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So What Do You Do, Clara Shih, Founder and CEO of Hearsay Social?

This marketing maven discusses how brands can engage their communities on Facebook

By Amanda Ernst - June 22, 2011
Clara Shih literally wrote the book on how companies can use Facebook to promote and market their products and brands.

After creating the first business application for Facebook, Shih put her insight and research on marketing and social networking sites into The Facebook Era, which is now being used as a textbook at Harvard Business School. Shih later founded Hearsay Social, which offers companies a technology solution to better manage their social media. So, if you're planning to hear Shih speak at AF Expo later this month, you better believe she has the experience to back up her advice.

Yet, Shih is modest about her influence in this relatively new world and is wary of self-proclaimed 'social media experts.' "Only about once a decade do you have such a massively disruptive technology that creates this window of opportunity for true innovation and for really big businesses to be built from the ground up, taking advantage of the new normal," she said. "Anyone can learn to talk the talk, but who's actually shown, through their actions and the results they've received, that they can execute against a strategic business?"

Shih can.

Name: Clara Shih
Position: CEO and founder of Hearsay Social
Birthdate: January 11
Hometown: Born in Hong Kong but grew up in Arlington Heights, IL
Education: Studied computer science as an undergrad and graduate student at Stanford University. Received a second master's degree in Internet studies from the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.
Resume: Worked at Google before joining, where she managed AppExchange, the company's marketplace for partner solutions. Used knowledge from both jobs to create the first business application for Facebook, Faceforce, in 2007. Researched and wrote The Facebook Era, then founded Hearsay Social, which launched in beta in February 2011.
Marital status: Engaged
Media idol: Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook. "She's a mentor of mine," said Shih.
Favorite TV show: "Embarrassingly enough, I don't watch TV."
Guilty pleasure: Playing Facebook games. "My favorite is Bejeweled Blitz. Every week, I have the high score in my network. It's something I'm very proud of."
Last Book Read: Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Twitter: @clarashih

What was your initial vision for Hearsay Social and do you think it has lived up to that vision, surpassed it, or evolved into something else?
Well, I think it's going to be a long road. Certainly, we're off to a fantastic start. We launched in beta in February, and we have tremendous customer and market momentum. Our initial vision, and it's still true today, is that we recognize that social media has changed the relationship and interactions that companies have with their customers to one that's much more ad hoc, much more real time, much more authentic. And also one that's much more two-way instead of one-way.

In your opinion, how important is it for a company to have a social marketing strategy? What if a company wants nothing to do with Facebook?
A lot of people said that about the Internet 15 years ago, but can you imagine today being a business and not using email or not having a website? It definitely depends on the company. It depends, number one, if the target audience is on the particular social network. If you're a business and none of your customers are on LinkedIn, then you don't have to worry about LinkedIn. On the other hand, if they're all on Facebook talking to you, then you should probably be there. The other thing that matters is customer expectation. Even if your customers are on Facebook, is there demand from them to interact with your brand on Facebook?

"To act without doing your homework and researching is really missing out on a big opportunity to get a pulse on what the market is saying."

Do you think these sorts of social media strategies are something companies can do in-house, or should they look to companies like Hearsay Social to help them?
It depends on the size of business. Hearsay Social is a technology that lets their team more effectively manage social media. Whether it's an in-house team or a digital agency or a combination of in-house and out of house, it's really up to them. As a general piece of advice, it's good to at least have a couple people in-house who are involved in social media, because social media so embodies the voice of the customer that, as a business, there is tremendous benefit to staying close to that voice.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen companies make with social media marketing?
I think one is acting before they listen. There's this wealth of conversation that's taking place on Facebook and on Twitter every day -- if not about your brand, certainly about your products, your industry and your competitors. So, to act without doing your homework and researching is really missing out on a big opportunity to get a pulse on what the market is saying. The second major challenge that I see is oftentimes businesses will create a social media presence via a Facebook page or Twitter page and then -- especially when things get busy, and you're a small business, and there's all these other things you have to worry about -- they forget about it. And there's not the continual, consistent maintenance on these pages. And what you end up with is these ghost towns on social media sites...and it's a turnoff for customers.

What advice would you give businesses, or even bloggers and media companies, about responding to angry commenters or dissatisfied customers?
It's important to understand the reason why they're angry. If it's a legitimate complaint, there's also the view that having one negative review actually increases the overall engagement of a page because it increases credibility. Response is key; tone is key. I think that the fact that someone is upset and expressing that to the brand is a great sign, because it gives the brand a second chance to win that person over.

"You can't just create a Facebook page or Twitter and walk away. The whole point of social media is continuity and continual engagement."

Are there brands that are doing social media particularly well?
There are a lot of brands that are doing it well. Farmers Insurance, for example, they have a very successful, engaging corporate Facebook page with over 130,000 fans. In addition, they have 15,000 agents, about a third of which have their own Facebook pages, representing their community. And they've been really innovative both in terms of catering [to customers] at the corporate brand level and empowering each agent to represent the brand with their own unique and authentic voice within social media within all the brand's regulatory guidelines.

On Facebook, what is the more powerful marketing tool: brand pages or ads?
I think you have to have both. We found a higher conversion on ads when you have a brand page. Obviously, if you have created a brand page and it's not good, it's not engaging, even though you have someone click through, they're not going to stay on there and take the desired action. Step one is to listen first; learn about the communities. Step two is to build your presence proactively, and step three is to drive traffic and engagement to your presence through ads and other campaigns.

At the AF Expo you're going to talk about the "7 Habits of Successful Facebook Marketers." Can you give us a sneak peek?
I'll give you a preview of three of them. The first one is to get targeted and get local. Using this whole new world of insights that we have from social networking sites, companies have an opportunity to make their messages to customers much more targeted, and there's all sorts of things that arise from that, including higher conversion rates, more engagement, more sharing, etc. Two is to embrace content. We've known for a long time that content is king, and it couldn't be more true today with social media. You can't just create a Facebook page or Twitter and walk away. The whole point of social media is continuity and continual engagement.

And then the third one I'll preview is that it's still early. So, keep working and have fun with it. There's a number of really fun and interesting campaigns that, if you were to do it again, it wouldn't be innovative again because someone had already done it. But -- like when Farmers Insurance sponsored Farmville, and Farmville players on Facebook could put a Farmers virtual airship over their farm, and it would provide virtual crop protection -- that was a great way to achieve brand engagement with an audience that spent a lot of time on Facebook.

With this new industry changing and developing so rapidly, where do you see social network marketing going in the coming months?
This is a really exciting time for social media. 2010 was all about social media strategy. For the first time we saw CMOs and CFOs, across a number of different industries, from small business to Fortune 500, truly start to prioritize social media, get educated and start talking about it at the executive level. 2011 is all about social media execution. And we're seeing budgets being created and teams being formed. Roles like Social Media Manager and Social Media Director that just didn't exist 18 months ago now are some of the fastest growing roles within those companies.

If someone was interested in getting one of these new jobs, what are some things employers are looking for?
It's understanding the different use cases but also being able to creatively brainstorm new applications and get results. Results don't have to be for a big brand. You have to start somewhere. So, try running some type of campaign of your own or create business pages -- something that you can use to show growth and engagement. That all speaks volumes.

Clara Shih details the "7 Habits of Successful Facebook Marketers" at the AF Expo held from June 28-29.

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Justin Osofsky, Head of Media Partnerships for Facebook?

Amanda Ernst is a freelance writer living in New York. She also manages business development and social media marketing for B5 Media, the publisher of five women's lifestyle sites.

© WebMediaBrands Inc. 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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