Mass audience or niche targets? Experts explore social media

Oldham Business Edge round table discussion at Ryder & Dutton. PIC shows all guests.

Guests from different sectors talked about the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of different social media. They asked what social media channels are best for sales, leads or recruitment? What content should be posted, how often, and should businesses aim for large audiences or smaller, niche audiences?

Other topics included staff skills and training for fast-changing social media and marketing trends, and dealing with customer feedback, complaints or damaging content on social media.

James Roberts: I’m interested to hear about everyone’s successes through social media.

Oldham Business Edge round table discussion at Ryder & Dutton. PIC shows (centre) Louise Howard, First Choice Homes.

Ryder & Dutton has had some great wins with Twitter and direct messages. We’ve had interaction from people who are really busy but do engage with Twitter. It’s a great way of making contact within half a minute. We have all sorts of stories about winning instructions through Twitter.

Victoria Hindle, our performance manager, has many stories including one of a successful property sale achieved through a Twitter enquiry which resurfaced two years afterwards at a social media workshop, where it was used by a speaker as an example of good practise.

By coincidence Vicki was in the audience at that workshop. The speaker’s use of Vicki’s Twitter conversation was pure coincidence but it highlighted success and good practise.

Vikki Marshall: Oldham Hour has paid-off.

People ask for recommendations about conveyancing and I’ve constantly got my telephone in my hand, replying. We’ve then had instructions within half an hour of giving a quote. Social media is a really good tool for conveyancing.

Louise Howard: Do people come to Ryder & Dutton because of the presence on social media? There are perhaps five big names for estate agents on social media. Do people use social media competitively or do they just know about Ryder & Dutton?

James Roberts: There’s a rising number of people who need easy, quick ways of connecting because of time constraints. We need to give them lots of choices to connect and ease of communication. Our hours of business are increasing because of this trend – and it’s only going to increase further.

Louise Howard: In the winter we had really bad weather. We were struggling to get out for repairs. But using a variety of methods including social media we managed to tell lots of customers about this.

We also put a video online showing viewers how to fix condenser boilers. The video was widely shared, with around 6,000 organic shares, meaning people were able to repair their boilers. We also saw a dip in calls to our customer service centre. Previously we would have seen increased calls to the service centre under these conditions.

We ran an Easter egg competition and got hundreds of entries. People just want to interact.

Some social media is all focused on adverts and selling. Sometimes businesses put out content that does not connect with people.

But we aim to connect with people on a human level.

Matt Ramsbottom: Brand, strategy and position are all important. People have heard of Ryder & Dutton or McDonald’s but that doesn’t mean they stop promoting their brand.

You can measure the effect of calls-to-action but branding sits in the consumer’s mind. You have to quantify it with detailed research or by the cash till ringing. People won’t interact with social media if they have never heard of you.

So branding is essential.

David Wadsworth: Everybody in Oldham will have heard of Ryder & Dutton because of the brand. If you didn’t have the strong brand, you wouldn’t have got the Easter egg conversion rate achieved. Research suggests people need at least four interactions with a brand before they consider buying. Cornerstone would recommend a fully-rounded approach to branding to give your target customers confidence in your business.

Oldham Business Edge round table discussion at Ryder & Dutton. PIC shows David Wadsworth, Cornerstone.


James Roberts: Would your advice be different to a start-up estate agent?

David Wadsworth: Absolutely. We would advise a more traditional marketing route including branding, PR and news, which would then be enhanced with social and digital, but this approach does depend on the industry, target audience and product offering.

James Roberts: You’re suggesting a blended bag of goods – a mix of marketing techniques.

But our Twitter following has doubled in a year to 7,500. We are cutting back on sending flyers to people who have no interest in engaging with us. What are people’s views of other marketing techniques?

Lee Hollinworth: Whittaker Design was wellknown in the brewing and leisure industry, and was racing up and down the country working on pubs. However we later changed the business, slimmed-down our staff numbers and wanted to get more local business.

We then started posting on Facebook and Twitter, although I’m not into Facebook personally, and started taking close-up photos of buildings we were working on. We’d photograph a detail, such as a window or door, and then ask if people could identify the building? These social media posts turned into a weekly or daily quiz. We’d use little Lego men to represent us and took pictures in different locations where we were working.

One of the photos was taken outside the Houses of Parliament. People interacted with us. I think businesses are ultimately built on people, no matter how much marketing you do.

