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Ragan Social Media Conference: It’s about people and good content

Virgin America attendee Jill Fletcher (left) asks questions of speaker Laurel Moffat (right) from Southwest Airlines

Attendees at the Ragan Social Media Conference in Las Vegas, last week came armed with serious questions about their work and burgeoning roles in social media. The three-day event was packed with sessions on using video, lessons learned, and intense networking at the happy hour “tweetup.” Speakers included Brian Solis and Chris Brogan who emphasized a common takeaway echoed in other sessions: social media is about the people (customer) and good content (which is not always marketing content).

One of the first sessions by Shel Holtz, an accredited business communicator and principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, explained what content strategy means and why it’s important. “Some say we’re facing a world of too much content,” said Holtz. “Twenty percent of us on social media are content creators.” However, Holtz believes there is no such thing as “too much content.” He would rather see information get filtered more efficiently so that people get the content they want. “We can become the trusted guide to get people to what information they want on a particular topic,” said Holtz. “We’re not trying to assume the role of journalism. There is a place for news.”

Chris Brogan, president of Human Business Works, said that “finding the community who is receptive to your product is interesting. Your tweet is not.” Brogan cautioned that it’s more important to stay focused on the people with whom we are communicating than on these shiny new communication tools. He also looks forward to a day when he no longer hears the term social media. “I hope in a year you have no idea that I have a Twitter account,” said Brogan. “It’s not the tools, but the people who are cool. Remember that.” Additionally, he touched on the growing importance of Google+. In contrast, author Brian Solis commented that Facebook is becoming the new Internet. (Perhaps an Internet war is coming and we should take sides now?)

Graham Kahr, social commerce product manager of online shoe and apparel store Zappos.com, seemed to truly enjoy talking about how the company puts people first. For example, Kahr noted that Zappos customer service reps send handwritten notes congratulating customers on their anniversaries, wishing them happy birthday or just saying “enjoy your new Uggs.” He also shared how a customer service agent from Zappos once spent eight hours on the phone with a woman who ended up not buying anything. Although this may seem like a waste of time, Kahr explained that by helping people reach their goal, even if it isn’t buying your product, you’ve invested in a relationship with a person who is now a fan.

A similar effort is being put forth by some of the major airlines during a time when customer satisfaction in their industry has neared an all-time low. Both Southwest Airlines (SWA) and Alaska Airlines spoke about their experiences with unhappy customers. SWA spokesperson Laurel Moffat acknowledged that while they try to turn every frustrated person into a fan it doesn’t always happen. Their approach is professional and consistent however, and several attendees mentioned during the Q&A session how they used SWA’s social media policies as a good example to follow.

Of course, no social media conference is complete without a reference to a case where someone shared too much content online. Christopher Burgess, COO and chief security officer for Atigeo, a provider of data analytics solutions, shared a tweet from a Cisco new hire who posted he wasn’t looking forward to the new job, just the “fatty paycheck.” Cisco promptly followed up in an attempt to “fix” the problem by removing the job offer. Burgess is an advocate of having a social media guidebook, but he also emphasizes that people should be told the “why” behind the rules and requests.

The role that social media is playing is new and undefined. As a result, professionals, like the ones present at this event, come looking for hope that there are answers to be found in such an evolving space.

–Rebecca Bredholt

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