Social Media is a team sport

I have been fortunate to work with a variety of companies/non-profits at the beginning of their Social Media journey. They have recognized the importance of Social Media in their overall marketing strategy while realizing that it is only a part of the plan. Too many companies (and gurus, mavens, ninjas, etc) see Social Media as the lead dog on the marketing sled. It is not.

But I digress.

One of the challenges facing any company as they begin their Social Media journey is – content. Yes, we know that “content is king” and that every single stinkin’ day someone writes a blog about the need for “engaging” content that gets your followers to participate and share. All top line advice that ignores the real need – WHERE to find that content.

Great content is all about your audience. You absolutely must be focused on them-not on you. There is no secret sauce here. No magic wand you can wave that will automatically generate fountains of great content.

However, there is one thing you can do in your organization that will help. Get everyone involved. From the CEO to the support staff – everyone has a story to tell, an anecdote, an insight. And, everyone likes to see themselves in the spotlight. To be recognized for a job well done. (OK, not everyone….absolutes never work, but you get the idea…)

This starts at the top. If the bosses, managers or leaders do not believe in Social Media no amount of cajoling will get them to participate. However, if your organization believes that the successful use of Social Media is important to your long-term success then you need to make it a part of your corporate culture.

Here are a few tips on how to do that:

Ask, Don’t Tell – You cannot force your employees to generate content for Social Media. In their minds they are already overworked and adding this to their daily tasks will just cause resentment. Start small. Get every department to contribute one piece of content a week. A picture, inside story, idea – whatever.

Show them the value – Explain what you are trying to accomplish and why. Is this about customer service? Making your company more accessible? Getting more people involved in your cause (for non-profits). In the end everyone realizes this is about making money but you don’t lead with the sales pitch in Social Media. The goal here is to personalize what you do by revealing the human beings (and nature) behind who you are. Your people are your greatest asset.

Reward them – Can you incentivize your staff for contributing content? Absolutely! Gift cards, better parking, a day off-  all are inexpensive ways to motivate behavior. Be careful on rewarding based on the “best” content as that becomes subjective and can lead to resentment. Initially, you are looking for quantity. Your marketing gatekeepers can determine quality.

Brainstorm – This is a great opportunity to find out what your staff deals with every day. They know what your customers or donors are saying. Have a big free lunch in the conference room and ask them to tell you what they think is interesting and post-worthy.

Ask for the order – Request that everyone like the company Facebook page, follow it on Twitter, subscribe to the You Tube channel, follow you on Pintrest, etc. Recognize that you will not get 100% participation. Don’t judge them for this. Some will be concerned about privacy, others are Social Media neophytes and just don’t get it and there is always that small percentage that just doesn’t give a damn about the company. You can also offer basic training in how to use Social Media for those who are interested but are challenged by technology.

Be patientCulture change does not happen overnight. It will take months to really get people to make this habitual.  And, even after they get into the groove they will lose interest – especially if their content suggestions are ignored. You will have to remind them over and over of the value they bring to this project. And, then you’ll have to remind them again. Once the newness of Social Media wears off it will become just another item on their to-do list.

Use the spotlight– Let your team know when someone scores. Do not be afraid to do this  on your Social Media platforms. Everyone likes an “atta boy” now and then.

Restrict access – The goal here is participation, not anarchy. You should NEVER give all your employees unfettered access to your Social Media platforms. That should remain firmly in the hands of your marketing team. You are looking to generate raw material, not a polished, finished product.

I have seen first-hand how getting the entire team involved has led to a significantly better Social Media presence. It can generate more likes & followers. It will spark more comments, shares and re-tweets.

It takes time but the effort is worth it.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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Social Media By The Numbers

A couple of reports were released in the last week that highlight how people are using Social Media – by two well respected research firms. While it is easy to get blinded by the numbers, a look inside can reveal some facts that can help you focus your Social Media marketing strategy.

First, the folks at Nielsen give us their April 2012 Internet usage report. The numbers do not vary much on a month-to-month basis so you can assume what you see here will continue for the foreseeable future. As always, Google gets the most traffic and Facebook gobbles up the most on-line time. The average US Internet user spends about 28 hours a month on-line – about 25% of that time on Facebook!

