As the communications and social media manager of financial services firm PEAK6 Online , Shannon believes in humanizing brands . Similarly, she sees the future of social media as "more human, less mechanized."
In a recent email interview, Shannon delved deeper into the connection between social media and businesses:
Q: How do you use social media to extend the web footprint of your company?
A: Social media is still a relatively new thing with our companies, but we've been using social media tools to listen and respond to what people are saying about us or our industry in a variety of places on the Internet. Also, we have a number of people on staff who contribute content to our blogs. Unlike a lot of companies, we're fortunate to have great content, but our challenge is helping the teams working on our sites' infrastructures to make that content more accessible and easy to find from an SEO and SMO standpoint, since content that is attractive to search engines is also attractive to people, thus inspiring them to share that content on social networks.
Q: What connection did you find between stock markets and building communities?
A: I don't know that we have really begun to focus on building our own communities at this point. There are so many existing communities of people devoted to investing and discussing the stock market. Our current strategy focuses on identifying communities where it makes the most sense for us to participate in a way that adds value to the discussion, or by providing participants in those communities with great content that they can share with others in their network.
Q: Your latest blog post is about comment marketing. What is that?
A: Let me preface this by saying that how anyone chooses to comment or participate in online discussions in an unofficial capacity is different than the kind of comment marketing I chose to write about. To me, comment marketing is the practice of commenting on blogs as an official representative of your company. I believe monitoring blogs is an important part of any communications strategy and that directly commenting on posts should be done very sparingly in an official capacity. That's why I developed the red light, green light, yellow light system for weighing whether I should respond in an official capacity on a blog. A lot of marketers like to drop the official company line whenever something remotely related to their business or a competitor is mentioned on a blog. I don't agree with this practice and warn others that they will likely offend rather than win over others when they do this too heartily. There are often better ways to reach out to the blogger, or even the commenter, without posting publicly. A lot of times, taking the conversation off-line to email or IM is way more effective in the long run.
Q: In another blog post you asked, "When all of this social media stuff becomes commonplace, how will business be different?" Did you find the answer?
A: I don't think social media has become commonplace yet. It's all still very new to most people in the world -- or even most people with high-speed Internet connections. Add to this the fact that even people who use social media tools don't realize they're using them and things can get even more confusing. Most people are still really enamored by the technical aspects of social media tools.
Once the novelty wears off, I really think things will get interesting. Clay Shirky put it really well in a presentation he gave to the TED crowd, "it isn't when shining new tools show up that their uses start permeating society, it's when everybody is able to take them for granted." It's when these things become boring that we start using them in interesting ways. This might be a bad example, but if I want to open a paint can, I might use a butter knife or a screw driver even if that's not what the tool was designed to do. When we start rigging social media tools in order to achieve things they weren't designed to achieve, I think that's when things will get really interesting -- this includes business.
Q: Who should businesses follow as the rules of social media change?
A: Their customer, fans and the public. To me that's really at the core of what social media is all about: turning from company centric entities to customer focused entities. Listening is important, but it's not just about listening -- it's about listening, engaging and doing things better as a result. I think listening should trump any kind of benchmarking. Competitive analysis often means doing things as poorly as everyone else in the industry. Listening to your own stakeholders can give you the ability to transcend the competition. However, monitoring conversations on social networks and in blogs isn't the only way companies can listen to customers. This can also include analyzing your own website metrics and making popular places easier to access, or getting rid of time limits on customer service calls.
Q: Part of your bio on your Twitter profile reads, "The views expressed on this profile are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of PEAK6." Are such disclaimers necessary today?
A: I have a disclaimer on my Twitter profile for compliance reasons. I don't think they're necessary for everyone, but in order for me to speak openly about certain topics, this needs to be in place. One of the three companies that are part of PEAK6 Online is OptionsHouse , an online retail broker focused on options trading. Our compliance guidelines for this particular entity fall under the jurisdiction of FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and are somewhat restrictive in communications with the public. This is intended to protect investors from unscrupulous practices and to educate them about the inherent risks with investing in general. According to FINRA regulations, any type of public Internet posting by a company representative to a blog or forum is considered an advertisement. This means disclaimers are often necessary to participate or engage in social networks.
Q: Whose tweets do you love to read the most?
A: I have a lot of people I keep in touch with via Twitter, but I don't think there is any one person whose tweets I love to read the most. Actually, I think the remarkable aspect of Twitter has more to do with everyone's participation. We all have our moments and I have a long list of favorite tweets and favorite Twitterers, but I love searching conversations related to an event or a keyword or topic, or seeing a lot of people banding together to make a statement like they did during the Iranian election. Those things are quite meaningful. Plus, there's the ability to zoom in on anything from a large scale to a very small scale on an individual basis. The patterns that will likely emerge from so much randomness will have the potential to illuminate a lot of aspects of what makes us tick as human beings and how information and ideas spread from one person to the next. To go back to your earlier question about the connection between stock markets and communities -- maybe that's it -- both markets and communities appear to be completely random, but when enough data is gathered and we ask the right questions, patterns and meaning can then emerge in very surprising and informative ways.
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Originally published Jul 21, 2009 11:00:00 AM, updated March 21 2013