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Hi, I'm Tom Woolf and I have been practicing public relations and offering marketing communications strategies for 20 years. And I'm still learning from people like you. Drop me a line!

  • 22Dec

    I just set up a new Google+ destination page for a client this week. Now I am assisting with posting content to their blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google+. Does this really help with brand visibility? Of course it does, assuming you can build the appropriate following in each channel. The trick is knowing what sorts of content work in the different social media channels. I find Facebook, for example, gives me a strong general following, but LinkedIn is more valuable for professional peer-to-peer contact. The jury is still out on Google+, and Twitter has some value, although I think most participants just like to hear themselves tweet.

    If you are confused about where to post your social media content, it’s not rocket science. Consider the context for the message and who is watching where. This illustration although quite funny is also instructive. It’s important to be seen online, and you need to lay a trail of virtual breadcrumbs that lead back to branded content that helps you tell your story. However, if your followers are on a low-carb diet and want something other than breadcrumbs, be prepared to feed them something more appealing or lose them. That’s why the content you post to Facebook should be different from what you post to LinkedIn, or even Twitter.

    I hope this gives you a chuckle. Enjoy.

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  • 21Nov

    There are probably still a few skeptics out there who question the value of social media. For those naysayers, I will point you to recent news reports that companies are demanding to retain social media contact from fired employees. Clearly some companies see real value in social media intellectual property.

    I recently rand across a post by Cynthia Boris, who blogs under The Marketing Pilgrim, that poses the question, “Are Twitter twitter-confidentialfollowers a company asset?” Are social media contacts considered proprietary information, like a customer list or competitive information? Apparently that premise is being tested in the U.S. courts, as Boris explains:

    But what about your Twitter account? In the case of an employee whose job it is to update the company Twitter, it’s an easy call. It’s not so easy when you’re talking about journalists or other Tweeters who blur the line between business and personal.

    Such a case is currently being tested in court, but it’s not going so well for either side. The case in question is between PhoneDog and Noah Kravitz, who used to work for them as a reporter. The object of desire is a Twitter account with 17,000 followers formerly known as @PhoneDog_Noah.

    According to the original news report, “a federal judge in San Francisco refused to dismiss news site PhoneDog’s complaint which argued that a Twitter password and the identity of followers was a trade secret.” Apparently Kravitz merely changed the name of his account from PhoneDog_Noah and kept tweeting. So who owns those contacts? Is it the same as a journalist’s sources, which go with him when he leaves a job?

    lockedoutThere is a similar case for LinkedIn contacts being tested in the U.K. for the first time, a British court is reported to have ordered an employee to turn over his LinkedIn contacts to an employer. According to the report in the Telegraph, this case “highlights the tension between businesses encouraging employees to use social networking websites for work but then claiming that the contacts remain confidential information at the end of their employment.”

    Now it’s one thing if you were hired to promote the company using social media as one of your forums. I can understand where it becomes part of your job description and the content, including the contacts, would revert to the company. But what if you are using your own contacts and your own network as an extension of your job? Does that mean you have to surrender your contact information for Aunt Millie or the High School Class of 1985 because you got fired?

    Commenting on the UK case for Forbes, guest columnist David Coursey notes:

    Meanwhile, more and more companies are issuing policies, and asking employees to sign contracts and agreements, that spell out who owns social media contacts. According to a recent study by DLA Piper, a third of employers have disciplined employees for something posted on a social media site. The research also found that 21% of employers had to give their employees a warning for posting something derogatory about a colleague or about the business itself.

    One thing is clear, it’s time to start updating your contracts, whether you are working as a full-time employee or as an agency or consultant. Intellectual property is becoming increasingly valuable, and they could be an increasingly valuable asset that should follow you as you build your personal network to further your own career or advance your business. If you are going to use social media as part of your job, be sure you understand who owns the social media content and the contacts. If there is a doubt, duplicate – create a professional social media persona and a personal persona and keep them separate (although you might enlist the same followers to track both accounts). But whatever you do, be sure you know where you stand with your clients or employers. If you aren’t sure, ask! It’s better to come to an understanding now rather than getting into a tussle later.