Yes, with the recent IPO fiasco and the gloom-and-doom reporting of the inefficiency of Facebook advertising you could come to the conclusion that Facebook is a waste of time. Wait, that didn’t come out right. Facebook IS a waste of time but there are a lot of people wasting a lot of time with it. A lot of pundits are quick to rush into the “death of Facebook” conversation. Don’t buy into that. The numbers do not lie. Over 151 million Americans spent the largest share of their on-line time with Facebook.

The trick here is for you to figure out how to capture their attention. Regardless of your message there is an audience on Facebook that is interested in hearing it. You need to figure out a way to deliver what they want. Simple to say, difficult to accomplish. Facebook is a viable way to market your message because the audience is so large.

The second report, in the form of a survey, comes from the folks at Pew InternetTwitter Use 2012.  It appears that Twitter continues to grow. While the percentage of adults who use Twitter has remained relatively static for the last year, their usage patterns have doubled. So, the Twitter devotees have become even more addicted to the platform.

This could lead one to come to the conclusion that Twitter’s importance as a marketing tool has dramatically increased. I say -not so fast. Though the amount of Twitter users numbers in the millions they pale in comparison to those that use Facebook. Because of the 140 character limit it is very difficult to create content that will attract an audience. You’re casting bait into a wide ocean hoping for a bite. It can be done but requires much more effort and deft than Facebook does.

One thing about Twitter that differentiates it from Facebook is the passion. Though Twitter’s audience is smaller they are much more wrapped up in the platform. True Twitter devotees are addicted. This is great for spreading your message because those that Tweet are always looking for something to say.

What you need to do is figure out how to message and connect in brief – but frequent – bursts. If you think coming up with two or three solid Facebook posts a day is challenging – -what do you have up your sleeve for 5 or 6 or more daily tweets?

This is not to say you should not ignore Twitter. Quite the contrary, even if you do not have the time or the content to be a regular Twitter feeder you can still make excellent use of the platform as a listening device. Twitterers love to talk. Listen to them. You may learn something.

All these numbers help put Social Media as a marketing tool into perspective. Spending 28 hours a month on-line is certainly huge. But, remember, the average American spends over 50 hours a month listening to old-fashioned over-the-air radio and over 100 hours a month plopped in front of a TV. Not to mention that more people read email everyday than visit any Social Media site.

It is easy to get blinded by the hype of Social Media. I do believe it is an essential part of any marketing strategy. And, despite the naysayers, has become an integral part of our daily lives. The more facts we can gather on this “new” marketing platform, the better we can use it to our advantage.

Your Thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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The Social Network

With all the hype surrounding Facebook’s public offering, GM’s decision to stop Facebook advertising and the countless articles pointing out how abyssmal click through rates are – we tend to lose sight of the value Social Media provides for marketing. The folks at Pew Internet have provided us with this reminder. While the data may almost three months old, even the change-at-the-speed-of-light nature of the Internet can’t devalue these numbers. There’s a lot of interesting data in their study but one finding stuck out:

Facebook users can reach a mean number (average) of more than 150,000 other Facebook users through Facebook friends of friends. A typical or median user can reach over 31,000 people.

That is staggering. That means that every piece of content you post has the ability to be multiplied by 31,000! More importantly, that multiplication comes with a shred of credibility. If you are providing content that elicits any sort of emotional response – like, share, comment – from your fans you are tapping into their “preferred” network. You are receiving an actual endorsement from them. Brands spend millions of dollars hiring celebrities to hawk their wares – to limited success. (Seriously, are you buying anything endorsed by Kim Kardashian?) But, for the cost of some well crafted, meaningful content you could potentially get your message – or at least your name – in front of 31,000 “trusted” friends.

Look, I know this number represents a maximum in a perfect engagement world- but even if you could get a fraction of that number – what would that be worth to you, your business or your non-profit? Two things spring to mind.

First, if you are using Facebook ads take a serious look at sponsored stories. Yes, most people realize they are a plant and paid for but on some level, seeing something “endorsed” by a member of my network lends it a bit more credibility, if not visibility. Of course, in order to generate sponsored stories worth sharing you have to, well, create stories worth sharing.

