There’s a whole lot of “social” going on at the first day of Natural Products Expo West; but perhaps some of the most influential may not occur face-to-face, but rather through a tweet or Facebook wall comment. It’s no surprise, then, that the education session “Social Media 101- How To's and Tips for Beginners” had a packed crowd of retailers, manufacturers and marketing professionals in Anaheim.

Amy VanHaren, social media manager for Stonyfield Farm, and Mikal Belicove, columnist and contributing writer for Entrepreneur magazine, presented several clear ways to make a splash in the social media space – and stick to your business strategy because, as Belicove said, “all social media efforts start with an organization’s goals.”

1. Find a champion – or several.

Getting social media started at your organization – or continuing a strategy – is a lot easier when the person leading the charge is passionate. “Most organizations that are successful at being social have a champion,” said Belicove. “It’s someone who themselves are really engaging, and they’re the ones that set the tone. Or, they observe their competitors and recognize the company needs to do it as well.”

VanHaren said Stonyfield jumped into social media during a product recall, but previously had spent a lot of time listening and observing social media to pinpoint two to three goals/areas to tackle. They initially enlisted the help of a third party to begin their Twitter and Facebook pages, but now all production is done in house in the Communications and Social Media Department. Several employees, not just VanHaren have been champions, including CEO Gary Hirshberg (he has his own Facebook Page).

“We let our employees use their voice in a way that works for them,” said VanHaren, referencing a marketer who posts recipes to the company’s blog. “You’re learning about more than just a product – you’re sharing a story and creating dialogue. We try to be really authentically human.”

2. Give social media a home in your organization.

Nobody knows your brand like the people who work for it. While leaning on an agency can be helpful, ultimately your social media efforts will be best served when they come from within your organization.  But that doesn’t mean social media should be owned by an IT department simply because they “own” the Web site. “People think it’s about technology and they forget what it’s really about – the message,” said Belicove. Many departments can have a hand in social media, but messaging fits best within a communications-type department.

The more you know in-house, the better equipped you are to answer social media requests.  “Not a day goes by where I don’t talk to someone in pretty much every department of our company,” said VanHaren.

3. Lay some ground rules – but leave room for creativity.

Stonyfield gets very creative with their social media campaigns, but still lays out a strategy and clear goals for nearly every aspect of their communications. VanHaren said this year is dubbed the “year of emerging” for their social media marketing efforts. They classify strategies by brand (such as YoBaby and Oikos); by campaign; by monthly top five goals; and have a crisis plan in place for responding to recalls or negative press.

“Sometimes the outcome of not getting it right is so much more powerful than getting it right,” said VanHaren, noting an incident where the Facebook servers couldn’t handle one of their coupon campaigns. After following up to ensure about 300 customers got their promised coupons, Stonyfield received good blog press.

4. Integrate social media into offline messaging.

To entice people to join your networks online you may have to do some work offline. Consider placing messages to join/follow you online on packaging or in-store displays. It’s important to give consumers a reason to join, though, said Belicove and VanHaren. For example, Stonyfield created a contest when they sponsored the U.S. Open and had consumers vote for their favorite flavor online, spreading the message onto their packaging, as well as via YouTube (what they call YoTube), their e-newsletter and other communication outlets. Ultimately, consumers had to join the networks in order to vote.

Measuring success

Success on social media is really up to the goals you want to achieve as an organization. Stonyfield tracks four key metrics, however, which are good starting points.

·         Growth in numbers of followers/fans

·         “Noise” level online about the brands

·         Interactions and actions with the company/brands

·         Turning fans in advocates

None of these goals list sales. That’s because “it’s called social media, not social selling,” said Belicove. “Be real and connect with people about what brings people to your brand in the first place, and you’ll be just fine.”

Tools that Stonyfield uses to manage social media

Backpack by 37Signals to create a social media calendar – $99/month (not a social media specific service)

SproutSocial to manage social media demographics/statistics – $50/month

TweetDeck to view and monitor chatter – free

HyperAlerts for real time alerts about chatter – free