James Roberts: Your Lego men photos humanised the business. You want clients who click with you personally? You’re the type of person who likes a pint of real ale. Your approach is about connections. I don’t know any other media that can humanise business in the way that social media can.

Dan Mounsey: However if it’s done badly it can have the opposite effect.

James Roberts: Lee has used social media to cherry-pick clients.

Lee Hollinworth. If I meet someone I’ll know within about 10 minutes if we fit.

Matt Ramsbottom: But branding is still vital. You’ve developed branding with your cheeky little Lego men. Creativity works.

For example, who’d have thought a Russian Meerkat would work as a marketing campaign But it did.

Louise Howard: First Choice Homes could not be a ‘quirky’ organisation. We deal with some very difficult situations and big challenges. These aren’t topics that we can joke about. However we can be conversational and more relaxed in our words.

For bigger issues, we’ve joined-up with other social housing providers. Housing has become a big political issue recently which has been driven by housing organisations. That has taken a long time to achieve.

First Choice Homes is a regulated organisation and provide essential services. We can have conversations in a chatty style and treat social media as a conversation. We also cut our jargon on social media. For example, ‘hard standing’ is a driveway to the public. Nobody calls it ‘hard standing’ outside the industry.

Steven Ormrod: Sometimes we are quite rigid in our style of language and branding.

But we have to get a balance between the two. For example, for some developers we use photographs of their projects on social media to build a blog, which the general public may be most interested in. Twitter is generally more relevant for commercial and industrial property clients. However Vicki Hindle from Ryder & Dutton is active on Oldham Hour and we get quite a lot of commercial success through that too. That’s about opening the general public’s eyes to all the services we offer.

James Roberts: If we have slightly unusual or quirky commercial property to sell, such as the convent currently for sale in Oldham, we consider putting that on social media. Our message is that we sell commercial property as well as residential.

Ryder & Dutton deals mostly with consumers but I think the barriers between communicating to consumers and business audiences are breaking down. Most people who buy or sell a home with us will also be involved somehow with a business or own a business.

James Roberts: A different question now.

What areas of business social media are underdeveloped or undervalued?

Louise Howard: Getting the key senior people in a business or organisation to build the brand. For example,your executive team can have nearly as large a following as your organisation and help you spread key messages. Also from an internal communications point of view there is real value for people in their director or chief executive responding to a tweet about the work they’re doing.. People have good stories to tell and generally post about the things they care about or are proud of.. First Choice Homes has 400 staff and social media is a great way of gathering some of those for us..

I also think people should remember that social media accounts are personal but generally not private. You don’t need to share everything. It’s about being relevant and not posting things constantly like spam. We also need to think about good content and images.

Vicki Marshall: I’m a property solicitor not a marketer. I’m not there to actively sell the business but I use social media to build trust in our business, to share information and stories of special interest, such as property articles on the BBC, and to offer my views. People want to know what we have to say about things.

Trust is very important for our business. We want to keep clients over time and have acted for different generations of families. That type of business has grown because of personal relationships.

Pearson’s commercial team’s marketing is aimed at a totally different audience. However the commercial staff still have to be active through a social media presence and the Pearson brand. We’ve got to wear two hats – as an individual and as the Pearson brand.

Bridget Batty: Staff are the experts in their area of work but we’d recommend social media guidelines and training tailored to your area of work.

Louise Howard: People also have to be authentic because viewers can spot ‘fake’ or inconsistent content. You can look back at everything; and people take a view on your level of authenticity – is who you say you are backed by what you’ve posted?

Jess Buckley: Businesses must remember that social media is social. If you make the right impressions, people will find your business. Social media is part of the building blocks of marketing. If you are looking for a restaurant, you expect to see social media and a website. If there’s no website, the overall marketing is incomplete and unconvincing.

David Wadsworth: People often say they want a new brand, meaning a logo. But branding is much wider than that and your marketing strategy must be wider.


Dan Mounsey: Video is exploding. Video is going to get bigger and bigger and is a channel that HPP is going to push. We’re building a video studio.

James Roberts: But some people are reluctant to do video.

Dan Mounsey: At HPP we want to interview people from within the kitchen and bedroom furniture industry. It could be unique and would resonate with our industry. We think customers would be interested to see people from other areas of the industry, hear about new trends and developments, and see representatives from staff and corporate levels.

