How Social Media Can Help Your Listening, Lead Gen and Retention

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"We use [social media] a lot as a listening tool. We're watching what others are talking about...and also to hear what people say they need. That's where it can help with something like product innovation. If you hear people talking about wishing they had a materials list for something, for instance, that's when you know that maybe you need to write a book or article about that topic, or maybe develop a webinar."
— Lauren Jonas, assistant executive director, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), in a Q&A on the Folio: site

Social media remains the giraffe in the room—it may not take up the space of the proverbial elephant, but the heights it can reach won't let you ignore it. This Thursday afternoon at 2 pm, Diane Schwartz, SVP & group publisher, media communications group, Access Intelligence, and Matthew Cibellis, director of programming, live & virtual events, Education Week, will address this plight. They will present a highly recommended webinar for us titled Best Practices in Social Media Marketing: Boost Engagement, Traffic and ROI. (Register here.)

Jonas went on to say that she was able to show her boss that "social media was the number one referrer for traffic to the site." And then through promo codes, how those people were buying products, attending webinars and signing up for conferences.

Here are other takeaways from recent social media successes:

1. Diversify your messages. "Twitter is the one of choice for our young people—not Facebook anymore," said Beverly Allen, publisher for Hardlines in Toronto. A quick look at their Twitter page finds announcements—"@RONAinc acquisition by @Lowes approved by Quebec competition bureau. Read more at" — photos (a picture of Canada Night at a recent conference in Cologne, Germany), and promos—"Vendors are signing up like crazy for our next Meet the Buyers Breakfast." 

2. Experiment with what you put out. Social media panelists at a recent event in London emphasized that experimentation and learning from failure are the hallmarks of any successful strategy. "We never want to make the assumption that all of the audiences are watching the same thing," said digital consultant Esra Dogramaci in an article on She implemented a Google-inspired Creative Friday to encourage the team to find technologies that work for them.

3. Find the platform that works for you. During its special weeks last year, Business Management Daily offered their audience one free resource per week; this helped them collect new email addresses for Administrative Professionals Week (1,466 collected) and HR Professionals Week (1,100 collected). They shared the link for these resources on Facebook, Google+, their LinkedIn company page, LinkedIn groups, Pinterest and Twitter.

4. Help build retention. Jonas said that you can also answer questions on Twitter that many people might have by saying "I'll check into that. But in the meantime, 'Did you know you also have access to them online?'" That helps with member retention, too, she added. "If you're getting back to people right away and answering questions publicly, people really see your organization is committed to helping them."

5. Ask subscribers/members to share photos. The American Society of Landscape Architects is hosting a social media campaign to showcase outdoor spaces. During April, World Landscape Architecture Month, ASLA is encouraging its members, architects, and the public to share photos of "their favorite park, bike trail, green space where they like to eat lunch every day, and just so they can visually connect the term landscape architecture with these parks and other things," campaign manager JR Taylor said. Last year a similar campaign reached almost 3 million people in 33 countries.

And some final tips...

6. "Share with authenticity on social media, all the time," wrote Kevan Lee on buffersocial. "Share transparently, as much as you're comfortable. Be vulnerable if you choose. The first element is required for social media—most folks can sniff an inauthentic account from a mile away. The second, transparency, is required to varying degrees. You choose the level you want to expose. And if you're comfortable with a degree of vulnerability, all the better.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…