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Discussion: Twitter and Social Media and Business

posted on May 21, 2009 at 8:17 PM

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Michael Libbie is the principal and owner of Insight Advertising, Marketing & Communications.  It is a Des Moines based Advertising Agency that specializes in traditional media messages from print to television to Social Media.  Michael also hosts a number of radio shows in the Des Moines market dealing with issues revolving around advertising and the rural lifestyle. Social media is a frequent topic.   

Mike Templeton is the director of social media and web strategy for the Iowa Hospital Association.  The organization has embraced the new forms of media to better communicate with members and the public.

Paul Yeager:  Gentlemen, welcome to the program.  I want to talk about social media because that's what we're here to talk about.  We talk about exactly, well, let's just make it simple -- how do you define, Michael, what a social network is?

Michael Libbie: Well, a social network is a virtual community and those virtual communities have popped up over the past five or six years and are now starting, with the advent of Twitter and some of the other tools that are out there, to really catch hold with the public.  At first, most of the social media was relegated to students and kids and interesting things about what color lipstick are you wearing today.  But now that business has started to actually get into the idea of sharing their products, their services, their connectivity and most importantly listening to the consumers, social media has taken on a whole new aspect.

Paul Yeager:  It was described by Nathan Wright to me when we were doing that piece, he said it's a good way to listen to what the chatter is about your business out there.  Is that accurate?

Michael Libbie: Absolutely, and through social -- now, there's a lot of junk on social media as well and we'll probably talk a little bit about that -- but the important thing is a push-pull relationship with the consumer.  We're used to, in this business of broadcasting, sending out the messages to individuals.  With social media the messages actually come back.  So, we've got that two-way communication and ability to learn what is working and perhaps what is not working and more importantly what the consumers are demanding.

Paul Yeager:  You mentioned broadcast, the term is broad and it was a widespread big paintbrush but this is much more of a niche and that's almost something that it sounds like, with the Iowa Hospital Association, Mike, it's more of a niche that you're trying to do with the group.  What was your pitch in trying to get the job that you have now?

Mike Templeton: Right, so like you said with broadcast you're really talking about a broad market.  For the Iowa Hospital Association we represent the interests of hospitals and health systems in Iowa.  So, our focus and our target is potentially smaller than just looking at the overall public.  But what we hope to gain in this is, like we just talked about, this mode of two-way communication.  So, we do a good job of communicating with our members but this also opens it up to these new channels and these new, using these new tools that people are maybe more familiar with or more comfortable with, easier for them to use and so we want to be able to move into that space and keep up with the times and the things that people are using.

Paul Yeager:  With your clients you're talking to the Waverly Hospital, the Red Oak Hospital, is that who you're talking to or are you talking with anybody that may have a medical need?

Mike Templeton: Right, so our first and foremost focus is on our members, that's who we serve, that's who we're there for.  But at the same time part of our job is to promote Iowa healthcare and careers in healthcare, the workforce in Iowa and that's another piece of where social media allows us to kind of put on a public face as well instead of strictly being in line with the members, we've got a chance to open up those communications and those dialogues to a wider audience and get more feedback to make our jobs working for these hospitals to do a better job.

Paul Yeager:  Michael, with your companies, you're an ad guy, brick and mortar, it's not out there, it's not social but it is.  How is it with the clients that you have more of the rural lifestyle?  You've got the radio show, your clients are more of a rural -- you could give them a whole line and give them a free plug if you want -- but what is it that an ad company is benefiting from social media?

Michael Libbie: Again, it's connectivity and gathering data and information on what is new and exciting out there.  Our clients are in Texas and South Dakota, here in Iowa.  Sometimes what happens with social media is many of our clients who are now branching out of perhaps the agricultural world into the consumer world utilize social media to be able to connect with brand new customers that didn't know that they existed prior to this.  Not only in agriculture but even everyday business, Mike knows this as well, in just a few weeks a relatively large convenience store chain based in Iowa is going to unveil their brand new Web site.  Now, you have to ask yourself, what in the world would a convenience store want to do with a Web site?  They've already established a very active Twitter account.  So, what are they doing?  What are they attempting to do?  Are they selling products on their Web site?  Not at all.  What they are doing is they're trying to connect with their consumer base and get them from the pump into the store where the margin on their products is higher than what the gas is.

