Friday, February 26, 2010

Does Your Conference Need a Twitter Backchannel?

The headline in AdWeek yesterday said “Big Biz Embracing Twitter.” Seems reasonable to assume that people who work for big businesses, and small also, are Tweeting on behalf of themselves, their products and their companies—right? That makes Twitter a way of reaching B2B customers and prospects about subjects that are directly relevant to them and to their work.

That’s especially important in a world where trade show and conference attendance has become expensive and hard to justify in many companies. People who do attend want to get the most from it—both from the presentations themselves and from the networking that goes on before and after hours.

Enter the Twitter backchannel. I wrote some time ago about creating a Twitter archive, essentially for notes taken at a conference. Multiply that by all the conference attendees and you have a Twitter backchannel. According to a study by European academics, that’s a good thing not a distraction. Positive aspects include encouraging participation, community building and better sharing of information. Read the study for yourself; it’s interesting.

There are several stakeholders here; the audience certainly, the conference organizers, and the speakers. The latter are going to have to learn to present in a different environment!

First conference organizers:

• In order to use social media to promote your conference, you have to start early. It’s important to stimulate and organize conversation. Helpful activities at this point include posting questions and starting discussions on the corporate or conference LinkedIn and Facebook pages. This helps conference planners understand the expectations of attendees and better meet their needs.
A hashtag is essential. It is the key organizing tool for the Tweeting. Tweeting also needs to begin early. It should be the product of an identifiable individual, perhaps the conference organizer.
• Be sure your conference venue has the necessary infrastructure to support live Tweeting from the event. Maybe that should be the first step!
• Encourage attendees to Tweet during the conference, including presentations. That will drive unprepared presenters nuts; more about that in a minute.
• Follow all the rules of the social media world, being personable, open and transparent, and correcting any mistakes honestly and quickly. This is an imperfect world of human beings after all.
(1, 2, 3)

Conference presenters must be prepared for the live Tweet environment:

• Obviously you start with a well-crafted presentation that fits your audience. All the rules of good presentation—and much more—apply.
• Be prepared for both negative and positive Tweets. That’s life in the social media world.
• Understand whether there will be a live Twitterstream and how much control you have. Can you turn it off while you’re talking and just turn it back on for Q&A, for example?
• A moderator to keep up with the Twitterstream for you may be a good idea. Some speakers take a “Twitter break” and check the stream themselves.
• Respond to Tweets during the Q&A and learn from them after the event.

A disaster that’s quickly become a classic happened at last fall’s Web 2.0 Expo. Here’s a brief description of what happened and the speaker’s response. There’s a lot more, but you get the point. In order to avoid your own personal debacle, read a good set of tips or a detailed post by Olivia Mitchell; she covers preparation and management issues beautifully.

Let’s come full circle to the audience again. First, I can just hear conference organizers worrying that a Twitter backchannel will cut down on conference attendance. Nonsense. If a person has time and can afford it, he or she will attend the conference in person. But if the customer can’t attend, second-hand is better than nothing—much better if it’s well done. You are sharing the time and effort of the conference—and the expertise of your speakers—far beyond the physical auditorium. That has to be good for your brand—maybe even for your sales!

So engage your audience early and often. Make them active participants, not passive bystanders. Here are two great examples:

The South by Southwest Music & Media Conference is in high gear well in advance of its March 12 kickoff.

Since their beginning about a year ago, Twestivals have taken place around the globe. Twestival Global 2010 is building buzz and will soon announce the nonprofit beneficiary of this year’s event.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Do Facebook Ads Work?

I’ve always understood the conventional wisdom to be that ads on social networking sites like Facebook don’t work well. The reason given is that people go to social networks to network—communicate—and don’t pay attention to ads. Harry Gold of Overdrive Interactive mentioned in my class recently that they had purchased an ad on Facebook’s home page for Harley-Davidson, which has had great success on Facebook. That started me thinking. This chart makes the point that Facebook is now the third-largest site for display ads, so something is going on!

Facebook ads (except for major placements like the home page) work like Google’s AdWords. The advertiser creates ad content; selects targeting options; and sets budget, scheduling and payment parameters. The mechanics are the same; the targeting is completely different. The AdWords targeting that most of us are familiar with is by keyword (content). The basic targeting options on Facebook are demographic; everything from gender to birthday. There is a keyword filter that is based on items from the profiles of Facebook users. That’s different from the search-based keywords of Google but it’s an interesting possibility if you’re looking for, say, fans of a particular rock band. It’s self-service, so there’s a strong help page associated with the main advertising page.

