Senior year reflection
My journey had taken me from my hometown in Shoreham, NY to the Sacred Heart University Campus in Fairfield, CT. Encouraged to find opportunities where classroom learning is enhanced by real world exposure, I became an intern. From Wilton and Westport in Connecticut, to Holbrook and Wading River in Long Island, four internships aided my transformation from college student to professional. With real world experiences behind me, and the necessary credits to graduate, I have much more than a portfolio of work, I have a journey of learning to share.
This website is my Sacred Heart University Senior Class Project, serving not just as an online showcase of the work created over four years, but rather as the space to bring the seemingly disjointed pieces of my education in and out of the classroom together. This is my journal of my personal journey of learning. As I have been developing samfacini.com throughout my undergraduate senior year, the process has served to bring me to a place of recognition and respect for my own education. If my days at a University combined with diverse work opportunities are my foundation to build on, then I am standing right now firmly on solid ground.
Writing was one skill under development prior to entering my freshman year at Sacred Heart. From the first semester to my very last I have been writing papers. My hard drive holds enough material from several courses to serve as the basis of books. Feedback from professors was anticipated, always valuable and when rewrites were allowed, I appreciated the opportunity to improve the work (and the grade, of course). My personal challenge was to put great effort into each assignment. In my Journalism class, for example, I constructed eighteen laudable papers. While the study of American Journalism absolutely offered related information to my future career, taking a History of Italian Opera class on the other hand, had me wondering if there would be value gained from watching Operas on my laptop performed only in the Italian language, plus weekly in class discussions. Looking back I now fully appreciate the value of a Liberal Arts education, although it was not personally apparent in my first two years. A communicator with the desire to produce quality work is served well by diverse experiences and viewpoints. Even the Philosophy course that I struggled through taught me that understanding a subject isn't always easy, but there is value in every endeavor despite not leaving with repeatable facts and a high grade. The burden of a student's understanding is often placed by the student heavily on the teacher, and how content is communicated to them in a class, or classroom materials. Students come to the classroom with different minds and motivations, and therefore some will extract and retain more information than others. What could be more vital to a future marketer like myself than understanding that in order to be considered a successful communicator your message must be understood as it was intended by a target audience.
Moving from student in a classroom to student in the workplace, I observed today's methods of Marketing Communications and Public Relations put into action in various ways at each of the four companies I was hired by. I was fortunate to find field related work over the past four years, and I approached all of these internships as worthwhile learning opportunities. I had two particular requirements set for each: First, be a responsible, hard working member of a team performing at the best of my abilities; second, be a listener and observer in order to pick up as much about the practical application of Marketing and Public Relations as I could. I often reflected back to classroom discussions while working on actual business projects, making solid connections between classroom content, and how businesses were marketing today. Combined with a four year liberal arts education that exposed me to a diverse array of classes and subject matter, this relatively short journey has taken me a long distance. I now have ownership of valuable insight and information about my field of study and myself.
Immersed in the "new rules" of Marketing and PR, two of my internships exposed me to the application of old rules now considered less effective, if not ineffective, in today's crowded online and mobile applications space. Businesses need to reach buyers directly, and buyers want to find sources and information through quick searches and clicks. Even a brick and mortar business providing products and services to a local marketplace is expected to have online information at the ready for the marketplace. Although, as recent as five years ago, a company website could be considered sufficient; today a lack of social media activity, and a stagnant and/or basic website is a distinctive selling disadvantage. Even a progressive company in regards to its products and services can be unsuccessful in reaching buyers that are becoming increasingly more internet and application astute. To go where the buyers are, and to work hard to stand out in a busy space, is to be a marketer today.
Rethinking the priorities of business is underway for countless companies and industries as they cannot ignore the success stories of competitors using online and social media marketing to achieve notable success in the marketplace. And, they're learning this where? Online and in social media. I experienced three of the four companies engaged in marketing through knowledgeable and dedicated staff, plus the setting of marketing and social media spending budgets. I wasn't privy to the specifics of budgets, but could surmise those with a plan of action with on-going costs in place. The fourth company allocated a small budget basically allowing for just one summer intern - me. Although this company had an incredible rate of direct customer referrals driving sales, and its product and services always impressive, it had not developed a connection to a much broader audience through the opportunities afforded businesses online and in social media. Instagram was a perfect vehicle for this boutique business to begin, yet at the end of my brief time with the company no one took over the social media accounts I had established. Social media can be utilized in a wide variety of ways, and even some attention can have far reaching effects. No doubt this boutique business had newsletters and photographs to share from its years of business for hundreds of posts. The owner was a well-spoken, talented and engaging woman that even enjoyed presenting at garden clubs and talking face-to-face with potential customers at showcases. There was plenty of content on hand. What was missing was the commitment to move the content to where todays buyers are.
