For iGreenBuild, an industry portal for green building materials, engineering and construction, social networks provided a new way to disseminate information and build its community.
"If you look at what we say we are, the voice of sustainable design and construction, over the past decade or so we’ve really grown this community," said Rich Moore, director of iGreenBuild. "Along the way, that's really grown very organically. Now, we're looking at engaging people more actively."
One way iGreenBuild, a venture of San Diego-based GBM Marketing, is engaging people more actively is through its iGreenBuild Twitter account. With a modest 800 followers, the community is constructing campaigns, launching contests and seeking feedback.
"They're highly motivated folks," Moore said of his readership. "We're engaging them with the idea of growing that community and creating a richer dialogue."
As part of the initiative, iGreenBuild is running Offerpop, a recently launched social marketing application that automates functions like welcoming new followers, promoting events across channels and running promotions. For example, Offerpop allows users to create promotions that are valid only if at least 50 people retweet, or forward, the offer to others.
About 80,000 people already subscribed to iGreenBuild’s email newsletters, and the company found that many of the skills necessary for email marketing were adequate for social media.
"It was 100% transferrable," Moore said. "At the end of the day, our existing staff is working on this stuff, a lot of writing, a lot of campaign development. The Offerpop app is so intuitive that you just sort of sink into it, and it's a lot simpler than email campaigns."
That is not the case with everyone, however, warns Esteban Kolsky, principal and founder of ThinkJar LLC, a social CRM consultancy -- whether companies are using social channels for marketing or for service.
"We see the same issue today we saw when we first started working with email and chat," Kolsky said. "Skills are not easily transferrable. If you were really good at dealing with people on the phone, you probably didn't have the same level of skill on email. You can be really good typing an email and getting to the bottom of the problem, but that doesn't mean it works the same on Twitter."
Customer service chat skills transfer better to Twitter than email, but for companies running customer service on Twitter, it typically leads to an escalation to the phone channel. Comcast, with its ComcastCares service account, may ask people to direct message their account numbers and reboot their modem for a simple fix, but most cases are going to require an additional channel because of the 140-character restriction on Twitter.
"There are some situations where a resolution through Twitter is possible; but for a more complex issue, it doesn't help," Kolsky said.
Email marketing and marketing through other social channels transfer a little better to Twitter.
"What translates easily is the ability to write a subject that grabs a customer's attention," Kolsky said. "If you were doing it through html emails and a link to some websites, then that remains the same. You craft intelligent tweets. But there's not much you can do in 140 characters. We're starting to see more and more companies like Offerpop that offer the ability to track through tweets to create new links to enable you to track where a specific lead came from."
In fact, in some ways, social network marketing has become easier than email marketing. For example, url shorteners and tracking engines have made it easier to determine where specific traffic, people or leads come from. Email marketing and social network marketing are best used in conjunction with each other, Kolsky said, because it can be easy to leverage the same information and inexpensive to get started with Facebook and Twitter.
When it comes to the tools to support these efforts, however, it's still a fragmented market, and it will be for a while.
"There's not a real suite of consolidated marketing for social yet," Kolsky said. "Are we going to get there? Yeah -- but no time soon. Eloqua, Marketo and those guys, they're more focused on actually taking some of the old sales functions -- lead scoring, nurturing, qualification -- and creating stronger leads. There's no comparison between what Eloqua and Offerpop do. The social marketing tracking components, there's a lot of work that goes into that, but there's not a lot of barrier to entry there."