Ok, it’s easy to set up a Facebook ad. Question is, do they work? The answer, of course, is partly dependent on your objectives.

It’s not arguable that a lot of people would have an opportunity to see an ad on Facebook. According to Inside Facebook’s analysis of site data for January 2010, “More than 108 million people are now using the site every month, up from nearly 103 million people before.” The absolute numbers can be disputed, but the trend has been relentlessly upward for a long time. The post has more information about the composition of the Facebook audience and growth segments. The stats are fascinating, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that Facebook is a broadcast network. The real possibility is microtargeting of ads.

Data from comScore, accessed on the Inspire Media blog, give some insights into the effectiveness question. All users were asked where they would be likely to notice advertising and User Generated Content sites ranked below both news and content sites and corporate sites. Another question, presented for the 18-34 age group, is very revealing. The type of sites that score highest by a large margin is music/ movies/ entertainment. Makes sense, doesn’t it? These Millennials want the opinions of their peers when it comes to use of their leisure time, something they find on the social networking sites, including Facebook. That should make them more receptive to advertising there for leisure activities. Note that consumer electronics, travel, and apparel also score relatively high on the “likely to notice” metric; I hypothesize that the reason is the same.

Noticing is nice—do they take action? Click Through Rates (CTR) are not high anywhere. One well-known marketer gives the average for Facebook as 0.01 – 0.05%. Search ‘Facebook CTR’ for a lot of anecdotal evidence that CTRs are low but can be impacted by strategy.

You also see the occasional story about finding motivated buyers on Facebook. Those are super-anecdotal, but you might find this case history on the Facebook advertising page instructive. Think about the product category and the ability to target, both by age and relationship. Again, it makes sense, but it’s also clear the Facebook ad was supported by an active lead management program.

So I’m back to my point about microtargeting. In a lead generation campaign (and that’s one of the obvious marketing objectives), the quality of the leads is more important than the quantity.

Reaching the right people with the right message is always important. Does Facebook advertising make sense for your product/service? Here are some links that may help you think about that question for businesses (1, 2), for small businesses, or for non-profits.

More recent posts on Facebook ad effectiveness:
Targeting Your Facebook Ads
Stronger Evidence that Facebook Ads Work

Friday, February 19, 2010

Developing a Metric for Engagement

For several years the topic of measuring engagement has been important to marketers and still is, according to the recent study quoted in eMarketer (newsletter, January 26, 2010). The most desirable metrics can be interpreted as engagement—with your website or with your ads. As the chart suggests, the state of the art is still single metrics. Here’s another example that's interesting both for content and for metrics; the level of engagement with social media in various countries by comScore late last year. They use time on site and number of pages as the key—and separate—metrics. It seems to me there’s a need for a multivariate measure of engagement. I’ve looked around and have found two different approaches.

Business Week has taken a variety of steps to increase engagement with its readers, including hiring an engagement editor. Here’s an interesting summary of what they have done; I don’t find an update so far in 2010. Most germane to my point, they have developed a proprietary User Engagement Index. Here’s how they describe it:

We developed a proprietary set of metrics to help us both track, and make us accountable for, our goal of being the business and financial site with the deepest and most meaningful engagement of its users. The index is the ratio of our outputs to the world (the stories and blog posts we publish) to the world's inputs to us (perspectives on stories and blog posts from readers as well as their guest columns.)

It makes sense to me and it is an approach any business could sit down, think about, and adapt to its own product category and situation.

If you want a ready-made solution, I found that also. Dutch metrics supplier Nedstat has an engagement solution that’s based on basic website metrics. Web Metrics Demystified recently did a good post, which included this graphic. There are two basic components to the Nedstat approach. First, the user develops her own engagement algorithm; that follows the Business Week example. Engagement is not the same for every product category, every website. Perhaps even more important, it’s going to differ on the basis of your own communications strategy—what you are doing to try to encourage customer engagement.
Second, Nedstat has a solution they call Live Segmentation that allows you to choose a customer segment and calculate the engagement index for that segment. Both the engagement algorithm and the segmentation choice are said to be easily varied as the marketer considers better metrics or strategy options. Aurelie Pols’ post rightly points out that you can do this with traditional web metrics, but it may be easier to work with a metrics company that can guide you through the process.

