Interview: Jennifer Fong
Jennifer Fong is quite well-known by now in the direct selling industry. Her blog has been a very popular place to visit on the Internet. A champion of social networking and social media marketing, Jennifer is passionate about teaching how to use social media tools to enhance existing businesses. She helps direct selling companies and direct sellers in their quest of ways of utilizing social media as effectively as possible.
My previous interview with Jennifer was in October 2010. It might seem it has not been a while since then. However, I was sure Jennifer still had much to tell us as there is so much happening in social media and so fast.
I would like start with the way direct selling companies utilize social media tools. Last time your advice was, “… companies must have a strategy in place… don’t just jump into social media because everyone else is doing it.” Do you see positive developments in the industry in this respect?
I certainly do. More and more companies within our industry are recognizing the importance of having a social media strategy as part of an overall marketing plan. It is the only way that you can measure the return on investment (ROI) of your social media efforts.
But having an effective strategy is about more than just knowing what you want to accomplish. It’s also about knowing how you’ll measure it. Measuring clickstream data is not enough. You need to be able to identify offline conversions that happen as a result of your social media efforts as well.
One of the big challenges I’ve found in our industry is that often replicated shopping carts are not tied into the company’s sites. So even though a company can track an entrance from a social media tool, they can’t track that lead through to conversion/sale. This is a place where replicated website vendors need to step up and create a more seamless solution so that companies can get the data they need.
We’re getting better as an industry at identifying goals. But now we need to get better at measurement. We’re starting to realize how much it costs to have an effective social media presence, both in terms of time and dollars. Companies need to be sure they’re getting a return on those dollars.
Social networking platforms are fields where companies’ reputation can be impacted positively and negatively in a short period of time. But at the same time, there are tools to help managing online reputation and perception. How good are the industry players in this?
Our companies are getting better at realizing the importance of social media monitoring. Companies are beginning to identify their most important keywords, create escalation procedures for when things go wrong, and train their customer service departments and community managers to respond in real time.
Of course, in order to respond properly, you need to know what people are saying. I’m seeing a wide range in direct selling companies’ monitoring. This is often based both on company size, as well as awareness of the importance.
Some companies are hiring outside PR firms for monitoring. Others are relying on free tools such as SocialMention.com, Google Alerts, and HootSuite. Finally others have invested in larger scale monitoring solutions such as Alterian SM2, Radian6, Engage121, and others.
Regardless of the tool, however, it’s important to begin monitoring. You need to know what people are saying about your brand online, so you can engage as appropriate. Skipping this essential step will prevent your timely response if a crisis occurs. It pays to be aware.
Among all tools, Facebook deserves a special attention, I suppose. What would you like to say on this? What should we expect there in the coming years, and what would these mean to direct selling companies and direct sellers?
More and more brands, both within the industry and without, are realizing that they are getting the most results for their marketing dollars from Facebook. It makes sense, because currently Facebook holds the largest market share. Soin countries where Facebook is dominant, brands should continue to keep up with the changes to Facebook. There are constantly new innovations being made to Facebook, and many of them hold great potential for marketers. Plus we’re seeing great results from Facebook Ads, when those ads are crafted well.
Don’t make Facebook your exclusive strategy, however. Focus on the needs of the business, and constantly evaluate the tools that will best help you reach your goals. At the moment that’s probably Facebook, and will be for the foreseeable future. But also focus on more niche communities and platforms that are more related to what you have to offer. There is benefit to be gained from many different tools (and also some wisdom in not relying exclusively on a free 3rd party platform.) It’s all about finding the tools that work best with your goals and strategy.
Speaking of Facebook, we see many individual direct sellers and network marketers opening their own Facebook pages. What would your recommendations to them be in managing their Facebook pages?
That could be the subject of an entire post or more! I’ve written extensively on this topic on my blog. But briefly I can say that it’s important that direct sellers and network marketers consider starting a Facebook Page if they intend to market their business through Facebook, in order to comply with Facebook Terms of Service. And it’s not enough to simply post ads on the page. If a direct seller wants to build a thriving community that leads to measurable results, it’s important to post content of interest to that community. Start by finding content that your company produces…articles, videos, etc. Then, share your own tips and advice too.
One of the articles I wrote had the title 7 Essential Steps for Writing Engaging Facebook Page Updates and may be helpful with this topic.
Another phenomenon is I believe, Twitter. We see lot of activity going on there. What would you say on the opportunities Twitter represents from a direct selling perspective?
Twitter is an interesting social network. We have to be careful not to over-emphasize the importance of Twitter, because at the moment only 8% of the American population at 12 years of age and above is engaged on this tool. However that population is 3 times more likely to be online content creators. Therefore, we have an immense opportunity to engage with people who are influential online, and who may talk positively about our brands to their large groups of followers.
We must be careful not to use just a “broadcast” strategy on Twitter. Sometimes we see companies and individual direct sellers go online and simply post ads. The true value of Twitter comes when we engage with others. If you’re not talking to others, and sharing their content too, Twitter won’t work well for you.
Do you think we now have very strong tools at hand to reach younger generations that we have had not before?
Absolutely! Number one among them is not on the Internet at all, but is instead “texting.” Young people are much more likely to get your message if you send it via text. This of course creates its own unique set of challenges, however, because your message is limited to 140 characters. It’s like learning a whole new language!
And when we begin to talk texting, this brings up the entire discussion of mobile devices. We are such a mobile population now, and this makes so much sense for us to explore as an industry, because our salesforce is so mobile. Companies must provide a mobile version of their websites, and companies are also exploring making commission and downline data available via mobile applications. Younger generations expect to be able to communicate with the world through their smartphones (and that doesn’t mean phone calls.) We must be prepared to support them.
The companies and leaders that learn to bridge this gap, and communicate differently to different generations, will be the most successful, in my opinion. Communication is changing fundamentally. Since direct selling is at heart a communication business, we must keep up with the times if we are to remain relevant.
Jennifer, it has once again been a pleasure to have you as my guest. Thank you so much!
Thanks Hakki. It’s a pleasure to connect again. Cheers!