Which brings me to the second thought: How’s your content doing? No one really knows how many page fans see a particular piece of content. Intuitively, we know that whatever we post at 9AM will not be seen by someone logging in after lunch. It makes sense that you need to post frequently – but with relevance. Writing compelling content is hard work. If you’re posting 15-20 times a week on your Facebook page you are not going to score 100 on the compello-meter every time. You just have to hit enough home runs to raise the expectation level of your audience. In baseball, a hitter is a resounding success if they fail 7 out of 10 times. In Social Media ball, you should strive to make one out of every three posts something worth mentioning. You can fill in with stuff that keeps your awareness high but if you’re not giving them something that will grab their attention in some way you will eventually lose them to the next shiny object.

Remember that people participate in Social Media because it is fun, it is a diversion from the routine – it is entertainment. Tapping into that emotion is the key to accessing their network. We already knew that Social Media is the driving engine behind virality – this just puts a quantifiable number on the possibilities.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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Will the IPO kill Facebook?

Facebook goes public this Friday. That has put us on full irony alert. The company that has been pilloried by privacy wonks will be forced to shred its veil of secrecy.

That is the least of Facebook’s concerns as they move forward in the public eye. Wall Street is a harsh mistress. The demands of being a publicly held company are many and will inevitably change how Facebook operates.

I am not a financial expert (but I play one on the radio) but recent history tells us that the Facebook we know today will not be the Facebook of the future. Two examples spring to mind – Starbucks and the entire radio industry.

Starbucks – the company that single-handedly changed our coffee consumption habits –  built themselves upon a smart and meticulously crafted strategy. The were very rigid in planning their expansion – down to which side of a street to locate their stores on. Then, they went public. To satisfy Wall Street growth demands, Starbucks abandoned their strategy and started opening more stores. This was not a retail decision – it was one forced upon them by Wall Street analysts. Of course, the strategy failed and they had to close stores and get back to where they once belonged.

Remember radio? Those local stations that talked about local events and were tied into your local community? This was an industry that routinely had 50% profit margins! Well, the Telecom Act of 1996 changed all that. Stations were gobbled up en mass by large conglomerates. They went public. Despite huge profits they could not afford the payments on their notes. Worse, they could not satisfy Wall Street’s insatiable demand for dramatic growth. A succession of bankruptcies and dramatic cutbacks have left this industry a shell of its former self.

How will this affect Facebook? What kind of changes can we expect to see in the coming months and years?

At its core, the product won’t change much. Despite their stock market woes, Starbucks still made great coffee. The actual user experience did not change. Expect the same for Facebook. They will continue to evolve, add and subtract features and make the kinds of changes people will bitch about. More importantly, our need for connections that Facebook has mined will not go away. While the folks at Google+may see this as an opportunity, the reality is that our Facebook experience will continue on its current course.

But, Wall Street’s demands for growth will be satisfied. Analysts – those people on the outside looking in – will start opining about what Facebook is, should be, needs to be, etc. The first time Facebook’s quarterly statement does not meet analyst’s projections (read: guesses) – Facebook will be forced into scramble mode in order to maintain their stock price. Like Starbucks, they will have to invent a new strategy that looks good on paper and bolsters analysts’ confidence –  which is usually a recipe for disaster.

Facebook built itself on a cowboy mentality. Mark Zuckerberg had a vision and because he was “the man”,  that vision was fulfilled. Now, he will have hundreds of bosses. Watching that battle will be entertaining.

While I’m not in the prediction business – here is one I will lay out there: Facebook advertising WILL change. Once they go public we will see how much revenue Facebook really generates and – more importantly – how much of that revenue goes to the bottom line. Facebook will then have to prove it can grow that pie. Not just grow it but grow it in a sustainable, quantifiable way that the analysts will believe.

Wall Street does not care that 850 million people use Facebook. They care about how much  money Facebook makes off those 850 million people. The growth they are seeking will not come from more people joining Facebook. Facebook’s goal may be total world domination but their audience growth curve is already plateauing. Sure, they’ll pass a billion – and probably more. But, those are just numbers on a page. Wall Street cares less about audience growth and audience share. They want you to “show me the money.” This is part of what happened to the radio industry.

