Incorporating Social Media into Your Marketing Game Plan

The biggest problem most organizations face when they decide to enter the social media arena is lack of a game plan. They start dabbling with blogging, create a Facebook page, start using a Twitter account, but since they lack focus and commitment, they don’t develop the following and they lose interest. Social media is cheap, but it does require an investment of time and resources to succeed as an extension of your marketing program. More important than hard work, social media success requires a strategy. You need a game plan.

Once again, I have to thank Paul Gillen for sharing his words of wisdom as to how to develop an effective social media strategy. In a recent blog post, Gillen outlines A Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools, which offers a four-step process that will increase your chances of social media success.

  1. Define the Objective: You have to start with a destination before you start out. Understand what you want to accomplish and work backwards. Are you trying to drive brand awareness? Build sales? Extend customer support? As Paul notes, you will probably need both online and offline tools to meet your business objectives. You have to understand what success looks like before you can measure social media results.
  2. Identify Metrics: Which brings us to the second point; you need a way to measure success. The beauty of social media is that it is easy to measure. You can measure the number of followers you acquire, the number of mentions, retweets, etc., but are these metrics of any real value? Consider other, more concrete metrics for ROI, such as increased number of sales, change in number of requests to speak or comment, number of media mentions, etc. Your best strategy is choosing three or four meaningful metrics. Be sure to check periodically to see if you reached your metric goals, then reassess and reset your metrics.
  3. Define Your Tactics: Social media can be really valuable, but it is not a magic bullet. Define your tactics, both online and offline, to assure you can reach your goals. For example, if your objective is lead generation, you may want to support your social media campaign with direct mail or other marketing tactics. If you are looking to build brand awareness, consider supplementing social media with advertising, direct marketing, speaking engagements, and similar strategies.
  4. Choose Your Tools: There are different tools in your social media arsenal, and each serves a different purpose. Twitter is a good news feed, for example. Facebook provides a location where you can interact with customers and others and get feedback in the form of comments. A blog is a good place to articulate your personal brand and package information that you can use to feed other channels. Use the right tools for the right purpose.

I have been working with my clients to build social media into the marketing mix, but as an extension of existing marketing strategies, not as a standalone program. The value of social media has been proven and it’s certainly here to stay, but don’t sacrifice other tried and true programs in favor of a social media campaign. Online social marketing is just another part of the program.

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Overcoming Blogging Inertia: Keeping It Fresh!

This marks my 67th blog post for the PRagmatist, and I realize I am only a neophyte in the world of social media. I started this blog because I recognized that to preach the power of social media, you have to practice it. And I have had some success over the last six months. I have just launched a new social media campaign for a client after talking to them for over a year about using Twitter, Facebook, and other outlets to promote their research.

 We know social media works, but as with so many things, we often don’t pursue those things we know are good for us because they take work. The number of blogs abandoned along the information highway is growing at an astronomical rate, mostly because the bloggers lack the fortitude, insight, and drive to maintain them. And the problem is compounded in a corporate setting because now you are dealing with group processes. You need to get different departments and stakeholders involved, and make them accountable as part of their MBOs or other responsibilities. But people get busy, priorities change, coming up with new topics is hard, and another blog bites the dust.

Which is why I was gratified to see a practical and pragmatic approach to blogging offered by Page One Public Relations out of Silicon Valley. While I question whether their ghostblogging strategy is in the true spirit of social media, their basic methodology has merit. Maintaining a corporate blog as part of your social media strategy is not rocket science, but it requires procedures and protocols to keep the content fresh every week, and Page One has identified the big three to start:

  1. Be a reporter, or perhaps more accurately, an observer. I maintain an electronic clipboard (thank you Microsoft for thinking of OneNote), and as I run across interesting tidbits in e-mail or on the web, I clip them for my blog. As a web commentator, you run into interesting items every day. Record them, revisit them, and blog about them.
  2. Be an editor, and offer a vision for your blog. As with all such projects, someone needs to be in charge. You need an editor to impose editorial rule and make sure content is clean and consistent, and deadlines are being met. In a corporate blog, you will have multiple voices, but someone needs to conduct to make sure they all sing from the same corporate script.
  3. Promote, promote, promote. Once you get your blog up and running, promote it. Seek feedback. Call for comments. And get the word out there. Post everywhere you can think of – Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Twitter, you name it. Consider using multimedia to spice things up and leverage YouTube (videos do well in search rankings). Cultivate an audience and keep them engaged. Talk to your followers.

