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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maria Palma On Bridging New & Old: Social Media Marketing Series

Maria Palma

My latest guest for Flooring The Consumer's social media marketing series: Bridging New & Old is Maria Palma.

Maria Palma is intensely passionate about customer service. It comes across throughout her many blogs [~ 13!] and touches all of her varied interests that range from music, fashion, art and creativity [she is a gifted artist], to real estate, online business & legal resources, Audis and creative inspiration. Like Terry Starbucker, Maria contributes to Joyful, Jubilant Learning.

I 'met' Maria through her CustomersAreAlways blog, where she shared invaluable customer service related wisdom [it unfortunately no longer exists, a casualty of the demise of the KnowMoreMedia blog network]. This was early on when I started blogging. I really appreciated her support and was delighted when she joined me as a fellow contributor to the first Bathroom Blogfest in 2006. She has been a faithful participant ever since!

Luckily, Maria Palma lost no time launching People2PeopleService [which is just about 1 year old!] to continue the conversation about the importance of customers and service.

C.B.: Maria, how/why did you get involved in social media?

MP: I first tapped into social media back when MySpace was big. I saw it as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, plus let people know more about my business and what I do. I started blogging back in 2004 and spent a great deal of time online, so it was only natural that I would become involved with the entire social media scene including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

I saw blogging as a great way to express my thoughts and share my experiences with the world. I also viewed it as an opportunity to market my art and jewelry business. The more I blogged, the more I realized just how much I enjoy writing. My passions and interests vary...

I got started writing about customer service when I saw an opening for a customer service blogger over at KnowMoreMedia.com. They hired me to write for CustomersAreAlways.com for a couple years, then I branched off on my own and started People2PeopleService.com. I feel very passionate about customer service and learned so much about it during my 13 years of working in the retail industry. I probably learned the most about customer service while working in sales at Nordstrom.

Everything I do and everything I write about is connected to service. Before I sit down to write, I ask, "What can I do to be of service today?" Whether I'm writing about fashion or internet business, my main goal is to offer information that can either inspire or help another person.

KnowMoreMedia.com ceased operations last year, so I no longer write for their fashion blog. Because most of my experience in the retail industry was fashion-related and I understood the business side of the industry, they allowed me to write for two blogs.

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn is my form of socializing and networking. Not only do I use it to connect with friends and people I know on a personal level, I use it to connect with customers and people I know on a business level.

I use Twitter and Facebook more than I use LinkedIn. Most of the time I'll share interesting articles, posts, or videos I come across. I also love to post inspiring quotes. Other times I'll share current projects I'm working on.

C.B.: What do you like most about social media?

MP: What I love about social media is that there are so many ways to share information - and anyone can do it. Media is no longer in the hands of the "elite" few such as corporations and big-time publishers. If you have something to say or share, it can be done with the click of a mouse...literally.

C.B.: What do you like least about social media?

MP: With so much information out there for people to read and share, it's easy to become bombarded with too much information. And because I love to read, I often suffer from information overload! This is especially true when you are connected to so many fascinating people. I want to read everything they have to say, but it's just not possible.

C.B.: How has social media changed how you interact with the marketplace as a consumer or customer?

MP: Social media has definitely changed how I do business with companies. It's so easy now to do an internet search and find reviews and experiences that people have with a company. I can even share my own thoughts about companies via my blogs - which I do often! I don't have to rely solely on what a company says about their products or services. I can do my own research online and make informed purchasing decisions. In addition, I can connect with those companies via social networking websites. Social media has made business more personable.

C.B.: What 5 suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

1) Establish relationships with bloggers in your industry and give them access to information you normally offer to the regular press. Nowadays bloggers have a tremendous amount of influence in the marketplace and are able to make a more personal connection with end users.

A great example of a company who does this is Audi. They give bloggers access to their news media site which contains press releases, exclusive video, and photos. Bloggers can use this information on their blogs and share their opinions about Audi's vehicles.

2) Get active in social media. Even if you don't start a company blog, at least become active in networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Not only is it a great way to get to know who your customers, you can get valuable feedback on your company's products or services.

If you look at President Obama's campaign for the presidency, I think that new media contributed a great deal to his success. Because many young Americans are interacting online, President Obama's campaign managers saw the opportunity to connect with them. They used Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube to help spread messages and influence votes.

3) Pay attention not only to what is being said about your company in newspapers and TV, but what people are saying about you on blogs and forums. This gives you the opportunity to connect with those people who have expressed concerns or issues about your company. There's nothing more damaging to your company's reputation than to have a bad experience published on a blog go viral and shared with hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter or YouTube!

4) Let people know you're online. If most of your marketing channels are in old media such as newspapers and TV, make sure to include a website URL that people can visit online. If applicable, encourage them to visit your social networking pages as well.

5) Be transparent and honest. In old media, sometimes you were at the mercy of an editor who can twist and turn a story, but with new media you can tell people exactly what is going on with your company. People know that things won't be perfect all the time and you have the opportunity to let people see how you overcome challenges. You can tell the story from your perspective and not hear the story from a journalist's or TV reporter's perspective. Telling a story from your perspective helps establish credibility and trust with your customers.

C.B.: Any other thoughts to share about the effectiveness of social media in forging stronger relations with customers and how best to do so.

MP: Social media is not just a marketing fad and companies shouldn't ignore all the opportunities to connect with people. Social media is here to stay. I truly believe those companies that do embrace social media and build relationships with customers online will thrive no matter what the economy is doing.

Thank you, Maria!

Comments? Questions? Feedback?

Maria makes a really important point in saying that her "goal is to offer information that can either inspire or help another person." How do you go about doing the same?

What do you think about her advice to get active in social media... so you can get to know who your customers are and get feedback from them. How are you currently doing this if not through social media tools?

For additional insights from other participants in the Social Media Series: Bridging New & Old, please visit the Entire Bridging New & Old series, which includes a link to the e-book based on the first 26 interviews in the series.

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