• 03Aug

    I am sure you have heard the old adage from the peacenik sixties, “What if you held a war and no one showed up?” My mind came up with a variation on that theme over the past few weeks as I have been watching Google+ take off, and as I have been getting notifications from a myriad of other social networks.Too-Many-Social-Networks-595x600

    It seems that the Google empire has successfully expanded into the social media realm, or at least the initial foray has been a success. According to Reuters, Google+ is attracting more than one million users a day and is the fastest social media site with more than 25 million visitors to date. But is this a flash in the pan or does Google+ really have legs?

    Some of the early critics of Google+ note that since this is Google’s social network, everyone will give it a try but who knows how many people will stick with it. As noted by Cynthia Boris in a guest blog on Marketing Pilgrim posted today:

    What’s interesting about this monumental number [25 million visitors] is that I don’t see any difference in the site than I did when I joined. Actually, it’s worse. As of today, my entire Google+ stream, all the way to the bottom of the page is nothing but posts from the very informative and fun Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Yes, he’s a talkative guy, and granted I don’t have a lot of people attached to my account, but I have to go back several weeks to see a range of posts from people.

    So maybe Google+ will be a flash in the pan; yet another online destination that has been abandoned by users.

    I also received email this week with invitations for other social networking opportunities. A few of the invitation are to forums on Facebook where experts gather to discuss topics I actually am interested in. I have been following a new thread on web content curation with some interest. And apparently my Facebook friends have been busy on Branch Out, which is the latest entry into the online career management space alongside LinkedIn, Jobster, eCademy, Spoke, and countless others. Just as Google+ has the power of Google behind it, Branch Out is making the most of its affiliation with Facebook so we will have to see if it has legs moving forward. (For my money, LinkedIn continues to be the “go to” resource for people really looking for professional connections, and it will be hard to unseat, at least in the foreseeable future.)

    And I received another invitation last week from a social network I never heard of, Elixio. Taking a page from the Google+ launch strategy, Elixio is an exclusive, “invitation only” social network; a private online club. Call me a skeptic but I can’t see any value in a network I haven’t heard of, especially if they send me a blind invitation to join an exclusive club. It’s akin to any number of Who’s Who directory invitations I receive where I can be included in a directory of influential personages for only a small gratuity. My ego doesn’t need that kind of stroke.

    So how many social networks can you realistically use effectively? If you are doing nothing but networking all day, I suppose you can stay on top of quite a few. I find my social networking time pretty much consumed with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I also browse a few vertical networks that serve niche client markets, like BankInnovation.net. But can the market really sustain all these new social networks? After all, isn’t the idea of social networking to connect as many like-minded people as possible? If you fragment your markets too much, you can’t attract a large body of followers. At the same time, the market can only sustain one or two social networks with the reach of Facebook or LinkedIn. So it will continue to be a marathon race, with different candidates entering and dropping out. Since I value my time, I don’t tend to be an early adopter for new social networks (although I will dabble; I confess to being one of the first 25 million to check out Google+), but I will sign up and use something that delivers real value.

    So let me leave you with a recent blog post from satirist Andy Borowitz’s column, The Borowitz Report, which inspired this post. The headline reads, “No New Social Network Launched Today – Silicon Valley Stunned”:

    Across this tech-heavy hub, Internet-savvy insiders were checking their Blackberries, Droids and iPhones for an announcement of the next Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or Google+ — an announcement that, to everyone’s astonishment, never came.

    “We’ve been averaging between 500 and 1000 new social networks a day,” said Carol Foyler, head of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “So this is definitely a little weird.”

    While there was no shortage of finger-pointing as tech-watchers across the Valley bemoaned the absence of a new launch, many blamed Tracy Klugian, 24, a website incubator who has created over 1800 social networks and was expected to launch his latest, MeetCircle, today.

    “MeetCircle will totally change the way people meet, interact, shop, stream movies, buy cars and have sex,” Mr. Klugian said in a TEDTalk earlier this year. “It will be the biggest game-changer since the fall of Communism or the birth of Jesus.”

    Somebody please wake me in time for the next social media revolution.

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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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  • 26Apr

    I have a client in the social media market who refers to the Holy Trinity of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Certainly these are the three most popular social media destinations where users flock to hear the latest news and connect with friends, family, and associates. But as I have noted previously in this blog, these are private companies, they are not part of the Web or the Internet, although they certainly use those resources. And while the open structure of the Internet means that the Web is likely to endure, these companies are capitalists after all and will only continue to grow as they become profitable.

    Which brings us to Twitter.

    My wife recently directed me to an article in Fortune entitled “Trouble @Twitter,” and the story read to me like the biography of a typical Silicon Valley startup,with all it’s ups and downs. One of the great things about technological innovation is the ride is never boring, and today’s boom can be tomorrow’s bust. You can have the best technology on the planet, but without a solid understanding of your roadmap and the value your customers get from your service, there’s no guarantee of staying power. (How many remember to dot.bomb bubble a decade ago when the slogan was, “If you build it they will come”?)

