Lessons from the Front Lines of Social Media
BY BOB NEEDHAM
While the business world does not suffer from a lack of advice on how to use social media, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Here, three Ross graduates working in key positions offer their insights.
Do Your Research Homework
Social media may be a new phenomenon, but it might work best when applying some traditional tactics. That's true for anyone, including social media companies themselves.
Megan Witmer, PhD '13, initially intended to become a professor, but found she was more passionate about interfacing with customers. She's now a user-experience researcher for Facebook. As such, she's embedded on certain product teams — Facebook treats its various features as separate products — and works to understand the best way to find answers to questions or problems that arise.
That might mean analyzing existing data, or it might mean new research. Witmer uses a variety of tactics in developing a research plan, possibly including surveys, interviews, or focus groups — whatever combination will best address the issue at hand.
"As social media becomes more accessible around the world, it's up to my team to understand the cultural context in which our products exist," Witmer says. "The context influences how products are interpreted and used.
"For example, a person sharing one phone among multiple family members will have different needs and behaviors than someone switching between a desktop, tablet, and mobile device. Layering on the roles of advertiser, consumer, and developer further amplifies the complexity and the importance of rigorous research."
Use Your Data Wisely
After completing his MBA in the Ross Evening program, Manish Gupta, MBA '08, found rewarding opportunities at eBay and Google/YouTube before landing at Twitter, where he's now head of insight and analytics.
Part of his role is to help advertisers find their return on investment — figuring out how to design campaigns, how best to invest, and how to facilitate measurement. Of course, social media depends on the technology that supports it, and that technology creates new challenges and opportunities.
Assembling research data is critical. But even more critical is learning to apply it in smart new ways, understanding the nuances of the new media. "It requires a completely different line of resourcing, skill sets, and methodologies," Gupta says.
At first, it was enough to count "likes" and retweets. But now, advertisers want harder proof — "Show me that this moves the needle" on sales or brand image, he says. It's important to focus on that.
One other piece of advice: Companies need to commit to a strategy, which some are reluctant to do. Put the right measures in place, and you'll get the return, Gupta says: "At some point you have to decide."
Remember: Ultimately, It's All About People
Marcus Collins, MBA '09, came to social media via Apple and the music industry. "I started falling in love with social as a vehicle because it was all about people coming together and sharing what they love," he notes.
He oversaw digital strategy for singer Beyonce, but found music to be a bit limiting. Today, he's executive director of social engagement for the high-profile New York ad agency Translation, building up its social media staff from one person to almost 30 in less than four years.
Things got off to a great start, with very successful launches for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and Bud Light's Platinum beer. Then came his epiphany: "Everything I knew about social was incomplete," he says. "Social media is just the media of people."
Focusing on technology, specific platforms, and the like misses the point, Collins says. It's important to know why we share what we share, and which triggers cause us to take action. So he voraciously read up on social science, balancing an academic and a practical approach.
Social media creates one more way to interact with all the people in our lives — friends, family, teammates, colleagues, and neighbors. Social platforms are environments, just like the office or the classroom, Collins says. By understanding how people work, we can better apply technology to build a brand.
"We rely on people more than any form of media. We trust strangers more than we trust advertising," Collins says. "The idea is to understand people."
What are your thoughts? How has social media impacted you in your career?
Tweet us @MichiganRoss to share your insights and questions.
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