Print media is still important for us. Our customer demographic is older and maleorientated, and less familiar with social media.

We produce a range of different catalogues and brochures for our trade customers and their end-users (consumers having kitchens or bedrooms installed). We produce 30,000 brochures per year using quality paper and print, which has a reassuring quality. Our glossy-style brochures are designed for our trade customers to give to their consumers and only has very low-level HPP branding. The message is about British furniture and familyowned business.

Websites, digital and social media is modifying what we do across all our marketing work.

For example, we have detailed technical information on the website which frees-up space on other materials for other content. We also have display cases containing samples of products and materials, handle display boards and other marketing aids that our trade customers can show to their customers.

Our marketing department has grown too.

When I started at HPP I was the only person in the marketing department. Now we have five staff with very different disciplines including two website developers. Forty-two per cent of our business comes through the website.

However we also have trade counters and showrooms in Oldham and Sheffield, and a telephone sales centre too.

Our marketing department works in graphic design, photography and video, and we have a content administrator who deals with physical and digital content. A lot of content is created globally by the furniture industry which we can adapt for the UK industry.

Louise Howard: We do a lot of our marketing work in-house. We tried to outsource communications for a while in the past but felt it worked better to do it in-house.

David Wadsworth: Cornerstone works with clients to extract their customer profiles.

Without that deep understanding of customers likes, preferences and buying habits, there’s really no point in doing social media as you won’t know who to target, and what to target them with. This is because the quality of content will drive social media and marketing engagements rather than quantity. One organisation had been doing six posts per day. But we emphasised that good PR and social is about creating engaging messages for audiences by understanding them in detail.

This increases engagement, reduces spend and retains followers for the long term.

VM: There’s nothing worse than scheduled tweets.

David Wadsworth: Some clients expect to be up-and-running from day-one. But we want to immerse ourselves in the company. There is a risk of diluting content. The number of posts or followers may grow but the content could just become noise. It’s vital to not focus just on numbers, but what those numbers mean not only to your marketing objectives but your business objectives too.

Dan Mounsey: For example Follow Fridays – what’s the point? There’s no value for us in being followed by a random person in Birmingham.

Louise Howard: Paying for boosts is no good.

For us, for social media to have value it has to be organic.


David Wadsworth: How many people relate their social media strategies to their business strategy? (Some guests admitted they did not) Dan Mounsey: As a business, HPP has been a little bit ‘under the radar’. Senior managers have no social media presence and there was no culture of social media in the business, It wasn’t natural.

James Roberts: We have directors at Ryder & Dutton who don’t use it.

David Wadsworth: Before we start working with a business, we ask what their objectives are? Some don’t have any in writing or some won’t share them – they’re secretive. It’s only been in the last 12 months that we’ve changed the process. It’s getting harder with changes at Facebook and Google (algorithms) and businesses really have to think about their activities.

What does having 3,000 or 10,000 followers on social media really mean? Some agencies will purchase 10,000 followers from overseas to boost a client’s number of followers. But what’s the value in that? The details really need to be considered.

Dan Mounsey. Yes, we sometimes see

spurts of social media activity from some competitors, done by their agencies, but then the activity disappears.”


Jess Buckley: Social media and digital marketing in general is fast-changing, especially when you look at Google algorithm updates and the recent Facebook changes.

It’s important that businesses understand this but it’s unlikely they can implement change effectively unless they work with social media daily.

Regarding up-to-date training, certain courses such as the Google Squared digital certification only lasts for one year due to the fast-moving nature of the digital sphere so training is really important.

Louise Howard: We had social media training with a company and it was a real eye-opener.

We then knew we had to change what we do. We now look much more at insights and engagement. For example, we put out content about Universal Credit when it was making headlines in the mainstream news, such as on BBC and Sky TV.

If people are already seeing or hearing about that topic on other media, it’s more likely they’ll engage with ours. Different generations also engage differently.

Dan Mounsey: Yes. When HPP started doing social media, some older customers were not very interested in it. However I said a younger generation will take over those furniture businesses who will use social media. It’s a generational change. However social media may fade a bit too?

Steve Ormrod: It’s amazing how attitudes have changed though. Who’d have been confident about selling their home on Facebook a few years ago?


The panel discussed Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat.

Dan Mounsey: I don’t do Pinterest because of a lack of time. However HPP would use Pinterest for the Unique Choice consumer brand if we did it.

