Today I hosted an executive-level boot camp with Ant’s Eye View and some key brands, where we plunged into the whats, whys and hows of social media in action.

Sean McDonald from Ant’s Eye View started out by having every brand track themselves along the Social Commerce Maturity Curve, where the majority of brands indicated they’re still in the infancy of their social media strategy.

Ant’s Eye View’s Ben McConnell gave specific advice about building a social media strategy based on goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. He’s seen that many brands fall down by getting confused about terminology – i.e., confusing goals with objectives (objectives are measurable) – and making it longer than one page. Social media is new – to gain buy-in, your strategy must be easy to understand and share across any department. Most important? Align your goals with business goals – the bottom line – and set realistic expectations for the timing around reaching these goals.

John Lazarchic, PETCO’s VP of E-Commerce, shared how PETCO has experimented with and measured a variety of social programs, including customer reviews, sponsored stories campaigns, and a variety of Facebook pages focused on specific types of content (such as pet owners who focus on all-natural products at the Generation Natural Pet Facebook page). He also shared how he integrates customer comments and feedback into email and other channels, and built out a team and a new community strategy – and how he got the executive team to buy in. He’ll be sharing his insights on a webinar on May 4 – the details are at the end of this post.

Two diverse brands – a new network marketing company, EvolvHealth and Nationwide Insurance – shared their views on Facebook. Key takeaways include sharing relevant information, avoiding promotional-ism, and thinking beyond your products. For example, Nationwide’s three Facebook fan pages don’t focus on insurance, but on topics that relate to Nationwide. Both brands use Facebook to keep the conversation going, but not necessarily to close product sales.

Dell may be one of the largest brands known for being open to, listening, and taking action on customer feedback. They contact customers that give products low ratings, use customers’ own words in marketing (“Never hire another marketing copywriter,” says Dell’s Senior Manager, Global Community & Personalization, Stuart Wallock). Alex Gruzen, SVP of Consumer Product Group at Dell shared that their product team uses reviews to inform new product development, setting high goals for ratings for new and future products.

Bill Stephenson from Nielsen advised brands to use social networks to listen to what consumers are saying about your brand, then use that information to build real credibility for your brand. He suggests protecting your brand by listening in advance. An explosion via social media can happen at any time – are you prepared to deal with it? Know where you stand before something blows up.

As the Director of Social Media for USAA, Tom Vaughn estimates he works for one of the most conservative industries: a financial and insurance company whose customers all work for the U.S. military. But he tested, measured, and proved the impact of social commerce so much that he now manages a staff of eight and a large social media budget. He aligns social goals with company goals and tracks the same metrics used to show ROI, and listens for trends as well as individual issues. It’s usually fairly easy to solve individual problems, but harder to see the big trends. These trends, however, can deliver big wins – helping you solve big issues before they become large issues for customers in general.

It was an energizing day, full of great questions and engaging conversations. Attendees said they plan to create their social media plans, work to gain buy-in using the insights they gained today, and make better use of the customer content they’ve already gathered.

Free webinarHow to keep customers engaged – and buying.

Want to hear more from PETCO’s presentation at the Social Commerce Summit Executive Boot Camp? Register for our free upcoming webinar with John Lazarchic, VP of E-commerce for PETCO. He’ll share how communities can (and should) track directly to bottom-line corporate goals, and how to get there.

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