Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to Make Your Inbound Marketing Work

Ed Note: We've had many great speakers in this spring's Social Media Marketing course. I've blogged about some of their messages. Jeff Dunn, who in his other life is the Web Coordinator at Harvard Law School, did such a good job with this one I asked permission to post a shortened version. You can see the full post on his blog.

Dharmesh Shah (@dharmesh, VentureBeat, LinkedIn, Amazon) is a whirlwind speaker with an obvious love for what he does. Despite Dharmesh’s claim that he is not a gifted speaker or marketer, his presentation in our social media marketing class was fantastic. His body language may have shown that he was a bit uncomfortable (holding an arm behind his back while staring at the ground) but his language and presentation zoomed along at a frenetic pace. I found myself scribbling keywords and shorthand notes just to keep up with the great wisdom that was being imparted upon me and the rest of the class. A self-proclaimed “hackpreneur,” Dharmesh (I use his first name because I feel comfortable doing so after his friendly presentation) says he has earned this title because he stays up late at night (often until 2am or so) writing code and wearing his Chief Technology Officer hat for HubSpot. He is also the co-founder of HubSpot, thus the entrepreneur part of his “hackpreneur” title.

“Everyone and every business should blog.”

Dharmesh had some great nuggets of information that rang true as I thought about them after the presentation. I was far too busy trying to scribble down these gems and didn’t have enough time to digest them. When discussing who should blog, it was clear who Dharmesh thinks should take part. I agree with the caveat that everyone should be willing to put in the effort to have a relatively steady stream of useful content. Thanks to the latest web technologies, you can start a blog and have it filled with gossip and pictures in under a few minutes. (Visit to see how!)

“Talk about the industry’s issues, not your solution.”

I really love this one. There are too many websites out there devoted to their own personal fix for their specific industry’s problems. If you want to really have a site that gets traction by engaging your audience in something they can also participate in. You’re not going to get a very engaged audience if you offer your solution for something without giving others a chance to offer their solution as well.

“Non-profits should be benefiting from causes, not for-profits!”

This is a sad-but-true quote we really enjoyed. It’s hard to deny that companies like Starbucks have really had a bigger impact on raising funds for charities and causes. I understand that this is because companies typically have more infrastructure (financial and personnel) to make these types of campaigns actually work, but the Internet is supposedly leveling the playing field for everyone. Let’s hope causes and charities can come up with some more interactive and viral (we hate that term viral but it applies here) campaigns that generate some real interest.

“Measure what works, what doesn’t, then double down.”

This one’s pretty self-explanatory and deserves to be put in super duper bold letters here. Being successful in marketing, especially social media marketing, is all about taking risks and figuring out what works. When you don’t do both of these things, you’re destined for failure. While it’s very hard to measure what works, there are ways. In fact, HubSpot has so many Graders like TwitterGrader and WebsiteGrader, they’re already on the bleeding edge of figuring out how to measure what works and what does not.

“Remove the friction in marketing.”

Making it easy for someone to actually purchase stuff, sign up for something, or just take part in any way is something that would seem like a no brainer. Sadly, it’s not. Many places spend all their time and effort raising interest in their website…only to find users get confused and leave the site, never to return.

“Kittens always work.”

Dharmesh’s presentation featured slides with interesting images and very little text on the screen. This is my favorite style of creating presentations since it allows the audience to focus on what you’re saying, not reading tiny print on a screen. No one remembers the fine print anyway. Dharmesh’s presentation had a picture of a kitten and it got a bit of laughter…to which Dharmesh replied that kittens always work. Everyone seems to love them and have the same reaction to them.

“Even normal people use Twitter now.”

In its infancy (just a couple years ago), Twitter was a way for a small number of people to micro-blog. It has slowly been able to begin shedding this reputation after it got embraced by celebrities and Facebook users. Facebook went through a similar reputation issue but has now actually been embraced by middle-aged women (another point brought up by Dharmesh). So when asked if its worth using Twitter, you can simply reply using Dharmesh’s words: even normal people use Twitter. He even has the proof over at HubSpot. Dharmesh says that Twitter has been delivering “real dollars into the door.”

“It’s not about the number of followers. It’s about having people who listen. I’d rather have 50 active people than 5,000 deaf followers.”

I absolutely agree. A couple years ago, I started the @Harvard_Law Twitter account (it has a 99.8 Twitter Grader ranking) with a very small but attentive audience. The non-academic world seemed to be clamoring for any news about what’s happening inside the walls of Harvard. The follower count for the account was not enormous, still isn’t, but it’s obtained a very attentive and vocal following who are happy to @mention, DM, or retweet any question or update posted on the account. Dharmesh has a great point and it’s not an easy task to cultivate a high quality following. It happens over time. It took nearly a year and a half to develop a devoted fan base for me.

