm of social communities and mobile networks are the concerns of being interrupted. People don’t want to be marketed to, so how do you market to them without seeming to be marketing to them?”
Different audiences, approaches

Mary Ellen Brewington is a partner in Cherokee Distributing Co. and passionate community volunteer, who considers writing a hobby. She’s written articles for a Knoxville lifestyle magazine and earned a college degree in creative writing.

She began playing around with Facebook and Twitter last year, and signed Moxley Carmichael to talk through her efforts and get the technical assistance to make the company’s Web site more interactive.

Brewington now authors the blog, “On Tap,” that’s accessible from Cherokee’s Web site, and visitors are also invited to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Her audience is primarily local: Cherokee distributes beer and non-alcoholic drinks to grocery stores and restaurants in 22 East Tennessee counties.

She’ll write about a beer-tasting event or fundraiser for a worthy cause, but she also devotes a fair number of words on less obvious promotional topics — from favorite beer drinking songs, the history of craft beers to some pointers on how to determine “what moderation means for you.”

Her mission is provide some entertainment and education, she says, along with promoting Cherokee’s products.

“Good business is really all about relationships, and I view social media as one of the ways to build those relationships,” she says.

She’s now receiving weekly reports on her Web traffic, and is particularly interested in how readers came to visit the site, the demographics of fans and followers, and what experts say is an often overlooked metric — whether readers are responding.

Tracking a reader to the grocery story is difficult, but she intuitively believes “putting a bug in someone’s ear,” about the nostalgic resurgence of Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example, may prompt him to pick up a six-pack at Food City.

Ruby Tuesday, on the other hand, wants to build relationships with potential customers around the world with hopes they’ll visit its nearly 900 restaurants.

Gavin Baker joined the Maryville-based restaurant chain eight months ago as social media manager.

Facebook is currently the “big dog” in the social media space, Baker notes, and Ruby Tuesday boasts 60,000-plus fans of its page.

The marketing department creates a conversational calendar for Facebook posts, dividing messages into three categories: community, product and company.

“We set that up ahead of time, and coordinate that with everything else we are doing,” he says.

Messages are vetted in the marketing department before they’re posted.

“The easiest thing to measure is the fan count — unfortunately that number doesn’t really tell you anything,” Baker says.

He watches closely what wall posts elicit comments and analyzes demographic information and engagement scores provided by Facebook.

Tracking the reader to the restaurant is made easier by an old-fashioned tool “that gets a lot of love,” he says — a coupon. Fans this month get a free appetizer; in mid-March the company launched a $1 million contest tied to the NCAA basketball tournament.
Beyond Facebook, Twitter

Katie Granju joined Ackermann PR in April 2009 as the agency’s first director of social media. She brought with her nearly eight years of participating in a variety of online communities, both professionally — she was among the first community producers for the Oxygen network — and personally as a citizen actively engaged in her neighborhood’s development and a mother interested in learning and sharing the triumphs and travails of parenting.

When HGTV, the Knoxville-based lifestyle television network, sought to tap into the exploding group of so-called mommy bloggers they turned to Granju, who blogs at mamapundit.com.

“The idea was tossed around to start from scratch” with its own blog or other targeted messages, Granju says.

Ultimately, the network signed to its talent stable Heather Armstrong, who in 2001 began publishing dooce.com, a blog that has spawned two books.

“Instead of taking on-air talent and giving them an online component, this is taking some of the best online talent in the world and growing them in the other direction,” Granju says. “That makes HGTV very smart and ahead of the curve.”

The move also illustrates what Granju says are often overlooked opportunities — from endorsements of online celebrities to the more mundane Listservs and Yahoo groups.

While Granju may be a poster child for new media and all things digital, she sounds not unlike Cathy Ackermann, her boss and the public relations strategist who founded the agency 28 years ago.

“This is new, so people got excited about it, got out there in the space and many put execution before strategy,” Granju says. “It’s never going to work as well if it’s put into a silo and not aligned with a company’s business goals and everything else they are doing.”