Paul Yeager:  I don't know if you're talking about Casey's, I know the one you're talking about but Casey's has mentioned they have been one Iowa company that has had success because they have been able to get people into the store and that's where their success is.  That's one way to harness it.  What other instances do you have?

Michael Libbie: The Twitter message goes out and it says, look, if you come into the store between such and such and such and such a time or go to our Web site and download this coupon, come into the store, this is yours for 20% off, 50% off, whatever it happens to be.

Paul Yeager:  So, that is one instance.  What other instances do you have with your job?

Mike Templeton: So, I think one of the other applications is that instead of reaching a wide audience you've got the chance to really pinpoint these different niche audiences and target these different messages.  Because of the tools and the channels are so effective and efficient you can effectively reach more and smaller targeted groups whereas before you're talking about one message that may apply broadly across a lot of people, you're going to have a lot of discrepancies or a lot of differences of opinion or different things people are looking for.  But with social media because you can scale it across these smaller targeted areas more efficiently you're able to reach more people that way.

Paul Yeager:  Give me something you've done this week that has been able to harness what you're talking about.

Mike Templeton: For example, some of the different things we'd be able to do, basically some of the different events that we go to we're able to go and get footage from the different meetings we put on or different conferences, get photos and send those photos back out to the people that are participating there instead of maybe posting the news release out to the different news agencies to try to get coverage of an event that we held we can respond right back out to the people that were there at the event and further that dialogue. 

Paul Yeager:  So, that continues in an online discussion through a blog or through the Web site or where does that continue?

Mike Templeton: Right, so one of the things that we've done is to launch a blog where we're able to get that communication, people can participate versus a Web site you may post a release and they can come and read it and then move on with their day but with the blog they've actually got the ability to come in and make a comment, give feedback about the event and then actually be heard and then the organization has the chance to respond and further that dialogue.  So, taking those conversations that are going to be happening anyway outside of earshot of the organization or the business now you bring them online, you give them an environment where you can foster that communication and then you're able to make use of it and continue it.

Paul Yeager:  But how do you get past -- when Twitter started it was meet me at this place for drinks or hors d'oeuvres or a lot of people always talk about food.  So, how do you get people to move beyond, wow, they really had great food today at that event, they had great hors d’oeuvres?

Mike Templeton: That is the lubricant that moves you into a deeper conversation.  That is the thing is that people are not looking to be pitched all the time or to have the broadcast message interrupt what they're doing, they're looking for businesses and organizations to meet them on their own terms, come to where they are, interact with them how they want to interact instead of just treating them as another sales figure.  They want you to get down and be able to interact.

Paul Yeager:  So, how do you take the instance with some of these customers or clients that you have and there's one that you've got that's turf care or one that is calcium products?  That doesn't sound like anything that is of interest to me as following you on Twitter or anything like that but how is it that you utilize that, what is good for that company?

Michael Libbie: Absolutely, that's a great question, Paul.  Calcium Products has a division called NatraTurf.  What is one of the greatest buzz words going on right now in the world of lawn care and maintenance and water and our soil?  That is the pollution aspect.  So, lots of people are moving towards organic.  Last year $18 billion was spend in the organic world.  And so Calcium Products has figured out that what they do is they have created a product that matches the concerns of the consumer based on their outreach and created a whole division that is chemical free, dye free, it has no fertilizer in it but yet it works in a really responsible way for the environment and also the people that are using it.  And so their use of the social media, blogs and Twitter, gathers more data and like-minded individuals.  We just started a radio show, an Internet radio show here in the market which we'll continue to plug your show.  The Internet radio show we find guests for the show through Twitter.  We find guests for our rural lifestyle show through Twitter because, again, just like Mike said, it's like rifling the approach out there rather than the shotgun.