“Tweet and retweet from 1pm to 5pm”

HubSpot is all about data. They have examined the best times to tweet something and have it noticed. That time period is any weekday from 1pm to 5pm. That’s why this post was published around 2pm on a Monday, one of the busiest times on the Internet. People seem to be bored at work or just back from lunch, not ready to embrace the week.

“The more you tweet about yourself, the less others will.”

If Ashton Kutcher weren’t a celebrity, would anyone be following him? Dharmesh makes a great point that, from a marketing perspective, it’s all about engaging the audience. It’s hard to feel engaged when someone is tweeting about something you can’t relate to. If, instead, that person were writing about their passion for a broader subject, it’s more likely to engage followers. I personally think people need to stick with their preferred style of tweeting since followers will notice if your style has changed. Just ask @ComcastCares, the account who people revolted against when the main administrator went on vacation and put someone else in charge!

“When you’re getting star talent, you’re renting not buying.”

Dharmesh understands the world of obtaining the best and brightest for his business. There are so many options in the world of technology that it is very hard to make someone’s job everything they could ever want. Dharmesh elaborated on this point, saying that “nothing is forever” and that it’s important to keep in mind who owns what when it comes to employees. For example, does HubSpot own an employee’s personal Twitter account? Of course not. Was it used to promote HubSpot? Probably. It’s a tricky situation and not something to ignore.

“Google Buzz was a data play to head off Facebook.”

It really doesn’t matter if Google Buzz overtakes Facebook. It will probably never happen. The reason Google introduced Buzz was so they could get at the tremendous amount of data currently hidden behind Facebook’s server walls. This way, Google can get a taste of what their users are doing socially and not just on GMail, Docs, etc.

I enjoyed Dharmesh’s presentation and was so amped afterwards that I posted a job listing I would have loved to apply to. I am happily employed and doing this blog in my spare time (not much these days!). If you’re interested in working for someone like Dharmesh, check out the posting. In the meantime, there is a lot of info out there about Dharmesh, HubSpot, and social media. Happy surfing!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hashtags for Collaboration

At the recent Pearson CiTE 2010 conference (#cite2010) I heard about an interesting use of the Twitter hashtag to foster collaboration.

The conference attracts K-12 teachers; college teachers, especially distance learning instructors; and IT and other administrators. Pearson sponsors the conference to showcase its elearning platforms. It attracts topnotch speakers and an interesting and varied set of attendees.

One conversation was particularly intriguing. There are several hashtags favored by K-12 teachers but #educhat has become more than just a hashtag. It also supports synchronous chat for an hour most Tuesday evenings. The sessions sound as if they are lively and interesting.

This chat session was originated by an Ontario teacher named Rodd Lucier. It seemed to gain traction quickly and in the course of doing so, also attracted a lot of spammers (what could people like that possibly be thinking?*?). The sessions were paused for awhile but now appear to be alive and well. Best of all, there’s a step-by-step description of how to set up a hosted collaborative series on Lucier’s blog.

This idea was not original to the K-12 people and Lucier. The blog post mentions journalists who had been engaging in synchronous Twitter chat. Looking around, I found that Cisco appears to be using the tool. They have a Twitter account, CiscoCollab, which is active. They also mention a hashtag, #collabchat. I couldn’t find it on, my usual source. I sleuthed a bit more and found another site, What the Hashtag?! Cisco’s #collabchat is registered there, but I see no activity. The chats are taking place somewhere on What the Hashtag, though. This page has a chat transcript that will give you an idea of the kind of dialog that can take place.

By this time I was getting a headache. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a pretty new activity, but one that seems to have interesting potential for businesses and interest groups alike. I was also wondering if it could be a competitor to paid services like interactive webcasts. But I think probably not for the moment—140 characters still has its limitations. But it may well be an idea that’s useful in a variety of settings.

Any ideas?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Give Members Their Own ROI

Isaac Hazard, Director of Strategic Consulting at Mzinga, talked about “Member ROI” in my class a couple of weeks ago. It’s an important concept. If people, customers or otherwise, are going to spend time on your Facebook page, a corporate blog—wherever you build your community—you’ve got to give them something of value. These members of your community are giving you their time—and hopefully their trust. What are you giving them in return for those two valuable, and scarce, commodities?

In some ways the concept of Member ROI is a basic tenant of advertising. Good advertisers don’t write headlines and copy about the product. They work to understand the benefits that people want from the product. That often takes marketing research, hopefully done so you can design the benefits into your product. If you do that, the task of your advertising staff is easy; they talk about the benefits your product delivers to the target customer, and your advertising works. Product-focused advertising doesn’t work; benefits-focused advertising does.

Fast forward to the age of the Internet and social media. Online display advertising follows exactly the same principle; focus on your target customer and the benefits he/she wants, not on your product. That’s a relatively easy transition.