She also preaches that companies need to integrate all their digital media elements. Her firm has been called on to perform “digital audits” for locally-based companies with national footprints, including Ruby Tuesday, Pilot Travel Centers and Radio Systems, the makers of the Invisible Fence and other pet products.

Granju says metrics to measure success are getting “better and more accurate,” particularly in just the last year.

“The metrics that matter are different for every client,” she says. “They are only as meaningful as to what they can do the product or whatever your call to action is. We determine first, ‘What does success look like?’ and then we can create a system that we can measure for that.”

Ackermann’s digital audit at Pilot Travel Centers will look at what tools are being used to monitor online traffic and conversations, consolidate its interactive strategies with its brand vision, as well as adding functions to the Web site that allows visitors to plan their trips with stops at Pilot.
Conversation is two-way

While the company’s message and user-friendly presence are important, conversation is ultimately a two-way street making listening and responding integral to the strategy.

Lyndsay Caylor, named Pilot Travel Centers’ social media manager in October, finds herself frequently communicating with the company’s human resources office, where she started her Pilot career, the legal team and the executive suite.

Such was the case recently when Pilot’s Facebook page became ground zero for a battle between the Humane Society of the United States and agriculture interests unhappy with the organization.

At the crux was an employee-driven fundraising appeal to customers to support funding shelters for animals displaced by disasters that came to light when the Humane Society identified Pilot as a corporate sponsor. Ultimately, Pilot stopped the solicitations and CEO Jimmy Haslam explained why on a farmer-hosted radio show carried by 100 rural radio stations.

Caylor was unfazed that the controversy consumed the company’s fan page, because it’s just that — the fans’ page.

Besides posting its own statement of clarification several times, Pilot let the conversation continue freely — and that in itself earned the company plaudits from its fans.

“We understand these are customer issues, and it’s their space,” Caylor says. “We are very honest. We just talked through the facts and posted the truth.”

Facebook, she says, “compared to all of our online chatter is a very small percentage,” she says, noting that she monitors online forums, blogs, Twitter and a number of other sites to determine who’s saying what about her employer.

That type of interaction is also a measure of a company’s social media success — for better or worse, the fans are engaged with the brand.

“If you don’t tell your story, someone else is going to tell it and it might not be on their Facebook page,” notes Bluegill Creative’s Jeremy Floyd. “I would much rather see a client participate in that conversation than not know about it.”

Moxley notes those types of disruptions are what scare many companies. “We got a lot of push back from businesses that their biggest concern was tjat in the social realm people might ‘talk bad about us.’ We tell them they already are talking about you, you just can’t hear them.”

Amy Howell, founder and principal of Howell Marketing Strategies in Memphis, told a Knoxville audience recently to remember, however, that corporate messages via the Internet carry the same rules as with any media.

“We tell clients posting online is global, discoverable and permanent so having a policy in place is important,” she said. “Just because the younger generation is technically savvy, doesn’t mean they’re corporate savvy.”

That policy extends to the company’s internal audience, as well — its employees.

Caylor says she was somewhat surprised how quickly and vehemently loyal employees would rush to the company’s defense online.

Pilot now has an internal social media policy — and Granju says more companies are following its lead.

At its basic level, the policy reminds employees to treat customers no differently online than they would in person at a convenience store or truck stop.

“It’s really just about being mindful of what you do online,” Caylor says. “And to remember than nothing is anonymous and that Google has a really long tail.”

Mary Beth West, the public relations professional and Rose’s partner in Interactive Springboard, says employees are one of the most overlooked audiences.

Board members, volunteers and the community-at-large are also audiences that have expectations from companies that may be different from customers, she notes.
Collaboration versus competition

In part because interactive media is still developing territory, communications professionals — being who they are — are talking about it. A lot.

Knoxville boasts not just one, but two associations devoted to social media.

