Digital Domain

Weber Shandwick's Greg Swan taps into the power of social networking, and sees even more opportunities ahead.

By Elizabeth Millard

Whether it's used for work avoidance or marketing boosts, social media is here to stay, and Weber Shandwick's digital strategy director, Greg Swan, is soaking in it. Not only does he boast professional experience using social marketing-including a new stint on the board of directors for the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association-but he also runs his own music blog, Perfect Porridge. He shares some insights on the power of being social:

How did you get started working with social media? » In 2004, I moved to the Twin Cities, and a few years later, I was working for one particular client with a target audience that was web-savvy and affluent. We ended up building an advergame, and when this launched, my eyes were opened. Public relations has always been about connecting with an audience, and in the last couple decades, social media has become a natural extension of that. Now we have the ability to use social marketing to address what a particular audience subset needs.

Beyond using technology to deliver a message, and boosting interaction with customers, what sets social marketing apart from more traditional marketing? » It's about turning down your own volume. You can't always talk about yourself, and when you do, you have to add value to the conversation. It's like walking into a dinner party; you walk around and listen to the different discussions, and see where you can add relevant comments. You don't just walk up to the first group you see and start talking about a product that has nothing to do with their conversation. Everyone will just think, "Who invited this guy?"

Considering that it's difficult to track a social marketing return on investment, how do you gauge whether a campaign is successful? » Ultimately, it's about your goals, and your objective. The best way to measure marketing is benchmarking against yourself-so if you have a social marketing campaign go live today, you'll know this time next year if you're successful. We've developed a scorecard here for clients, following what can be tracked and what can be evaluated on a regular basis. For example, suppose a campaign increased the number of Facebook fans for a product or company by 75 percent, and 20 percent of those have interacted on a regular basis. Now you have a measurement, you can look at engagement.

What's ahead in terms of social marketing? What are you anticipating? » I think one part of the future will be social CRM, where that application is partnered with social marketing. It's what companies like Comcast are doing already with listening to what customers are saying and solving problems proactively. The future of customer service isn't about the customer coming to the company only when something goes wrong, it's about creating a strategy for interaction with existing and potential customers, creating a relationship.

The other coming trend will be transparency, where companies humanize and allow themselves to admit mistakes. And another trend is geolocation based on social networks, where you have massive opportunities for marketing. Think about it: At any given time, we know where consumers are because every cell phone has GPS, so it's not far-fetched to think about serving up a coupon when they pass a specific store, and with social marketing we're going beyond even that. We're working on adding value to their experiences.

Some advice from Swan on how to harness social media for marketing campaigns:

Talking Points:
Don't view social marketing as an add-on >> These days, there's no such thing as online-only or offline-only when it comes to campaigns. Every experience should have a component of both. So many marketing managers think of social marketing as added on to a campaign because it's what they think they should be doing. Instead, what we try to do is position social marketing as a key component from the very beginning.

Use social networking sparingly >> Some marketing managers make the mistake of participating in social networking just because they think it's now mandatory. But it's better to do fewer things in social marketing, and do them well, than to have more presence and do it poorly.

Add value >> You don't have to be on Twitter just because the competitors are, and you shouldn't be on there at all if you don't have something to say. That community expects that if you're there, you should be adding value, so if you just put up an account and don't update it, or post messages that aren't relevant, doing social networking could work against you.