Weighing in on Social Media at SIIA NetGain

May 19, 2011

On May 17, in Boston, Mass. -- the same city that gave us the first telephone call and first email -- information professionals gathered at SIIA NetGain 2011, to discuss how organizations can integrate major information trends into business models to promote growth and expand customer reach. With "road trip to innovation" as its catchphrase, and with sessions that tackled topics such as the use of social media in marketing, SIIA NetGain presented attendees with a variety of strategies to help them not only survive in today's competitive market, but to succeed in the future.

First to the podium was keynote speaker Brian Halligan, CEO and founder of HubSpot, a marketing software platform provider, to discuss why organizations need to revamp traditional marketing techniques to effectively reach consumers. Halligan explained "there is a wholesale change in the way marketing has to happen over the next 5-10 years. It's not a tweak, it's not pasting a little bit of social media on top of the old stuff; it is from the inside out completely transforming."

According to Halligan, the shift will be from what he calls outbound marketing techniques such as telemarketing, email blasts, and print and radio ads, to inbound techniques like utilizing social media sites. "The traditional way of marketing is outbound interruption based marketing. How do you interrupt your way into people's lives? The new way of marketing is how you pull them in, in the way humans actually learn and shop." With caller ID and email spam filters, consumers have become very good at blocking traditional marketing techniques, and because of this "you can't interrupt your way into people's lives because they are just not listening," says Halligan. Instead, companies need to reach consumers by pulling "them in through blogs and through all these social media sites."

This wasn't the last conference attendees heard about the importance of social media. In a round table discussion, Barry Graubart, VP of customer development for Crowd Fusion, a publishing platform for media companies and brands, explained that online communities are becoming an increasingly valuable marketing resource for companies. "We are seeing a lot of changes that are really driving the adoption of communities. The key thing is, just attracting an audience today is getting much more difficult. You've got all the content farms, which clutter up the front page, and you are not getting the presence. You are also losing your reach with users," says Graubart. To be successful, an organization must "figure out who your audience is and give them a platform that lets them focus in on specific topics rather than just posting to Facebook. Give them a niche area... and then have the discussion around that content. This becomes a reason to go see your site instead of just using a general site."

However, Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, a research and consulting firm, argues that just adopting social media techniques isn't enough to be successful; companies must start assimilating data from these social sites into their marketing schemes. In what she calls "the social muddle," companies are "latching on to social media marketing activities, so many organizations have a Twitter stream, they have a Facebook account, they are out there broadcasting and doing what they need to do, but they often don't connect the information back into the organization in useable ways," says DiMauro. "It is very uncommon for customer service to mine the Facebook data or the Twitter stream in order to look for customer innovations or opportunities to bring data back to product marketing. So great stuff is happening out front but not being brought back into the organization in meaningful and programmatic ways, and that's where the muddle occurs." 

While the benefit of pushing content onto social media sites was the clear hot button topic at SIIA NetGain 2011, how customers will consume that content also piqued attendee interest. During a panel session on leading innovation, Ned May, VP and lead analyst at Outsell, Inc., a research and advisory firm, acknowledged that with the emergence of applications and mobile devices organizations will need to reconsider content delivery methods. "We have seen a lot of attention around applications and around building applications for delivering content. We are seeing perhaps an overemphasis on delivering content through an application," says May. "A year ago the tablet was this great opportunity to save and recreate the container for print content that had been broken and fractured on the web, but now we are seeing it is the cost of doing business. Publishers are increasingly going to have to deliver content in a digital form that is readable on these devices to their existing print subscribers." May also explained that one thing organizations may not have to worry about is cloud computing. "I don't think users care about the cloud. When we ask our users about this, they just don't know how to respond. They know what they want when they want it and they expect increasingly to have it."

As the first day of SIIA NetGain 2001 drew to an end, conversation circled back to social media, this time focusing on the wealth of possibility surrounding its future in the information industry. During his closing presentation, Ian Condry, associate professor of comparative media studies and director of the Social Media Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that we can't look to the past to gauge what's coming next for social media in business. "We can't find Facebook by looking at Google, and can't find Google looking at Microsoft," says Condry. "Social media is not just a platform, but it is a re-contextualization of understanding what our possibilities are for communication in today's world."

(www.siia.net/netgain/2011/, www.hubspot.com, www.mit.edu, www.twitter.com, www.facebook.com)