The real challenge for corporate bloggers isn’t so much keeping it fresh, bit keeping it interesting. Don’t sell, converse. Talk about issues, not products. Engage with customers and prospects about topics that are important and universal, and don’t get mired in your own market speak.

And if you run into difficulties, we professionals are here to help you get it sorted.

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Using Online Video: If You Film It, Will They Come?

I have been working on a video project for a client for some time now. The client had an opportunity to reach an influential part of its niche market through a proprietary video channel, so we set up a weekly video shoot to repackage the clients’ research and produce three-minute videos to post to the vertical channel. Research shows that videos have a very high impact on SEO and, when used properly, can have a huge impact on web visibility.

Although we have been refining the quality of our web video productions and the content, we haven’t been able to get the viewership we want from YouTube, or our vertical video outlet. So it’s time to regroup and rethink our video strategy as an extension of our conventional social media program.

This particular client has limited staff and resources (well, who doesn’t), and they service a very conservative market. Therefore they have been slow to adopt social media as part of their marketing program (despite my nagging). However, this new video program provides an ideal opportunity to jump-start their social media program, offering high-quality and informative content to targeted followers through multiple online channels.And there are some serious SEO advantages when you use video in the right way. I recently ran across an interesting presentation by Mark Robertson, CEO of ReelSEO, on how to optimize video for online search. Mark offers some interesting points. I’ve reposted his webinar presentation here for your edification.

So what are the next steps for my client’s video program? Well, I plan to take some of Mark’s tips to heart and use our video productions as a focal point for our social media outreach. I do believe that video can be a great asset to any online marketing program, if you have great content and can use it properly. The challenge is to know when and how to apply it.

How do you use video to promote your brand or your client’s brand? I’d like to know.

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More Twitter Types: Where are You in This Picture?

Twitter continues to gain momentum as a marketing and networking tool, and with that momentum comes a new set of rules. All social interaction has rules of etiquette, and since Twitter offers a new form of conversation, it comes with its own set of rules. We already touched on some of the “Twitter types” in the last blog post, but Twitter is a new medium, which means the rules are still being defined.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for his addition to the Twitter conversationalist profiles. Kawasaki has identified six Twitter types  (as opposed to the four in our last post) and there is even a downloadable poster for easy reference. (Don’t you hate people who pigeonhole everything into categories?) The question is, which type are you?

The Newbie – This is the novice who has decided to chronicle his or her life on Twitter. Those new to Twitter think it’s all about where you are having coffee or watching paint dry, and these types of Tweeters reinforce that notion. The Newbie has a choice: evolve to a higher level of conversation, or risk having your tweets left on the “block” list. Apply a little understanding here and see how they grow.

The Brand – This Twitterer understands the power of Twitter to promote personal brand, so the dichotomy is how to balance self-promotion with conversation; how to promote yourself without baking it too obvious. Many of these Twitterers are worth watching.

The Smore – The term is short for “social media whore.” This Tweeter is all about “what do I get out of this?” These Tweeters see Twitter as a self-promotional tool, nothing more. Some are obnoxious and others are personable, so tolerance is a good approach, if they aren’t too over the top.

The Bitch – This is the Twitterer whose mating call is “kvetch!” Kawasaki calls them the “shock jocks” of Twitter, but basically they are bitter Twitterers who complain about people who have figured out social media. Block them!

The Maven – This is the self-proclaimed expert in his or her field, and their Tweets offer real insight into their profession. If you are looking for gurus in your field to follow who can offer insight, then follow the Maven by all means.