The groups sponsored a half-day seminar in February attended by some 200 marketing and media types. Their members’ blog feeds, Facebook posts and Twitter streams are populated by the latest and greatest thinking on the subject.

“Five to seven years ago it was all about who could come up with the next big idea,” Blue Media’s Rose says. “Now there are so many of them if you don’t collaborate it’s impossible to keep up.

“We have a very collaborative environment online now,” she adds. “That is why business ventures are changing and there’s a lot more collaborating in person, as well.”

The “in person” collaboration is likely the ultimate measure of success, Floyd says, whether it’s a customer buying a product, inquiring about a service or making a referral.

“Ultimately, you want the relationship you have developed online to be taken to the physical realm.”

Amy Nolan is publisher/editor of the Greater Knoxville Business Journal.

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East Tennessee Firms Launch Interactive Springboard

February 16, 2010

East Tennessee Firms Launch Interactive Springboard

Interactive Agency and PR Firm Start Joint Venture

 

Knoxville and Maryville, Tenn. Blue Media Boutique, a web development and interactive agency, and Mary Beth West Consulting, a public relations and reputation management consulting firm, announced today the launch of Interactive Springboard (http://www.interactivespringboard.com), a joint venture that provides an integrated, research-based approach to social media that supports client marketing communications.

            The firms, led by Tori Rose of Blue Media Boutique and Mary Beth West, have partnered successfully on several diverse client projects since 2008 involving web strategy and social media and are now formalizing their collaboration under the Interactive Springboard name.

“Our work model is unique to this market in both its collaborative approach between two highly specialized firms and its focus on utilizing market research,” West said.  “Many current social media programs suffer two missing links: the effective use of audience research and a content-development process that drives dynamic relationship-building.  Our team is prepared to meet those client needs for better online engagement.”

According to West and Rose, the best web development and social media strategies demand client-specific audience research as the foundation.  Without that research, companies risk taking a “shotgun” approach and failing to realize the benefits of social and online community-building to their true potential. 

In some cases, companies get in over their heads and launch social media applications that they are unable to support with consistent and relevant content for their online audiences, resulting in a loss of credibility with customers and the public alike, Rose said.

             “Great social media execution is the ultimate moving target today,” Rose said.  “With the constant changes taking place in social media technology development and use by consumers and businesses worldwide, it’s critical for clients to know their own customer base first-hand and how their media-use behaviors are trending.” 

            Both firms comprising Interactive Springboard offer diverse team backgrounds and have their own histories of extensive work partnering with other third-party agencies and teams, both in the Knoxville market and beyond.

Blue Media Boutique’s design, programming and animation professionals are based across the continent and include a collective 50-plus years of interactive and web development experience.   

Rose’s background is extensive and diverse, spanning several marketing disciplines over a period of 16 years at companies in the United States and Canada. Most recently, as vice president, creative director of RIVR Media Interactive (RMI), Rose was responsible for RMI’s creative vision, design, and interactive projects for a wide variety of clients, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Shell, Gibbes Museum of Art, and Duke University. In addition to launching RMI’s first property, Needled.com, Rose developed three award-winning pieces for the Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP) and won a PRSA and IABC award for two Morrison Management Specialists projects.

Prior to RIVR, Rose served as creative director of Edison Schools in New York, Chris Whittle’s entrepreneurial initiative to change public education in America. Rose was a key player in the design and development of Edison’s distance learning initiative—using live video, animation and Internet resources to deliver a K-12 curriculum program and professional development training to the classroom. She holds a master’s degree in media from The New School University and a bachelor of arts degree from Wake Forest University.

The team at Mary Beth West Consulting includes a collective 75-plus years of marketing communications and public relations experience working in-house with such companies as General Motors, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association, Eastman Kodak, Corrections Corporation of America and Champion Products.

Accredited in public relations, Mary Beth West’s own 16-year career has included award-winning work producing national media relations campaigns, employee communications programs and crisis preparedness systems in the energy, financial services and corporate sectors.