What it comes down to is interesting. If you are serious about measuring engagement, you need to construct your own multivariate metric. You can DIY or you can engage a consultancy. Either way, it’s going to take some thinking, some work.

Another object lesson reinforcing the fact that none of this is easy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does Your Brand Need a Platform?

Writing about the SuperBowl, I mentioned the term ‘platform.’ I recognized it as the multiple communications channels I’ve been talking about for a long time. It seems crystal clear to me that various segments of customers rely on various (also multiple) communications chanels. It’s also obvious that we miss a lot of the communications that marketers target toward us; doesn’t matter whether the channel is direct mail or Twitter!

What I realized is that a platform is more than just multiple channels. Harry Gold’s slide captures it perfectly; it’s the complete set of channels that reach your target audience, yes. But the channels are connected, with a lot of the connections (integration?) being automated.

It would really be nice to know for specific target audiences, which and how many social networks they belong too. Most of us would say we belong to several; how many is that and which specific ones? That’s hard to answer even for generic segments. I did find a 2008 study of wealthy consumers who said they belonged to 2.8 networks each. Given that they are probably older than the population average, that may be a surprise to some. It shouldn’t be. According to a study of Google AdPlanner data by Pingdom, “A full 25% of the users on these sites (19 by my count) are aged 35 to 44, which in other words is the age group that dominates the social media sphere.” Interesting, but doesn’t answer my basic question.

There are two issues, though, that I think can be generally accepted:

• There are multiple networks that appeal to a specific target audience; Twitter and LinkedIn for business people, for example.
• A lot of users don’t see all the communications that pass through any given network. If you use Twitter, think about it; in a given 24-hour period, how many of the Tweets that are sent to your account do you actually see?

Point is, we have to get our message out through multiple channels multiple times to have a fighting chance to have it seen, much less acted on.

So as you look at Harry’s chart, ask yourself:

• Which channels are important to our target audience?
• What kind of content is most relevant to each? Videos for YouTube, content-heavy posts for blogs, and 140 character Tweets are some of the obvious.
• How should we connect the relevant channels? Even better, how can we automate the connections between them (this post goes automatically to Twitter, for example) to save the mindless and error-prone activity of reposting?

Connect them and you have a platform!

Two things I’ve learned:

• It’s not always as easy as it sounds; some of the feeds that make the connections automatic are easy. Others will require help from IT.
• Connecting the various networks doesn’t eliminate the necessity of an acquisition strategy—for fans, followers, whatever you think is the best entry point.

Marketers are still going to have to work at it, but a platform makes both strategic and practical sense!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Collaborating with Customers - B2C and B2B

Step 1 - Listen
Step 2 - Respond
Step 3 - Engage

I’m ready to write a post about the 4th step in the revised social media strategy development model. The old model called it CoCreate. This one uses the term Collaborate. Collaborate maybe sounds a little less formidable, a little easier to do. The more I’ve thought about that, the more I’ve realized it’s just not so. It’s really hard. Sometimes it seems impossible. I’m going to explain why by using recent data on Forrester’s Social Technographics data and add some insights I’ve derived, virtually all from mistakes I’ve made.

I’ve written about the Technographics ladder before, because it’s a real asset to understanding what’s going on in this space. With the 2009 data, they’ve added a new rung on the ladder. It’s called “Conversationalists” and it primarily reflects the influence of Twitter on the social media scene. Obviously these categories are not mutually exclusive; most of us fall into one category at some point, or in connection with some brand, and into another category in a different situation. That’s life. But what is key to understanding the difficulty of encouraging collaboration--of getting customers to create content-- is the size of the Spectators segment; 70% of consumers fall into that segment at least part of the time. Add to that the next step on the ladder. Joiners aren’t cocreators; they have a profile, but beyond that they are consumers, just like Spectators. In fact, it’s not until you get up to the Critics and the new Conversationalists that you get content creation, from ratings to status updates to Tweets. Those are fine and increasingly important to marketers. However, it’s only a small part of the online population that creates content that generally goes beyond 140 characters!

