My name is Brandon Daniels, and I’m the Communications Manager in charge of emerging communication technologies and social media for Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC). MPC is the fourth-largest crude oil refiner in the U.S. We have operations in 22 states, with seven refineries, approximately 8,300 miles of pipeline, 2,750 Speedway convenience stores and more than 5,460 Marathon-brand retail outlets.
How and why did you get started in social media?
Our Speedway convenience stores have had a strong social media presence for a couple of years, but we only recently launched our corporate social media accounts. As a corporation, MPC is dedicated to the communities in which we operate and are always looking for ways to encourage more consistent two-way communication with local residents. Social media has been an excellent resource to share stories with our communities. It also allows us to instantly hear our various stakeholders’ thoughts, suggestions and concerns, all of which we can use to help improve our relationship with them.
What do you believe the benefits of using social media for business?
The public relations landscape has gone through a radical shift in the last decade. Public relations used to rely heavily on press releases and media advisories; businesses would be required to package their messages in a way that made them more attractive to editors and reporters with the hope they would turn them into a positive article. No matter how you approached it, there was always a degree of separation between a business and its public. Today, social media allows people to receive news instantly and on demand. Businesses that leverage this resource are able to communicate directly with their target audience.
Through social media at MPC, we’re able to see our customers, neighbors and stakeholders as unique individuals. We can learn more about their personalities and their interests, instead of just a set of demographics. Even more beneficially, social media has allowed the public to see us as individuals too. This new media landscape provides businesses with the opportunity to pull back the corporate façade, revealing the network of employees who love what they do and strive to better serve their customers.
What do you think are common mistakes business owners make when building brand awareness on social media?
One of the most common mistakes I see businesses make on social media is a lack of engagement. When companies place all of their priorities on content marketing, they lose sight of social media’s real benefit. Engaging the public requires continuous monitoring for opportunities across all our social networks. Are there customers who have questions about our services? Are there community members with questions about our facilities? Are there people with a skill set matching one of our open positions? All of my monitoring efforts look for opportunities where I can offer a response through a constructive dialogue.
Because this level of engagement requires a time commitment, some companies shy away from this level of social media management. In my experience, in order to generate supporters for your brand and your mission, you need to appeal to your public in a very personal way. Social media allows us to do that.
What qualities do you think social media managers should have?
Managing social media is a unique role and it takes someone equally unique to do it well. I’ve noticed that the most effective social media managers share the same basic qualities: creativity, a sense of humor, and the ability to work well with people. One of the biggest challenges in social media is keeping an active and complete posting schedule, but those with creativity and a sense of humor are usually have no trouble filling up a posting slate thanks to unique stories and clever cross promotions. On top of that, social media managers must be able to work well with people. Whether it’s maintaining the virtual relationships or earning support for their next social media venture, social experts have an instinct for effective communication.
How do Business owners know if their social media campaign is working?
There are actually two answers to this question depending on whether or not your social media campaign has an obvious call to action. For example, if you’re running a campaign to help your recruiting team fill an open position, make sure you post links that can track click-throughs. Throughout the campaign, take four measurements: the number of times your post was seen, the number of times your link was clicked, the number of times the website was visited, and the number of applications submitted. When calls-to-action are involved, it’s crucial to measure engagement at every step of the process throughout the campaign so you can adjust anything along the way.
If you’re evaluating general success for a campaign that doesn’t have an obvious call to action, evaluation is less specific and more about general trends. The important thing is to set goals for your campaign based on new followers, more mentions, or more direct messages to your account. If you start a campaign and you see no increase in any of these areas, it is time to course-correct and try something new. We’re allowed to make mistakes on social media because there’s really no monetary investment. Social media is a great sandbox to experiment with new ideas.
How do you see social media evolving over the next 5 years …what do you hope to see?
I work with many high school and college students, and I’m noticing an interesting trend. I wouldn’t say social media is on the decline, but certainly the way it’s being used by the next generation is changing. Teenagers today are rarely using Facebook and Twitter progressively less; in general, they are steering clear of mass communication tools. Snapchat is really popular now, along with other social networks that have a higher focus on more direct communication with a limited distribution. The generation before wholly embraced the over-sharing culture, but the next generation will probably take a more conservative approach.
I predict that social media in five years will be more focused on interpersonal communication. Conversations will be more private on social networks. The opportunities will still exist for businesses to engage their customers, but they’ll need to be diligent in finding creative, less public ways to interface with the people interested in their services.
No matter how things change for social media in the next five years, I still hope to see a clear distinction between the social media space and the real world. The trend is heading toward more wearable technologies (i.e., glasses and watches), but I hope that people will still be able to disconnect to enjoy a technology-free life, at least every once in a while. As long as the general public can put away social media technology to use the products and services we offer, businesses will still have the opportunity to find better ways to serve them.
If you could share one best practice about using social media to grow a business, what would it be?
My best practice is a variation on the Golden Rule. Just like we should treat others the way we would like to be treated, we should be a good follower if we expect to gain followers. If you want to build your audience, do you research by following the people you’d like to have follow you. By getting this glimpse in to their world, you’ll learn much more about their interests and their tone of voice. You’ll be much more successful with your social media campaigns if you take the time to get to know your audience on a deeper level.