Socially Speaking About Consumer Expectations

Traditional media channels often just aren’t enough to win over consumers these days. But just how measurable are the effects?

Tweet it, post it, share it, like it—never were these words more important in our culture than today. As individuals, we’re comfortable with social media and embrace it. Not surprisingly, we expect the same from our employers and favorite brands.

Kansas City’s marketing firms haven’t discarded traditional media like billboards, television advertising and public relations. But today, social media is a prominent part of the mix. “We’re finding that social media is coming into the discussion earlier when we’re talking with clients about the overall marketing objective, especially if you have a customer-centric mentality,” says Joe Cox, director of social media for Kansas City-based marketing firm Barkley.

Left: Joe Cox, director of social media at Barkley. Right: Kurt Kloeblen, social media manager at Sullivan, Higdon & Sink.

Dairy Queen, a Barkley client, is an example of the role and importance social media plays in a company’s consumer relations. Barkley helped Dairy Queen gain more than six million fans in its Facebook community with its FanFood campaign, while helping the company understand how to build a stronger and more direct relationship with consumers.

Since the launch of the campaign, Dairy Queen has had one of its best years historically, and its engagement with the social community is almost double of what it was at the beginning of the year. Dairy Queen is learning how powerful of a channel social media can be.

Today, Dairy Queen integrates FanFood into everything it does, social or not, Cox says. Barkley recently launched its #LoveMyDQ initiative, which helps tie in conversations about the brand through all channels, traditional and digital. The hashtag has millions of impressions each month and has been picked up by the Dairy Queen community thousands of times per month.

“Brands have been so focused on collecting and acquiring more people into their online communities that they forgot that the end game is to help build more profits,” Cox says. “A stronger relationship with your consumers and overall happier consumers will lead to financial gains for the overall company.”

Quite simply, investing in social media is what consumers want from Corporate America. Today’s consumers want to participate in online dialogues with companies they like—and don’t like—sharing their experiences with their friends. Kansas City’s Sullivan Higdon & Sink is one of many marketing firms counseling companies who are new to social media as well as companies that are quite savvy but may not have the in-house resources to execute social media marketing on a full-time basis.

“It’s an interesting time to be in social media because it’s growing so fast,” says Sullivan Higdon & Sink Social Media Manager Kurt Kloeblen. “We’re still writing the rules and there’s room for trial and error, and some campaigns work better than others. I encourage companies to look at social media and do things they haven’t done before. For some clients, that’s exciting.”

Sullivan Higdon & Sink provides social media services to such clients as Borden Cheese, Cache Valley Cheese, LearningQuest and its own internal social channels, as well as limited social media consulting for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of KC, Sonic and the Kansas City Chiefs. Among its biggest social media clients is North Kansas City Hospital, which presents its own set of challenges due to the privacy and regulatory issues surrounding health care. The hospital has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Steering clear of posts about pharmaceuticals, the Affordable Care Act and other controversial topics, the focus is typically on spotlighting its services, employees and sharing important public health information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Jackson County Public Health Department, Kloeblen says.

Most of the time, according to Barkley Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Marketing Geoff Pickering, companies begin with Facebook and Twitter accounts. They add other social media outlets like Pinterest, Vine and Instagram if they have the inventory of images necessary to support these visual mediums. Facebook and Twitter offer real-time consumer interaction and multiple forms of advertising and marketing.

“It’s easy recommending radio and TV, but with social media, you’re talking about a relationship with a human being,” Pickering says. “We’ve now crossed over a line where companies are engaging the customer and that customer can immediately tell you what he or she loves or hates about you. Companies have never had a real-time, immediate opportunity to do that before.”

L: Geoff Pickering, Barkley Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Marketing. L: Shea Carter, Social Media Group Supervisor at MMGY Global.

Consumers now have an expectation that companies will have a social media presence, and if they don’t, they’re disappointed, according to Shea Carter, social media group supervisor at Kansas City’s MMGY Global. The benefits of such a presence include building advocates for your brand, using it as a customer service tool (when the company is active in replying to or resolving an issue) and applying it as a sales and marketing tool because companies can advertise on Facebook and augment—not replace—traditional media, Carter says.

Consider, too, that social media can be a fun, more playful method to get people excited and share about a company’s brand, Carter says. Even for companies restrained by controversial and regulatory issues, social media can be a valuable method of connecting with your brand’s community and serving as a key resource. “Those who don’t engage social media are totally not cool and they’re leaving opportunities on the table,” Carter says. “It’s not going away anytime soon.”

What’s not cool are social media mishaps like a Taco Bell employee licking a taco he’s about to serve a customer or recent promotions from food brands offering special deals to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “These companies had the best of intentions, but it just didn’t come out right,” Carter says of the 9/11 examples.

While companies risk negative posts from unhappy customers, it can sometimes work in the company’s favor, says Cox and Pickering. Take, for example, when Dominos Pizza took a lot of criticism when its toppings were sticking to the pizza boxes and the criticism went viral. The company took to its social media channels to acknowledge the problem, apologize and vow to correct it in the future.

Being prepared is the best defense, marketing officials say. Have a crisis communication plan in place that describes what action to take and who’s responsible in the event of a social media disaster. And take a conservative approach on anything controversial, adds Carter.

For the successes, Carter argues that social media has definite measurable results. Specifically, companies can measure Return on Investments by calculating website referrals, conversions, and sign-ups for e-newsletters and other programming. “These are powerful metrics you can’t ignore,” she says.

Story by Susan Fotovich McCabe