So, expect to see Facebook ad rates change. Like gas prices, they will not be going down.

Expect to see more and different types of ads. Hello flash and leader board.

Expect to see Facebook become much more aggressive in selling and promoting those ads. Messages in your in-box promoting ads?

And, expect to see them try to branch out into other areas that are not currently part of their core business. as Google is trying to establish a beachhead in social, Facebook will get more aggressive in search (where the real money is).

This week’s IPO will not kill Facebook. However, unless Mark Zuckerberg decides to take his billions and go away – Facebook will change. Again.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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Social Media For Fun and Profit

This just in…apparently the reason everyone posts on Facebook, tweets from their smart phone, writes a blog, checks in on foursquare, pins recipe’s on Pintrest and watches video on You Tube is because…wait for it –  it’s FUN!

Don’t take my word for it. This has been proven in a study by the market research firm Penn Schoen Berland for the Hollywood Reporter.

Fully 88% of the participants in the study viewed Social Media platforms as just another – albeit new – form of entertainment. The sample was based on a demo of 13-49 so its pretty comprehensive. While there are variations in how each segment of that demo views and uses Social Media (after all, a 13-year-old shares few of the same traits of a 49-year-old) – the end result is that social Media is yet another pleasant form of diversion.

Personally, I have been preaching this mantra for years. However, it is nice to finally have some data to back this up.

For marketers it points out a not-so-startling fact – customers are NOT hanging out on Facebook or following tweets with the express purpose of interacting, engaging or joining a community that is associated with any business. Unless, of course, that business happens to be in the entertainment industry or deals with something that people are personally passionate about. We see great Social Media involvement when it comes to movies, music, cars, food, shopping, fashion or nerve-touching causes. Not so much when it comes to carpet cleaning, lawyers, tires or plumbing.

Entertainment is all about emotion. Be it comedy or drama – it is the emotional connection the content makes with the audience that creates (and completes) a relationship. If this study is to be believed, people are using Social Media as a diversion from their daily routine. This is something they do to connect with people they have an emotional connection with or to find something that will amuse them.

Yes, this is an oversimplification of the psychological need fulfillment that Social Media provides. But, we do not have to dig too deeply into the human psyche to see why the entertainment value of Social Media is so important to marketers.

Entertainment is all about “what’s in it for me.” Think of your own Social Media habits. Are you spending your time on Facebook looking for brands to connect with? Do you think the “general public” is any different?

So, how do you use this to become a better Social Media marketer?

First and foremost – be interesting! Provide something about your business, charity or brand that will get people to react in some sort of emotional way. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, surprise them, tell them something they did not know, reveal a hidden truth. The tactical application of creating an emotional reaction is part of the creative process. There is no one-size-fits-all here. It is the end-game you are searching for. There is an old adage for performers – love me, hate me but don’t ignore me. Indifference kills and the best way to create an audience is to strike an emotional chord with them.

Second, be wary of humor. Being funny is a hard. There is nothing worse than humor that falls flat. All too often, marketers think that “fun” means “funny”. They are two different emotions.

Third, be real. Social Media is about conversations. Truncated though they may be, anyone that reads your post or your tweet (or this blog) reads it alone. While you may be broadcasting that message to millions it is being read by individuals. There is a difference between having a conversation and giving a speech.

Striking an emotional chord with someone is damn hard. It is even more difficult when you are attempting to forge a human connection while masquerading as a “brand”. That is why you have to view your Social Media interactions in human terms.

Entertainment is a messy business that is built upon expectations. And those expectations are set even before your fans meet you. If you don’t “have them at hello” you will rarely get a second chance to impress them. Make sure your content passes the “who cares” test. Deliver emotion eliciting content on a regular basis. you don’t have to do it 100% of the time. Just often enough to create the feeling that you are worth my time.

In the end it is not about engagement or conversations or community building. It is about being remembered.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan,

Social Media specialist

SMThree

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Dang. It looks like Social Media killed advertising. Again.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Social Media is not just changing the way we do business. It is rocking the very foundations on which business operates. Forget paradigm shifts – this is akin to a biological evolution. Thanks to Social Media I would not be surprised if we all start growing gills.

