No Pre-Packaged Social Web Here: LavaRow Interview

Written by Bonnie Boglioli...July 12, 2011
Lava Row

Remember the days when businesses paid a tidy sum for an ad and let the marketing guru’s do their magic while they sat back and tended to other matters? While traditional advertising of this sort is still around, most of you reading this article are no doubt cognizant to the fact that many marketing and ad campaigns are now found on social networks… and that poses some unique conundrums for organizations looking to quickly push their brand without participating. 

Today’s socially connected world requires that you actively engage in the conversations revolving around your brand, your industry and your community. No matter if you work for a Fortune 500 or are self-employed, organizations large and small must reach out to their constituents proactively in the social space and establish a presence that will be the face of the brand at all hours of the day and night- after all, there are no closing hours online. Successful organizations in the social web are just as interested in becoming a resource and interacting with customers as much as they eager to see increased metrics- because without the former, the latter won’t happen.

To work magic in the social sphere, many organizations are increasingly looking for outside help in addition to employing social media personnel. One of our favorites is Lava Row, who offer their vast expertise in the field so that brands can leverage all things social to their benefit. Founded by Nathan Wright (a veteran entrepreneur and social guru himself), he and his always happy crew (Hillary Brown and Norah Carroll) took time away from their hectic schedules in Des Moines, Iowa (yes, things do get hectic in Iowa for this team) to discuss the finer points of social media and what you need to know. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity).

STR: If an organization doesn’t have a clear understanding of the social space it is participating in, it’s likely to backfire. What does a social media consulting agency like Lava Row offer that can seldom be done in-house?

LR: Simply having a presence on Facebook and Twitter is not a strategy. At Lava Row, our services focus on education, consulting and strategy. Our goal is to provide our clients with knowledge, best practices and structure for planning and strategy to ultimately empower them to effectively utilize these tools to communicate with their audience online.

STR: With new social networks cropping up all the time, a common dilemma for many organizations is choosing which ones are worth participating in and which aren’t. How can they identify which ones are worth their efforts? 

LR: The key to selecting which social networking sites to participate in is to be where your audience is. Once you’ve determined who your target audience is, you can then do some simple listening and monitoring to find out where your specific audience is participating online. This involves searching for mentions of key words and phrases on the social web to identify where your audience is having conversations that you could potentially join.

STR: People splinter their identities across different social networks, utilizing each for varying purposes. Is this identity split likely to continue? 

LR: Many users are eager to create boundaries between their personal and professional contacts, their friends and their acquaintances. Social networks and group chat apps are providing a platform for users to segment these individual parts of their identities. This type of activity is in response to the “broadcast overload” many people have experienced after sharing all types of content with all types of people on networks like Facebook and Twitter, and they now desire online communities where they can scale back and communicate with a specific group of people about a specific set of topics. 

We believe users will continue to seek out online experiences that meet the unique needs of their different groups of contacts, whether that means Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or using newer platforms such as Google+, GroupMe or Beluga.

STR: How has the ‘Like-ification’ era changed the way in which brands must interact with their customers on Facebook and beyond?

LR: The Like button as a concept and corresponding behavior of being able to like various content across the web represents a new layer of the social web that bring opportunities for discovery and relevance for consumers. And also more data about user intent for brands. ‘Liking’ is both a learned behavior and an evolution of how we communicate and share content online. Facebook first taught us to proclaim ourselves as “fans” of brands, then low and behold, came the Like button, which allowed us to “like” even more content and was less of a commitment than becoming a fan of something. Users seem to gravitate towards the concept of “liking” as part of our self-expression and innate need to share things online.

The key to brands interacting with their audience on Facebook and beyond is to leverage what we “like” and create more personalization in an online world where white noise is ever expanding. Bing has already announced integration of “like” data into their search results to help improve discovery and relevance.

STR: Chalk it up to Publisher’s Clearing House perhaps, but people still love a give-away. Is it necessary for brands to offer incentives like coupons or contests to engage customers on social networks like Facebook?

LR: This is a loyalty play. We recommend that brands offer incentives relevant to the audience. Encourage them to stick around. Solicit their feedback and thank them for it – sometimes in a material way.

STR: Twitter ranks third (behind Facebook and Google) as a top source driving news traffic. How does this alter the field for brands looking to leverage Twitter? 

LR: Twitter is absolutely a publishing platform among like-minded circles of people, so brands need to make sure their content is shareable. 

STR: Does social media strategy resonate better today with the latest metrics and analytics available or are there still pockets of reluctance from traditional types looking for more defined ROI?

LR: We don’t encounter as much reluctance from the business side of things. Mature businesses and organizations now understand that these tools are a critical layer to their communication strategies and they are putting serious resources (time, money and people) behind social media. Right now, we only hear reluctance from the personal side of things, such as, “I don’t want to join Facebook because my ex-boyfriend will friend me,” or “Who cares about what sandwich I’m eating on Twitter?”

STR: What are some of the most innovative or disruptive things you’ve seen brands do online?

LR: To us, companies that use these [social] tools to listen to their customers – not just market to them – are doing the most disrupting. Most companies don’t want to put forth the effort to communicate (or care) beyond a pre-packaged advertising message.

STR: If you could speculate where the social web will be in 5 years from now, what do you see?

LR: Social networks are pretty ubiquitous throughout most of the world. As affordable mobile devices become more readily available in developing nations, we’re going to see 100% connectivity, globally. We are the media – and that’s here to stay.

STR: Nathan, Hillary and Norah- it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for your insight.

LR: Thanks!

If you aren’t in Des Moines, you can always reach the Lava Row team from their website or follow their tweets @LavaRow


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