Make Social Interactions a Conversation, Princeton Tech Meetup Panelists Advise


 Making the most of social media was on the minds of the 140 developers, startups and others who attended the fourth Princeton Tech Meetup on June 19, 2012. After the productive networking session, cofounder Chris Boraski took the podium and pointed out that after only four gatherings the meetup had 450 members. A panel discussion entitled “Using Social Media to Grow Your Business” then took place.

Cofounder Venu Moola introduced the panel, which included David Deutsch, SynergiSocial (Princeton) founder and chief strategist; Linda Waterhouse, owner of WSI Web Systems (Lambertville); Dennis Yap, operations lead, Varident (Somerville); and Brian Dass, CEO of Appnostic (Hoboken). To make the panel discussion really social, meetup members tweeted their questions to the panel with the hashtag #PrincetonTM.

Moola asked the first question: How do you describe social media in general?

“My perspective is that social media isn’t really marketing but a conversation,” David Deutsch said. “I help my clients engage in that conversation. Rather than say, ‘Look at me, look at me,’ it’s ‘Hi, how are you?’ ” Deutsch tells clients to think of social media as akin to being at a bar after work. “If you go to the bar and start marketing yourself, you are going to be lonely at the bar.”

“To me, social media is less about the media itself and more about the conversation,” Waterhouse added. “It’s about engaging the customer base and reaching out to as many people as possible. It really doesn’t matter what format you are on. … An important thing about social media that some business owners don’t yet grasp is that the conversation is happening whether you are there or not.”

“I’ve found that by engaging in conversation and at the same time focusing on my domain and expertise, I can grow my business,” Dass said. “It’s important to identify who the ambassadors for your brand are, who the influencers are, and use that to your advantage when using social media as a broadcast outlet.”

Moola asked the panelists to describe one lesson learned. “I tell my clients, never talk about yourself on social media,” Deutsch said. “Each of us only wants to engage in conversations we are interested in,” he said, so companies should engage in conversations of interest to their clients.

Yap said the most important thing his firm has learned, working with businesses from mom-and-pop shops to a Fortune 100 firm, is that companies have to know who they are — their brand and audience — before they test the social media waters.

As your business grows, Yap continued, you have other people engage in social media for you, but you still need to “translate” your brand to your employees so they can do that. Yap said when he is on Facebook he doesn’t often talk about software. He talks about foosball and his playing ability. His company’s Facebook fans want to know who he is so they can like and trust him, he said. Being liked is your number one [type of] leverage, he said.

Figure out where your target audience is and be on the platform it is on, Waterhouse advised. If you are dealing with “kids in tee shirts,” your audience won’t be on LinkedIn, she noted.

Companies also have to be comfortable with the frequency with which they are expected to participate on any given platform, she added. With Twitter you have to participate a few times a day or you are not part of the Twitterverse. With Facebook you are allowed more leeway.

Dass added that one of the big issues is consistency. Getting into social media is easy, he said, but a lot of users open Twitter or Facebook accounts and put messages out there only to let those messages trickle off after a week. Also, in industries with a lot of turnover, a company should train all its stakeholders to post to social media so that if one champion leaves, another can take his or her place.

Audience members wanted to know how much emphasis to put on strategy and how much on execution, but several on the panel didn’t see this as an either-or proposition. “If you are a global company you might want to subscribe to something like Radian6, a social media listening tool, for $700 a month. But if you are a business here in Princeton you don’t need Radian6; it’s overkill,” Deutsch said. “It depends on your business and how many people are on your team. A lot of social strategy just requires time,” not money, he added.

“If I were a small company I’d invest more in strategy and less in content,” Yap said. A large company probably already has an established brand and an online marketing presence, he added. It should focus more on content.

Dass disagreed with the other panelists. Spend all your money on strategy, he advised. If you have a great strategy, you’ll find a way to get the money to execute it, he said.

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