Gawd. Once again a Social Media Guru (or are they ninjas…I forget…) is pontificating about how EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED!!

You can read this article here.  But, in summary the author exclaims that traditional advertising is dead. The cute days of Mad Men where companies bought advertising to tell people about their products is gone. Over. Kaput.

For example, he says: Speaking to an audience, and selling to them, is largely an exercise in having the wisdom to enter a conversation that’s already happening in the prospect’s mind. It’s using the language the audience is already using.

So, we no longer advertise – we read minds! Wow, this Social Media thing is better than I thought. Seriously? You mean consumers are already thinking about us and we just have to figure out what language they are using and start a conversation about these thoughts in that language. Cool. Oh, where do we start that conversation? Telepathically? Perhaps a solid radio commercial or a billboard might get their attention. Just a thought…

He goes on…

If you’re throwing brand advertising at the masses and hoping something will stick, you’re playing a game that’s already over. Consumers have taken their ball and gone home.

Yes, they’ve gone home and are watching television. Last time I checked that was about four hours a day! Oh, and if you are just throwing ad campaigns against the wall then you need a new ad agency or a better plan.

Not done yet…

The equation used to be: money x media = business. The new equation is: time x media = business. In other words, every company is a media company.

So, my plumber is now a media company? Cool. Wonder if he offers HBO. Oh, wait, I get it. This is about the fact that every company has a story to tell and we are supposed to develop those stories and present them to interested consumers who will start a conversation with us leading to better engagement and a long-lasting relationship. Silly me, I just need a damn plumber to unclog my drains. Frankly, the last thing I really want to do is engage in a relationship with him…

I really hate to burst anyone’s bubble here but if you have a product or service you want to get in the hands of consumers, you will actually have to spend some money at some point. Yes, word-of-mouth marketing is great and Social Media is word-of-mouth on steroids. But it doesn’t…just…happen. You need to do something to start that fire. you will actually – at some point – interrupt someone’s train of thought and present your message to them in a very obvious way. A tweet ain’t going to cut it.

But wait, there’s more…

What does this look like in the real world? Here are three steps to creating a “campaign” that will last:

  1. Build a minimum viable audience with useful, educational, and entertaining content.
  2. Listen carefully to their frustrations, fears, problems, and desires.
  3. Create or adapt products and services that better serve them.

This is a very simple strategy that can be very difficult to execute. But it’s absolutely worth it.

Where to begin? Build a minimum viable audience? How do I do that without MARKETING TO THEM? I can create all the useful, educational, entertaining content about plumbing I want but if no one sees it what does it matter?

Listen carefully…now that is actually great advice and one of the true benefits of being active in Social Media. This is especially true when it comes to reviews. Comments on Yelp, Foursquare, Google Places, etc. can have a powerful impact on the image of your business. These conversations happen whether or not you are paying attention so it is vitally important that you listen to the marketplace.

Create and adapt? Consumer feedback is very important. But, if you’re a plumber there is only so much creating and adapting you can do. Sure, you can improve your customer service, response time or create a “customer care” program. In the end – you’re still just offering plumbing services and you want to book as many jobs as you can.

Finally – a “simple strategy that is very difficult to execute.” Wait, I need to look up the definition of oxymoron…..yep, it fits.

There is nothing “simple” about this strategy. Creating “useful, educational & entertaining” content is damn hard. It takes creativity and ability. An understanding of what people who are looking for your product or service will find interesting. The author scoffs at both being creative and the creative process yet minimizes the necessity of creativity in order to execute his “simple” strategy. See definition above.

And finally…

If you had enough money, the good old days of brand advertising were truly good, like shooting fish in a barrel.

Dang, I wish I lived during the time of Mad Men. Apparently, all they had to do was sell something and people would flock like lemmings to the store to buy it. People believed what they were told and did what they were told. Now, this pesky Social Media thing has come along and caused us to think. Damn you Mark Zuckerberg!

