These are exciting times when, thanks to social media, brands are able to connect with customers in a personal way and interact directly with them. Through these conversations companies are not only establishing their reputation and authority, but are also learning about their customers. Learning more about the audiences in turn impacts businesses in several areas, including customer care and marketing. In addition, a tremendous amount can be learned about what content audiences want or need and brands can use these ideas in their content development and marketing strategy. Google Plus Hangouts on Air and Twitter Chats are very effective tools for creating and strengthening communities, and building brand equity and authority around specific topics that are relevant to a business and its audiences. But their potential impact doesn’t stop when the Google Hangout or Twitter chat ends; this content can continue to contribute to an ongoing marketing strategy. The topics from a chat or hangout can be repurposed to create valuable content for your business’s audiences. We asked our guest speaker Michelle Stinson Ross (@SocialMichelleR) to talk to #usDragons about her experiences with using chats and hangouts for marketing and how they measure ROI. She shared with us what she and Alan K’necht (@aknecht) learned in the past three years as the hosts of the weekly Twitter chat, #SocialChat which covers a variety of social media marketing topics. Michelle was a speaker at SMX East with our two dragons Ric Dragon and Jason White, and visited DragonSearch the weekend after the conference. She is the Social Marketing Director at Digital Always Media and introduced herself as a twitter addict and social media evangelist.
Knowing that #usDragons are very focused on measurement and ROI, Michelle started off with metrics. As she stated, as for anything marketing related, for measurement and ROI you have to understand why you are doing it. #SocialChat has been created to support Michelle and Alan’s business. When it was first launched in January 2011 the goal was to provide a place for people to converse and share ideas about best practices in social media. Now the focus is to create a community for discussion and professional development, personal brand awareness, a way to establish authority and get the rest of the social media marketing community talking to each other. As they moved forward they developed a strong reputation and authority on social media topics and it has resulted in speaking engagements, which then put them in front of potential clients. Since it started, the #SocialChat community grew to an average of 20 to 60 participants each week and a good chat generates 10 tweets per active participant. Quality of content and engagement has been top priority for #SocialChat and they find it more valuable to have more tweets by participants with less followers than have one tweet from someone who has a large follower base; the frequency of the mention of the hashtag is usually what captures the attention of followers. The results of running the chat have gone from personal authority to brand awareness and now to industry influence that has even brought new clients into the business. As Michelle explained:
“Timing is important. When we started the chat, Monday nights were wide open. We were the only game in town. Now there are several other chats going on in our time slot and we have a handful of devoted followers that will try to participate in more than one chat at a time depending on whether a particular topic is of interest. Depending on the brand and the general field of interest, a day-time chat during work hours may be more effective.”
Michelle talked about how attributing traffic and conversions from social media is a challenge for all marketers because we know it’s happening but tracking is difficult. There isn’t anything in social media – in relationship building business – that is going to happen quickly because it is about relationships, which have to be grown and nurtured. There is no instant payback.
Michelle shared one of the paid reporting tools they use to track #SocialChat, Hashtracking. This tool enables them look at real time analytics, numbers for original, retweet and @message tweets, reach based on contributors and number of tweets among other metrics. Many of these stats are available without signing into the tool. The tool also includes the transcript of the chat which they can post as a link or embed on the blog. There are several people who are “regulars” to #SocialChat and if they can’t join the chat live, they search for the transcript to catch up with what was discussed during the chat. You can check out #SocialChat’s transcripts here. Michelle and Alan monitor the frequency of tweets during the chat to see whether the pace of conversation is peaking or slowing. Based on what they observed, they began pulling out the questions at 10 minute intervals to keep the discussions more steady.
Michelle has been excited lately about Google Plus Hangouts on Air and the extra layer of communication and conversation that is possible with it. Google hangout content has a much longer lifespan than chats do on Twitter and you have much more control over a hangout (rather than a chat which cannot be filtered). Alan and Michelle tested a hangout tie-in by recapping the Twitter chat on Google Plus. The hangout on air is embeddable as soon as the recording is done since it is recording live to YouTube. #SocialChat usually gets more viewers on the recording than during the live event. By using the Lower Third App you can create a custom graphic to add your branding, like the news commentators on TV, which can help your brand recognition.
People can use the hashtag to submit questions, whether they are on Google Plus, Facebook or Twitter. Michelle talked about how you can run a hashtag driven Twitter chat in tandem with the live Google hangout and allow people watching to submit questions. The moderator can monitor the hashtag stream and pull the questions in for the vetted participants on the hangout. This allows the content to focus on what’s important to the brand and as far as educational elements, what’s useful content for the audience. You can then repurpose this content for blog posts, static web pages, and other content development. #SocialChat has a G+ community and Facebook page as well. Their marketing plan ties them all together so they cross-pollinate all of them with hashtags. How do they not stretch themselves too thin? These other platforms are there to support the Twitter chat. The action is on Twitter. On the other platforms they mostly send out reminders about what is coming up next, and then share the link to the transcript and recap the hangout. This way they are training their community to use the hashtag during the week when the chat is not happening.
Frequent use of relevant topics helps your brand associate with them. Research hashtags before you start your chat or hangout. Keep in mind you don’t own a hashtag, but you can dominate it. Twubs is a search engine for hashtags and has a categorized hashtag directory. It’s a great hashtag research platform and it allows you to associate yourself with a hashtag and you can be added as the person who’s running it.
Create an editorial calendar of the topics for your company’s various audiences and make sure you organize your Twitter chats or Google hangouts so they are supported with a hashtag. For #SocialChat the topics are identified first and then they look for experts who can cover those topics. They release information about the chat topic and the guest speaker and they ask the audience ahead of time to use the hashtag to post questions and input on what they would like the speaker to cover. Michelle and Allen have been doing #SocialChat for three years now and have invested a ton of time into it. At this point, management has become second nature; Michelle can work through six to eight weeks of topic ideas in a few minutes and with the connections that have been built can fill the spots with expert guest speakers fairly quickly. Finding topics and guests is integrated into Michelle’s everyday activities and often she comes up with topic ideas or finds guests as she is working on her everyday projects. If you are using Google Hangouts as part of your company’s marketing campaign, the recordings can become a great source of content. If you have a long video you can repurpose the content by cutting it into several videos and integrating them into your content marketing campaign.
If a company already has a presence and audience on Twitter, then it’s about gauging the interest and then putting a plan in place. If the audience is not engaged, it’s better to start by participating in other chats to build connections and discover topics and ideas. #SocialChat was helped by #SEOChat when they were getting started and since has helped others start their own chats by helping them get the word out. It’s better to have a small audience that is really engaged because passion is what’s driving the conversation. You are better off focusing on a small group of influencers through whom you can eventually reach a much more targeted larger audience.
Do you use Google Plus Hangout on Air and Twitter Chats for marketing your business? What did you find works well for you and what are your challenges. What have you done to build community and impact your organization over time? Please share your thoughts, experiences or questions in the comments below.