Christina’s Coffee Talk with Amy Mengel

AMengel-smThis week I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Amy Mengel (@amymengel). Like some of my other  guests, Amy is one of those rare breeds that doesn’t rely on coffee. Although she enjoys “fake coffee” like Frappachinos, you’ll more than likely find her sipping Diet Coke for a little caffeine fix.  It’s okay Amy, we promise to not throw any fresh produce your way ;). In the summer months you can find her commuting to work often on two wheels as she is an avid cyclist. During fall months Amy is all about college football and skis slopes in the winter months. When she has free time, this book nerd can be caught bumming at the library looking for some new favorites to dive into. Amy relies on her well managed Google Reader to help her stay on top of the PR/SM news. Some of her favorites include: The Brand Builder, Todd Defren’s PR-Squared, and Dave Fleet’s blog. She also geeks out over Marginal Revolution and Strange Maps.  And so I give you, Amy Mengel, discussing corporate communications, consulting, Facebook, and the importance of strategy/tactics.

You currently work as Manager of Corporate Communications for a manufacturing company, tell me what is it like to work in corporate communications?

Most of my career has been spent in corporate communications. I’ve worked for huge companies and smaller ones and held roles in internal communications, marketing, media relations and community relations. In corporate communications you have such a variety of audiences and stakeholders: employees, executives, managers, the local community, shareholders, media, bloggers, unions – you have to find a way to tell your organization’s story across those audiences and connect with each of them. That often means tailoring your message or altering the channels used to communicate with each group.

In addition to working in corporate communications, you’re also a solo consultant. What are some pros and cons of being your own boss?

Working as a consultant is challenging and exhilarating at the same time. Managing my workload and trying to maintain balance in my life is difficult – often I’ll find myself up until all hours of the night or working through the weekend to finish a project. I have a hard time stepping away. But the flexibility is great and I enjoy being able to work with a variety of organizations. It’s keeping me more than busy, and thus out of trouble. 🙂

I recently read an article from The Big Money called “The Big Money Facebook 50” where they ranked brands making the best use of Facebook. Each brand was evaluated by: “fan numbers, page growth, frequency of updates, creativity as determined by a panel of judges, and fan engagement.” This article immediately reminded me of yours “Become a Fan” of Facebook Brand Fatigue. Do you think there is value still left in branding a company on FB? How would you measure the results?

Facebook can certainly work as a branding/marketing tool for some organizations, but it’s not for everyone. TechCrunch reported recently that 77 percent of Facebook fan pages have less than 1,000 fans. While fan numbers alone aren’t necessarily an indication of success, I see too many organizations creating fan pages with no real purpose. Companies need to ask: who are they trying to reach; is that group on Facebook and if so how does that group use the platform; and what can they offer fans through a Facebook page. Is it an opportunity to pilot new concepts and gain feedback? Do they want to use it to entertain or educate? Push out coupons and discounts? How does it tie-in with other marketing campaigns/efforts?

The true mark of success in any communications campaign is a change in behavior – that’s what can be measured. Did they buy your product? Sign up to volunteer? Contribute to your cause? Tell their friends about your organization? The most successful Facebook fan pages I’ve seen, regardless of fan numbers, are those that compel people to act.

On your blog, you explain you explain the importance of outlining a strategy first before implementing tactics. By doing so we can better measure the results and understand what they are achieving. Also mentioned in the post, is the concern of companies looking to rush into SM simply to keep up with their competitors. How do you explain the value of taking it slow and putting strategy first?

I try to remind clients that social media is not like Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work. I prefer the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor. Nurturing online communities takes time and effort. If you’re spending all that time cultivating online engagement, you’d better make sure it’s tied to business goals. That’s why starting with strategy is so important. Creating a following of 5,000 people on Twitter is great, but how is that helping your organization? Social media should be one of many tactics integrated into an overall communications and marketing strategic plan, and not just hastily cobbled together in order to check a box.

You followed in the footsteps of Bryan Person and started Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley (SMBTV). Founded in June ’09, you’ve held four successful events with many attendees, great sponsors, and very influential guest speakers.  What advice would you give to others looking to start their own Social Media Breakfast?

Social Media Breakfast has been a great event for this area. When I started planning the first event in June, I hoped I could maybe get 20 people to attend (if I bribed them). That first breakfast sold out its 60-seat capacity in less than three days and it’s just continued to grow since then. We’re routinely filling 150 seats now. I think this area was really ready and hungry for social media knowledge (and free bagels). Albany doesn’t usually make the cut when it comes to cool social media conferences that are held in places like Boston, San Francisco, New York or Austin. So people really embraced the idea of SMBTV (and the TV stands for Tech Valley, by the way — this region’s self-imposed moniker).

As the founder and organizer of SMBTV, I work to come up with interesting speakers and panelists and to solicit sponsors. After each event I send out a survey to attendees asking them what they’d like to hear about and then try to find a knowledgeable speaker on that topic. Bryan has created a Yammer community for other SMB organizers from across the country and I often rely on them for speaker or topic recommendations.

As always, feel free to join our coffee talk and add to the questions/comments. If you have any additional questions/comments for Amy post them below and we’ll see if she can spare a few more minutes for some answers.

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  • I just came across Amy's blog yesterday. So interesting you chose to feature her today!

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  • keithtrivitt

    Amy – Thanks so much for taking the time to share your great experience and insight, particularly in regards to the strategic use of social media. I've heard you talk about that several times before, but you really make a tremendous point in that no matter what a company has in terms of social media initiatives, they better understand that ultimately, those initiatives need to go back to some type of business goal.

    And that's not a bad thing at all. Even if you're a non-profit, every organization has some sort of business goal. As you say, that could include a change of behavior as diverse as buying more of your product because they saw a tweeted coupon, or getting more registrations for a volunteer signup because someone read your non-profit's blog and felt compelled to take action. At the end of the day, both of those are successful business objectives that have been achieved via social media … they just each take a slightly different form in terms of what types of goals they are achieving for the individual companies.

  • keithtrivitt

    Amy – Thanks so much for taking the time to share your great experience and insight, particularly in regards to the strategic use of social media. I've heard you talk about that several times before, but you really make a tremendous point in that no matter what a company has in terms of social media initiatives, they better understand that ultimately, those initiatives need to go back to some type of business goal.

    And that's not a bad thing at all. Even if you're a non-profit, every organization has some sort of business goal. As you say, that could include a change of behavior as diverse as buying more of your product because they saw a tweeted coupon, or getting more registrations for a volunteer signup because someone read your non-profit's blog and felt compelled to take action. At the end of the day, both of those are successful business objectives that have been achieved via social media … they just each take a slightly different form in terms of what types of goals they are achieving for the individual companies.