Plugged-in: Is your company social enough?

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Got social?

If your company or business doesn’t have a social-media strategy, it better get one. Pronto.

Social media is more than Harlem Shakes going viral, but the flash mob video of the moment certainly illustrates the power of the Web as an important marketing channel that can’t be ignored.

“Going viral is now a part of marketing speak,” says Dean Eckles, Facebook’s director of data science.

Eckles, who has multiple degrees from Stanford University, including a Ph.D., believes that social media exploits an aspect of behavioral science dubbed “peer effects” – how the behavior of a person’s peers can have an effect on the people he or she hangs around with.

In other words, if a person quits eating doughnuts and goes on a diet, it sometimes can compel his or her friends to follow suit.

Of course, peer effects aren’t just a byproduct of the Internet, but social media can exploit their power as in its advertising, marketing and selling channels. The re-sharing of information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and myriad other social-media platforms can and will profoundly affect how we buy and sell stuff, Eckles told attendees at a social-media conference in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., last week.

One of the hosts of the confab was Broomfield-based Vail Resorts, which has been a pioneer in integrating social media into its corporate marketing mix.

“From day one, we knew social media was going to be a critical part of our marketing strategy,” says John Wagnon, head of brand marketing at Vail’s Heavenly Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe.

Wagnon says the snow sport community was already online and the conversation among its members was going to happen with or without Vail’s participation. So it just made sense to engage early and often, prompting Vail to devote a slice of its marketing budget to social media as early as 2008.

Vail quickly implemented an all-digital ski pass system – forgoing paper lift tickets altogether – that uses digital readers installed at the bottom and top of all of its ski lifts. The system tracks skiers’ activity on the mountain, and shares its data with individual skiers through its EpicMix social-media site. Vail’s efforts are still in their early stages, and Wagnon says that the company is taking a long-term view in hopes of building lasting relationships with its customers. Thus far, Vail has the largest Facebook fan base of any ski outfit in the world.

“It has worked out well for us,” Wagnon says.

Social media cuts out the middleman, allowing companies to establish direct relationships with their customers – for better or worse. On one hand, it allows companies to deliver information directly to consumers – whether the introduction of new products or a temporary price reduction – reaching the people who are likely to respond the most, says David Armano, a managing director for Edelman Digital.

A proactive digital media team can also provide a more responsive feedback loop with customers when things go wrong, Armano notes. Too often, companies don’t know when they have failed, but social-media interaction can provide ample opportunity for improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. “It gives you a chance to fix things,” Armano says.

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