West has served two appointments on the national board of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals, and is a past president of the Knoxville-based PRSA Volunteer Chapter.  She serves on the UT College of Communication and Information Board of Visitors.

Interactive Springboard can be found at www.interactivespringboard.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

About Blue Media Boutique

Based in Knoxville, Tenn., Blue Media Boutique provides creative, technology and marketing services, including design, development, animation, video, illustration, branding, print, e-commerce, database, CMS, search optimization, copywriting, promotions, events and campaigns. www.bluemediaboutique.com

About Mary Beth West Consulting, LLC

Based in Maryville, Tenn., Mary Beth West Consulting advances clients’ communications, relationships and reputations to meet business and organizational objectives.  The firm’s services include research strategy, integrated marketing communications campaigns; media, community and employee relations programs; interactive media strategy and program management; crisis preparedness; and special events.  www.marybethwest.com

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Get your 2010 social media strategy developed

November 17, 2009

Guest blog for Mary Beth West Consulting, affiliate partner to Blue Media Boutique

If you have spent much of 2009 worrying about how to create a Facebook page for your company or when to open up the Twitter floodgates, you’ve probably put too much emphasis on the tools and not enough emphasis on the strategy behind those tools.

In any other business initiative, you’d begin by first looking at what you want to accomplish. The same type of planning needs to be applied to social media. They’re not just tools to launch because “everyone else is doing it.” They’re tools that can effectively work for you once you have a plan in place to guide your way.

Step 1: Research your audience. Who are they? Where are they online? Understand how your target audience (as defined by gender, age, and geography) uses social media. If your audience skews younger, consider Facebook and contests or sweepstakes. If your audience skews older – business executives, for example – consider ratings and reviews instead.

While secondary research may help inform what general direction you should go in, there is no substitute for primary research. Surveys, focus groups and other services will give you an analysis of what your current audience is doing online. Direct observation is also imperative. Are there already Facebook fan pages and/or groups talking about your industry or brand? Who are the key bloggers writing about your topic area? Listening to what is already going on is an essential first step in developing a social media strategy.

Step 2: What type of relationship, if any, do you already have with your audience? Are they aware of your brand? Are they loyal customers and brand enthusiasts or have they really only made a transaction or two with you? Pick one side of the scale and stick with it. Social media is not about reaching a mass audience. Instead, it is about reaching the influencers, developing relationships, having a conversation, and getting insights.

Step 3: What is your objective? Are you launching a tool to communicate with your customers? Are you trying to incite them to talk about your company with others? Is this an awareness initiative where you’re increasing your visibility and are actively interacting on many different levels? Are you trying to get your audience to generate content that you can then use in product development? Is this an effort to improve your reputation and manage communications? It is very important to decide on the objective before you decide on the technology to be used.

Step 4: Content, content, content. Start with your pitch. What is it? Describe what your company does in 120 characters or less. Better yet, define it in one word. Volvo = Safety, for example. Develop an editorial calendar and allocate resources to implement it. Do you have the capacity internally to handle the workload or do you need to hire an external resource to do the work? And keep in mind, social media that exists and is generated in a silo is never a good idea. It needs to be owned by the entire organization. The person/people put in charge of the content should be comfortable with the tools and be passionate about your organization.

Step 5: How are you going to humanize your company? Social media is about people and conversations. It’s not about logos and corporate-speak. How will you get down to that level online? Transparency and honesty are key. Will you allow employees to engage in the social media efforts? How will you deal with negative comments to turn them into positive situations? All of these items need to be considered before launching a program.

Step 6: How will you measure success? Determine your key metrics before you get started. Pick the right metrics that will help you track your objectives. Look at trend movements and changes over time, not just numbers. It is also important not to look at a single metric, but rather to evaluate your strategy performance from multiple dimensions.

Once all of these factors are carefully considered, you’ll be able to pick the right tools and social media tactics. Start small. Be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Modify, evaluate, and grow.

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