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  • 13Nov

    Social networking is more art than science. I try to instruct my clients in social networking techniques,and some have a natural affinity for it while others are, shall we say, socially awkward. Using Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter effectively requires a certain knack; a natural affinity for communicating online and keeping your followers engaged while staying on message. Here’s an example of one lady who has that affinity.

    I had the privilege of meeting Kathleen Flinn at a book signing a few weeks. Kathleen is the author of two books, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry about her adventure studying at the Cordon Bleu, and her new book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, where she takes a step outside the “food bubble” to help nine homemakers become fearless cooks in their own kitchens. My wife had served as Kathleen’s Bay Area escort on her previous book tour and Kathleen not only remembered her but was genuinely excited to see us at her new book signing, which is what makes her so good at social networking. She is genuinely interested in people and it comes across online.

    engage_cartoonI have been following Kathleen online for some time and am very impressed with her social media approach. She is not pushy or obnoxious, but maintains a real dialogue with her followers that is sincere, interesting, and always on message. She is interested in all aspects of food, but not as a “foodie” or a food snob, but as good cooking and everyday foods can be transformed into great cuisine by any cook willing to wield a knife. She uses her blog effectively, finding topics that are interesting, personal, and always worth reading. And she uses her blog to feed her Facebook page and other social media to build her following. I, for one, started looking forward to seeing her new book long before it’s release because Kathleen was very good at sharing little insights here and there. She never overly flogs her books, but you always know where she is and what she’s up to, and following her online promotes a level of interest and intimacy I don’t get from many so-called social media experts.

    So how do you promote your own social media following? Be genuine, but also avoid being the online boor. Here are some of the basics that everyone needs to remembers about being genuine through social media, with thanks to Aliza Sherman, who originally compiled a variation of this list for GigaOm:

    1. Respect the medium. Remember that the Internet is an information tool that was not originally created as a collaboration tool, not a marketing medium. Successful use of the Web requires that you respect the spirit of the Web; it’s about collaboration not hard-sell advertising.

    2. Listen. The biggest mistake people make when they use social media is they assume it is a broadcast medium. It’s not. It’s about collaboration and conversation, that that means listening first. Listen to the conversation threads. Determine what is appropriate and what is not. Get a better sense of what people are saying and what the tone of the conversation feels like before you barge in with new information or an expert opinion.engage

    3. Add to the conversation. Don’t just appear, post your piece, and log off. Engage! Add value! Promote conversation within the community. Remember, in most circles, hyping your product or service doesn’t help anyone but you.

    4. Be responsive. Remember conversation is continuous. Answer questions. Respond to comments. Be timely in your response. In other words, respect your visitors and followers by actually listening and talking to them.

    5. Share with others. The Web is a global medium that allows everyone access to valuable information. Share your information, time, and inspiration to fuel conversation.

    6. Credit where credit is due. Share other people’s ideas but give them credit. Repost and retweet to add to the conversation (not to promote spam) and be sure to give credit to the source.

    7. Don’t be a spammer. Spam will inevitably isolate you from the conversation. It’s impolite, and it’s dumb. Don’t just hype your wares, but talk about what you know, politely and in the context of the conversation.

    8. Be authentic. Authenticity is the key to social media success. If you represent a brand, you can still be authentic in your conversation without violating the integrity of the brand. Just be real. Admit your fears and flaws as well as your successes. Be interesting by being authentic.

    9. Collaborate, don’t compete. The idea is to add to the conversation, not to outshout the other guy. Try to find ways to get together to expand the reach of the conversation so everyone benefits. There’s room for everybody.

    10. Practice social responsibility. If you do good, you will get good in return. Embrace the authenticity that the web has to offer to not only expand the conversation, but to help others seeking insight and information. Don’t just sell your stuff. Find ways to give back to the greater community by doing good. You can help spread the word and make your corner of the Web a little better.

    If you remember these simple guidelines as you engage online, your social media conversations will be more satisfying, and ultimately more profitable. Don’t shout. Engage.