Paul Yeager:  Well, you both have mentioned like-minded or niche but how does that not sound like it's an echo chamber when you're having that discussion with people that are of like minds or alike in that niche?  We've used it on this program to get guests before, I've used it and said anybody know of someone and it gets out of what I call an echo chamber that might be in the building or in my row that I work.  So, how do you take that and step outside of that niche to make it successful?

Michael Libbie: I think one of the ways, maybe Mike has another suggestion for this, but we look and we can actually search, for example in Twitter, for either like-minded individuals or people who are on the opposite end of the spectrum from us and engage those people.  So, for example, there are people that we follow in the world of chemical fertilizers.  What are they talking about?  What is the real possible reaction to chemical fertilizers?  What do they really say about it so that we can perhaps counter that in other ways?

Paul Yeager:  Have you been able to monetize that or make money for these companies?

Michael Libbie: That's the big question and many companies out there are not able to monetize the exact nature.  Now, there's blogs and other issues out there where people will sell or get revenue from online ads, those types of things, but I think where the real monetization of social media is, is in creating new products that the general consumer public want to have.  Sometimes we find those products even before the company thinks about it.

Paul Yeager:  So, it's almost market research?

Michael Libbie: Absolutely.

Paul Yeager:  Like what they would use with a food product.  Same question to you, or how do you save money if that's what you're trying to do?

Mike Templeton: I was going to go right off that, the market research, the amount and the quality of data that you can get out of these activities, that is where the value is coming from.  You may not be able to say because of this offhand conversation we had with this person we were able to increase our sales by some percent but at the same time what if you didn't have that conversation.  A lot of the ROI discussion is around -- return on investment -- what are you missing out if you didn't have that conversation?  So, the numbers game is hard to pin down on some of this stuff but the real value is I think in the data that you can gather and the value that you get out of widening these communications.  It's not necessarily a new discipline.  Social media is largely word of mouth online.  It's something that before you weren't able to track or really be able to grasp or search or disseminate or understand.

Paul Yeager:  Because you couldn't just -- with the rural lifestyle it clicks something we talked about before the show -- it used to be farmers would get together in the co-op or they'd get together at the coffee shop or wherever it was, this is just a way to bug it and listen to it and now it's documented online.  Is that accurate?

Michael Libbie: Exactly, one of the things that we talk about a lot on our rural lifestyle radio show which is a terrestrial radio show is about horses.  You would be absolutely amazed at the amount of people out there who are on Twitter that talk about their horses and these people are passionate about their hobby or their avocation.  And so we're able to connect into that whole group of people not only for guests on a radio show but be able to listen to how they are living their life.  Organics is another thing.  You'd be amazed at the amount of people, both in the farm and out of the farm community, that are involved in this whole organic movement and they've all got a story to tell.  And so we utilize those people not only for guests but also for the opportunity to share stories back and forth.  This Sunday, for example, I've got a person from Texas, she moved from the suburbs of Chicago down to Texas and opened up an organic vegetable and fruit place.  It's an amazing story of a suburbanite going to rural America and creating a whole new identity for herself.  I never would have found her had it not been for Twitter.

Paul Yeager:  I want to ask, your business, there are ad firms out there that specialize in research and do development products, product development and testing.  Is that going to put them out of business when they can do this for free on Twitter, another way to tap these tools?  Are you basically going to put yourself out of business in what you’re teaching your clients to do?

Michael Libbie: That's a great question and often times people have taken a look at this social media and say, that's going to replace the traditional advertising agency.  That's almost like saying television replaced radio or satellite radio replaced terrestrial radio.  That's not happening.  You still need experts in whatever that field is.  If I have a business whether it's the Hospital Association or Iowa Public Television, if I have a business generally I am so engrained in that business that it's hard for me to step back and see the forest through the trees.  And so what I think traditional advertising agencies, we already create the beautiful print and the television and the great sounding radio commercials, but we have the ability to step back and away from the fray and be able to look at this with an objective eye and then come back to the client and say, you know, maybe we ought to think about this, this and this versus them just picking up the stuff on Twitter or Facebook.