Traditional advertising is not dead. Yes, there are more ways to reach a potential audience than ever before. However, in the end marketing is about creating awareness. There are many ways to do that – of which Social Media is just a small part.

Beware the bullshit. If you own a small or medium business or run a small non-profit you know how difficult it is to attract customers or donors. And, you balance the marketing aspects of this process with all the day-to-day stuff that keeps your doors open. Do not fall into the trap of believing that Social Media is a marketing panacea.

Social Media is here to stay. It is a great way to expand your marketing efforts. But, no amount of “useful, educational & entertaining” stories will replace old-fash- , uh, traditional marketing efforts.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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Overvaluing Social Media?

Are we overvaluing Social Media as a marketing tool? In today’s marketing world the buzz value of digital/social marketing is deafening.

This is just one of many studies you can uncover that shows the projected increase of digital media ad spending. As with all these studies, the growth curve is dramatic. You can’t swing a dead cat in a room of CMO‘s or Marketing gurus without getting the exclamation that ALL marketing is inexorably moving in the direction of being purely digital.

After all, the consumer now controls the conversation. We have precise metrics that show exactly what people are clicking on. It is now a given fact that people spend more time on Social Media than anywhere else on the web. Surely, the logic goes, this means the best and only place we should spend our marketing budgets is in digital.

Except when this logic flies in the face of facts.

Take, for example, the recent Nielsen figures showing on-line usage in the US. Astoundingly, over 212 MILLION Americans were on-line is March. That is one gigantic audience. Clearly, any company worth its salt needs to be doing its best to reach those people. Since most companies do not expand their marketing budgets this new spending stream needs to come from traditional media.

Why advertise on television or radio when EVERYONE is on-line. EVERYONE is using their smart phone and EVERYONE has a tablet. (Of course, the reality of this is false but since EVERYONE who works at an advertising agency or in a corporate marketing department has all these digital toys, it must be true….right?)

According to the most recent Nielsen figures, those 212 Million on-line Americans spend an average of an hour a day on-line. Further, they are on any given web page for about…a minute. Where they are likely looking for something besides an ad.

Compare this to the time we spend with “traditional” (that is to say, “old”) media. Americans spend – on average – 4 hours a day watching television (that’s real TV, not streaming stuff) and about 2 hours a day listening to over-the-air radio. clearly, they have not gotten the message that these media are no longer cool.

Assuming all these averages are accurate – and do not happen simultaneously – that means we consume about 8 hours of some level of electronic media a day. About 12.5% of our time is spent on-line.

I’m no math wiz but that tells me any marketing budget should align relatively close to those numbers, doncha think?

Now, this is where reality intrudes. Most small and medium businesses do not have the multi-million dollar marketing budgets that Coke or Ford has, so often television cannot be part of the equation. Heck, production costs alone preclude many from participating. Radio, while cost-effective – takes a true time commitment to be effective.

This is what makes digital/social marketing so attractive. It is relatively cheap, the production costs are ridiculously low and you can actually track how many times your ad is shown. (Quick caveat – “shown” does not mean “seen”. An on-line ad that has one million impressions could be one million people seeing it once or one person seeing it a million times.) And, this does not take into account the coolness factor of digital/social advertising.

Pardon me for being simplistic, but, in order for people to buy from you or donate to you – they need to know who in the hell you are! They need to find out what you offer, where they can find you and why what you have means a ball of wax to them.

Yes, you can pump up a Social Media presence, buy ads on Facebook, promote tweets, place display ads on various networks. You probably should be doing – or considering – all of these. However, if you think that just by doing this you’ll achieve critical mass in their attention spans – you’re nuts.

Generally speaking, well thought out digital/social campaigns support, amplify and enhance traditional media marketing. Creating and maintaining a regular presence works –  frequency sells, after all. Though there are many who will say the age of “intrusive” marketing is over – they are dead wrong. People are not placidly lying in wait to “interact” with your messages. You need a bull horn and a sledge-hammer to get their attention.

I’m not saying you should ignore digital/Social Media marketing. Just put it into perspective. Make it a part of your marketing strategy. Understand the medium – as you would TV or radio – and maximize its effectiveness.

Just don’t get caught by the undertow of the buzz.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist

SMThree

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