Survey reports that networking is popular, even if consumers don’t fully embrace it.Chances are you use social media. For most companies, using Facebook or Twitter or any of the other popular social media sites isn’t a question so much as it is a given. Of course we’re using social media—isn’t everybody?
A new study on digital readiness by ipressroom in conjunction with Trendstream, Korn/Ferry International and the Public Relations Society of America found that 70 percent of companies surveyed use social networking, 62 percent micro-blog, and 59 percent blog, podcast or use RSS. A startling almost 80 percent, though, still rely on e-mail marketing.
If companies still find e-mail marketing effective, though, there’s no use eschewing the old marketing techniques just because they’re old, says Heidi Miller, social media consultant with Heidi Miller. “If organizations are checking metrics, they wouldn’t continue to run these campaigns if they’re no longer effective,” Miller says.
“If people are still checking their e-mail inbox for your news, yes, you should be using e-mail marketing,” she says. “You shouldn’t have a bias against the old tools if people still use them.”
Other “older” Web techniques, however, like search engine optimization, Web content management and social bookmarking fell lower on the usage list. More companies reported using sites that aren’t necessarily trusted by consumers and spending less time on tools that may appeal to consumers.
Distrust in the Web
The study notes that in a recent survey by Universal McCann called “When did we start trusting strangers,” 82.1 percent of respondents said search engines are the most common way they get information and advice on products and brands. Similarly, the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 15 percent of respondents find social networking sites a credible source of company information.
Though the numbers indicate a possible disconnect between what companies offer and what consumers want and trust, Miller believes the disconnect comes from the relatively low barrier to entry in social networking—it’s relatively easy to set up a Facebook page. SEO, which scored a 66 percent use rate on the survey, is not as easy to learn, and a lot of companies end up hiring a specialist to get it right.
The survey found that small companies, those with less than $1 billion in revenue, had a higher adoption rate for social media than large companies. Small companies’ adoption rate for social networking was 74 percent, whereas for Twitter it was 64 percent. Miller says this is because it’s easier for them to just “dive in,” even though they may or may not get the most out of the tools.
Jason Falls, principal at Social Media Explorer, says he thinks communicators use social networking tools overwhelmingly because they’re new and a hot topic. It’s important for them to understand how the tools work, he says, but equally important to use tools that get results.
“PR professionals are very much victims of the ‘shiny new object’ syndrome,” Falls says. “They see Facebook, Twitter and blogging and say, ‘I’ve got to do this; it’s important, because everyone is talking about it. But the customer says, ‘I’m on Facebook, other social networks, but I don’t want to be marketed to there.’ PR professionals have a tendency to not pay attention to the audience, but [to] what’s popular.”
One area that ranked slightly higher in the Edelman trust study was company Web sites, at 24 percent. But the digital readiness study showed that just over half of the respondents used Web site content management. Falls says content creation should be a large part of a communicator’s job, and managing it is an important facet.
“PR departments write press releases, feature articles for the newsletter, they draft e-mail marketing and the annual report,” Falls says. “They are content producers, so why are they not managing the content? With the elevation of SEO and content management lagging behind, people are misunderstanding of the importance of content management and SEO.”
In order to drive organic search results to your company Web site, he says, you have to produce and update content regularly and make it compelling so people link to it—both factors that increase search engine traction. SEO isn’t going to help unless content management is happening as well.
Companies may spend their time on social media venues that are not necessarily getting through to their audience, while neglecting other, more influential communications methods.
Important but overlooked tools
For example, Richard Laermer, founder and chief executive of the public relations firm RLM, pinpointed social bookmarking sites as one method with a surprisingly low adoption rate. The study reported that it has the lowest adoption rate, with about 38 percent.
Laermer, however, says that number is a little low, as “most everyone I know spends about one-quarter of their day on Delicious” or one of the other social bookmarking sites. “I don’t believe it,” he says, though he says respondents may have mixed up social networking and bookmarking.
“One of the things most PR people are not doing is they’re not creating a segment for themselves and their content online,” Laermer says. “You can create a bookmark on Delicious, relate what you want your client to say to what people are saying, and that’s one of the best things you can do. Then, bloggers can find the tags. … It’s a lot better use of people’s time than just sending out a lot of e-mails.”
Falls also agreed that social bookmarking should have been higher up on the list because it’s efficient. He says it’s the lack of technical skills that keep communicators away, rather than its being deliberately being overlooked.
“You can bookmark everything that’s being said about your company and you can pull it into your Web site as news from a third party, and it updates without you doing anything,” Falls says. “It builds content for your Web site, it’s an information resource for the media and information for internal audiences. It serves as a nice archive.”
By Lindsey Miller