Looking at the total population is, of course, useful. But it’s not your target market. I found a good example in the B2B space. I used Forrester’s profile tool (which doesn’t yet have the Conversationalists), just set for the entire B2B market. I got a profile that’s not hugely different from the consumer population profile, which isn’t particularly surprising because these activities carry over from our private lives to our business lives—and vice versa.

Josh Berman fortunately published a more detailed example in early 09, also based on their survey of business buyers. I’m including the chart with his commentary, which just deals with the “overall” and “for business purposes” categories on the right. Virtually everyone in the B2B space falls into the Spectator category—that’s a critical insight. 69% of them are doing so for business purposes, and in the blue bars you’ll notice that is not really different for IT managers and managers in a line of business who make technology decisions. A few more of these business decision makers fall into the active categories of Critics and Creators. That gives them an opportunity to be influentials in their business discipline.

And that begins to get to my points. I would suggest that:
• It’s really hard for a brand to get people to contribute if they already do not. You can—and should work on it—invite people to write reviews, for example. In the consumer space, it’s relatively easy to reward people for doing it; loyalty points are an interesting consideration. Incentives are always useful, and you may be able to find useful incentives in B2B as well as B2C.
• Once you identify customers who are taking the “baby steps” of, say, writing reviews, can you encourage them to do more? Whether it’s a blog comment or a wiki contribution, it’s a good step. Business customers love to give their opinions and ideas as sites like Dell’s IdeaStorm demonstrate, so it may be easier to give them an opportunity and let them go to it.
• All the chicklets that are encouraging us to Tweet or Digg content items are trying to get people to be more active in the conversation arena, and it’s worth making it easy to do. I’m not sure how much it contributes to a feeling of collaboration, but it’s great additional visibility. It might even create a customer perception of supporting the brand over time.
• Can you encourage customers to become Creators? All the B2C video contests like “Help Flo” are an example that you can. And those will probably continue to work well in the B2C space as long as you have a creative campaign.
B2B seems to offer a lot of opportunities to help customers become thought leaders. It’s the standard “speak at the conference” appeal. Now that can be expanded to blogs and other content repositories. That clearly leads to a feeling of being valued and I don’t see how it can do anything but strengthen the relationship between brand and customer.

I see two key take-aways in this. First, you can’t easily get people to participate in activities they aren’t already familiar with. If you have a target audience that’s pretty much Spectator-only, don’t try to make them Creators overnight. It’s just not going to happen.

Second, the marketing practice of trying to locate the opinion leaders (influentials) has come into its own. Customers are self-identifying by their blogs and other online creations. Find them and reach out to them. The case of the Coke fan page has become the classic case of doing just that. Your outreach may not always have such spectacular results, but it will be worthwhile. It just takes the patience and persistence that’s mandatory in the social media space!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Guest Post from the 'Crazy Customer on Phone'

It never ceases to amaze me how stupid people in positions of authority can be when it comes to email and customer service. Personally, I like to correspond with both my own customers, and my vendors, via email where possible. Every business talks about its great service, but usually email isn’t the venue where it occurs.

When it comes to banks, this holds true as well. I went through 6 people last Friday when calling about a $148 overdraft fee I didn’t deserve (My corporate account was not negative at any point). If you’ve ever tried to fight a bank over an overdraft fee, you know how unpleasant the whole thing is. I finally ended up speaking to a branch manager at the next branch over, who assured me things would be resolved and he’d get back to me via email. He didn’t. So I called him and got his voicemail. Yesterday morning, I received the email from the attached screenshot. I’ve redacted the bank name and details, but this was a superregional bank, with no branches here in MA. So, I responded asking about the $400 that had since accrued to my account as a result of the first $148.

I got no response so I called the manager this morning at 9am. He claimed to know nothing about calling me crazy, so I told him to check his email. While he was doing that he asked me, “Exactly, what is it that you want?” An intelligent manager apparently…what did he think I wanted? So I told him I wanted my money back. He must’ve found the email at this point because his whole tone changed and he apologized profusely for calling me crazy, and then came up with this thing about submitting my account to customer service to be reviewed. Within 30 seconds of hanging up the phone with him, I checked my account online and every single fee was reversed. Imagine that!

