CSAA's social media webinar points to changing face of security industry

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

THE INTERNET—The Central Station Alarm Association conducted its second free webinar—Social Networking: Help or Hype—on Feb. 17, to positive feedback and improved attendance of nearly 14 percent over 2009’s premiere webinar. The hour-long informational session provided 109 security professionals from the U.S., Canada, Turkey, Denmark, and Ireland overviews of the most popular social networking sites on the web, as well as how they are being used specifically by those in the industry to future-proof operations, increase brand awareness and improve business. The webinar pointed to the changing face of the industry, noting that companies needed to take advantage of new, technology-driven tools to develop and maintain an edge in advertising, brand awareness, and industry connections.

“Social media isn’t just for sending flowers and stupid little teddy bear things—I hate that stuff,” said CSAA’s VP of marketing and programs Celia Besore, one of the webinars panelists. “We wanted to let people know this could be of real value to their business.”

Of interest is the fact the webinar was completely administered, moderated and paneled by security industry women. Asked if the all-female roster was intentional or surprising, Besore demurred. “It wasn’t planned that way. CSAA has a social media committee, and there are some men in that committee, but when we started thinking of doing a webinar none of them volunteered,” Besore said with a laugh. “The women were fearless.” One of the stats illuminated by the webinar was that women make up the largest percentage of social media users since they were the earliest adopters, but that men were currently the fastest growing demographic now that social media has been shown (by women?) to have business value.

The webinar comprised data presented by Bold data analyst Caryn Morgan (administrator), The Protection Bureau central station manager Wanda Valenteen (moderator), Alarm Detection Systems’ director of marketing Cheryl Perez (LinkedIn panelist), Dice client services and head of marketing Melissa Courville (Facebook panelist), account executive for The Bold Group Jennifer Bruce (Twitter panelist), and Besore (Wiki panelist).

The webinar was section-headed by Quick Polls seeking data on who used each of the different social media tools being highlighted. Attendees responded in varying numbers and some questions allowed for more than one response. Charts of the poll results can be found at Security Systems News' monitoring-focused blog Monitor This! Asked if they used LinkedIn, 26 percent said “No,” four percent chose “Yes, for personal use,” 47 percent voted “Yes, for professional use,” and 23 percent chose “Yes, for both personal and professional use.” Attendees were equally responsive when questioned on Facebook, with 15 percent selecting “No,” 50 percent “Yes, for personal use,” three percent “Yes, for professional use,” and 32 percent “Yes, for both personal and professional use.” When asked about Twitter 40 percent of voters admitted “No,” they did not use Twitter, while 42 percent voted “Yes, for personal use.” Only 10 percent said, “Yes, for professional use,” while nine percent chose “Yes, for both personal and professional use.” The Quick Poll on wiki usage was a little different and allowed for multiple answers. There were 112 votes from 107 attendees, eight percent of whom admitted they’d “Never used a wiki.” Fifty-two percent of voters selected “Have used Wikipedia.” Twenty percent of the votes went to “Have used the CSAA wiki or others,” while 10 percent of voters voted for “Have used my company’s wiki.” Finally, 11 percent of voters said they “Have edited content on a wiki.”

Perez in her presentation on LinkedIn evangelized the social networking tool’s potential for leveraging tiered networks of business contacts. “LinkedIn gives others a better look at you and your business and allows you to build your brand. As your network grows you can connect with others that you otherwise may not have known,” Perez said. “Through tiered connections, your network will grow exponentially.”

Courville noted Facebook’s open, grass-roots ability to spread your brand awareness. “One of the best reasons to have a Facebook profile is that it can be indexed by search engine, allowing another way to investigate and review before making a commitment or connection. Use this tool to understand who loves your business—the supporters—and who does not—the critics—as well as the reasons why,” Courville said. “Find out what conversations are taking place. Facebook design allows for open discussion with updates and pictures that help humanize you and create familiarity with your product and company. Facebook is big for small business.”

Bruce, in her presentation on Twitter, admitted the micro-blogging site did get off to a rocky start. “Twitter has a lot of power if you know how to maximize it … When Twitter started to gain popularity a couple years ago, some people were tweeting useless updates like, ‘Going to get coffee,’ and nonsensical things about their day, and a lot of non-users got a really bad taste in their mouths,” Bruce said. “Since that time, people have really learned how to use it as a marketing and feedback tool and it has revolutionized their businesses.” Bruce also said Twitter’s main function should be as an engine to drive more traffic to your business’ web site.

SSN editor Sam Pfeifle addressed many of these same twitter pros and cons in a few extensive blog posts earlier this year.

Bruce made it clear one didn’t have to jump right into Twitter with both feet. “If you aren’t quite ready to plunge head first into Twitter, there are a lot of people who feel the same way, whether it’s because they’re concerned about privacy, not sure what to say, not sure how or why to use Twitter—if you’re not ready to do that, you don’t even need to have an account to look around,” Bruce said. “Just go to search.twitter.com and start typing in some key words. Look for your own company. Just look at what other people are saying in the industry … take a look at how they’re using Twitter and begin to gage how you might use Twitter for your business.”

Besore, in her presentation on wikis, noted that many large corporations had been using them for some time. Some of the big name wiki adopters included: Sony, Intel, Enel North America, IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, HTC, T-Mobile, eBay, and the U.S. government intelligence wiki Intellipedia. Besore referred to the wiki as one of the most successful online collaboration tools, and, as such, of paramount value to an industry concerned with sharing best practices. “Let’s say you want to document procedures for your alarm company. The old way was to send back and forth versions of documents, making it hard to manage and taking a long time, and if you had a lot of people involved, the process was even more cumbersome,” Besore said. “Now let’s look at collaborating the Web 2.0 way … A wiki is an online encyclopedia where anyone can go 24/7 to read and update information and where words can easily be linked to other pages.” Besore pointed out wikis have been around for over 16 years, the first—WikiWikiWeb—being created so computer programmers could share ideas and best practices.

Of the 109 attendees for Help or Hype, 48 took the exit poll when the webinar was over. Around 17 percent said they felt the presentation was “Excellent,” about 54 percent selected “Very Good,” around 27 percent said the thought the webinar was “Good,” and around two percent said the experience was “Fair.” Perhaps the most surprising stat from the exit poll was that when asked if they were likely to use a social media tool for the first time or endeavor to increase social media tool usage as part of their business model no voters selected “No”—in other words all those who voted were convinced to try for the first time or increase usage.

Safe Systems Inc. central station manager Ian Nelson found the experience increased his awareness of what social media tools could do. “The webinar prompted me to re-examine how I used what I considered to be professional resources, and made me change my mind on what I used to consider personal resources. I did use all of the tools prior to the presentations, but now I am updating more often, and considering professional applications for Facebook … and expanding what we do on Twitter,” Nelson said. “I found myself expanding my use of current tools; I went into LinkedIn the next day, posted some recommendations, expanded my profile, and invited quite a few people to connect. A resource I used just because I thought I should have a presence became something that I value more—I see more possibilities for interaction and productivity due to the webinar.”

CSAA is holding an ongoing follow up discussion to the webinar at its LinkedIn Group, and all webinar overheads and other AV material is available now or will be available soon at CSAA’s website.

CSAA plans to continue hosting free, educational webinars for members and non-members alike. The next installment will be on Tuesday, Mar. 30 at 2:00 p.m. ET and will be on the FTC’s Red Flag Rules.