The Mensch – These types of Twitter birds are rare, but incredibly helpful. They offer assistance where needed.  These are the online altruists whose mission is to help their fellow followers. These are rare birds, but when you find one, follow and adore them.

So consider your Twitter strategy and think about which Twitter type best fits your strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all (I told you the pigeonholes don’t work). But it’s interesting to consider different approaches to Twitter and how microblogging continues to evolve as a marketing and branding tool.

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Understanding Tweetmanship: How Do You Use Twitter?

There are all kinds of ways to use Twitter to promote your personal brands and your clients. I want to thank one of my clients, Kathy Simmons at NETSHARE, for pointing out an article from Jason Falls profiling new insights about how people tend to use Twitter from Social Media Today. Falls breaks Twitter types into four basic marketing categories:

The Conversationalist: These Twitterers offer ongoing chatter about day-to-day activities that serve as an extension of their brand and their company. These folks engage in the online conversation on an ongoing basis, and many can garner a solid following by being sincere in adding to the conversation and weaving their sales message in a natural way.

The Conversational Marketer: These online networkers use a more direct marketing approach. They link to their blogs with greater frequency and tend to promote their latest online post, book, or event. These Twitterers do tend to engage with their audience, but they never lose sight of the fact that their primary objective is to promote themselves. The trick is to promote yourself while adding to the online conversation, rather than just pointing to your online brand and saying, “Buy my stuff!”

The Salesman: Then there’s the Twitterer who is all about the promotion. This person spends more than half of his or her Twitter posts pitching themselves and their products. Is this counter to the social media code of conversation? Only if you don’t add anything. There are ways to promote yourself and your brand and still add insight. It’s all about making what they have to offer part of the online exchange.

The Broadcaster:  These Twitterers don’t engage in conversation but rather provide a one-way shout-out of content. Some might consider this kind of promotion spamming, but not all broadcasters are spammers. Some have real value to add, even if they choose not to engage in conversation. Think about the true broadcasters, like CNN and other specialty newsfeeds.

So whether you are promoting yourself or your clients, think about how you need to engage in the Twitter conversation. Even if you can identify yourself with one of these four basic Twitter types, ask yourself, “Am I adding to the online conversation?” To make Twitter work for you, you need to engage, even if you do so in a way that suits your personal style.

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Online Experiments Make the Point – Social Media Works!

young_frankenstein_doc_smallI have run across some interesting experiments in social networking this week.

I want to give Larry Brauner a nod for trying a different kind of social media experiment. Larry is one of many social media gurus I have been following and he has come up with an innovative experiment he is calling the 4+ Day Blog and Website Promotion Event and Social Media Party. This is a web experiment in conjunction with Larry’s 58th birthday. For 96 hours, Larry will be soliciting open commentary from all of his online connections and, as part of the experiment, he plans to comment on every single submission and repost/retweet every comment and submit as many as he can to social media bookmarks. So basically, for four days, Larry has appointed himself as a one-man clearing house for online commentary.

Cool idea.

And more importantly, it will demonstrate the power of social networking in an interesting and tangible way. Those of us who join in will be able to track how the information disseminates, and watching the tendrils of the web at work. I read somewhere that the cool thing about the web is that, like a spider’s web, if you touch it in one place the effects can be felt everywhere.

I also want to thank David Meerman Scott for his kind words about my last blog post, but also for sharing his holiday Twitter experiment on his blog, WebInkNow. Over the holidays, David had to explain Twitter to his brother, who was skeptical about its value. Rather than trying to explain Twitter, David posted a tweet to his 33,000 followers:

My brother Peter doesn’t understand Twitter. “It’s weird – who cares what you do?” Can you guys help explain please!!

What was the response? I’ll let David explain in his own words:

“Isn’t it amazing how nearly 50 people can answer something, each in 140 characters or less, and in just a few minutes you have a better explanation than any one person could possibly think of in a lifetime! And people jumped in from all over (Coogee, Australia and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic to name two).”

The proof is in the response. Social media just works, especially if you know how to use it effectively. So try your own experiments and please share the results. There are still skeptics out there who need convincing.