While we all know that customers are not always right (even though I was in this case), we do know that they are the customer and should be treated with respect, no matter how badly they may be treating you. And you never, EVER, write anything negative about them, especially in an email! The manager who sent the email to me was clearly not the person it originated with, nor was the person before him. I suspect it may have come from the customer service manager at the branch who I had spoken with, but I have no proof. Even with the entire contents of the email chain being erased, all it takes is one negative subject line, or a careless “forward” to the client, and a major situation has occurred. And to make matters worse, this was my corporate checking account.

So, for any marketers and executives reading this:
1) Proofread your emails before you send them, and
2) Don’t write negatively about your customers, EVER!

Ed. Note: Some stories just need to be told, so I asked Rob Torte to tell this one. We've taken out the names to protect the guilty, but that doesn't blunt his point. Treat your customers with respect! Or pay the price in poor customer experience!! Thanks for sharing this with us, Rob.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Engaging With Customers

So far we’ve talked about how to listen to our customers and how (and whether) to respond. The next step I suggested in an abbreviated strategy development process is to engage. This is hardly a new subject; I found some good case examples not long ago.

Since I believe it’s important to have a common understanding of what we’re talking about, I searched “definition of customer engagement.” I got 150,000 hits, pretty much what I was expecting. The Advertising Research Foundation’s 2006 definition is widely accepted; here is a good article with an elaboration of the definition. The common thread in the subset of the 150,000 definitions I read is that we want to encourage interaction with our customers—real give and take that adds value to the customer’s brand-related experience.

A recent publication from Alterian quotes some statistics. Note particularly the second one. Customer service experts have long known that resolving a problem for a customer can make that person more loyal than the person who has never experienced a problem. It also supports my hypothesis that the customer experience concept--if it did not grow out of what we know about customer service management--is at least a first cousin. Contemplate the steps recommended by the Opinion Research Corporation. They say the goal is a differentiated customer experience. The strategic questions are:

1. How well do our employees deliver on our brand promise?
2. What are our customer’s expectations of experiences with our organization?
3. What is the gap between our brand promise and the customer experience/customer
4. How consistent is the delivery of our brand promise across all channels of
customer interaction?
5. What are we doing to deliver a differentiated experience from that of our
competition, and/or in comparison to other non-competitive organizations?
6. How is all of this information utilized by our organization to close the gap between
the promise and the experience to ultimately enhance the overall customer experience?

The focus on brand promise is the unifying theme—the one marketers want to embed in all communications channels, at all customer touchpoints. While this makes sense to me, it’s more operations focused than interaction focused. Getting customers to interact with us seems to be the goal; it’s not enough that they just go away satisfied.

Let me give you two quick examples. I went shopping over the weekend. I had a few staples to pick up at Macy’s; of course that led to browsing other departments and, of course, that led to buying some stuff that I only needed marginally, if at all. But I was having fun. Sales associates were being nice to me; two of them stretched the definition of “red” to give me the discount for the “Go Red” AHA promotion (note more cause-related marketing here). One associate wrote her name on the register receipt and encouraged me to evaluate my experience. I got good service everywhere I went, so I did write a review when I got home. I thought that would be the end of it, but a couple of days later I got a thank-you email from Macy’s. It’s nice to be thanked and I was interested to see my review was being forwarded to the local store. Too bad they had to spoil it with a lame subject line! But overall good try.
The second is what’s becoming the ubiquitous video contest. This one does seem to tie in well with the brand promise. You probably know Flo, the terminally perky sales rep who sells insurance “packages” for Progressive on TV. Now, apparently, Flo needs help! You can send in a video in a contest for a live tryout, presumably for a lucrative ad contract. You can watch the “tryouts” but I don’t see that viewers get a vote. They certainly are encouraged to “share.” Progressive is clearly serious about it; there have been two days of tryouts in New York already and they are taking the road show to Miami next week. The program, of course, has a Facebook page and is being promoted by Tweets from the Progressive account. As I said, these contests are becoming ubiquitous, but when the campaign needs refreshing can you think of anything better???

Macy’s tried, and I did appreciate being thanked. However, there was no real encouragement to try to get me to interact further. I do expect to get more emails though! Progressive will probably come up with another cute spokesperson—is “young” part of the strategy, I wonder? And what will they do to ensure that all the contestants go away happy, if not richer? And will they use the entries to build any kind of relationship? Keep an eye out.

