Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The right way to use social media: timely, relevant, actionable

A new study came out this past week that said 56 percent of chief marketing officers at companies who believe they are "advanced" in the use of social media admit they still don't know how to utilize social media effectively as a marketing tool. Scary. I've been giving this a lot of thought recently and have come to the conclusion that there really is a simple rule for effectively using social media and it's this -- your messages must be TIMELY, RELEVANT, and ACTIONABLE. If they don't meet at least two of the three criteria, don't do it!

Eric D. Schulz
It seems that many companies have invested in having people dedicated to social media, and therefore figure that if they've got this person, they better be posting on Facebook and Twitter 17 times a day! And therein lies the problem. If you are doing this, you’re spamming. Grit your teeth, and hold yourself back. Look at every message -- is it TIMELY, RELEVANT, and ACTIONABLE?

Social media is great for giving things away, but most companies are having a hard time figuring out how to generate sales. There are certain industries that are perfectly positioned to effectively use social media -- restaurants, fast food chains, retail stores and movie theatres. Need to stimulate purchases? Need some customers for dinner tonight? Tweet and post a "today only" special. Timely, Relevant, Actionable. Sports teams can use social media effectively to disseminate information and special offers. TV/Radio stations absolutely can use social media to drive consumers. Watch this show for a chance to win X. Listen at 4 p.m. to win Y. A local TV station here in Utah in fact has used social media so effectively to drive it’s 10 p.m. newscast that it was able to rise from a perennial #2 position to #1 in the market and continues to build their ratings/share advantage on the back of their effective use of social media tied to a "watch and win" contest nightly within their newscast.

Consumer product companies have a problem, however -- what can you say about Tide detergent that's timely, relevant and actionable? Probably not much. So, as my momma always said, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Save your breath. The same study I referenced also asked consumers how often they wanted to hear marketing messages from companies they "liked" -- the answer? Most only wanted to hear from them once a month or less. A smaller portion said once a week was OK -- none said "everyday" -- let alone 17 times a day!

Social media CAN be a powerful marketing tool if you use it correctly. Unfortunately, most companies are just using it for spamming out useless information. If what you have to say isn't timely, relevant and actionable, stop doing it.

- Eric D. Schulz

Eric D. Schulz is the co-director of strategic marketing and brand management at the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Prior to joining the University, he spent over 20 years in consumer product marketing with Procter & Gamble, The Walt Disney Company, and The Coca-Cola Company. He can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. Consumer product may find value in social media in the form of customer service or public relations. There are times when consumers have great ideas and comments. A consumer product that is engaged with their customers is able to capitalize on the input of their customers/consumers.

    Social media, even for business, is not simply marketing.