Serve niche groups through social media

social media playbook

Book review
Social media playbook for business: Reaching your online community with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
By Tom Funk.
Praeger, 2011. 263 p.

Patagonia, REI, L.L.Bean, and Orvis don’t use social media primarily to sell outdoor gear. They promote hiking, biking, paddling, fly fishing, climbing, surfing—the activities their customer enjoy. These companies also take a principled social stand on conservation, global warming, and the health of oceans and streams.

Companies that succeed in social media are those that emphasize a “bigger idea” surrounding their business, says Tom Funk, author of Social Media Playbook (2011) and Web 2.0 & Beyond (2008).

Tom Funk has been involved in e-commerce and Web publishing since 1995. His goal with this book is to help businesses succeed in social media, the “fastest-growing cultural trend of our  time.” The many social media case studies he presents result from interviews with businesses owners nationwide and from researching small mom-and-pops and big multinationals.

As do so many authors on the subject, Funk emphasizes that social media is not a marketing channel. In fact, social media is anti-marketing. It’s simply a communication platform. Smart companies use this platform for listening to, and corresponding with, followers and customers, particularly in the areas of customer outreach, focus grouping, shareholder services, PR, and R&D.

Along the way Funk offers 15 Facebook tips for business, 12 tips for successful corporate twittering, 9 steps for making the most of LinkedIn, and 5 ways you can really screw up on LinkedIn.

Funk says the 7 sweet spots for social media are lifestyle brands; social, political, and charitable causes; organizations run by a charismatic and well-connected leader; service businesses where the person IS the business; entertainment businesses; celebrities; and businesses that serve hobbyists or special interest communities.

For example, Nikon’s Digital Learning Center connects with passionate photographers on Flickr, the world’s biggest photo-sharing service. Nikon’s presence there is not primarily to sell cameras, but to build a user community and to promote image sharing. Explore Chicago connects with travelers through a Twitter feed, podcasts, YouTube videos, a Facebook presence, a Flickr photo pool, and a YouTube channel.

Social media works really well for very specific communities. For example, Middlebury College builds a Facebook page for every graduating class. Some travel and adventure companies create a new Facebook page for each tour group in advance. Prior to departure, travelers get to know their tour leaders and their fellow travelers-to-be.

Scissor-maker Fiskar creates ‘blog ambassadors’ or ‘Fiskateers’ who support the online scrapbooking community. Fiskars says this fan group reduces advertising expenses, generates a dozen product ideas a month, and has increased sales 300 percent.

Funk details social media initiatives by LEGO, Pepsi, Gardener’s Supply, Gap Adventures, Victoria’s Secret, Hips and Curves, Skechers footware, Zappos, Lipton Brisk, Wine of the Month Club, Yarn.com, and Ice.com.

Three big traps to avoid include abandoning company blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds; selling fake relationships; and outsourcing social media work and giving an agency free rein.

It’s relatively easy to quantify one’s investment in social media, Funk says:  Count the people-hours and any spent. The hard part is quantifying the return. He recommends totaling up direct sales referrals and quantifying the likely worth of email signups and catalog requests. Then try to attach a value to each new fan or follower. Although these numbers will likely be arbitrary, he says, it’s important to come up with some model, then keep it consistent, and track it. As long as you don’t change your assumptions, your model should chart a useful trend line showing the business impact, month by month, of  your social media efforts.

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