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Message boards? Those are so 1990’s errr…was it early 2000’s? If I was giving advice to a client I would definitely steer them toward something more modern. Set up a Facebook page, hop on Twitter, Pin something for goodness sake. But I have a confession to make. I’ve been spending more time on Message Boards than I have any other social network lately.

Why the throwback, you may ask? I’m pregnant. Yes, it is true, and I am trolling the mommy boards on the What to Expect When You’re Expecting site like no other. At first I was just a lurker, but now I’m a poster. I’m asking questions about which stroller to buy, whether or not I need to strap my baby on to me and if so, what do I do with the other one? (Did I mention it is twins?)

I have to admit these Boards are extremely useful, and here’s why.

1. Anonymity. I don’t want to be friends with these ladies on Facebook. Maybe it’s their hormones or maybe they always skew toward the unhappy, but there are some “feisty” women on these boards. The Forum / Message Board function allows me to get what I need out of it without getting personal.

2. Common bonds. These ladies are just as obsessed/terrified/excited as me. We are all going through this new experience together. All due in July. And despite differences in personalities, political views, geography, all feeling the same aches and pains. Forums are great for bringing people together with a strong common interest.

3. Separation from my “social” social world. I’m not a big fan of posting every day about my pregnancy. I have a few photos of me pregnant but that’s only because I went on vacation and happened to be pregnant. It gets to be overload when your friends share every moment of their pregnancy, soon to be followed by every moment of their labor and new child. I’ve been on the receiving end of the newsfeed and I swore I wouldn’t do it. The forums allows me to have a place strictly for baby comments and for people who actually care about baby stuff.

4. You get to learn a new language. You know you’re a part of an intense community when you have to learn the lingo to even be a part of it. DD (Darling Daughter), MIL (Mother In Law), FTM (First Time Mom), TTC (Trying to Conceive). I could go on and on. It took me awhile but I am in. It’s kind of a barrier to entry, and inevitably some newbie will get on and actually ask what everything means. Please, you think these ladies are going to take the time to explain? You need to figure that one out. It’s a rite of passage.

5. You get to listen in. Marketers should be here. I can’t help it. Even when talking about my pepperoncini cravings I’m thinking with my marketing hat on. If I was a company in the baby products industry or even a doctor I would be listening on this board like no other. The women are constantly talking about their needs, recommending products, complaining about OB GYNs. It’s like Yelp, Urbanspoon and TripAdvisor rolled up into one for the baby industry. Trust me, you want in on this conversation.

I’m not saying abandon Facebook or Twitter by any means. What I am saying is find the online communities where your hard core consumers are having an in-depth conversation and you’ll find rich insights and feedback to be had. Maybe you can host one yourself (more tricky when they know the brand is listening) or maybe you can just be a fly on the wall, but don’t disregard this space, unless you can’t stomach all the husband bashing, odes to Taco Bell and Mother In Law rants. In which case, I completely understand.

I’m a firm believer that you should treat your Facebook and Twitter content differently. Don’t link them up. They are two different audiences and two different platforms. That’s just being lazy, no matter how much you tell yourself you’re being efficient.

My belief was confirmed as Valentine’s Day rolled around and then Mardi Gras. Something struck me as I saw brands and people posting about the various holidays – on Twitter it benefits you to join in on the conversation, while on Facebook it can hurt you to be the same.

Here’s why: If there are 30 posts referencing Valentine’s Day on Facebook your post may very well be tucked into a grouping of all the others who posted about Valentine’s Day. Facebook groups similar topics together on your newsfeed. Great for the user but for a brand trying to break through,not so much.

Twitter is totally different. If Valentine’s Day is trending because so many people are talking about it, you should leverage keywords like Valentine’s Day. People who currently don’t follow you but are searching the topic or clicking on the trending topic, will then find you.

Long story short – find ways to stand out on Facebook to get your spot in the newsfeed, and find ways to jump in on Twitter to be a part of the larger conversation and gain more exposure.

Just another reason you should really treat your Twitter and Facebook management differently.

Abortion is an extremely polarizing topic and I try to keep my personal views separate from my work, but I would like to talk about how Susan G. Komen handled the recent pulling of funds from Planned Parenthood from a PR and social media perspective. I think there are lessons to be learned here, whether you are a pro-lifer or pro-choicer. Looking at the coverage and social media chatter, from a public perception standpoint,you have to admit that on some level Susan G. Komen got slammed for how they handled this piece of news.

So here it goes…The Top 5 Mistakes Susan G Komen Made

1. Silence

Susan G Komen had no official press response put out to media aside from “No Comment.” So what happened when USA Today, New York Times and others couldn’t get a comment? They went to the organization’s Facebook page and lifted a post from the page. It wasn’t a poorly written post by any means, but if you are going to speak up in one space why not offer up the same comment to the media. The two boundaries are blurred now. What you say in social can easily end up on the front of the New York Times. Be prepared for that and think twice when you hand over your Facebook page to your intern to run.

2. Transparency

Whether this was true or not, people on Facebook were accusing Susan G. Komen of deleting Facebook posts. On one hand it didn’t really matter because the negative posts kept flooding in, but it was clear that the organization did not have a crisis plan in place. They should have anticipated, staffed up and had a library of responses or well-crafted posts to state their position clearly and explain to people that they are pulling funding from one source and putting it in another to assist low-income women. Goes back to Point 1 though, Susan G. Komen opted to remain silent for the most part.

