Read more Bellamkonda’s social media predictions as well as how to differentiate between social media awareness and social media engagement below.
WashingtonExec: Can you start out by telling us a little about your background and what you are working on currently?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I work for Web.com (Network Solutions is a part of web.com). I am the Senior Director for Social Media. We reach out to our customers; the small business community on social media, create content for small businesses, have small businesses services that help them succeed, along with Network Solutions and web.com selling online marketing products for small businesses to use and succeed
WashingtonExec: What made you start a career in social media? How did you know to focus on it?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I was actually a product manager for Network Solutions website building tools which helped people set up websites online without knowing how to do coding and things like that. While searching for products I did see, in early 2007, that people were tending to talk more in a community – like they like to ask their friends or even sometimes complete strangers about how to solve their problems. They then are very happy because in forums if you go out and say ‘hey, I’m here to help you’ it is addressed to a customer who is there but everybody else who is at the forum hears also. That is very powerful for us. Also by joining these conversations we can talk about what we are offering – if someone is looking for mobile website building tools we are using these forums to tell them ‘hey, by the way here are some ways to build a mobile website’. The fact that we also had a product that would help them was definitely helpful. When we looked at it we said ‘here is a way to actually engage in a conversation which then leads to us getting more customers if we do it right.’ That’s when we started – I think it was early 2008 when we started the full-fledged Network Solutions social media strategy. The goals at that time were reputation management, connecting with the customers, community outreach and if you did all of these three well we would also gain more customers.
WashingtonExec: So you started tracking social media in 2007/2008 – what did you consider “social media” back then.
Shashi Bellamkonda: I had joined Twitter some time in 2007 and I don’t remember exactly but I think Facebook was still not open. I think probably towards the end of 2007 or maybe the last quarter of 2007 more and more people started joining Twitter. I started following people in the DC area so surprisingly when I heard about events people who were following me in the DC area would also hear about the event. When I went to an event I was surprised to hear people say ‘Hey, I’m here because I heard about it from you.’
WashingtonExec: How many followers do you have on Twitter?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I think 17,500.
WashingtonExec: What do you think are some different social media trends or outlets that people should be looking at?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I think efficiency and being able to be mobile is very important. What I mean by that is right now the most popular ones; at least those that you hear of are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I think if you look at it from a strictly business sense there is one way of doing it for your business and the other way is for personal reasons. you have to look at it from how much time do you have and how much time do you want to spend on this. This could be a huge time suck if you are not careful and you are not strategic. It’s just like you would walk into a networking event and go into a room full of people except in this case you are doing it very virtually. You have a chance of meeting a thousand people almost literally by what you post and how you engage with them, how you attract them. For just about anybody to have that kind of power I think is very powerful.
“I think one piece of advice would be to set objectives- a lot of social media tools are very informal and the advantage of these is they help carry on a very casual conversation but the rules in the real world also apply online.”
WashingtonExec: How do you think small businesses can use social media to their advantage?
Shashi Bellamkonda: It’s an excellent set of tools for them to keep in touch with their customers. It makes communication with them very efficient and also the most important thing is in terms of content marketing. When I look at an ecosystem I look at the website as a virtual presence and surrounding that are all of these social media tools which include blogs, Facebook, Twitter and everything else.
WashingtonExec: When you think of companies that have done a really great job of bringing more of an intimate feel to customers or have a really good social media strategy?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I think the earliest company that I am aware of was Dell and Dell started engaging with its customer on social media. Dell almost did an integrative approach where the forums had tools for people to ask questions and answer and then they started engaging with a huge staff and started blogging. The other company like that, even though I have never used them but I’ve heard them quite a bit, where customers have an excellent experience ordering shoes from Zappos. Of course Zappos is an Amazon company. A lot of companies have adopted a model where they make an excellent product, they make sure the customer experience in buying the product is excellent and then they use the social media tools to take this word of mouth, make peak customers say such good things because the customers feel it
WashingtonExec: How important do you think it is to have the company brand engage with the public verse the actual executive? Do you think engagement in social media is different or if one way is better than another?
Shashi Bellamkonda: Warby Parker. I think it is a great model where they let you try the glasses and send them back and it is quite cheap also. They are supposed to have excellent customer service. Several studies like the Edelman Trust Barometer which is just one study and EMarketer put out a recent study where they talked about how CEO’s who tweet are held in higher regard. Customers really want to see who is the human face behind the company. At one time Frank Eliason from Comcast who was tweeting under Comcast Cares – people relate more to faces than to logos. They actually want to look at who is behind this and who is going to solve my problems. I think it is very important for every company. Best Buy had a great model where they had a Twelpforce which trained the employees to actually answer questions that the customers were asking. The advantage of helping your employees engage I think a good social media policy in a company will tell employees how to use social media tools well rather than the do’s and don’ts. They are absolutely essential but it is better to train them to say ‘here is a way of doing it well’.
WashingtonExec: Is there a difference between social media awareness and engaging awareness?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I think there is. If you look at Apple – I would say that Apple is a company that awareness is very high but engagement is low. The reason why Apple is able to do that is simply because Apple’s philosophy of making good products, having excellent customer service – they actually feel that customers help other customers. On the other hand if there is a new start-up that comes up whether it is like Facebook – when Facebook bought Instagram Mark Zuckerberg actually posted it on his Facebook feed rather than having a press release or anything like that. That’s because they believe in engagement to the extent that they have a huge following
WashingtonExec: Those are all of the questions that I have. Is there anything you would like to add?
Shashi Bellamkonda: I think one piece of advice would be to set objectives- a lot of social media tools are very informal and the advantage of these is they help carry on a very casual conversation but the rules in the real world also apply online. What I mean by that is if you are thinking about respect, maintaining your privacy – all of those rules apply even online. The second thing is objective setting and being strategic is very important. You could spend your whole day just conversing and engaging with people but you have to definitely figure out what your objective is.