Plugging into social media with Gail Horwood

Gail Horwood. Photograph by Sebastian Flores.

Gail Horwood is watching you – on social media, that is. 

Though for this Scarsdale native, it’s all in a day’s work.

As the worldwide vice president of digital strategy for Johnson & Johnson — the New Jersey-based medical, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged products corporation — it’s Horwood’s responsibility to connect with consumers and track trends, which is no easy task considering the some 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, 2.5 billion of whom are tapped into social networks.

“For me, this is not an alternative,” Horwood says. “It’s not either-or. You really need to engage in social media as a business. Why? Because the world is engaging in social media.”

According to Horwood, social media creates user-friendly avenues for companies to interact and engage in e-commerce with consumers. But in order to gain traction with their target demographic(s), companies must first understand their consumers’ unique needs and produce content that appeals to such. 

“We spend a lot of time trying to understand our consumers’ behavior,” she says. “So the people that buy from our brands:  What do they do, what do they need and what do they like to hear from our brands?”

And with this information, businesses produce relevant digital content — whether it be in the form of an article, video, photograph or graphic — and the consumer either bites, or doesn’t. But companies can use the content’s feedback to improve their existing presence.

For Johnson & Johnson, a company whose target demographic — mothers — spends more than 50 percent of media time on mobile devices, the “bite” occurs when users stop scrolling, because something caught their attention, even for just a few seconds.

“We call it ‘thumb-stopping content,’” Horwood says. “You really want people to take a minute, stop and think about what you’re doing.”

But not all content is created equal. Since each platform serves its own purpose, companies must tailor their messages appropriately.

“They’ve sort of evolved to have different use cases,” Horwood says of the different social media handles.

She describes the most ubiquitous networks, beginning with Facebook (1.79 billion active monthly users), which is associated with personal and familial matters, while LinkedIn (467 million members) is for business and Pinterest (150 million active monthly users) is for the home, as in recipe ideas, do-it-yourself projects and design inspiration. For the latest news updates, she personally turns to Twitter (313 million active monthly users) and for interacting with her favorite brands, she uses Instagram (500 million active monthly users).

“We really have to think about how to be creative to stay relevant in all those channels,” she says.

This is a challenge for businesses, which, regardless of the platform, have just seconds to catch consumers’ attention. And these precious seconds can mean the difference between a bite — gaining a customer and making a sale — or losing the opportunity to a competitor.

“Our job is to figure out what role our brand can play in social media,” Horwood says.

For example, compared to the traditional TV commercial, she says, which runs for approximately 15 to 20 seconds, the average Facebook video lasts only about six seconds. And most Facebook users watch videos with the sound off. 

Circumstances, such as these, require businesses to experiment with content — and creativity. 

But social media also breed competition by giving businesses of all sizes and success levels the opportunity to add their voices. Particularly when it comes to small businesses, however, both struggling and thriving alike, Horwood suggests getting connected — and fast.

“I think it’s important for any business to connect with consumers via social media,” she says. “It saddens me that some of the local businesses have had to wind down their business, because they can’t compete in this world…The challenge is they have to teach themselves how to use (social media).”

And one of the easiest ways to get started is by snapping a picture.

“Photos are so powerful online,” Horwood says. “Photos increase people’s interaction with content exponentially.”

But regardless of how or why social media is being used, Horwood always suggests taking a moment to think before you post.

“Social media takes away some barriers — obviously — and that’s a good thing and a bad thing,” she says. “I think if you wouldn’t be comfortable with screaming something in a crowded room, then you shouldn’t post it on social media.” 

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