Connecting with Bill Sobel

If you don't know Bill Sobel, you should. Sobel is the Chief Connections Officer at SobelMedia and founder of NY:MIEG/The New York Media Information Exchange Group. He's has been described as a master connector — someone who opens the door to "an interconnected world of endless opportunity."

Starting this week, you'll get a chance to connect, too, through his column — Connecting ... with Bill Sobel — on CMSWire. "I'll be interviewing interesting, unique people who have a lot to say about customer experience management and social business tools and practices," he said. Enjoy! — Noreen Seebacher, Chief Editor, CMSWire

Social Media Strategies

Mardy Sitzer.jpg

We kick off today with an interview with Mardy Sitzer, principal of Bumblebee Design & Marketing in New York City. In addition to running the business, she conducts workshops on topics like social media, marketing and branding, and teaches social media for business at Fordham University.

Sobel: Tell me a little about your background in marketing.

Sitzer: I started out in traditional sales and marketing, and have a background in database management and print. I started my company in 1993 with the goal of leveling the playing field for small- to mid-sized companies. I wanted to provide access to technology, tactics and resources at affordable prices.

Sobel: So what's changed since 1993?

Sitzer: Everything has changed — and nothing has changed. The strategies have changed, and the platforms we market on and the tools we market with have changed dramatically. Unfortunately, my experience has shown that what hasn’t changed enough is how companies organize their marketing efforts.

Bigger companies are still holding themselves back with their need to control and vet everything and insistence on keeping departments separate. What overshadows marketing in larger companies is caution and fiefdoms, resulting in watered down campaigns and disconnects from target audiences. You have public relations (PR) on one side and customer service on another, rarely with a bridge between the two unless there is a crisis.

With entrepreneurs, it's a bit different. Risk is part of their DNA, and their organizations tend to have a flatter structure, creating a more inspired and team oriented approaches to getting their messages out to the market.

The real winners are those who have understood the potential of connecting directly with customers, prospects and influencers, and have made in-roads to accomplish this online.

Sobel: Thirty years ago, the Apple Mac was the driver of change. What drives change in 2014?

Sitzer: The common denominator today is that we are drowning in data and overwhelmed with the social media environment. Leaders and managers are uncertain how to respond, plan or proceed. It is like learning to dance on ice when you have a 2,000-pound elephant on your back. To thrive in 2014, companies have to invest in the right tools and the right people to reach their market potential. In the past, companies selected an advertising or marketing agency from a pool of known agencies, like in Mad Men. Today, the market is flooded with new players — making it difficult to vet service providers. Companies find it challenging to choose or hire, as well as manage the team and its processes.

Sobel: Do you recommend companies outsource their social media activities or hire 20-somethings to handle it for them?

Sitzer: The days of thinking a 20-something is the right option for managing and maintaining a company's a social media presence are over. There have been enough horror stories publicized that demonstrate poor judgment or lack of self-control, which have ended up damaging a company’s image. That’s not to say that a 20-something can’t do the job and do it well, but not without continual training and ongoing guidance. That goes for anyone — regardless of age — in a public facing job.

What we find is that companies need to broaden their thinking and open the social media gates for all employees to engage online. They need to make their strategy clear, communicate expectations, provide on-going training and coaching, and regularly take stock of results.

To answer your question regarding outsourcing — in my experience and from case studies, the most successful companies are doing their social media in-house but not without help. An outside firm or experienced professional can take the 35,000-foot view and help establish realistic strategies, take internal politics out of the mix and build strong cross-departmental teams, measure and report while providing ongoing training and coaching. This helps keep the marketing on track and performing at its best.

Strategy is the base that is often missing or is incomplete. What I most often see is a series of tactics strung together and called a strategy, or a generalized broad statement such as ‘being the market leader’ as the strategy. Yet there is no positioning, such as what needs to occur to be considered the ‘market leader’. Strategy is the ‘what’ – a clearly defined ‘what,’ while tactics are the ‘how.'

Integration is the next key element. Bring together sales, PR, advertising, marketing, customer service, IT, human resources, events and other departments to develop a unifying strategy that helps to reach and nurture the target audience while building a strong community. And integrate technology, data gathered and content created. Blend them seamlessly across networks to achieve the various goals and objectives of each department while keeping everything aligned with the company’s overall mission and vision.

Training is key. I don't mean just teaching how to use these social media tools, but rather teaching and coaching skills and tactics about how to be effective within each platform.

Sobel: What are the best tools for businesses to use for social media?

Sitzer: There is no simple or singular answer. Companies have to understand how they fit into the lives of their customers and prospects. Knowing their target audience, what will they respond to and where are they engaging online — that's what they need to know. You can make some basic assumptions, such as, if you want to drive demand for baby diapers, LinkedIn might not be the best place to start. But really, there is no singular solution for managing and monitoring social media. It requires an investment in a blend of products and services.

Sobel: What is the hot social media buzz for 2014?

Sitzer: Better visual content. It’s so noisy out there — how are you going to break through? And better systems to identify who you are connecting with out there, and identify when, where and why they interact with your company.

Sobel: What do you see for marketing in the future for companies?

Sitzer: We are being moved back into a pay to play environment, meaning that companies will have to buy advertising to be seen. I’m not referring to standard pay-per-click banner ads, but strategic campaigns on key platforms where there are incentives that drive traffic back to websites and landing pages. People are wise to ads, but they can’t resist enticements.

The good news is that if you have an advertising budget you can stay in the game. If you have no budget or a very low budget, you'll have to win new business the hard way — through a focused effort of building and engaging with a targeted community online.