• 04May

    This is the presentation I delivered today before the Northern California Business Marketing Association Branding Roundtable. We had a good, interactive discussion with those present, discussing their needs, the pros and cons of different channels, and which channels work best for B2B and B2C.

    One of the things I am advising clients to do these days is start with a corporate blog. A blog provides brand focus. It is a single forum where you have to think about what promotes your brand value before you commit your thoughts to the blogosphere. Once you have clarified your brand position, it’s easier to feed the social media machine, disseminating your blog thoughts through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter – the Holy Trinity of Social Media.

    Of course, there is other content you can use to feed the beast. It was interesting that even talking to experienced marketing professionals this morning, some were still reluctant to dip their toe in the social media pool. They were worried about making a mistake or not having enough content. You have to get started before you can refine the process.

    Part of this morning’s discussion, for example, was around corporate process and paranoia around blogging. One of those present said it took months to get the company to approve a blog post because the committee could not agree. Another marketing executive talked about how his managers complained that the tone of the blog was too “friendly” and not sufficiently formal, like a white paper or data sheet.

    This panic over initial missteps is what prevents companies from entering into the social media conversation, and ultimately cause them to fail. One of my recommendations is “fail fast, fail cheaply, and correct course.” If something doesn’t work, move on. We actually had an interesting discussion about the longevity of social media content. I noted that, to an extent, blog content is disposable because it has a short effective shelf life. However, it was pointed out that blog content remains discoverable for as long as it’s posted, although you can correct or change the content.  However, social media feeds like Twitter and Facebook have an effective life of hours or days. This means you have forums you can use for social media experimentation to see what works for your strategy.

    So this presentation represents just some of the concepts I am sharing with my clients. I would be curious to hear your reactions and recommendations. The floor is open for comments.

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  • 21Feb

    A few months ago I cited a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “Small Change” where he noted that Twitter and social media is really a “weak-tie” phenomenon and that it lacks the close connection required to promote a strong action or reaction. As Gladwell states it, “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

    Then we have a story last week from TechCrunch of a young Egyptian man who is so grateful for the role that social media played in January 25th revolution, he named his daughter Facebook.

    According to Al-Ahram (one of the most popular newspapers in Egypt) a twenty-something Egyptian man has named his first born daughter “Facebook” in tribute to the role the social media service played in organizing the protests in Tahrir Square and beyond.

    Helmed by now-famous Googler Wael Ghonim, the “We Are Khaled Said” Facebook page showed up within 5 days of Said’s death in June and served as a hub for dissidence against Egyptian police brutality as well as a way to disseminate logistical information about the escalating anti-government protests until Mubarak’s resignation. Other activist pages like one actually called “Tahrir Square” cropped up shortly afterward.

    Apparently the revolution will be Tweeted, but does that mean Gladwell may have been wrong about the ability of social media to effect revolutionary change?

    According to the TechCrunch story, there are five million Facebook users in Egypt and growing, and there are more than 32,000 Facebook groups and 14,000 pages created after January 25th. And Wael Ghonim even thanked Mark Zuckerberg on CNN. In fact, one of the reasons it took so long for the Hosni Mubarak government to understand the gravity of the uprising was because they missed the cues that led to this revolution’; they were ignoring the chatter on Facebook and elsewhere.

    Apparently, the new regime has learned from the mistakes of the old. Apparently the new military regime is using Facebook to reach Egyptian youth, and the Ministry of Interior has set up multiple pages to try to repair the image of the state police.

    The impact of social media did help galvanize the Egyptian protesters. It gave them a common location to air their views and share information. However, as one of the TechCrunch commenters who actually was in Tahrir Square noted, “social media exist largely as a means to manufacture consent.” When the government blocked access to the Internet, cut off cellular service, and silenced media coverage, the people took to the streets to find out what was happening. That’s when the revolution really took hold, because people were connecting in a personal way using “Streetbook,” face-to-face interaction. So should we think of the Egyptian revolution as a gigantic flash mob with Molotov cocktails?

    I tend to agree that social media is a place to forge consensus, whether it’s to protest a dictatorial government, or back a brand. People gravitate to things they are passionate about online, and they share that passion with their friends. That’s what makes social media so powerful.

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  • 07Feb

    I have been working with all my clients lately to help them expand their social media strategy. For some, like Lifehouse, a non-profit group that I do some pro bono work for here in the Bay Area, it’s really a matter of developing a strategy and finding the in-house resources to execute the strategy. Their target audience is mostly regional, and they are working to build a following to promote their work with people with developmental disabilities, and to promote their Great Chefs and Wineries event in April, which makes Facebook and Twitter logical channels to build a following. For other clients, like Market Rates Insight, which offers deposit rate research to banks and credit unions, we have developed a more a more targeted approach, blogging about research findings and bank rate trends to build awareness in the banking community and create content to feed channels on LinkedIn, Banking Innovation, Twitter, and the like.