Paul Yeager:  So, say I don't have a business, say I don't have something that I'm trying to sell, I'm just looking to get involved and talk to people.  How do you make the pitch, people your age, people my age, people Michael's age, our parent's age, our grandparent's age, how do you get them involved in something?  Is Twitter something they should be involved with or at least be exploring or trying to tap into?  What benefit do they have?

Mike Templeton: I think with social media it's hard to pitch someone.  Social media by definition it's really something that you as an individual have to want to do.  There's no reason for me to try to convince someone else that they need to do it.  If they need convincing it's not going to be something that's going to work for them.  But the importance of all this is that because these things have become so widespread, because of how easy it is to interact -- Facebook has been reporting I think the last couple of quarters their largest number of new users has been women 55+ which typically you would not envision these would be the people that are on growing the user base on something like Facebook.  But because it allows them to connect with their family, their kids, their grandparents, people like that, that before people have such busy lifestyles it's difficult for them possibly to take time out and make a phone call or write a letter.  Here these people can just go about their lives and a grandparent or a parent can literally check in on somebody online and be able to interact with them in a medium that they use, it's natural to them.

Paul Yeager:  They're able to get as much information when they want it, where they want it and you don't have to rely on me to send my mother, I don't have to send my mom a couple of pictures of my son, oh here, here's what he's doing, they're posted and she can take a look at them that way.

Mike Templeton: Exactly.  And for me it was big during college.  I got busy with school and classes and everything else and my mom basically just learned to go to the Web site that I had and she could basically see what was going on in my life.  And then when we would connect and we would call she would say, hey, I saw you wrote about this or I saw some of these photos from this event and then we could have a discussion, it was a great way to open that up.

Paul Yeager:  Do you really want to know what I had for lunch or that I'm going to the park or I'm going to the ballgame today?

Michael Libbie: Not necessarily.  Social media is not for everybody, it simply is not for everybody and what's important to understand about social media and as an advertising agency we've been asked will you author our blog?  Will you come in and will you Twitter beyond the ramp up to learn about what this is like?  We considered that for a little bit of time because this is, after all, about money and so if I can make money by authoring somebody's blog why wouldn't I do that?  But the important thing about Twitter, social media in general, not just Twitter, blogs, which is an amazing tool, if I'm not using my own voice then you really don't know me and if you're hiring a hired gun like me to be able to do all of the writing that's not really your voice, that's my voice through your world.  I can still make the radio commercials and the print media because that's a push.  I'm not trying to pull you into a conversation and I think that is the difference.  It's not for everybody and while social media is a great thing the key word there I think is social.  It is a way to engage a community but there's also kind of a bad side to all of this as well.

Paul Yeager:  Final 60 seconds, I want to get to what's next.  What is the next Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or MySpace?

Mike Templeton: We don't even know. 

Paul Yeager:  Will we know in six months?

Michael Libbie: It's moving at the speed of light.  We were just in this conversation today, things are moving so fast.  Will Twitter be around in five years?  I don't know.  My good friend, Andy Priestley at DWebware, we had this long conversation today.  As an Internet provider does he recommend Twitter?  He says, yes, I have to be there but I don't know if that's going to be the answer.  We didn't know that satellite radio was going to take off up until two weeks ago.

Paul Yeager:  That was something I heard Howard Stern say today, he says everybody gets a chance, there's so much of it, 100 channels, everybody gets an hour whether it's on horses or it's about the hospitals.  We can do whatever we need to do.  That's Mike Templeton, he's the director of social media and web strategy for the Iowa Hospital Association.  Across the table is Michael Libbie, he's the principal and owner of Insight Advertising, Marketing and Communications.  Gentlemen, it moves on so quickly, next time we'll do this on our laptops and we'll just have the conversation virtually.  Thank you very much for joining us. 

Tags: 21st Century Teaching advertising business Internet Iowa marketing rural social media technology technology integration Twitter