FOLIO: Growth Summit Coverage – Using Social Networks to Strengthen Your Market Position

Cia Romano and I talk social networks – both building your own, and using existing social networks to develop a diverse online audience.

In the “Using Social Networks to Strengthen Your Market Position” session at the FOLIO: Growth Summit in Chicago this week, I presented on social media strategy alongside the lovely Cia Romano, CEO and Founder of Interface Guru.

The first half of our session focused on magazine publishers who are looking to build their own social networks.

Cia opened with a usability lab video of a user trying to navigate a new account on Facebook. The user was thoroughly confused and ultimately thought that without a proper introduction and step-by-step process for setting up her account, it wasn’t worth her time. There was no “end” to the setup, in her opinion.

While a social network on your magazine website may not be the next Facebook of the world, Cia encouraged magazine publishers to look at best-practice social networks like Flickr and LinkedIn before trying to develop one of your own.

She also stressed paying attention to the folksonomy, aka “the language of your users” by being straight-forward in your navigation and labeling. Don’t confuse them with your own internal jargon.

The second part of the session, which I presented, focused on using external social networks to build your brand online.

There were a few major points I wanted to get across, so I’ll lay them all out here:

1. Stop focusing on ROI

Social media is not expensive, so what’s your investment? The return is a larger audience, more page views, and lots more traffic. The tools are free, and you don’t need to hire someone outside of your company. It’s not a new job, just someone’s new job responsibility.

In fact, many social media “experts” are simply people who get social media and understand the social community. Any person on your team can be good at this, and it only needs to take a couple hours a week. When your online community gets to be too big to handle, that’s a problem you’d love to have and that’s when you might consider hiring a community manager.

Think of social media as a customer service role instead of a marketing role. What’s the ROI of customer service? Customer satisfaction. If you can engage using social networks with that in mind, you’ll meet all of your goals.

More on Social Media Management – 30+ Social Media Metrics.

2. Let your staff be your biggest evangelists

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but you probably have quite a few people on your staff who are using company time to chat on social networks. Take that knowledge and enthusiasm and let them focus it on your brand.

The people on your team who are already passionate about your product will be the best people to represent you online. Editors will be especially good at this because they are familiar with your content and are proud of their work.

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3. Joining social networks doesn’t mean “losing control”

Many brands think that by letting their staff talk on social networks and be more personal with their customers, they’re somehow breaking down a wall they’ve worked so hard to build.

That may be true, but guess what? Just because you’re not a part of the conversation doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you. Believe it or not, people in the social media space are easily impressed. Once you break the mold, they’re going to see you in a whole new light, and they’re going to talk about you, favorably.

4. Use Twitter

I’ve been saying this for a while now, but I think people are finally starting to listen (maybe not to me, but to the hype at least). Twitter is the ultimate tool for companies with content; it’s a content distribution tool after all. Ways we’ve used it include

  • Soliciting story ideas,
  • market surveys,
  • as an alternative to phone or email customer service,
  • driving traffic through links,
  • promoting new products and events,
  • networking with others in the industry,
  • building email circulation with free white papers,
  • ….the list goes on, it surprises us every day.

The big benefit of Twitter is that every interaction you have is seen by others, both on your follower list and on the list of the people interacting with you. If you’re engaging in a positive manner and delivering valuable conversation, your audience will begin to double and triple very quickly.

I’ve also just written an entirely separate blog for this one, which you can check out here: The Secret Sauce of Twitter – 8 Lessons Learned from Being a Publisher on Twitter.

5. Find and use niche social networks in your space

In my presentation, I showed an example of how the website for Popular Photography and American Photography magazines can easily use three popular social networks in their space to drive traffic and increase brand awareness.

How can they do this? The ones above that I’m showing offer forums, profile pages, photography galleries, and one even encourages syndication. All the editors of would need to do is join these networks and add value, possibly adding photos and tips, then sourcing the content back to their own site. In addition, the folks on these social networks may enthusiastically welcome published expert in the field.

There are a myriad of ways you can use external social networks to benefit your brands. It’s all about repurposing content. Give enough away where it’s valuable, but not enough where they think they’ve gotten all they need.

6. Maintain a 60/40 ratio of conversation to marketing

In order to communicate effectively on social networks, you need to be as conversational as time allows. Start out on social networks forgetting that the goal is to build your brand.

Your first goal should be to build your reputation. Once that is established, other people will trust what you have to say and the products you choose to promote. Make sure everything you say is relevant to the conversation.

7. Drive traffic to pages that convert

Remember direct mail? Yes, that’s right, this is where the print mentality still works. When posting links on social networks, and especially in blog comments, think before you link.

Instead of linking to, try linking to a page that is more likely to get a conversion, like a free report or issue of your magazine – no credit card required. If the goal is impressions or leads for your advertisers, drive them to dedicated pages. Before engaging, think what is my end goal?

My overall point of all this is that magazines are suffering much more than other companies that are native to the online space. This is because many magazines haven’t effectively made the print-to-online transition yet. Atleast not as effectively as they might like.

It’s really time to let go of any pride you might have, and take a lesson from the publishing newbies. They haven’t got your brand recognition, but they’ve got your audience.

Your first step in becoming a native to the online landscape is to think and interact like a blogger. Bloggers have less trouble selling ads, products, and being personally recommended by thousands online. This is why a blogger that’s been in the business for three years can have 15,000 Twitter followers and 6 million unique visitors a month while your fifty year old magazine may have 1,000 followers and 50,000 UV’s.

Not every attempt at social networking is going to be successful, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. It doesn’t need to be rocket science, it just takes a change in habit.

If you have any questions or comments about it, I’d love to discuss them in the comments.


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