    But no matter what the strategy, it amazes me that I still run into resistance from senior management about why they don’t want to deal with social media. That’s why I was inspired by a recent guest post on Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix by Chester Frazier of Definition Systems offering a set of common excuses for NOT using social media. I have heard all of these, and others:

    1. Our target audience isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Chester’s point is that clients think it’s a demographic issue and boomers clueless-excusesdon’t hang out online. Definitely false. But more to the point, there are special forums on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that appeal to every niche and market. You just have to find the right conversation and join in.

    2. Facebook is a time-waster for staff. One of my clients, Actiance (formerly FaceTime Communications), specializes in securing Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, not because their customers are worried about employees wasting time, but because they recognize that people want to connect through these channels, including customers. The new generation of customers are communicating using social media, and you should find ways to encourage them to harness these new marketing channels.

    3. We tried it and it didn’t work. It’s like any other marketing program, you have to experiment and refine your strategy, then measure the results. Most companies social media strategies fail because they forget that it’s about being social, it’s about conversation, it’s not about a one-way blast saying “buy my product.” (And it still amazes me that I get Twitter requests from businesses that don’t post anything except the praises of their multi-level marketing scheme or their latest health product.)

    4. We are too busy. I hear that a lot. Does this mean you are too busy to talk to potential customers about what you do? You should be able to build social media into your day-to-day operations, particularly if you are conducting business via the web. It’s like saying you are too busy to market your business.

    5. We don’t have the staff. Can we outsource it? I hear this one a lot. Executives are busy people and don’t have the time, or want to take the time, to engage with potential customers. People want to talk to you, not a shill. You can’t outsource authenticity. And you can’t outsource expertise. I can help my clients interpret and articulate their opinions and expertise, but no one wants my opinion. They want to talk to the expert directly, and if you demonstrate your expertise, they will engage with you looking for more. That’s how you build your business.

    So no matter what your business, you can benefit from social media. You just need to have a strategy that dovetails with your marketing program, then focus on execution and measuring the results. Don’t get sidetracked by excuses. Get out there and experiment. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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  • 16Nov

    As I speak to clients more and more about social media strategies, it is clear that the potential power of social networking has almost everyone mesmerized. Social media offers the potential to interact with prospects and customers in new way that promotes peer-based marketing. Through the power of buzz, you can get your message in front of hundreds or even thousands of new people, who tell their friends, and they tell their friends. And how cool is that.

    But most executives still don’t understand social media marketing. They think if they set up a Twitter feed or a blog their marketing woes are over. Or if they simply use Facebook and LinkedIn to spam their prospects with marketing messages they will fill their sales pipeline for the next six months.

    As with any discipline, social media marketing has its own unique set of rules, and its own discipline. Anyone turning to social media as a panacea for their marketing woes is kidding themselves. Sure, adding social media can strengthen your marketing program, but it can’t do the whole job.

    I recently spotted an article in Web 2.0 Journal outlining Five Misconceptions About Social Media Marketing, where SEO and Web marketing strategist Brace Rennels points out the biggest fallacies that most marketing execs have regarding social media:

    1. Social media works as a standalone program – Social media doesn’t work without a foundation behind it. You can use social media to promote other aspects of your program, like a webinar, a white paper, or some other offering, but what you have to say has to have some value to your audience. There has to be real content behind the program.

    2. You need a social media expert – Actually, you shouldn’t outsource your social media, although you can contract some help to guide you. The best programs are the one that find the internal experts, tap their knowledge and their passion, and then show them how to build their social network themselves. With social media the idea is to share your ideas with others, and there is no substitute for authenticity.

    3. “If you build it they will come” – Just setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter feed won’t build a following. You have to have a plan that includes what your social media objectives are, who you want to attract, and how you can engage with those people in a compelling way. It takes time, thought, and commitment to build an online community, and you have to nurture online relationships to get your followers to keep coming back for fresh insights.

    4. How do you stop the naysayers and the critics? – You don’t. The whole idea is to provide an open forum that welcomes critics as well as fans. If you try to shut down the naysayers or you can’t honestly engage with the critics, your social media program will backfire. By way of example, check out this week’s blog post on PR101 by Jeff Cole. He offers the example of Cook’s Source magazine, who used its social media forum to address a charge of copyright violation and the disastrous result until the editors took a deep breath and realized they were in the wrong. (It’s a great parable in the power of social media.)

    5. You don’t have a social media presence – If you have employees, then you probably have some kind of social media presence whether you want one or not. Facebook now has 500 million active users, and Twitter has 190 million users tweeting 65 million times per day. Chances are someone is talking about you behind your back, and the best way to control the message about your company is to engage in the conversation.

