Alexa Boschini

Being human in a digital world

November 25, 2013

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Internet Summit, an annual technology forum held in Raleigh, N.C., that attracted speakers from Google/Youtube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Bing and other digital behemoths.

I was there to learn about social media strategy, search engine optimization and other tactics for expanding and enhancing our digital footprint here at Progressive Business Media. I attended a lot of informative sessions addressing everything from creating impactful online video to how Google's new Hummingbird algorithm will affect the future of search. But the presentation that has stuck with me the most is the opening keynote speech by Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Vayner Media. (For more on that keynote, check out Jenny's blog here.)

Vaynerchuk encouraged attendees to market their businesses "in the year we actually live in" - using the same strategies that worked back in 2007 may not be as effective today. The digital arena is a vast and sometimes overwhelming one, and it's changing the way we communicate with each other and consume information. "We're living through the biggest culture shift of the human race," he said.

Like it or not, social media is an integral part of our society today, and if your customers are there, you should be too. After all, there's a lot more to it now than posting pictures of your cat on Instagram or tweeting about what you had for lunch today. Social media can connect you with your customers on a more personal level, and help you tell your brand's story.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the Internet Summit about how businesses can use the major social media platforms to connect with customers:

• With so many channels out there, it can be tempting to post the exact same information across all of your social media platforms. But several speakers emphasized the importance of "respecting the room you're in" - if you don't understand the culture of a particular platform, you'll seem like you don't belong there, and people will be less inclined to listen to what you have to say.

On Facebook and Twitter, users are scrolling through news feeds filled with bite-sized updates from their friends, families and favorite brands. On Pinterest, they're pinning photos of things they want to have - clothes, food, home décor. On Instagram, they're using filters to share visually compelling images. "A picture or some words don't act the same as they do on Facebook as they do on Twitter as they do on Pinterest as they do on Instagram," Vaynerchuk said. You don't want to just reach your audience via social media - you want to engage them.

• Whatever channels your business uses, it's important to remember the social in social media. "The things that make us human and interact with each other should not go away on the Internet," Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said in his keynote. Businesses can afford to be more informal and conversational on social media, giving their brands a dose of personality.

In addition to sharing your own material on social media, show your customers you're engaged with what they're saying as well by liking, retweeting, repinning and commenting. And you can use the details you pick up from your customers' social media updates, from their favorite sports team to the vacation they just took, as conversation starters as you build that relationship offline. Brent Herd, director of Southeastern U.S. sales for Twitter, said, "Brands are beginning to humanize themselves on Twitter... Engagement increases brand favorability and purchase intent."

Use hashtags to join in conversations on social media, or facilitate conversations of your own. Across Twitter in particular, users search for hashtags to find conversations about topics that interest them (or in the case of Pinterest and Instagram, to find images that interest them). Herd said he's beginning to see brands "take action in the moment" on Twitter, citing the example of brands like Pampers, Coke and Oreo finding ways to join the Twitter conversation about the royal baby while keeping their tweets relevant to their brands.

Several speakers also mentioned Twitter chats as a way for brands to start their own conversations. You can host a Twitter chat at a designated time using a specific hashtag, and participants follow that hashtag to contribute to the discussion.

Don't underestimate the importance of visual storytelling. According to a presentation by Dave Favero of Shoutlet, the average time spent on Pinterest is 16 minutes compared to 12 minutes on Facebook and three minutes on Twitter. And in his presentation, Matthew Clyde of Ideas Collide said brand adoption of Instagram rose 80% in a year. "Synchronize your brand's message through visual storytelling," he said. "It's tempting to populate the same message across all channels, but you have to be disciplined enough to think about how you can inspire across all channels."

At Home Accents Today, we're making a concerted effort to improve our digital presence, and use our social media channels to engage with all of you. Currently, you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Youtube, LinkedIn, Sulia and Houzz.

Come join in our conversations - and don't be afraid to use your business' strengths and the vast social tools at your disposal to start your own.