Social media is one part of your overall marketing strategy.

Wow, what an incredible amount of changes I’ve seen in my many years in this great industry. I started my career working for a large plumbing/HVAC wholesaler in Lancaster, PA. I was part of the first college grad training program in the industry. When I started in this business, companies kept track of their inventories manually. Inventories in and out were logged on a card. More sophisticated wholesalers had minimum and maximum quantities on each item that told the purchasing agent when and how many to order.

Sometime in the early ’60s this formerSupply House TimesWholesaler of the Year installed one of the first computers in the industry, a Remington Rand punch card system. This big honker took up a 20-foot by 20-foot room that had to be temperature controlled and clean!

Look at where we are today. Believe it or not, this boy has been able to keep up to speed pretty well. However, since I don’t Twitter, tweet, use Facebook or Linked-In on a daily basis, I’ve asked a good friend for some help in writing this article. 

Todd McDonaghlives in MA and for a number of years was the VP of operations for Home Portfolio, a Web-based company devoted to promoting and educating the consumer on home design products. This background has given Todd a unique perspective on the decision intersection between the consumer, the brand or manufacturer, the dealer or showroom and the design professional. He has just created a new business devoted to helping businesses in the home design industry with their Internet marketing and social media strategy. Todd’s new business has the unique name of “The Mad Dog Group.” Todd can be contacted, or visit his Web site

I interviewed Todd, asking him questions that I thought you might ask him. But first, allow me to pen a few words of introduction.

As the Internet has grown up, it would only stand to reason that the practice of Internet marketing would evolve as well. Social media became synonymous with e-mail and text messaging last year. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In experienced mercurial growth and the Internet landscape was littered with articles and research claiming that social media is transforming the way that businesses are interacting with their customers and how businesses are interacting with each other. All of this is true, but business owners must know where the stepping stones are before they go wading in the stream. The following interview is meant to help you understand a bit more about what this social media phenomenon is all about.

Q: First, help us understand what social media is.

Todd McDonagh:In its simplest form, social media is people having a conversation online. Whether those conversations are happening on blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networks like Twitter or Facebook, video sharing sites, photo sharing sites or message boards, it is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. Traditional media forms like TV, radio and print create a dialogue that is one way. They push the message to you through their controlled outlets. Social media lets that dialogue become interactive. It is two way. In fact, it doesn’t work unless you participate, which is why it is called ‘social.’ With social media the control shifts to the consumer. 

Q: What does social media do?

Todd McDonagh:For one, it is inherently more measurable, accountable and usually less expensive than traditional media. Next, it plays into the consumer-in-control movement by providing new opportunities to be a part of the consumer’s conversation about interests, attitudes, shopping plans and even brands. Finally (and perhaps most importantly), it is the only medium that allows marketers to reach consumers throughout the entire buying cycle - from initial awareness through information gathering to sales and post-sales feedback and support.

Q: Why should a company care about social media?

Todd McDonagh: For me, a few statistics are a helpful way to know when the train is leaving and I need to jump on. Forrester reported that “three out four people use social technology.” In a “Business in Social Media” study by Cone, their data revealed that “93% of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media.”  These stats may not be compelling enough for some, but they are indicative of a phenomenon that is rapidly emerging into a movement.   

The process of building or remodeling a home is ripe for a community. One of the cornerstones of social media is tapping the community. The experience that a homeowner goes through when building or remodeling a home will vary, but for the most part, it will be either good or bad. If they have had a good experience with this process, they will share. If they have a bad experience with this process, they will share that as well, but the word of mouth for a bad experience will move a whole lot faster. People are out there talking and if they’re not, they can be pulled into a discussion. Social media lets you stand in the stream and be part of those discussions. You can engage the unhappy consumer - in fact, I would insist that you engage the unhappy consumer. This provides you an opportunity to solve their issue and convert their attitude. You can also tap the satisfied consumer and get them to be your new cheerleader.  Let your satisfied consumers work for you. The community is about trust and the community can influence behavior. The community also rewards transparency, accountability and accessibility. 

Q: How does a company know where these discussions are taking place?

Todd McDonagh: Everything in social media starts by listening. There are tools like Google Alert that let you listen in on what is being said about your brand or product, about your competition and about your industry. Google Alert is a free service that lets you input keywords or keyword phrases. Every time those keywords or keyword phrases appear in a blog, article, discussion group or anything that Google can index, you get an Alert. These Alerts can be organized in another Google tool called Google Reader. You can also use Tweetdeck or Monitter to capture information from Twitter.   

Linked-In provides an area for groups. These groups create discussions around topics that can be relevant to your industry or business. In many cases, there are a group of passionate bloggers that are writing about different subjects relevant to any industry, product or company. Listening needs to become part of your daily duties. The set-up can take a little time and it may require some assistance, but once your tool set is up and running, staying up on the information flow shouldn’t chew up a lot of time.

Q: What happens after you listen?

Todd McDonagh: Before answering that, let’s step back for a second. In order for any organization to be committed to running down the social media path, there has to be a real desire to engage this new form of marketing.  It isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and the commitment needs to be anchored in the owner’s office or in the executive suite.     

Somebody in the organization needs to be the champion for this project. They need to get some education under their belt, so they are familiar with the language and the tools.  They will be the conduit for the rest of the organization. Once that is established, the next course of action is developing a strategy. Your strategy should define your goals, what you're willing to invest, determine your message, define your audience, understand what tools to use to reach that audience, create your content, identify your metrics for success and test, test, test. Once you have the roadmap, don’t try to do everything at once. Take it in bite-size chunks - this will help in the learning process. Do not rush for results, because social media presence takes time to build. Social media requires an organization to be open to new things and new ways of conducting business. Being ready to listen and adapt at any time gives any organization the ability to succeed.

Q: Does social media provide a ROI?

Todd McDonagh: For years, vendors and showroom owners have been willing to purchase various forms of traditional media on the promise of a vague ROI. Any good social media strategist shouldn’t develop a social media plan unless it can be tied back to a legitimate ROI metric, like more qualified leads, better search engine rankings, more site traffic, better customer service & feedback, or more online conversions about your brand or business. The advantage with social media is that all of these forms of ROI can be measured.

Q: Should a company's marketing dollars go to only social media?

Todd McDonagh: Don’t assume that social media is the answer to everything. It is a living, breathing entity that is evolving daily. It is one part of your overall marketing strategy. Just creating a profile on the social networking sites doesn’t constitute a good strategy. You have to integrate social media into your Web-based strategy (Web site, banner ads, cost per click and cost per lead & e-mail) and your traditional media strategy.  Social media will provide you new windows of opportunity, but it is a piece of the pie.  

So you can see why I solicited help from an outside expert. The whole area of Internet marketing is so new and growing and changing so rapidly that I thought it would be important to share this information with you. If you have any questions for Todd, please feel free to call him at 978-886-1054.

Good luck as you go forward with your plans to become part of this new marketing opportunity. Take advantage of it!