    When used effectively, social media can be a great tool to reinforce your brand and your brand message. I have one client that publishes a weekly report for the banking industry on deposit rates, and we use social media as part of a larger marketing program. In addition to an opt-in mailing list, we give these weekly reports a prominent place on the company web site. And we use the content in the company blog, which we use to feed conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Over the past few months blog traffic has consistently doubled, and we are gaining a following among target readers and media outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNBC, who regular report about my client’s research. Social media helps us expand our reach so followers can find the information they want in the format that best suits them, and then comment on the findings. However, the only reason this strategy works is because it’s part of a larger marketing program that we are continuing to refine.

    So don’t be fooled by the placebo effect. Social media marketing is not a cure-all, but it can be an important extension of your marketing strategy. The key is to set your social media objectives, and make sure they mesh smoothly with the other elements of your marketing program.

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  • 09Nov

    What does it take to launch an effective social media program? What kind of help do you look for? Finding a good social media consultant is a lot like hiring any consultant – you have to understand what you need and find a resource who has the skills that match your needs. It’s curious that a lot of marketing professionals and CEOs forget the basic rules of hiring subcontractors, and they look for a consultant with mystical powers who can help them tame this unknown monster called Social Media.

    I was gratified to see a recent blog post on this topic that offers a lot of common sense advice about hiring social media help. The basics include:

    1. Determine your objectives. You need to understand what you want to get out of your social media campaign. That doesn’t mean producing the next killer viral video or getting your corporate blog off the ground. It really means what you expect to gain from adding social media to your marketing mix. Why do you need it and how do you want to measure success?

    2. Does your consultants have the chops? Has he or she got the right expertise, and can they deliver what you need? You need to assess their metrics of success for other clients. What have they done and how do you know they know their stuff. Don’t be fooled by the names of high-profile clients they list on their web site. And don’t be put off by social  media mumbo jumbo. A social media marketing program has the same measurable results as any other program, so don’t let the newness of the medium get in the way of the metrics.

    3. What can this consultant do for me? You need to match your prospective consultant’s capabilities to your marketing needs. Ask for samples. And ask questions about how what they offer maps to your objectives. How does it matter to your brand, and how will they make a difference.

    As I talk to prospective clients about their social media needs, I encounter a lot of confusion and uncertainty. SMBs in particular understand the power of social media, but aren’t sure (or sometimes aren’t completely convinced) that social media can help them. That’s when we get into discussing the tough questions, like what are their real social media objectives, and do they have the resources to really sustain a social media campaign.You have to identify their real points of pain before you can determine if a social media program can relieve some of that pain. If the consultant is good, they will be able to map the use of social media tools to the prospects’ marketing goals. If they overpromise or say that social media is the cure for all their marketing ills, there is definitely something amiss.

    For many companies, the real pain is usually pretty basic – it’s lack of resources. They want to embrace social media, but they can’t make it a natural extension of their internal marketing program. They don’t have the time to Tweet or post to Facebook, and senior managers are too busy running their business to talk about it. And many companies are rightly concerned about losing control of their messaging and their brand if they turn social media over to junior staffers (the social media channels are clogged with examples of poor representation of corporate brands). These companies want to outsource social media because they don’t have the time and staff to deal with it internally.

    The challenge for the social media consultant is to provide value and support the client’s program objectives without overpromising. The client needs to be willing to give you the time to build a following. They also need to understand that while you can help them facilitate a social media program, the real value of social media is personal engagement. Social media is primarily social, and it’s tough to outsource authenticity and personal interaction. (We need to leave a discussion of the ethics of ghost-tweeting and ghost-blogging for another discussion.)

    In those situations, I find the greatest value for clients is helping them mine their brand intelligence and package their brand insights in a way that makes it easer to feed the social media machine. As part of any social media program, you have to inventory your content and what internal intelligence is worth sharing with your contacts. A consultant can help you gather your content, repackage it to highlight your brand and its value, and show you where to cast the bread upon the social media waters so it will do the most good. And they can help you define ways to measure social media success.

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  • 17Oct

    image I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker a few weeks ago by columnist Malcolm Gladwell that provides some real insight about the way social media works, and how we all should think about it. What Gladwell observes in his article, “Small Change,” is that social media promotes a “weak tie phenomenon” that has its benefits, but it doesn’t have the strength to drive a revolution:

    “The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations.”

    But what Gladwell points out is that is there are few Twitter accounts in Moldova, and that Twitters in English to organize protests will have little impact in Iran where the populace speaks Farsi. Social media is a great communications tool, but it lacks the galvanizing power that many social media evangelists would have us believe Facebook and Twitter have: “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change.”

