Body_QAedgazarian.jpgby Sherron Lumley.

Ed Gazarian is a native of Boston, a graduate of Northeastern University and Harvard, who works for Pandemic Labs in Boston, one of the oldest social media marketing and analytics agencies in the U.S.  He took some time to talk with writer Sherron Lumley about what’s new in social media and the first steps a small business can take when creating a social media strategy.

SL: Tell me about the business of Pandemic Labs. 

EG: Pandemic is a 100-percent social media agency; we are not in print media at all. We’re all about customizing for actual customer needs. Rather than be tied to a specific set of platforms or technologies, we're an agency committed to the notion that marketing is a dialogue, not a monologue. Our client roster runs the gamut from top-tier luxury brands (The Ritz-Carlton), to global retail chains (Au Bon Pain), and to regional groups (Fairmont Parks Art Association and The Roaming Boomers). We've also run campaigns with Dunkin' Donuts, Puma, Canon, and DIRECTV.

SL: What are the basic social media steps that you advise your clients to take today?

EG: First, identify whom you want to communicate with. Based on who a brand wants to engage, the platforms, technologies and strategies we deploy will vary drastically from client to client. Knowing your audience is the absolute first step.

Next, figure out where those people are. If it's Facebook, you know that's a crucial part of your overall strategy. If your consumers are more active on something like LinkedIn, or social media's latest darling—Pinterest—then focus your efforts there. There's enough demographic info about the major channels out there, to make an informed decision about which channels to operate on. Depending upon what platforms you choose, your methods of engagement will differ. Understand that you will have to commit some time—and money—to these endeavors.

The last of these basic steps is identifying metrics of success. Yours will not be the same as those of other brands operating on the same platforms. Don't get bogged down in things like "The Top 3 Metrics In Social Media"—lists like that are a dime a dozen. Don't be dazzled by 'The Next Big Thing'—does anyone still think Google+ is at all relevant? You know your brand, and you know who you want to go after. Be thoughtful in how you define what success means for you.

PQ_QAedgazarian.jpgSL: How has this changed in the last few years?

EG: Mobile and touch-based technology are easily the biggest game changers over the past few years. The ubiquity of devices like the iPhone, iPad, and their ilk have made social media campaigns based on these things extremely easy—and extremely cost-effective—to deploy on a large scale. Foursquare is a great example of this.

SL: Why is online marketing important today and looking forward?

EG: People are increasingly connected through social channels like Facebook and Twitter. We know, both anecdotally and through vigorous research, that people's purchase decisions are more significantly influenced by recommendations/reviews/suggestions from their personal connections, than by any brand messaging. This is never going to change. Brands that capitalize on that fact through active engagement on social channels will reap the rewards.

SL: What are some examples of niche areas or groups in social media marketing?

EG: The B2B crowd is definitely one. In the small businesses world—from mom & pop storefronts, to local restaurants, and even 15 to 20-person niche service firms—opportunities abound. Just about every eatery near our office participates in some form of social campaign, such as group buying (through services like Groupon or LivingSocial), and they've enjoyed success using those channels.

SL: What are the benefits of targeting small audiences in social media?

EG: The more detailed you get, the more effectively you can tailor things, from the images and copy used in a Facebook ad, to strategically timing your tweets, to the text used in your Tumblr posts. The next evolution of this would be identifying your most engaged audience members. Solutions like Offerpop and Foursquare give small brands a way to compete with the Coca-Colas of the world, without being priced out of the market.

If you're a local clothing designer with a single storefront, and you want to spread the word about your label to women around 35 years old, that live near your city, and that are interested in fashion—then there are channels (like Pinterest and Instagram) that are uniquely suited to that demographic. The people are already there, and the conversation already exists. Your job—and what will set you apart from the novices—is to find the relevant conversation, and take part in it. Anytime you can mix the value of in-person communication with the reach of social media, that's a win.