    Okay, the concept of microblogging is cool, and Twitter has developed a huge following – 200 million registered users compared to 600 million for Facebook. However, how many of those users are active? But what is Twitter doing to monetize all that traffic? They’ve tried paid tweets, but is that really paying off? This from the Fortune article:

    Just two years ago Twitter was the hottest thing on the web. But in the past year U.S. traffic at Twitter.com, the site users visit to read and broadcast 140-character messages, has leveled off. Nearly half the people who have Twitter accounts are no longer active on the network, according to an ExactTarget report from January 2011. It has been months — an eternity in Silicon Valley — since the company rolled out a new product that excited consumers. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg used to watch developments at Twitter obsessively; now he pays much less attention to the rival service. Meanwhile companies are hungry to advertise, but Twitter hasn’t been able to provide marketers with enough opportunities. Last year the company pulled in a mere $45 million in ad revenue, according to research firm eMarketer. Facebook brought in $1.86 billion.

    It’s interesting that Twitter was born out of chaos. As the article explains, co-founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey found their start-up, Odeo, made obsolete by iTunes and were trying to figure out what to do with their venture money when Dorsey Came up with Twttr to let other people know what you were up to. I think any business expert will agree that “throwing it against the wall to see what sticks” is not a sound business strategy, yet that was the birth of Twitter. To this day, Twitter seems to lack a clear business objective, partially because of changes in leadership, but mostly because the vision seems to have been lacking from the start. Mark Zuckerberg has been with Facebook since Day 1, guiding its operations and providing a consistent vision for growth that seems to be paying off. Twitter doesn’t have those same strong roots, and it shows.

    So even the most popular technologies can fail without proper nurturing. Remember the Betamax? Imagine what would happen if Twitter pulled the plug tomorrow because they couldn’t #gettheiracttogether. The short answer is, not much. The world would keep turning and the loss of Twitter would be noticed by a fraction of those 200 million subscribers, but something else would rise in its place. Another platform would emerge to make up the third part of the Holy Trinity of social media.

    I am not sounding the death knell for Twitter. They have a huge market opportunity, but they still haven’t figured out how to make it pay. Once they find the right formula, they could be innovators for years to come, or they could fade away. But the hole they would leave will be filled by another entrepreneur with a better business plan, or by an existing company that can acquire Twitter and take it to the next level.

    Twitter has demonstrated the power of connection. And whether they succeed or fail, they have proven that we want to connect, even at 140 characters. No matter what for it takes, the power of connection will continue to open up new possibilities for marketers.

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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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  • 24Jan

    My recent blog post about marketing professional who have lost the art of picking up the phone resonated with a lot of my peers on LinkedIn. A number of seasoned PR pros noted that the younger professionals seem to suffer from “phone fright,” and that Generation Y would rather send e-mail or text than pick up a phone. However, I think the anonymity of the web points to a larger issue.

    I recently spotted a column on CNN written by sports writer Jeff Pearlman about his encounter with an online hater and how he tracked him down. Although the Internet detective story isn’t quite as exciting as The Cuckoo’s Egg, the confession of the online hater is revealing. After tracking him down, his online hate-monger confessed:

    “You know what’s funny?” Andy says. “I enjoy your writing. But I disagreed with you [about Bagwell] and I got caught up in the moment. When you read something you think is bull—-, you’re gonna respond passionately. Was I appropriate? No. Am I proud? Not even a little. It’s embarrassing. But the internet got the best of me.”

    Andy pauses. It’s an awkward few seconds. He is not happy I called, and later pleads, “Please don’t eviscerate me.” But, to his credit, he takes responsibility, and says this is something he needs to work on.

    “All I can say is, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m truly sorry.

    So let’s consider how the anonymity of the web plays out in professional communications. It allows the upcoming generation of PR professionals to hide behind email or social media. As one of my PR peers noted, it’s one thing to acquire an email address from a database and throw a message into cyberspace in hopes of a reply. It’s another thing to actually network to make a connection so you can collect a mobile phone number or a Facebook invitation and then say, “Hey, I have a story idea for you.”

    And the anonymity of email goes the other way as well. Sending an email pitch to a reporter makes it easy to ignore. You can craft the perfect story, be right on message, with supporting facts and a unique angle and, because it came in via email, it’s easy to ignore or file for later. If you get as much email as I do, it’s hard to sift the nuggets from the avalanche of spam so it’s no wonder that email pitches don’t get the attention they may or may not deserve.

    Another of my colleagues commenting on the LinkedIn thread noted that he has talked to a number of reporters who admitted reading the email but they needed a personal call to cement the pitch. People want personal contact, and the ability to hide behind an email, or even a Twitter or Facebook update, undermines that contact. Not that social networking isn’t valuable, but it can’t replace the exchange of ideas promoted by a telephone call or a meeting.

    Making a connection via LinkedIn or Facebook might make the connection more personal, but it’s still too easy to ignore. You need to reach out and make a personal contact via phone to cement a relationship. Once you’ve made contact you can have a meaningful dialogue that will yield real benefits.

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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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