Friday, March 13, 2009, 9:03 AM

Generating goodwill on the cheap

Our monthly column in today's Daily Record explores how companies can use social media to generate goodwill in times of tight budgets and low public trust.

We hear so much about the latest "trends" in social media and so little about how it can actually be used by a company to generate buzz. Hopefully this column helps with the latter dilemma. You can read it in its entirety below, or check it out at The Daily Record's website.

Generating goodwill for your company on the cheap

HENRY FAWELL
Special to The Daily Record
March 13, 2009

Let’s face it. It’s hard to justify an ambitious advertising campaign in this economy. Your company watches every penny like a hawk.

The news outlets with which you previously advertised are losing staff and audience share, declaring bankruptcy or shuttering their doors. Plus, it’s hard to convince Baltimore’s understaffed newsrooms to cover your company when their own resources are dwindling.

Budgets are tight yet our pursuit of the public’s goodwill is endless. To make matters worse, seven in 10 Americans think U.S. businesses are on the wrong track, meaning we need all the goodwill we can find. So how can your company generate buzz and goodwill without breaking the bank?

It can be done. Technology and public conversations are converging in a way that allows you to achieve this goal. The convergence is known as social media.

It enables companies and the public to engage in two-way dialogues at little to no cost, and it’s happening every day here in Baltimore and around the world. The question is whether your company will join the discussion.

I have one rule for companies intimidated by social media: have no fear. Any organization with creativity and a plan can use it to reach the public. If you don’t know where to begin, this column outlines four starting points on the Web with real examples of companies generating buzz on the cheap.

Blogs: More than 112 million of these Web-based publications are on the Internet, with the most popular ones garnering more than a million visits monthly.

You can make blogs work for you in two ways. First, introduce yourself to blog authors who write about your hometown, industry, company or product. The makers of Audi did just that by offering a test drive of their latest model to Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist whose blog attracts 2.5 million page views annually. Audi got a great review on the blog, hit a key demographic and connected with a huge audience for little or no cost.

The second way is to author your own blog. Baltimore’s LifeBridge Health used its blog to spotlight its domestic violence services after the well-publicized arrest of a celebrity on assault charges. Marriott International’s Bill Marriott used his blog to tout the good deeds of a Baltimore employee and to announce his own voluntary pay cut. If the CEO of Marriott can find time to blog, why can’t you?

Facebook: With 175 million users, Facebook is not just for teenagers. It allows companies to build an online community of customers and stakeholders where it can post everything from company messages to photos.

H&R Block created its own Facebook page to offer free tax advice to more than 1,600 members. Unlike a static advertisement, the Facebook page allows H&R Block to deliver the exact service that each customer needs — a great way to generate goodwill.

Twitter: This free Web site enables companies to chat or “tweet” real-time via cell phone or computer with the public. Each “tweet” is less than 140 characters. With more than 6 million users,

Twitter has attracted several companies seeking to connect in real time with the public.
Comcast uses Twitter to sniff out customers with cable outages to get them the help they need quickly. Home Depot uses it to remind customers what supplies they need to protect their homes during hurricane season. As a result, both companies are considered by many to be on the vanguard of corporate communications.

YouTube: Anyone with a video camera and Web access can use YouTube, whether a Fortune 100 company or your next-door neighbor. With 79 million subscribed viewers, it is the dominant place for companies to upload and share video clips with the world.

Maryland’s comptroller, Peter Franchot, used YouTube to promote the state’s electronic tax filing system. His irreverent video garnered nearly 23,000 viewers in its first month at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.

Embracing social media means changing how you connect with the public. But with public trust of U.S. businesses so low, change can be a virtue.

So take the first step. Explore these sites to see how they can connect you with the public. You may be surprised at how much goodwill you generate and how much money you save along the way.

Henry Fawell is a communications consultant for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice PLLC in Baltimore and was press secretary for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His column appears monthly and his e-mail address is henry.fawell@wcsr.com.

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