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Socially Connected

Way back in the mid-2000s – close to forever ago in Internet years – social media sites were often, and too easily, dismissed as time-consuming diversions that robbed users of productivity and frustrated organizations. Today, they have evolved into significant business tools for everyone from major brands to the kid next door, with real-world applications and career paths barely imagined less than a decade ago.

The potential of social media as a legitimate communication tool has become impossible to ignore in the face of a groundswell of engagement that reached 1 billion people worldwide in 2012 and continues to climb. 

Phenomenally popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube still claim their share of time from the attention span-challenged typical web surfer, which is good news for those who have learned to leverage this connectivity for a variety of benefits. From generating buzz for products, services and entertainment to sharing real-time information on an endless stream of business topics, social media is supercharging the ability to communicate with a target audience while drawing more fans into the fray.

“Social media no longer stands on its own,” says Suzan (Odabasi) Brinker ’09. “Companies are becoming more strategic in thinking about how to integrate social media into an overarching business strategy.” Brinker, a freelance social media consultant since her undergraduate years and now e-commerce marketing coordinator for Woolrich, a Pennsylvania-based outdoor clothing company, became attracted to social media when jobs continued to evaporate in the journalism career she had envisioned. 

“When I graduated from St. Norbert, social media marketing was not something people were doing yet,” she says. “At least in the Green Bay area, nobody knew how to use social media for business, and they didn’t have anyone on staff to build a Facebook business page or integrate Twitter into other marketing strategies. My job now is connecting channels to create a consistent message across the web, social media, print, search engine optimization – wherever a customer comes in contact with us.”

Two key factors behind the dramatic increase in social media usage are mobile technology and the fact that older users are joining the party at a remarkable rate. There has been a 60 percent increase in mobile phone use in just the past two years, giving more people increased access to the Internet and social media. The fastest-growing demographics for major social media sites include the 55-64 age group for Twitter and the 45-54 age group for Facebook and Google+.

Strategy powers the social media engine 
Chris Remington ’87 is vice president of client strategy and business development at Trivera Interactive in Menomonee Falls, Wis. He equates a social media strategy to taking occupation of the second circle on a target, with the inside bull’s-eye consisting of an effective website powered by attractive keywords, plus calls to action to generate leads.

“Once you get that done, then you can get into social media and generate some interest,” he says. “The goal is to drive traffic back to the website. But if your website is less than what the customer expects, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. We liken it to going to a dinner party and shouting, ‘Come buy my stuff!’ First you need to interact and listen to your market, and then at the appropriate time, start putting your message out there.”

Having a social media strategy is crucial, Remington notes, because these interactions impact every aspect of the customer experience. Doing social media well also takes a considerable amount of resources. “It requires a lot of effort, and companies need to understand this is another task they’ll have to do,” he says. “I tell clients that if they’re going to blog, they have to commit to me that they’ll write three blog posts per week or do five Twitter posts per week. If you don’t do that, you’re missing out. If you get your clients excited, but you’re not providing content on a regular basis, you’re not doing your fans a service.”

Millennial generation finds its niche
Like Odabasi, Chris ’08 and Pam (Ripp) Schmitz ’08 are members of the age group that helped shape social media. Chris now works as an independent contractor focusing on web application development. Twitter is his social media format of choice to connect with other professionals in his industry.

“People are posting more professional things than personal things in my circle. I get work from all over the place, and it’s been easier to connect with the people I need to on Twitter. If I was looking for more full-time work, I’d be more active on LinkedIn, because recruiters at corporations are scouring that.”

Pam leverages a Facebook business page to help promote The Creamery, a coffee shop, bakery and catering business she opened Feb. 1 on the outskirts of De Pere. Twitter and Instagram also are effective, since hers is a visual product and people love to see pictures of cupcakes. “We have used social media almost exclusively for our marketing so far,” Pam says. “We post a couple times per day, letting people know what cupcake flavors we have, promotions such as Cupcake Friday, and gaining customer feedback.”

The word is out on careers in social media
Adam Van Fossen ’10, in business development and strategy at Reverb, leverages the San Mateo, Calif., company’s word-powered technology to help magazines and digital publishers distribute and share their content to the most relevant audiences on mobile platforms and social media. 

“While it is advantageous to be in a technology hub like Silicon Valley,” he says, “many non-tech businesses all over the country are seeing the value of social media for marketing and building brand awareness. Many companies have great social media marketing internships for recent grads.”  

It was an internship, in fact, that helped bring Brooke Auxier ’10 to her present position as social media coordinator for two networks at Discovery Communications: TLC and Discovery Fit & Health. Like Brinker, Auxier also hoped a journalism career was part of her future when she enrolled at the University of Maryland College Park for graduate school. It wasn’t long before a fascination with social media drew her into a whole new world – and an unforeseen career.

“I went from using social media like any normal 20-something college student to realizing the value it has for your personal brand,” she says. “I also learned quickly the power it has as a marketing tool. I was shocked to learn that at Maryland, there were no classes dedicated solely to teaching social media best practices or learning about social media as it pertains to journalism.”

Auxier went on to write her master’s thesis on how social media is being taught in journalism and mass communications programs across the country. In her free time, she studied social media masters and brands on social platforms, and took a social media internship at the Travel Channel. 

“Facebook and Twitter are the big two and will be for a while,” Auxier says. “However, sites like Pinterest, Vine and Tumblr are becoming increasingly popular and useful for brands. They are becoming more popular in general, which means brands have to learn how to serve those audiences on those platforms.”

It’s a fast-changing career in which it is crucial to stay nimble. Remington, who remembers that he and his peers in school didn’t even have computers, says: “To be working in an industry that didn’t even exist then is interesting. It illustrates why you need to make sure you have the skill set to not only get your first job, but also prepare you for the jobs you’ll have five, 10, 15 years down the road – that don’t exist yet.”

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The Democratic Party provided a lesson in leveraging social media on their way to helping Barack Obama retain the White House in 2012, and the rest of the world took notice. “After Digital Defeat, GOP Puts Its Faith in Facebook Engineer” read the nbcnews.com headline after the Republican National Committee recruited the social media giant’s former engineering manager Andy Barkett as its chief technology officer. Among those reporting to Barkett during his time at Facebook was May (Rosichan) Van Fossen ’10. Van Fossen, who supports three directors of engineering, joined the company straight from St. Norbert. She advises others interested in careers in the field, “Be driven, work hard and don’t underestimate the power of your own social network to help you land in the right place.”

Local politicians also are leveraging the connectivity powers of the digital age, and Scott Crevier (Information Technology) makes great use of Twitter in his role on the De Pere City Council.

“It’s getting to the point where there’s an expectation out there that social media will be used and used properly,” Crevier says. “We have a Twitter and Facebook account in the ITS division, and anytime we have an outage or a server goes down, we Tweet about it and post on Facebook. People expect that, and that’s what we do now.”

Crevier is finding that his constituents appreciate the ability to comment on city council actions and air their opinions, even if it often is behind the protection of an anonymous Twitter handle.

“It’s a very efficient way to connect with folks,” he notes. “Next April I will run for re-election, and I will rest comfortably knowing they can read about the issues because I’ve written about them. I had people tell me they voted for me because they were able to find information about me online and they found nothing on my opponent. It’s a different world, whether you like it or not. I can’t imagine running for a public office without it.”

July 2, 2013