And if you ever believed in “build it and they will come” forget that now. It all takes persistent effort. That’s what builds a social media strategy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

My Last Take on Super Bowl XLIV

You’ll see a lot of analysis of what took place on the Internet before, during and after the game. Watch for things like maps of the Twitter traffic, perhaps some Facebook traffic stats, and perhaps some on social network activity.

I watched on TV so I could concentrate on the ads, which I always enjoy. Maybe I missed a lot of what was going on, but I didn’t see much in the advertising that was directly related to websites and social media. Yes, they had their website and Facebook URLs, but that was about it. Maybe what I should have done is watch on the Internet; there were apparently several sites streaming it live. I like this one; it not only accessed the Super Bowl, it accessed the Puppy Bowl. Something for everyone, as I said last week! Thinking back to watching the Inauguration online, I saw a lot of things going on, but I was watching that on my Facebook page. The channel you use may have a lot to do with what you see, which I think is the essence of targeting.

If you want to review ads or vote for your favorites, there are many places to do that. As part of good coverage by Ad Age, Bob Garfield opines that most marketers should have stayed home. His ad-by-ad commentary is always thought-provoking, whether you agree or not. I like Garfield because he’s a curmudgeon, but even more because he focuses on whether customer benefits or key selling propositions are communicated. He’s right that advertising basics tend to get lost in the hoo-ha surrounding the Super Bowl.

I thought the actual chicken ad (Denny’s) was cute. What’s more important is that they are getting lots of mileage beyond the ad with the contest. They are also able to paint themselves as community-friendly in a time that’s economically difficult for many people. Or you can buy a chicken t-shirt What’s not working there?

I also checked out Intel, another of my long-time favorite advertisers. They’ve been at it for a long time and they know how to do TV, whether you liked Jeffry the Robot last night or not. There’s not much for them to say on their website except “watch it again,” which is exactly what they are doing. Their Facebook page is lively and had Super Bowl related posts yesterday, but they’re pretty much on to other issues today; the page is pretty busy this morning. Their Twitter page was lively yesterday with posts to point their followers to “geek humor” sorts of issues related to their ads. It’s pretty quiet this morning, which may suggest something about the way they use the two channels.

Let me close with two related issues. First, Pepsi again. The Ad Age coverage has an article about the Pepsi Refresh program, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. They quote Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi as saying Pepsi has shifted almost one-third of its budget to interactive and social media. That’s as big news as their skipping the Super Bowl in the first place.

Second, comScore recently reported that nearly 178 million US Internet users viewed over 33 billion videos were viewed in December. So don’t roll your eyes because Intel posted its ad on its website; people watch those, they watch on Facebook, and, of course, they watch on Facebook. So, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t entirely visible to the TV game viewer, savvy advertisers distribute their content widely. From what I saw on Facebook, I’ll bet Intel with be giving out little Jeffry the Robots at the next big IT conference! The work continues to be “integration” whether you’re talking about the rarified atmosphere of the Super Bowl or everyday communications.

And congratulations to the Saints—and to the wonderful city of New Orleans, which deserves all the good vibes it can get!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Marketers Prep for Super Bowl XLIV

The Friday before THE BIG GAME always brings bloggers out in force. Just as in the game itself, there are two opposing forces. One is the group who care about the football game; the other is the group who care about the ads. I count myself a member of the latter!

So here’s an update to what I wrote earlier about Super Bowl ads and Pepsi substituting a social media program. Coke has 3 ads; I thought one of them was going to be pushing their Expedition 206 program. Apparently not; it appears they are trying to get more fans on their Facebook page—as if they need them. There is apparently going to be a Living Positively theme to the ads and the charitable tie-in. Read about Coke's social media program (including the video about how Coke’s top-ranking page came about) on another recent post.

Animals seem to be big again this year. What’s even more interesting is the number of teaser ads that have been released (see some of them here)—that’s part of the traditional practice of building buzz before the game itself. Ads themselves will certainly be posted on YouTube and other sites during and after the game.

Read all about it in Ad Age’s special section. The one that interested me most was the article about marketers moving to ‘platforms’ and Garrick Schmitt describes some interesting ones. I prefer the explanation that Harry Gold of Overdrive Interactive gave in my class last night. It’s all the channels marketers are using to reach out to audiences—and more. Your blog has to integrate with your Facebook which has to interact with your Twitter—and on and on. These interconnected channels are the ways marketers “broadcast” these days; they are just on the web, not on the tube. Except maybe on Super Bowl day!