The transition to social media isn’t so easy. All of a sudden marketing has become conversational and marketers aren’t very good at that. The headline in Smart Brief called them “lousy conversationalists.” According to Jason Fall, “A marketer, in the public’s eyes, is a salesman. Our audience is predisposed to not trust us.” That’s true, but it’s only part of the story.

Sage Lewis nails it with his headline, “No One Cares About Your Products.” His argument, and he has a great pizza story, is that what people really care about is what other people--not marketers--say about your pizza. There are a lot of good comments; the article is well worth reading.

The power of customer reviews is undeniable in the social media era. But it’s still not the entire story. Marketers have to listen, participate and even seed conversations as they build online communities. And to the extent that marketers are used to talking about their products, even the benefits of those products, that is the hard transition.

The conversational marketer cannot focus on product. She has to focus on what customers want to know, what they need to understand, in the product or service space. As the marketer becomes more knowledgeable and skilled, there will be opportunities to explain how the product meets needs. That, however, is on a subsequent date—definitely not the first one!

Download the Mzinga white paper, “Social Marketing & Online Communities: Getting Started” and explore other resources on the site. It’s a good role model, making a major effort to provide value in various media channels and to encourage conversation. However only the individual marketer, can develop the conversational perspective; it takes time and practice!

You have already recognized that this is largely talking about acquisition marketing. When you are talking about CRM, the focus changes to helping customers successfully use your product, your service. But the focus is still on customer needs, not on product bells and whistles!

Whether it’s acquisition or retention, the social environment is about talking to people you want to be your friend, fan, member, whatever. Keep them coming back. Your time to sell will come—or maybe your happy pizza customers will do it for you! It’s all about providing real value in the exchange; that’s the way to make them loyal friends!

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Not HAVING Platforms; It's USING Them Well!

Robert Collins retweeted the link to the 2010 Global Social Media Check-Up survey by Burton-Marsteller. Thanks, Bob! It has interesting data on how companies in the Fortune Global 100 are using social media. I took the data from the short version of the report.

Many of them do have Twitter (notice it’s first!) as well as Facebook, YouTube and their own corporate blogs. When they break it down by geography, it’s not surprising that US firms have more of everything (my sense is that the US is far ahead in the business use of social media) except YouTube. About as many European companies have YouTube accounts as US companies—interesting!

There’s interesting activity data on all 4 platforms, but the one on corporate blogs really caught my attention. The data from Europe and Asia seems reasonable. If you make posts, you generally get some comments, especially if your blogs provide information of value to your customers. Why so few posts in the US and so many comments? It has to do with the labeling in the chart. Here’s what Burton-Marsteller says:

For example, only 11% of U.S. corporate blogs had posts in the past month, but 90% of the blogs with posts had comments from stakeholders (Graph 7). So, while some corporate blogs have fallen into attrition, corporate blogs that are active and have a strong purpose and following provide a useful two-way dialogue for organizations and their stakeholders.

Ok, that makes sense. For me, actually it makes excellent sense. It’s about the maturity of the social media effort in the US and in the user corporations. Today’s eMarketer headline makes the same point: Longtime Twitter Users Most Vocal.

There’s also the issue of using any of the platforms well. Take blogging. I was recently asked why a corporate blog wasn’t getting much traffic. They were hoping to use it for acquisition as well as for customer support and retention, although I’m not sure they had stated it that precisely. So I asked if they had registered the blog on Technorati, at least. Not sure—he’d check. Do they use good tags? “No, we don’t take time to tag.” I tried to politely say that’s a BIG DUH! How can you take time to write a blog post and not take a few extra seconds to tag??? I also suggested that they use alt tags on their images. It’s a product-oriented blog, and having the search engines able to search images would be a big help.

As I’ve said so many times before, just having a corporate platform isn’t the answer. You have to use it, to monitor it, and to respond to deserving entries.

One more thing about the report. The short version has sidebars on social media activity in various countries. That’s a must read if you operate in any of these countries! Check it out; here’s the link to the full report.

Let me end with their 9-step checkup. None of this is new to readers of this blog, but it’s a good reminder. The check-up list is:

1. Monitor Your Own — And Competitors — Social Media Presence.
2. Get Top Management “Buy In.”
3. Develop a Social Media Strategy
4. Define and Publish a Social Media Policy.
5. Develop Internal Structure.
6. Contribute to the Community.
7. Participate in Good Times and in Bad. That’s worth some extra commentary. Here’s some of what the report says:

There will always be some situations where it is advisable to avoid participating, but generally speaking, negative content provides an opportunity for a company to share their point of view or set the record straight. Organizations must develop a process in advance that defines how and when they will respond to negative content or misinformation posted in social media.

8. Be Prepared to Respond in Real Time.
9. Measure the Impact of Social Media Engagement.

Good advice all!!!