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How Social Media Evens the Playing Field

As a millennial, I always think I’ve seen it all. Desensitized to most things, nothing is shocking anymore. But yet, I still find things that are interesting and keep me attentive. Although I’m not the most tech savvy, or a social media guru, I do know that social media is the next revolution (at least in the United States). As an aspiring public relations practitioner for a small nonprofit someday, I’ve been taking some close hold notes on how to leverage the small pocketbook of the organizations I’m looking at.

I don’t come from much, raised by a single parent in small town Iowa. Growing up I knew how to get by on less. I eventually received a scholarship through the Marine Corps to attend college, get a degree, and commission as an officer. Ironic and coincidentally, I quickly found out that the Marine Corps is the “younger brother” of the Navy, and as such, receives the least amount of funding from Congress. The long running joke of the Marines is “adapt and overcome”; doing more with less and taking hand-me-downs from other organizations. I’ve used these hard lessons learned and combined them with current social media trends and capabilities to be able to maximize the abilities of whatever job I set my sights on after my service is complete.

Outreach

Especially for nonprofits and small business owners, learning how to stretch a dollar is paramount to staying afloat. Dollar for dollar, you can’t hang with corporate America at your size. Social media gives the underdog a fighting chance with ease of access to current and future customers, and a single, interesting post or upload can reach thousands or millions of people. The key is to find the right message, at the right time, in the right venue. Making something “go viral” can help your business expand rapidly.

Social media costs virtually nothing (depending on how savvy you are with marketing analytical tools) compared to traditional media. Everything costs money; television advertising spots, seconds on the radio, newspaper ads, you name it. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are free and allow entrepreneurs to interact on a personal level with customers, as well as spread information for free. The caveat being that you (the businessperson) must create content that someone actually wants to see.

User Generated Content

With new technology emerges a new generation which is much more media literate that their predecessors. These new generations of children have and will grow up immersed with social media, interactive platforms, mobile devices, and strongly developed online communities. People today have grown accustomed to tuning out the “one-way communication” techniques, making it harder and harder for brands to get into your home.

When’s the last time you actually 1) paid attention to a full commercial and 2) changed your mind about a product and went out and bought it or did more research on it? I can’t remember the last time. I’ve subconsciously developed a resistance to such content. Commercial on TV? Change the channel. Change the radio station.

86 percent of millennials state that user generated content is a good indicator of the quality of a brand. The era of one-way communication is over, and the two-way model reigns supreme. People want to connect, interact, ask questions, and most importantly, know that their voice is being heard. Utilizing platforms where users experience gratification and can manipulate products like have a Coke bottle with your name on it or customizing a piece of clothing or jewelry from Etsy with your friend’s name on it.

(Almost) Free Advertising

User generated content, as well as crowd sourcing ideas, are very effective at legitimizing and increasing the awareness of your brand. Depending on your organization’s “disposable” income, you can buy ad space on social media sites. I’d argue though that if you have a strong creative department, you’ll never have to take out an ad. Why? Because ‘likes’, comments, shares, user generated content, crowdsourcing, and word of mouth are all advertising without you having to lift a finger.

Interaction

Speaking of the one-way communication of the past, where else does a television commercial fail you? Oh right, if you want to speak to a real person about something you have to call someone or go to some outdated website. The commercial is shouting something at you in the hopes that you care enough to do something about it.

Relationship management, for firms often pursued through branding, becomes a conscious act of linking positive real or perceived perceptions, images and experiences to a firm or a product. A good reputation then affects future actions favourably, perhaps through brand recognition during a purchasing decision -Kietzmann, Silvestre, & Pitt 2012

Social platforms today give users a unique opportunity to see what the CEO is up to, what cool projects your organization is currently working on, and helps develop your transparency and trustworthiness. It seems like every week nowadays there is a new scandal in the news, and the root cause stems from someone underestimating the power of social media. A hidden video, a photo shared that shouldn’t have been. Crisis communicators will have to rewrite the books soon on best practices when their business leaks something by accident.

Bottom line up front: interacting with your customers and building that base by being open, whether for the good or the bad, mitigates crises later on. When a customer is left out of the loop too long, they fill in the gaps with what they think happened, whether through false news or the rumor mill.

Blogs

Hand in hand with interacting on a social level with your customers, you’ll often find personal or professional blog spots from prominent influencers in an organization. This helps the company keep in line with their values and goals, as well as “humanizing” the top leadership. It shows the average joes that they don’t just sit on an ivory tower made of money, but that they are humans just like us with real problems and real goals.

Blogging is just another way to reach down to the lowest levels of your own company to hit those internal stakeholders, as well as get immediate feedback from customers on import things like 1) what they want to see more of 2) what products or services can be improved or 3) keeping abreast of things that could turn into a crisis like a defective product or health concerns.

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