Not a football fan? I’m sure you’ll find counter programming. Ad Age had an article about the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. I checked some of the other usual suspects and didn’t find anything interesting—perhaps they don’t have a schedule that’s as easily searchable as Animal Planet’s! Note that the Subaru ad for the Puppy Bowl also has a charitable tie in. That’s social media in action also!

In other words, it’s a BIG DAY—for football, and also for social media. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Importance of Social Media Policies

One of the annoyances of writing a blog is how often you see content the very next day that adds to what you just posted. Usually I just hope people will see it. But this one is so timely and so important it deserves its own post.

This Marketing Charts post from yesterday was in my inbox today. It headlines two important issues:

1. Formal social network policies are important for employers
2. 75% of the employers recently surveyed by Manpower do not have a social network policy

The Manpower report quotes statistics that attribute lost productivity to employee use of social networks at work. True, some of it is undoubtedly totally frivolous. But employee participation in social nets can also be a brand building activity—think Zappos as only one example of many. I gave links to guidelines from ESPN and Cisco yesterday.

The Manpower report acknowledges that workplace use of social nets can add value in the following areas:
• Productivity
• Collaboration
• Knowledge Management
• Innovation
• Employee Alignment and Engagement
• Recruitment
• Reputation Management.

This seems to be especially true if the firm has a substantial number of relatively young employees who are comfortable with social nets (or wants to be attractive to younger workers). I would argue that all companies need, as suggested yesterday, a crisis management plan that includes social nets. Toyota is the cause célèbre at the moment. I heard strategy guru Jeffry Sonnenfeld critize Toyota’s total lack of engagement with the auto blogosphere on CNBC this morning. Newsweek agrees and has recommendations.

This isn’t really a new thought, is it? If companies have thoughtful strategies and policies to implement them, they often navigate choppy waters reasonably well. If they don’t, something always jumps up to bite them. It may be customer complaints, it may be a product quality problem, it may be an environmental crisis, and many more. But stuff happens, and being prepared with employees who have social media skills and policies to guide them is one step in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Responding in Social Media

For quite awhile I’ve been using a conceptualization of social media with 5 steps:

Listen > Speak > Engage > Support > Cocreate

Recently I’ve noticed conceptualizations that have these three elements
• Listen
• Respond
• Engage
They aren’t necessarily in this order (although Listen is always first—always!) and some have an additional element; I’m going to call it
• Collaborate. That covers working with both B2B and B2C customers in way that is supportive and that encourages them to add their own content. It gives me a more concise strategy concept to work through over the next week or so, starting with the two listening posts on Friday and Monday. All are issues I’ve written about before; all need updating.

The other thing that occurs to me as I’ve read through posts and articles is that there may be a discernable difference in the terms that public relations and marketing practitioners use in talking about responding. There is the true crisis situation, for which PR needs to have a plan in place. I’m talking about responding in a marketing sense—responding to everyday brand-related conversations. Some of them are positive, some may be negative. Some can spiral into a real crisis or at least a black eye for the brand. Such was the ill-conceived Motrin ad last fall. Frederic Lardinois, writing on ReadWriteWeb, points out that Motrin bowed to a vocal minority and removed the ad, ignoring whether it was offensive to a majority of their target audience and not engaging with that audience on the web. See the ad on the RWW link (or many other places!) and judge the ad for yourself. RWW points out that the brand response was a press release. I’ll have to take their word for it; I can’t find it on either the Motrin site or the McNeil Pharmaceuticals site. That’s a really effective response, right??? Sounds to me as if they were embarrassed and trying to forget all about it!

So how should you go about responding to everyday conversations? I found this chart by Laura Bergells that really squares with my own experience. I’ve come to think of it as ‘social media triage’ and someone (or a team) has to be responsible for responding. Unless it’s an assigned responsibility issues are likely to fall through the cracks. Of course, that assumes that the business saw it in the first place—is your listening operation well honed?

My own experience says:

• Deciding whether it’s positive or negative is the essential first step. That’s usually easy, although sometimes you may not be entirely sure and have to keep watching that specific line of conversation to be sure.
o If it’s positive, seriously consider saying “thank you.” All of us get thanked too infrequently, and it’s just nice. Beyond that, it may start a useful conversation.