3. Planning

You had to scratch your head and think…”Didn’t they see this coming?” There did not seem to be any statements in place or any alternative plans – take funds from Planned Parenthood but provide funding  in those same cities for free breast screenings. To make a move like this, Susan G. Komen should have gotten out ahead of the announcement and begin talking to fans and media about their efforts with low-income women that extend beyond Planned Parenthood.

4. Solidarity

In the midst of their silence there was one person who spoke on the record. Yep, it was the President of the Susan G. Komen Connecticut affiliate who was pretty vocal about the fact her local office didn’t support the national position. It really would have been in the organization’s best interest to make sure everyone was on the same page and that their affiliates were armed with talking points prior to this news coming out.

5. Anticipating Weakness

Whether there was an underlying political agenda or they simply felt funding an organization under investigation was wrong, they should have “thought” like the opposition. Did they not anticipate people digging up info on Karen Handel? True or not, public perception is powerful and you need to prepare for whatever backlash there may be. I would try to poke holes in my own story, find my weaknesses and make sure I have ammunition and facts to back up my stance.

No one’s perfect, mistakes happen and we don’t have to dwell on this forever. (Knowing people’s attention spans this will be over by next week). But it is always good to learn. In today’s world, transparency is key. If you think your decision will upset some people, it probably will, and you’ll probably hear about it. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can put yourself in the best position possible through planning and anticipating, which wasn’t what happened in this case.

 

I was standing in the checkout line when I saw marketing materials for a new Mentos gum product which used a quote from Aristotle and tried to equate choosing flavors with choosing your destiny. I like choice and I like gum but it was a bit much. It was playing in an area it really had no permission to play. Leave Aristotle for something a bit more grand than gum.

Then I came home to see Pinnacle Vodka posting quotes from Martin Luther King on its Facebook page. Yes, it was MLK Day, and yes, he’s an amazing man, but you’re vodka. Not all holidays are meant to be celebrated by all products. As community managers struggle for content it’s easy to just say, well what’s going on in the world today? But you can’t jump on every opportunity just because it is there.

Social allows brands to take on a personality but it doesn’t give you permission to play everywhere and anywhere. You still at the end of the day are what you are, even if you’re a bit more casual in the social sphere.

So here it goes – Be yourself. Be true to who and what you are and consumers will respect it. They “liked” you because they liked you in the first place. They expected to hear about cocktails, recipes and new products, so give them that, and if there’s a creative way you can spin yourself into a holiday or the musings of some Greek philosopher well go ahead and try. But if it feels forced, it probably is.

 

Another year, another step closer to viewing social media less as a newfangled technology and more as a must-have in your marketing plan. My 5 predictions for social in 2012. Feel free to add yours!

1. Going beyond the blue F. Yes, you have a tiny blue “F” at the bottom of your ad perhaps a tiny blue bird as well. While it’s a good reminder to consumers to look for you in the social space it’s kind of passe. People expect you to be there and people expect you to be listening. In 2012 I believe the companies who are doing it “right” will give people a reason to visit their page, use their hashtag, take that extra step. Some will integrate it into a campaign – visit us on Facebook and tell us why you love to drive your Honda – others will wave a reward to lure people in – follow us on Twitter for breaking airline deals. Either way, you need to give a reason, the blue F isn’t enough anymore.

2. Interests are key. Facebook will continue to be the keeper of our personal memories, stashed away in a beautiful timeline, but the other space to play in for social networks is our personal interests. Twitter has capitalized on this and the emerging network Pinterest is also quickly gaining ground. When we want to take a break from our friends and selfishly look at what interests us, these types of networks will be where we go. Facebook tried to tap into this with its subscribe button, but posts on your interests are often overwhelmed in your newsfeed by your friends’ activity. I believe they are two separate needs, and ultimately two platforms.

3. Social will continue to be an important voice. From the upcoming election to unrest in the Middle East, social media will  be the people’s voice and play an important role in social change.

4. Mobile, mobile, mobile. Social media will be how we show the world what we are seeing, hearing, feeling while we are on the go. From pictures to check-ins to status updates, social will continue to be our voice on the run, our source of news, our quick hellos, our way to kill five minutes in the waiting room. The big networks will continue to invest in their mobile platforms and you’ll start seeing more mobile ads on social networks.

5. Getting help. Companies will continue to have that a-ha moment when they realize that social takes time and they need to either staff up or outsource. At first they’ll try to save a few dollars and pawn it off on the intern. Then they’ll realize their intern may know his/her way around Facebook but is not quite yet a marketing genius and get someone with more experience. It seems to be the path most businesses go. What I predict you’ll see is more affordable social marketing support in the next year. Smaller agencies who will run your Twitter, Facebook accounts for a reasonable amount.

My five predictions, let’s hear yours.

Psst. Here’s a secret. If you want a lot of fans quickly you need one of two things: Money for an ad buy or an existing database (think your email list) that you can easily convert to fans.

If you don’t have either then your best bet is to grow organically by providing interesting quality content in your wall posts. Sure you can offer a giveaway, but even a giveaway without a large fan base and advertising support will only draw in so much activity.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with growing slow and steady, just make sure your expectations are set correctly.

If you have a page that has under 500 fans – expect to grow somewhere between 5 – 15 fans a month. 2,000 fans you could up it to 30 – 50 new fans/month. 30,000 a fair bet is 1,000 – 2,000 new fans/month. These are rough estimates but should give you some guidance.

Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t pulling in thousands of new fans each month. Slow and steady isn’t a bad way to go, especially if you are getting the right people and your engagement rates are high.

So next time you get pulled into a meeting and the boss man wants to hit 1 million fans in two months, it’s best to be upfront and tell him or her to budget some $$ for advertising. That’s just the way it works.