Social networking unplugged

As our industry experiences the most difficult market conditions in twenty years, management and marketing teams are trading in conventional efforts for all-Internet based social networking. Why? Expense control. But does it produce the same fiscal result?

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After all, social media is free, and so decisions seem are easy. But are they appropriate for businesses at large? Likely not, as social media and related avenues are more accurately described as generational public relations, and not designed for supporting commerce.

Let’s start with the basics and check in on the definitions of these powerful, but parallel vehicles:

ad – ver – tis – ing (noun)

1. the act or practice of calling public attention to one’s product, service, need, etc., esp. by paid announcements in newspapers and magazines, over radio or television, on billboards, etc.: to get more customers by advertising.

2. paid announcements; advertisements.

3. the profession of planning, designing, and writing advertisements.

mar – ket – ting (noun)

1. the act of buying or selling in a market 2. The total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

pub – lic re – la – tions (noun)

1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers.

2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

Social media, created by using scalable publishing techniques, works through social interaction. It is disseminated through Internet- and Web-based technologies to transform broadcast monologues into social dialogues. It’s pervasive dynamic transforms people from content-consumers into content-producers. Businesses refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).

Social media has three components: concept (art, information), media (physical, electronic, verbal), social (direct, community, social viral, electronic broadcast or syndication, or physical media such as print).

Common forms of social media include concepts and slogans with high-memory value. Grass roots (a term we’ve heard overused in many political realms) directs action and information dissemination, such as public speaking, installations, performance, and demonstrations.

There is also electronic media with sharing or syndication technologies (includes Internet and mobile devices). Print media, of course, is designed for hand-to-hand re-distribution.

It’s easy to differentiate advertising from marketing, but the similarities between public relations and social media is a close one.

Targeting a market and engaging your consumer base with social outreach are one in the same. Where public relations is driven by human interaction in a social event or written prose, social networking is conducted exclusively on the Internet.

If public relations was never intended for commerce, then are we actually eliminating our currently-successful advertising and marketing programs in exchange for exclusively good will in the market place? Or, if there is really no commercial use for public relations, then will our decisions fiscally haunt us in the future?

Herein lies the issue. We, as an industry, are making sweeping changes to our marketing programs in order to reduce expense, when it might be more advantageous to take a second look at fiscal allocation for the different marketing vehicles and their cumulative result.

With a clear understanding of the three types of promotion and their best use for results, consider two things. What did I spend in 2009 and what was my return?

And be honest. Include all costs associated with social media in your public relations category including consulting, registration fees and the like. To ensure a realistic allocation, apply soft dollar expense (labor and time allocation) to your review, making sure to include Craigslist postings, Facebook updates, resident portal updates, newsletter content and so on.

Caution. Do not overlook “free” events in which your organization participated. As seen in the detail for social media, the practice of public relations also includes community interaction of any sort, such as participation in the Chamber of Commerce, a charity event or community activity. Annual fees to these types of organizations might be captured under dues, rather than promotion or marketing.

Social media requires high-maintenance content updates. Someone at the organizational level must manage the editorial schedule, and will need to contribute creatively to the process.

Monthly
Resident newsletters, print guides and local magazine ads

Weekly
Website content, ILS content

Daily
Resident portal, Facebook, Myspace, Criagslist

Hourly
Twitter

What are the results of this simple review? Have you noticed a dramatic shift in marketing and costs? Are dollars being reallocated from marketing and advertising to soft dollar contributions in social media? Was it difficult to track those associated labor costs for the “free” media outlets?

Is there justification or analytics available to ensure those resources, or the soft dollars, invested are delivering on the projected results? If marketing is “the act of buying and selling in the marketplace,” what calculable financial returns should be delivered via your public relations in exchange for those dedicated talents?

It’s a great starting point to create and validate a media campaign. If the answers were difficult to assemble, now is a good time to create a media plan for 2010 with budget, talent, schedules and forecasted deliverables.

It’s easy to lose track of expenses by not paying close attention to their correlative result. Consider this a topic of discussion with your asset manager next you meet: Will canceling traditional marketing methods lead to lower results? Especially in such a soft market, can you afford that?