• If it’s negative, there’s a consideration that a lot of people don’t think carefully about. Does it really need to be answered? Laura Bergells calls them ‘trolls;’ I have some other names for them; ‘boneheads’ is the nicest. They are actually rather easy to identify. What they say often doesn’t make sense and it is borderline, if at all, relevant. They tend to be ‘serial commenters’ either on a specific subject or just for their own entertainment. You may have to follow comment feeds for awhile to be sure. But no one takes them seriously—you shouldn’t either. They will quickly move on to something else or they will get entangled in arguments with other commenters. Either way, stay out of it.

• If it’s a factual error, you need to fix it, politely but immediately. Do you need internal experts you can call on to ensure the accuracy of your facts? If so, make sure they are lined up before the need arises.

• If customers are reporting a negative experience with your brand, you need to respond in a way that resolves the issue. That simply goes back to good customer service—apologize, take ownership of the problem, fix it, or at least explain why you cannot provide a perfect remedy. People are the angriest if they are ignored. Saying you are sorry, offering whatever restitution is appropriate, goes a long way.

Some of this is policy. I like Fresh Networks posts on writing your social media policy. Here’s an interesting post about an experience ESPN had that includes their policy. I recently ran across a discussion of Cisco’s social media policy; this appears to be the current posting.

The very existence of those policies suggests a tension in the way social media is handled by organizations. On one hand, certain people must have clear responsibilities for things like monitoring brand-related conversation. On the other hand, everyone in the organization should consider social media part of their job description. (Does that remind you of discussions of “customer orientation” in Marketing 101? It should!) In fact, a lot of communities rely heavily on members for monitoring; they can be an excellent early warning system. How do you keep these roles straight?

I come back to a simple rule from customer service. Everyone in the firm must be concerned about the customer; not everyone is a good customer service rep. As long as we’re talking about training and internal organization, that’s controllable. In today’s brave new world of social media a lot of that control has flown out the window. That’s why companies must have not only social media strategies, but policies about how they deal with customer conversations and the participation and response of their employees!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Strategy for Effective Listening

On Friday I wrote about the importance of listening to brand-related conversations on the web. It’s an important source of information these days. It’s also a potential source of qualitative data.

The problems with thinking of web conversations as data are twofold:
1. There is so much of it
2. It is qualitative.
A lot of us use Google Alerts to manage our own personal brands or brands with limited reach. Google Alerts are great, but if there’s a lot of conversation taking place, it quickly becomes unmanageable. I’m also not smart enough to filter what comes in so I only get the specific types of items that I’m looking for. Google Alerts picks up items that have a URL but in order to monitor microblogs and other social media conversation you have to use different services.

I’ve tried Social Mention in the past. I used a rather generic search string and I was inundated. That tends to cause the user to just give up and cancel the alert. Fortunately, cancelling them is easy, so you shouldn’t hesitate to give it a try. I just set up another one on Social Mention with a very specific search string. It immediately sent me an email to catch me up on what I think was the last month’s activity and the first dozen or so entries (of 28 for this specific, local issue) were spot on.

When there’s a problem web entrepreneurs arrive to try to solve it. I wrote about Techrigy last summer as a social media metrics service. Obviously, in order to produce the types of social media metrics described in the post it has to collect social media data. That huge database made it attractive to a larger firm and Techrig recently became part of Alterian. According to the site, the SM2 monitoring product continues to grow in line with the ecosystem it monitors.

What really interested me on Friday, though, was a firm called Clarabridge. They describe themselves as providing data for customer experience management, another recent subject. They do it by content mining. Data mining for quantitative data; content mining for qualitative data—concept makes sense, doesn’t it?

The relationship is that Clarabridge uses the Techrigy database of social media activity and puts its proprietary content mining algorithm on top of it to produce actionable insights in various aspects of marketing operations.

And that’s my point. Every business needs a listening strategy. Start small, say with Google Alerts. If that works for you, fine. But you also need to be monitoring social media and that requires another service. If the volume is high, you will need more help.

But that’s not all you need. This is a lot of effort; it’s going to require some resources. That means you must have a thoughtful listening strategy. Jeremiah Owyang outlines 8 Stages of Listening. We all must be progressing through those stages as our needs and our resources allow.