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Social Media Panel Shares Secrets to Success on Facebook, Twitter

The social media panelistsThe social media panelists were, from left, Chris Phillips, Apartment Therapy; Jessica Koster, Cargill BiOH, Julia Rosien, Social North; and Kelly Ellis, Serta. Crystal Vilkaitis of Snapretail, far right, moderated the discussion.
CHICAGO - Social media is the hottest topic in the online world, but in the B2B environment, the rationale and strategy for a social networking campaign are not always clear.
     The final session at the Online Technologies Conference in Chicago was Social Media and the Real World, a panel discussion about how businesses have leveraged social media and how they measure the return on investment.
     Panelists were Kelly Ellis, director of integrated marketing for Serta International; Julia Rosien, former communications director for Natura World and founder of social media consultancy Social North; Jessica Koster, commercial manager of Cargill BiOH; and Chris Phillips, director of Apartment Therapy Media. The discussion was moderated by Crystal Vilkaitis, the newly named director of social media for Snapretail.
     The panelists agreed that while making the leap into the world of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites can be intimidating and time-consuming, it's a great way to build a brand, extend a company's reach and build a very direct relationship with customers and end consumers.
     "You don't engage in social media as a PR arm of your company," Rosien said. "Your company should embody the transparency that you can get through social media."
     Ellis agreed that this transparency can be difficult to embrace, but it's the key to a successful social media effort, even when (and perhaps especially when), you are dealing with an unhappy customer.
     "Be prepared to be completely transparent - especially when it comes to customer service," she said. "Be prepared with time and resources, and get someone to be a brand advocate - someone who is passionate about your brand.
     "You also have to be prepared when you enter this space that you will get disgruntled customers who find you. They will threaten to use these media against you. Make it a quick resolution - don't be afraid of it, but be prepared to work hand-in-hand with your customer service department."
     Because of the open nature of social media, there are opportunities for companies to learn what consumers are saying about them.
     "Your customers are talking about you," Rosien said. "Isn't it better that you're there to hear about it?"
     "That's the benefit of social media - you can create a real dialog," Koster added. "We may end up that we agree to disagree, but we have created a respectful commentary."
     Blogs are a good way to start the conversation, but you don't necessarily have to create your own, Phillips said. Instead you can leverage the content that others are already producing to help build your own community. "Lots of blogs already cover your field," he said. "You can get your feet wet by pitching them, joining the conversation and getting to know those editors and influencers."
     Social media influence tends to grow organically, but it's most effective when it's used to create conversation.
     "Once you've started a community, watch what people are talking about and join the conversation," Phillips said.
     "Look around you and back and forth," Koster added. "Don't make it just about your business."

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