That was the topic of the panel discussion last night hosted by the

Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association. It was fabulous to see over 250 people there!

The panel included representatives from Minnesota’s largest brands:

  • Jim Cuene, Director of Interactive, General Mills
  • Brad Smith, VP of eCommerce & Digital Marketing, Fingerhut Direct Marketing
  • Gary Koelling, Creative Director, Social Technology, Best Buy
  • Jason Kleckner, Manager of Information Architecture, Target Corporation

For social media efforts they are all engaged in efforts to gather Ratings & Reviews.

  • Target is utilizing Amazon.
  • Best Buy has a loyalty program & are considering what directions to take it in (in addition to sending out periodic coupons). They also have the Blue Shirt Nation program.
  • General Mills isn’t involved in Facebook & doesn’t engage with those that are talking about their brand there.
  • A comment was made that Circuit City was doing it well

The point was made that social media is a set of tools. Everyone on the panel expressed the same questions:

  • How can they offer the personalized experience that customers get in the store of ‘How can I help you?
  • How to focus on the relationships?
  • How can the company have an authentic voice?

The first thing that came to my mind is how perfectly the Community Manager role provides that voice in a personalized way that creates relationships with the customers.

Each panelist was asked how they’re measuring ROI. It seems that none of them are. One commented that they are considering it an investment in product development by gathering feedback from the customers. They didn’t view it as providing a return on marketing. I guess that I have to disagree. As a Community Manager I’m part of the marketing department & building brand & increasing visibility are very important parts of marketing & PR efforts. There are also many contributions to product development & QA but in our company marketing drives those efforts. Early this week I posted an article on Measuring Social Media efforts that may be of interest.

The panelists were asked how people can evangelize social media? The comment was made that large corporations are traditional & it’s going to be a slow change. I agree that smaller companies can embrace new marketing much more quickly & add it to their repertoire with much more agility. The comment was made that consumers have always owned brands & now it’s just on a faster & bigger scale.

Gary Koelling likened the use of new marketing techniques to the general store. The store owner knows everyone by name & offers services on a personalized basis. He doesn’t have a big advertising budget & relies on word of mouth. Gary recommended trying smalls things in an authentic way. Experimenting with the risk of not succeeding.

** This brings me back to the importance of having a Community Manager. The role is all about offering that personalized service online to whomever needs it. Monitoring brand, responding to positive & negative discussions about the brand & providing excellent customer service is definitely noticed by the customers. The small efforts go a long ways. And of all my experimentation only a couple of items have fallen flat. All of the other efforts have been very successful & grown exponentially.

There was a concern expressed that it’s hard to reach people online other than the 20 year old on Facebook. errr My customer segments range in age from teenagers to way older than average. I have 80 year old women using our software along with professional photographers. My question back is have evaluated where your customers are at? (beyond Facebook?) They’re all over the place & quite active! Many children have given their parents computers & they’re online (including mine! :) ). My challenge to the panel & you is to find creative ways to reach those people. (Identify where they’re at first, Listen, then participate).

Fingerhut said that they’re creating private communities for their customers. I’m interested to know more about that. I’m curious to know what the reason for making them private is? Wouldn’t it be helpful to have them public & embrace those that happen upon them? The organic growth would be valuable I would think?

Follow me on Twitter @cbensen – and they created @Mima08 (that will also allow you to connect with others that were at the event)

Further reading

Overall it was an excellent event! I had a great time meeting my friends from Twitter – @kevinfarner @albertMaruggi @rickmahn @dougpollei – you guys are the best! And I look forward to the Social Media Breakfast tomorrow morning! :)