Lee Hollinworth: We use Pinterest and share boards. We can see and hear about people’s thoughts and tastes.

Louise Howard: First Choice Homes centres on Facebook and Twitter. We’re looking at Instagram too now. There are limits to my awareness of other channels and I recognise that I need to use them myself to learn their value. We need to understand where our newer customers want to engage with us and also understand how our older customers use social media – because they are there.

Facebook is used by 35 to 65 year-olds and our biggest audience share on there is 35-45 year olds. A lot of younger people use Snapchat but see it as their very personal space and don’t want organisations like their landlordnear it! We regularly have work Image left: Coffee and pastries at Ryder and Dutton HQ experience placements in our team who we ask for feedback about potential ways for us to engage their peers.

David Wadsworth: Younger people are more savvy. They can use some of those channels but block the statistics. Pinterest may be of zero interest to some of our businesstobusiness clients but for others, such as interior retailers, Instagram and Pinterest are important parts of their customer journeys.

Jess Buckley: Pinterest is the number-one social media channel for one of our clients, which they were previously not aware of if it weren’t for cross-channel reporting.

David Wadsworth: Linked-In is key for business-to-business work and credibility.

It shows what type of company you are. It’s good for brand presence and is trusted. If people have any doubts, they will go with a trusted brand.

Louise Howard: Linked-In is good for recruitment. But where does recruitment social media sit within an organisation – with HR , or the communications team who may be customer-focused?

Steve Ormrod: Linked-In is also good for testimonials. Credibility is its biggest draw. I found it really useful a few years ago and was never off it.

Louise Howard: Yes. People can check about a business and look for proof. There is authenticity and third-party verification on Linked-In about your business.

Bridget Batty said she thought Linked-In was good for chats with other business people and to gain expert opinion.

Some on the panel felt Linked-In now had too many connection requests from unknown people or too many business ‘gurus’ and leadership opinion rather than factual business news.


David Wadsworth asked if guests knew what their social media return-on-investment was or if they could demonstrate it? Did they use surveys or retention strategies and look at overall customer journeys?

Louise Howard: “Our return on social media is about issue resolution and brand sentiment.

Has an interaction with a customer taken them from negative to less negative or even positive view of our organisation? Social media is one of the biggest ‘shop windows’ we have.

“We also have a business intelligence team which surveys our work. We look at complaints and complements, and the work we can do to stop formal complaints. Some conversations on social media may begin with a customer at a point of frustration with us but end with a ‘thank you’ from them for resolving their issue. Public complaints can also become more constructive through private conversations. So we know there’s value in what we do.

Steven Ormrod: Ryder & Dutton’s social media retention is good.

James Roberts: Social media is also useful for internal communications between staff including sharing successes. I’m often out through the day so social media is a really helpful in getting staff news and information.

For example, a member of staff in our Bacup office had won an award. It’s hard to monetise this activity but it’s important for employers and employees.



The panel discussed whether businesses need social media policies, and if reputation and branding can be undone by bad social media conduct.

Louise Howard: FCHO had a code of conduct for all staff covering everything including telephone, personal and social media conduct.

There is no separate policy just for social media.

Dan Mounsey: HPP has no specific social media policy. But only one member of staff manages the account which focuses on outbound messages about HPP rather than customer feedback.

Vicky Marshall: Facebook asks users to state where they work on their profile, even though their personal accounts are unrelated to employment. But bad social media content or personal conduct can impact negatively on their employer because if this public link. Furthermore, many people’s Facebook employment details are often out of date by displaying their old place of work rather than their current employment.

Employers should have a social media policy.

Their staff are on Facebook and Twitter regularly. It’s really critical and they shouldn’t be blasé about it.

Louise Howard: If we get complaints on social media we deal with the issues but also look at how to reply. Could we respond in a way that offers a solution to other customers or which outlines our policy on a particular issue?

For inappropriate or vexatious engagement we take a case by case view. We keep our replies measured. We don’t block people, but we do seek support from our legal team if an individual member of staff is targeted with threats.

“It’s also worth bearing in mind that sometimes the best engagements come from complaints. For example, we had customer complaints about problems with a new online portal. It was an issue we weren’t aware of and wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for the customer. We’re upgrading the system and have been able to check that thise will resolve the bug. So it had a constructive outcome.”

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