Without the understanding that today's marketing techniques can aggressively grow a customer base and increase revenue, and that even a non-pro can get results within a low budget, too many will miss opportunities. The very construct of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others is that followers will want to report, like and share to drive your message forward. There are always excuses for slow entry was due to how busy the staff was to manage the clients they had, and that their business tasks were not being managed with software or web-based solutions. Could they just be afraid of technology? And, when a company like this is profitable, the urgency to enact new methods is not there. The good news was their recognition that it was a space they desired to be in.
I took the opportunity at each company to talk to the appropriate staff with and without active social media accounts. What I heard from those that were not highly engaged or resistant to engaging at all was a concern about the responses followers could post. Their existed a perspective that negative comments had far greater destructive power than the good that positive ones would create. One manager even suggested that viewers rarely believe that high praise posts are legitimate, while negative posts are perceived as the truth. The overall worry was that people are essentially not skilled at breaking through the clutter to get to the truth. Clearly followers are not always big fans, and cannot be expected to either stay positive, or remain quiet. I read through hundreds of comments that were both positive and negative on the accounts of all four companies. While the beauty company appeared unfazed by some rough responses, the tech company would be genuinely upset by even one combative post. Shear volume of activity can do the job of reducing the volume of negative responses as compared to positive ones. The tech company opted to not allow comments on Facebook, although the star rating remained. For this company Instagram posts were generally liked, and very few comments were posted. Therefore, the put focus on Instagram, less focus on Facebook, and stayed away from Twitter completely. Having dozens of videos, they maintained YouTube and Vimeo accounts, turning off the user's ability to rate and reply. I spent time with management to dig deeper into their apparent end-user concerns. What I learned about this company from inside the walls, was that they had a large and highly satisfied user-base. They had several top brands in their categories in their U.S. market. They delivered solid products and free support. What they, or any business, could not control was a user under stress , often self inflicted, reaching out for with their hair on fire. The user would get timely, and professional help, but sometimes that happened after they first complained on a chat room or clicked a one-star rating. Fair, certainly not, but expected when customers are worrying about a deadline.
The beauty brand company experienced how the power of celebrity can translate into sales. A haircare product in their line was boasted about by a popular morning television show host as a favorite personal product. Her on air raves ignited instant activity on its online store. The team jumped into action to fulfill a high volume of orders, and springboard off of the incredible media attention using social media and PR. I witnessed a company that had all the pieces in place in order to benefit from this rare and powerful celebrity media moment. It would have been a missed opportunity without Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, web blogs, YouTube and other Internet and mobile tech already in place at the company, and having a substantial number of followers to reach with their big news. In just seconds, one television mention became a monster social media event for the company. I still wonder how this celebrity became a user of the haircare line? Had a "share" on Facebook, for example, introduced the celebrity to the product? Would knowing how it happened help them get a similar event to occur? The event timeline and metrics associated with this event would be very interesting to compile and review.
The takeaway from these four unique companies and experiences regarding social media accounts, is that the selection of social media platforms need to be carefully selected based on their needs and concerns. While we all know that Twitter has wars, Instagram is far less likely to be a platform of confrontations.
At each of the four companies I came to understand how even routine tasks are part of the foundation of marketing and each task key to a multi-step process. One internship involved the updating of spreadsheets, and checking web links for hours on end. As the intern I was expected to do the tedious types of tasks, and I approached the work as enthusiastically as I could. Repairing each broken web link and making sure that each piece of data was accurate meant that a site visitor could find what they were looking for, and the client company we managed the site for could benefit from the connection I helped make possible. Even the smallest task can translate into a great reward. The technology company offered another experience in regards to its content and the differences in a companies audience and how they respond. While some would contact the company right away to resolve a broken link, others clearly moved away from the web site when a link was broken. Reviewing visitor activity logs on the site exposed this pattern of behavior. Therefore, the web and marketing teams are continually monitoring links for the benefit of their brand and sales.
A common thread between all four companies was the recognition of the importance of their content, and it was the focus of each director. With only a minute understanding of their products, as the intern I was required to have conversations with staff members to develop copy and images that was not only accurate, but was the precise content to achieve a desired goal, and they always had to sign off on the content. The tech company certainly examined every Facebook post and press release I created for truthfulness and relevance. Incorrect content could have bad repercussions for the reader/viewer, as well as the company that put it out into cyberspace. Involved in content development at a time in American politics where the accuracy of content is frequently questioned, the responsibility of the job has been heightened. Public Relations professionals have the tough job of reducing impact of bad publicity, but there is no guarantee that damage will not be irreparable. All of the companies I worked with also had concern that content could appear political in nature, supporting one segment of the population over another. Words were chosen more carefully than before ever since the changes that came about surrounding the 2016 presidential election, and subsequently the Trump Administration style of communication including the daily use of Twitter.
