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Building a following with social media

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Stacey Bender, founder and CEO, Bender Group Public Relations, with products from companies that she represents.
Stacey Bender, founder and CEO, Bender Group Public Relations, with products from companies that she represents. - ()

As consumers increasingly base their buying decisions on Google and other online searches, businesses of all sizes without a social media presence could suffer, warn some publicity professionals.

“We live in a world that’s oriented to social media,” said Stacey Bender, CEO and founder of Bender Group, a boutique public relations firm based in Montclair. “Your competitors are in the game, so you need to be, regardless of your business size or type. If someone’s thinking about buying your goods or services, the first thing they’ll do is Google you to see what you’re about and find out what’s been written about you, and they’ll check out your website and social channels.”

The major channels of social media include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and of course, a traditional website. “You can also repurpose your traditional media coverage on social media,” she said. “The goal is to stand out online and make the experience an interactive one, so you can get closer to your consumers.”

Bender helped Abeles & Heymann, a Hillside kosher deli meat and hot dog manufacturer to do that. “We worked with A&H to set up alliances with nonprofit and disaster-relief organizations,” she said. “For example, after Houston was battered by Hurricane Harvey this summer, we established a program that let consumers purchase a salami to donate to Houston; and the company matched the donations with salami from its own inventories and took care of all the shipping,” Bender said.

A&H also recently staged a social media campaign for “the best-dressed hot dog.” It encouraged people to enter an online drawing for a chance to compete in a hot dog trimming contest at Kosherfest, a kosher food trade show at the Meadowlands that was held the weekend of November 14.

“All of these online activities create a point of difference that helps the company to stand out,” said Bender. “They help to drive people to the website and share stories about the business. The nonprofit and disaster relief activities also help to promote the company’s image as a caring organization,” she said.

Some how-to social media steps

Social media has transitioned from being a nice add-on in a marketing campaign to one that’s a true necessity, according to Desiree Santiago Fagan, senior digital strategist at the New York office of public relations firm Beckerman. “For small- and medium-sized businesses, social media is one way to level the playing field, because it provides them with the opportunity to amplify their brand voice and message in the same way as companies with greater resources. Small-and mid-sized businesses with limited advertising budgets can take advantage of the ROI from social media ads, which are fairly inexpensive when compared with costly traditional advertising methods.”

The appropriate social media channels depend on the business objectives and desired audiences of each company, she said. “There are ways to utilize Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for both consumer-driven and b2b campaigns.”

She also advises clients to steer clear of some common mistakes: Not engaging with followers, and limiting yourself to “brand-centric” content.

“While it’s important to share good content, it’s also important to “like/react”, comment, and ‘share’ in order to maintain a relationship with your social media communities and create brand ambassadors,” she said. It is also important to keep social media pages conversational by varying content with industry news, pop culture, and other posts, she said, adding that otherwise, content may appear too commercial, “which is a turn-off for the average social media user.”

Her final tips: respond to both negative and positive reviews and comments that pop up on your social media sites, and “Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of a newspaper.

Bender advises companies to develop a strategy before launching a social media campaign. “You need a PR, social and digital marketing strategy in place. Develop your message, and determine what you want to accomplish, and who you’re trying to reach,” she said.

Bender also advises that programs should be designed to be compatible with financial and human resources. “Choose a few initiatives and do them well before you expand. So maybe start with Facebook and Instagram, then add Twitter and Pinterest later,” she said. “And keep focusing on your activity and analyze your results, so you can make adjustments as needed.”

Even traditional companies may benefit from a social media presence, according to John Cashman, president of Princeton-based Digital Firefly Marketing. When Parsippany-based All Jersey Moving and Storage asked Digital Firefly to set it up with social media, he started by using Facebook advertising to “target people with a life event—like a wedding or graduation—who are likely to move.”

Facebook’s ad manager program lets businesses target their paid ads by characteristics such as location, age, occupation, gender and what they like. “So if someone ‘liked’ the real estate site Zillow, it signals they’re looking for a new residence, and will likely be looking for a mover,” Cashman said. “We purchased Facebook ads for All Jersey Moving and Storage and targeted people likely to move within 25 miles of the company.”

Cashman said his company of 17 employees also helped the client create online posts, including “need to know moving tips” and other blogs designed to engage customers.

“Let’s say you’ve got a plumbing company,” Cashman said. “And on your social media you repeatedly say, ‘Joe’s Plumbing Company is awesome.’ That won’t attract many people, as it’s overly ‘salesy.’ But what if you post a list of plumbing tips on your site, like how to prepare for cold winter weather. It might not bring in new business immediately, but it is content people find useful and will consume, share and link to, and could move you up in search engine rankings. Also based on your expertise people are more likely to think of you when they do need a plumber,” he said.

Once people are on the site, they can be sent follow-up posts, coupons and other communications designed to keep the relationship going, he said. “A bonus is that with more audience on your website, your exposure can lead to higher ranks in a Google search, which is incredibly important, since 50 percent of the clicks of an interested consumer go to the top spot on a Google search, and 90 percent of searches go to the top 10 search returns,” Cashman said.

He and his cohorts offer keyword research services that can identify phrases and individual words likely to show up on a customer search. They’ll also integrate the keywords across a client’s website, reinforcing the site’s chances of getting picked up.

“We also provide weekly analytics data to monitor new traffic, leads, clicks and conversions to assess progress and further refine search engine optimization strategy,” he said. Good SEO requires regular maintenance. For example, users change their search behaviors and search engines periodically adjust their algorithms. “In a bid to give users the freshest, most relevant content, search engines also note how often your website receives updates,” Cashman said. “So if you want to rise to the top of the search results and stay there, you need to take a responsive approach to SEO as part of your overall digital campaign. It’s one more piece in the digital puzzle.”

Zero in with social media

Establish and update an email list. “Small- and medium size businesses should use their email lists as a marketing tool,” said John Cashman, president of Princeton-based Digital Firefly Marketing. But email addresses must be valid. “One way is to send e-holiday cards out and see what bounces back as undeliverable. Also, anyone who responds is a likely customer. Keep in touch with them.”

Target your audience. “Make sure that your products or services are targeted at the right consumer, the kind that’s likely to purchase them,” said Stacey Bender, CEO and founder of Montclair-based Bender Group. “So with Abeles & Heymann, we focused on websites and other social media sites that attracted kosher consumers, or ones that are interested in high-end deli meats.”

Measure your success. “Compare your sales with and without your social media promotion,” Bender said. “If they rise, then you’re doing the right thing. If not, reevaluate your outreach efforts, and the audience that you’re targeting. Social media has analytic tools to let you hyper-target a select audience.”

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