Ignore Social Media at Your Own Risk; More Firms Find That Lagging Behind the Digital Revolution Can Mean Being Invisible to Clients and Letting Critics Go Unchecked

Article excerpt

Anders, Minkler & Diehl was prepared for the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the national health care overhaul.

With the ink barely dry on the ruling, the St. Louis accounting firm noted the outcome on its Gray Matter blog and linked the post to a social media site - a heads up to clients and potential customers that the company intended to stay on top of the situation. An analysis of the act's potential tax consequences on businesses soon followed.

Anders, Minkler & Diehl once invested time and no small amount of capital for editing, layout, printing and postage to deliver tax tips and legislative and policy updates to clients on a leisurely quarterly schedule. Now, it operates somewhat more like a digital news operation, responding immediately to breaking events on multiple platforms - anticipating clients' questions and digital searches at the precise moment they arise.

"I've been in (marketing) 30 years, and social media has changed the game more than anything I can think of, because of all the ways people can now see your message," said Donna Erbs, the company's marketing director.

As recently as five years ago, businesses and nonprofits alike still seemed puzzled at the business value of social media platforms, then derided as a what-I-had-for-lunch frivolity. Even now, they struggle to quantify exactly what impact their investments in social media and Web content produce for their bottom lines.

But the strategy is as much defensive as offensive, as it grows increasingly clear that companies with no digital presence are becoming simply invisible to many consumers.

Businesses that don't embrace social media as a marketing tool do so at their own peril, warns Steve Nicholls, author of "Social Media in Business."

"Any company ignoring it is already behind," Nicholls said.

The laggards miss out on an increasingly powerful branding and promotion opportunity. Secondly, institutions lacking oversight of consumer review sites such as Yelp, where any angry consumer can rant publicly, are essentially waving a white flag on damage control. Finally - with a Jobvite survey reporting that 92 percent of hiring managers use social media to recruit - the remaining eight percent are missing the opportunity to attract top talent.

It wasn't that long ago that Kaysha Kalkofen and JoAnna Dettman, the co-founders of tSunela - a digital marketing firm with offices in Clayton and Portland, Ore. - had a tough time selling the concept of social media to clients.

Kalkofen and Dettman say -...'You want me to be on Facebook? Why? Isn't it a college thing?'" was a fairly typical response to the suggestion that a company integrate social media into its marketing strategy.

Now, rare is the corporation, small business or nonprofit without a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and other prominent social media sites. The overarching objective is the most basic lesson learned in Marketing 101.

"The number one thing you're trying to do is get people talking," said Communications Director Jessi Brawley, who oversees social media for the Foster Care and Adoptive Coalition.

MANAGING THE MESSAGE

The experts say a successful social media strategy involves far more than signing up with Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Health care institutions, for example, need to ensure that posts don't violate federal regulations protecting patient privacy.

Christian Hospital in north St. …