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  • 29Jun

    I saw two blog posts this past week that reminded me that there are a lot of people out there who don’t “get” social media and its role in business.

    PBTwitterOne was a guest post on Lindsay Olson’s PR career blog about “Is Tweeting Hazardous to Your Job?” In this guest post, PR columnist Alison Kenney offered up some of the biggest social media faux pas that so-called PR professionals have been guilty of lately. Leaving the recent Facebook/Burson-Marsteller debacle aside, there are a number of other communications professionals who seem to have temporarily forgotten the rules of social media engagement. This from her blog post:

      • In March, Scott Bartosiewicz, an employee at New Media Strategies, the social media agency of record for Chrysler, tweeted a derogatory message about Detroit drivers from the official Chrysler Twitter account, costing his agency its relationship with Chrysler
      • This month, The Redner Group, a small PR firm led by Jim Redner, was fired by client 2K games after a frustrated Redner tweeted a threat to withhold review copies of the popular game Duke Nukem Forever if reviewers don’t offer more positive reviews.
      • Two years ago, while on his way to give a presentation about digital media to FedEx communications employees, Ketchum VP James Andrews tweeted a derogatory comment about travel to Memphis (where FedEx is headquartered). The tweet rankled FedEx employees who called Andrews out and extracted an apology from him. He kept his job.

    In all of these cases, employees are exhibiting poor judgment and making poor choices in expressing themselves. Social media is exposing their mistakes to the public and to their employer.

    What people tend to forget in the heat of the moment, or because the social media tools have become so familiar, is that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and their like are, well, social! It’s not a private conversation with 500 of your closest friends. Rather, when you post, you are putting out commentary for all the world to read, and react to. Which means if you mix social media and work, you have to be extra careful.

    I recently read another blog post by Tom Biro, one of the executives at my former PR firm, Allison & Partners, offering advice about social media in the workplace.

    A lot of companies control or block social media access, and they are certainly monitoring what you do online. (I will occasionally work at a client site and the IT manager frequently sends me reports with a breakdown of my online activity complaining that I am consuming too much bandwidth, so I know he is watching.) I have a client that specializes in providing controls and monitoring for social media access. Like it or not, your social media activities are being watched. And even if they aren’t watching right now, you need to make sure you leave a clean online trail that isn’t going to create problems when a client or prospective employer stumbles on it later.

    While most of the insights Tom Biro offers seem to be common sense, they are worth repeating here as a reminder:

    • Even if you are blocking employees access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, you know they are using their smartphones to get around that. While productivity may not be an issues, data leakage and protecting your company’s brand are a concern. Watch what your staff are doing online.
    • Set a good example. Some of the examples cited above are errors made by senior staffers. They should know better, and they should prove that to their fellow professionals with every post.
    • Remember that social media is about dialogue, not monologue. Don’t rant, but comment. Add to the conversation rather than trying to command the floor.
    • You want to use social media to increase your brand awareness. Make sure you are being seen and commenting in the right places to advance your brand visibility.
    • Establish social media guidelines. This is your first line of defense as an employer, and your first reference for common sense as an employee. If you spell out what is and is not appropriate about your behavior online you won’t leave room for doubt.
    • Be transparent about your identity. Be sure you are clear about who you are and your stake in the conversation, i.e. whether you are speaking on behalf of a client.
    • Think before you post. Think about the impact of what you have to say, and how it could affect coworkers, clients, associates,and others.
    • Don’t assume you are anonymous. If you are using a corporate Wi-Fi connection of a company network, someone is watching the traffic so never assume you can’ t be seen. Big Brother is everywhere.

    Effective use of social media is about positive interaction and sharing stuff that is interesting and that contributes to the dialogue. If you use common sense and remember that social media is a very public forum, so don’t say or do anything you may regret later.

