Social media is the big thing these days: American society has officially reached the point where a single day’s Twitter outage is crippling. Brands and users have come to realize that Twitter, Facebook and the like serve a higher purpose than just connecting with high school crushes and announcing to the world the contents of one’s stomach. In order to successfully engage with shareholders, many companies have strong online presences.

As EngagementDB says, “…the more channels a brand leverages, the higher its overall engagement score will be.” (Elowitz and Li, July 2009) However, participating in social media is not the same as leveraging social media. Companies often make the mistake of opening as many channels as possible without understanding how these tools can benefit the brand or without putting in the necessary effort. Take a brand that spoke with our class last quarter. They appeared confident in their social media abilities, with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, etc. The class’ assignment was to advise them on how they could improve their social media strategy, and many of us went home nervously wondering how we could enlighten a brand that already had it all covered. However, upon closer examination, it became apparent that the brand really did not have a strong grasp on social media. They sent out a few tweets per week. Their Facebook page was lacking. Their YouTube channel had less than 50 subscribers, despite being a video-oriented company. Though they participated in many channels, they did not effectively engage.

EngagementDB classifies social media use into four categories: Mavens, Butterflies, Selectives, and Wallflowers. The difference between being a Maven and being a Selective is simply the number of channels. Both have a high level of engagement and interaction in their channels of choice, though Mavens simply utilize more. The number of channels a brand selects to engage can vary due to a number of reasons; the main reason EngagementDB states is staff. Some social media initiatives simply do not have the manpower to engage in every channel well, so they pick and chose which channels in which to allot their resources. Another reason to specifically allot resources is that different channels reach different audiences. Mashable released an article recently confirming that teens don’t use Twitter as frequently as other social media channels. (Parr, August 5, 2009) Therefore, a brand that caters only to teenagers will be better off allotting their resources to Facebook or MySpace, regardless of budget and staff.

This research also touches upon crowdsourcing: EngagementDB states that Butterflies, those who utilize many channels but engage less, have stronger revenue returns than Selectives or Wallflowers, who are not very active at all. Selectives broadcast their message and let their shareholders spread it, thus conserving effort. However, in order for crowdsourcing to be effective, a brand must have a strong and loyal following. Ferrari, MTV, Nintendo and Ford are all examples of Butterflies. A teen will be happy to share that Nintendo is having a sale on his or her favorite game, or share a link to a new music video on MTV (if MTV still even plays music videos). Car owners tend to be fairly loyal to particular brands, either those who make their actual vehicles or those who make their dream cars; all Ferrari needs to do is send out a link of a new model and it is guaranteed that car enthusiasts everywhere will ogle and share.

Despite the fact that “valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social media engagement,” (Elowitz and Li, 2009) it seems like every company wants social media but many, with some exceptions (such as Murphy-Goode Winery, who made headlines for paying a lucky candidate $10,000 a month to tweet [which in itself may have raised enough publicity to pay that person’s salary]), are still reluctant to pay. Many companies look to unpaid or underpaid interns to handle their social media. Thus, the public voice of the company is in the hands of temporary employees who are more often than not using their internships as a way to pad their resumes without any investment in the company. Social media requires a consistent, genuine presence in order to be effective, and this is best done by a dedicated staff member who truly believes in the company’s mission.

Other references:

Elowitz, Ben and Charlene Li (July, 2009) “The world’s most valuable brands. Who’s most engaged?” ENGAGEMENTdb