    Much of the article makes parallels to the civil rights movement and acts of social consciousness and change that have had a real impact. He tells the story of four black college students who stage a protest at an all-white Greensboro lunch counter in 1960. When they are refused service, the ripples extended to promote sit-ins throughout the Carolinas and ultimately as far away as Texas, without the benefit of e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. What do these protesters have in common? Strong ties of association because they all have relatives or know someone directly affected by segregation. The four students who started the protest were close school friends, and their protest was fueled by mutual support – a strong-tie phenomenon. Consider how many of your Facebook friends or acquaintances are willing to stage a boycott or March on Washington?

    “The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

    So when approaching social media for marketing purposes, you need to be conscious of the fact that Twitter and Facebook friends are weak-tie connections, and there is a big distinction between request to connect and call to action. Since this is an election year, it has been interesting to watch the role of social media as a campaign tool. You can sign up to support candidates or propositions on the ballot by signing petitions on Facebook, but how far will such activism go toward garnering votes or campaign contributions? Is it more effective than direct mail or robocalls?

    As Gladwell writes,”The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.” So if you are looking to social media to revolutionize your next marketing campaign, you might want to reconsider your expectations.

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  • 03Aug

    If you follow social media trends while you surf the Web, then you will have noted that one of the biggest topics on social media sites is, naturally, the effectiveness of social media. I spotted an article last week on Mashable entitled How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive by T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist. As McCann points out, the lines between professional and personal social media use are blurring, particularly with the new Millennial workforce. Companies that are prepared to acknowledge the fact that their workers live and work online and find a way to embrace social media as part of their workflow will go farther recruiting the best and the brightest, but you still need to understand the best way to actually apply social media tools. As McCann says,

    “The trick is to realize that it’s not about the tool itself, but your ability to step back and analyze the tool’s real value in helping you accomplish tasks. If you’re not evaluating the way that you’re using social media to get things done, then you’re probably becoming increasingly inefficient because of it.”

    So I wanted to share some of his observations on how to get the most out of social media. These rules certainly apply in marketing and media relations, but they are also universal.

    1. Scalable networking. Networking now takes on many forms. The old methods of meeting peers and prospects at trade shows, over lunch, at open houses, etc., still apply, but the advent of Web 2.0 makes the channels for connection global. As I have noted in this blog before, social media users tend to be tribal. so making connections with others through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media channel gives you a built-in sense of camaraderie; most people tend to respond to social media contacts before they will respond to email. You can use tweets, blog comments, Facebook comments, and other means to build online intimacy with a wider range of contacts. And the Web makes it possible to connect with thousands rather than dozens. The trick is to make those connections meaningful and respect the tribal connection, so you can uplevel the conversation when you need to.

    2. Uncovering valuable, actionable information. McCann notes that information overload is nothing new, and tools like Twitter and Facebook can contribute to information overload if you fail to use them properly. The key is to filter the information, so you are getting pertinent, actionable information. Filter the feeds to distinguish between personal and professional data streams. Identify those data points relevant to your job and focus on them. McCann uses the analogy of stockbrokers filtering incoming data feeds from trusted friends and sources, gathering data in real-time for their clients. You need to set up social media data feeds that support your professional decision-making and push the rest aside as less irrelevant noise.

    3. Social media is about collaboration. Web 2.0 levels the playing field when it comes to collaboration. It not only promotes collaboration, but it provides the tools to help you collaborate in the most productive fashion possible. As McCann points out, with Web 2.0 the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Social media helps make collaboration organic, without having to rely on proprietary software or platforms to achieve your goal.

    4. It’s not what you use, but how you use social media tools. One of the biggest challenges with social media is the plethora of available channels. Don’t try to filter everything. Instead, identify those tools that make a real difference in your work life. McCann recommends ranking your social media tools in order of “must have.” Which social media tools do you really consider essential to your professional success, and which are really “nice to have” and not essential? This will help you optimize you social media flow and determine if you are getting the most from your online investment. Stay focused, and mine your most valuable channels more deeply rather than trying to use a shotgun approach.

    So as with all tools, the efficacy of social media is in how you apply it to meet your professional needs. If you use social media sites to strict professional advantage, without distraction or fooling yourself that posting the latest kids’ soccer pictures or what you had for lunch will advance your professional standing. It’s largely a combination of savvy, focus, and discipline.

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  • 21Aug

    What the F**K is Social Media: One Year Later

    View more documents from Marta Kagan.

    Interested in social media? Don’t understand social media? Trying to determine the real market value of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn? Well welcome to the club.

    The pundits abound, and everyone is trying to make sense of the online media phenom. Which is why I wanted to share this presentation from Marta Kagan of Espresso. She calls herself a bona fide marketing genius, and she admits that she swears like a sailor, but she has a fresh (albeit off color) perspective on social media.

    Is the revolution coming? Is it here already? And who will be the first against the wall? I’m adding social media to my client recommendations, for the obvious reasons that Marta highlights here, but it’s only one component in a comprehensive PR/marketing program.

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