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  • 14Jun

    These days, social media has become a resource for sales and marketing; an essential tool in any marketing or media arsenal. Remember when, not so long ago, Facebook was banned from the workplace as a time waster? There are any number of companies that still block access to Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media destinations because they don’t see these outlets as essential to employees’ jobs. They want them to stay productive, not chatting with friends online.

    digital-distractionAnd despite the many benefits that have been demonstrated about social media, they have a point. Todays’ work environment is incredibly disruptive. I hate to say it, but I am old enough to remember working in an office free of email and where the only disruption was an occasional phone call. I also recall those days as being much more productive, where I could focus on writing an article or editing a column without interruption. The age of instant communications has created a disruptive, multi-tasking approach to work, which is not the most productive.

    Not long ago I spotted an article on Mashable, “The 3 Pressing Questions Facing Social Media,” that talked about the disruptive nature of social media, and the fact it will only get worse.

    The conversation about social media in our society is shifting significantly. We’re no longer asking questions like, “Will people use social media?” or “Are sites like Facebook and Twitter simply trends that will soon lose steam?” After billions of tweets and 600 million people on Facebook, it’s settled: People want to share online. And with Facebook moving toward a $100 billion valuation, there is money to be made.

    The emerging conversation is not if we will be connected but is instead, “How can we effectively and productively connect?” Now that we can get constant updates on just about every aspect of our friends’ lives, how do we receive that which is relevant?

    I think the three questions are worth considering closely as we continue to forge ahead into the disruptive world of social media.

    1. Are We Being Driven to Distraction? Remaining continually connected means being continually distracted. I am sure you have experienced it – email interruptus or the Facebook vortex. You are in the middle of trying to construct a thought for a report, or a calculation for a spreadsheet and you hear that little “ding” or see that popup that someone has posted to your wall. Being the tribal creatures that we are, we drop everything to see who is knocking at our virtual door.

    People have forgotten how to turn off the data stream, just as they have forgotten to turn off their cell phones or unplug from the larger world. Many give the excuse that their bosses or their clients expect them to be “on call,” but the truth of the matter is we are all insecure in this new world of social media, and we are worried about missing an important factoid or an important connection that could lead to cyber rejection.

    The price of distraction is a decline in productivity. According to a survey cited in the Mashable article, social media is costing companies an average of $10,375 per year because we can’t learn to disconnect fast enough.

    The drive to stay connected is tapering off. For the first time, Facebook has seen a drop in traffic in the U.S. and Canada as people are starting to realize that social media does not require real-time consumption. But we are still struggling to find the right balance to get us back to productivity.

    2.  How are We To Filter the Stream? What to follow has become an important question. You want to sample the social media stream in a way that suits our informational needs. I cited a recent presentation by MoveOn board president Eli Pariser on how our web experience is already being filtered. We need to be wary of imposing our own filters so we get what we need from social media channels.

    Of course, we need to understand how the data is being filtered, and given the option to impose our own controls, or open the tap to unfiltered content so we can determine what we want to sample. It’s all about promoting transparency; a principle that is at the root of the creation of the Internet.

    3. How Do We Manage the Social Media Flood? The sheer volume of social media content has become overwhelming. Can you effectively follow more than 500 people on Twitter or LinkedIn? How many Facebook friends can you have and still maintain any kind of meaningful connection? When do we start hitting diminishing returns from social media because the sheer volume has become too great to manage? Like dipping your toe in the data stream, where you choose to sample the stream is going to be self-selecting, but the stream is rapidly becoming a flood, which will make it harder to choose the right location.

    And it’s just going to get worse. More traffic for the Web is on the horizon, and with it more social media traffic. So users will have to become more discriminating in their use of social media:

    Providing people more ways to share online is no longer the challenge. That was the old paradigm. A new paradigm of relevancy is emerging, which goes beyond the question of whether “to follow or not follow” or “to friend or not friend.” Companies need to see that their job is not to provide us data, or even keep us updated — it is to serve our needs.

    Which offers some new opportunities for marketers. As we continue to feed our corners of the social media stream with content that is relevant for our microcosm of the social media macroverse, we will be able to start appealing to a niche following of more loyal and more relevant connections. It’s going to become more about quality rather than quantity, and the conversations will become more focused as we become more discriminating. As a result, social media will give us the capacity to connect more quickly and efficiently to people who matter to us, and the timewasting will become less of a factor in the social media equitation.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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