Marketing, social media and PR development can be interesting beyond the planning stages and building of creative content. I was fortunate that all four companies were in industries I considered interesting in the work and the products or services they delivered. Had I been in the social media department for a construction company or a lightbulb manufacturer (no offense to these important businesses), my excitement would not match the elation I would feel about subjects of personal interest to me. My internships were for businesses marketing software, building and managing American hometown web sites, custom creating floral designs, invitations and events with a focus on weddings, as well as manufacturing and selling high-end hair and personal care products. My engagement level expectedly rose according to the product and project surrounding it.
B2B and B2C
Business to Consumer and Business to Business marketing has similar components. The tools are often the same, it is the content developed that has to address the specific needs of a consumer, for example, buying the hair care product, or the salon business buying product in bulk in order to sell it at their salon. My work experiences provided exposure to both B2B and B2C marketing. The technology company has a branding strategy in place. Since it sold its software and products directly to consumer online, and had a distribution chain of approximately 60 resellers worldwide, when it advertised using traditional print ads in trade publications, it would speak directly to the consumer, but always in the manner to support their brands for the benefit of their resellers. Producing a print ad that offered a discount to an end-user would ultimately upset its reseller network that invest in the company by putting product on their shelves. Marketing directly to the consumer was through different channels and methods. Regular MailChimp email marketing blasts using mailing lists cleaned of reseller addresses was an effective approach. With one main web site, they also were cautious in displaying pricing that matched the MSRP structure in place. After all, any one can access a company web site to see the messaging being seen by the consumer.
Going viral is equated to reaching a summit. The four companies, as I expect all companies involved in social media marketing, hoped that a post would go viral. They never did. A marketer that can create viral content on any regularity is a marketer that is rare and on top of the online trends. More likely a professional will experience an accidental incident much like getting a hole in one in golf. What I did see happening at three of the internships was the creation of content that reflected what was trending. With the hashtag a valuable and no cost tool, you can reach more viewers by selecting the right hashtags at their most relevant time.
I had no access to television advertising development during these internships. The closest exposure was the construction and use of videos for online and social media posts. Two of the companies had on staff video professionals and content was created regularly. Consumers respond to video. In a space operating at the speed of light, videos had the best opportunity to achieve viewership and engagement.
Blogging was another aspect of marketing that has become commonplace for all size companies. Measuring the success of the efforts involve many metrics. How many people are reading and reposting the content is vital, and seeing numbers rise is the goal. Content development can take a great deal of time, so it needs to be worth the efforts of the company personnel taking the time to create it. Is the content building the brand and driving activity? Is the content junk or a jewel? Are you working with bloggers that talk about you?
Public Relations and Social Media are under the larger umbrella of Marketing. A considerable aspect in today's environment involves the Internet searches, web sites, and online content. Therefore, SEO (search engine optimization) isn't a buzz word, its critical to keeping a page one search position. The software company hired an outside SEO management company that continually monitored how the consumer searched and found its site and products, and put into place the methods needed to be seen. SEO management can be handled in-house as well, but my exposure to the process suggested that a proper investment in the right personnel or professional will yield desirable results. SEO is a yes or no situation. Keywords are either getting you or your competitor the clicks.
What these internship opportunities gave to me was an immersion in marketing. As a Communications major with a concentration in Public Relations the number of marketing classes were fewer that I would have like to have experienced, but what an amazing education I received being a listener at customer meetings, and part of the creative think tanks. It's all connected. A print, television or radio campaign is best supported by social media promotions. An email campaign is a low cost and effective means to support the branding and sales process. All departments need to communicate and coordinate regularly. At one company in particular the MailChimp campaigns were very successful at raising the revenue in their online store on the day of the blast and up to two or three days after. The email campaigns weren't random, they reflected what the team was hearing from the marketplace.
If I were to summarize my experience at these four internships it would be that learning does happen outside of the classroom. An inescapable aspect of a business of any kind, size and scope is the need to get and keep customers. In some cases a business can thrive through referrals as it had been for decades for America's main street stores and businesses, but without a doubt every company today benefits by employing the new rules of marketing and raising the priority of Social Media and PR. It was because each company was different, engaged in a variety of marketing methods with varying success, and made up of people with unique personalities, drive and expertise that "agility" is the key to marketing success in an internet-driven world.
I look forward to every day to come being an influencer, creating blogs and videos, press releases and web content. I might even get that marketing hole in one along the way.
- Sam Facini