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Understand the Press Release Payoff

press_releasesI have to admit, I have had a good couple of days this week. I have been working with a client looking to break into government computing, and one of their sales executives was presenting at the Government 2.5 conferences this week. In our weekly client call Monday morning, I piped up in my best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland voice, “Hey boys and girls, let’s put out a press release!”

Okay, I know a press release on a brief pseudo sales pitch at a niche conference isn’t strictly speaking news. But it does offer a chance to create a market presence in a new niche with a new message. Let’s face it, press releases aren’t just for press any more, and they haven’t been for some time. The press release has become the quintessential marketing device for some companies looking to capture the imagination of a well-targeted market segment, and raise their Google rankings in the bargain. It’s a good tool to make a market statement in a format that gets better exposure than a lot of web content. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to write a news release about every new sales idea that comes along; even Web news still has some standards.

I thought this particular opportunity warranted a news release because it would create a number of new opportunites, including (in no particular order):

  • An opportunity to outline features and benefits as they suit a new market.
  • An opportunity to develop a new set of key words and search phrases to help drive new Web traffic in a new market context to promote SEO.
  • An opportunity to reach out once more to our core press and analyst group to remind them that the client is not letting moss grow under their feet but they are aggressively tapping a new market.
  • An opportunity to refresh the social media channel and tell Twitter and Facebook followers what we have been up to.
  • In general, an opportunity to feed the Web!

The release itself was relatively simple to write, and since it was largely internal approvals were a breeze. So within 48 hours we had it on the wire, and distributed it to a few select editors tracking related topics.

And we got a payoff! An editor responded to my e-mail indicating he was working on a similar story on a related technology in a different market: “This looks intriguing. Do you have clients with similar issues in my area of interest?” Or course we do. The interview is pending.

So press releases pay off in a number of ways, and very few of them have anything to do with actual press. With the birth of the Web, the rules have changed.  You need to understanding how and when to apply the format to promote brand and market awareness.

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The Art of the Interview

Conducting interviews can be a tricky business. I used to do a lot of interviews in my days as a trade journalist, either trying to fill in the blanks for a new product announcement, or to develop a bigger story around an emerging company or technology platform. As a PR professional I also do a lot of interviews with client customers to gather information for press releases and case studies. These kinds of interviews are usually fairly straightforward, since companies are usually anxious for publicity and will give you whatever information you need for a story.

However, the real trick to good interviewing is getting your source to reveal more than they are normally willing to share; to provide that additional nuance, anecdote, or fact that will make your story more compelling and give you an angle that no one else has. This is usually more art than science, but there are some lessons to be learned from people who conduct interviews for a living.

One interesting source of interview inspiration I stumbled across recently was a presentation by Marc Pachter, Cultural Historian for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. (And once again thanks to TED for providing such fascinating insights from EG, the Entertainment Gathering, for all to see.) Realizing that the art of portraiture is dying, Pachter has been interviewing famous Americans to create a series of video portraits.

Some of the insights that Pachter shares in this lecture offer additional insights for both interviewers and interviewees (and that means you, mister senior executive). A good interview gets to the persona underneath the professional; the insights that goes beyond the infomercial. A good interviewer will try to break the subject out of their public cocoon and get them to break out of the public narrative. This is a lesson from which many executives can benefit – there is always an advantage to showing a personal or human side to help cement the relationship with the interviewer and his audience.

If you haven’t seen it, rent Frost/Nixon and watch how the two actors spar in the interview scenes. This is a classic example of trying to get the subject to break the narrative. Nixon’s objective is to stick to the narrative; the public story that will protect his reputation. Frost’s objective is to get to the personal story underneath the public figure. It’s fascinating to watch, and actually tells you a lot about effective interviewing techniques.

I also found Pachter’s story of the interview with Claire Booth Luce quite interesting. There is an unspoken adversarial relationship between interviewer and subject, no matter how friendly the interview. In the case of Pachter’s interview with Luce, she was concerned about having to share the spotlight. Effective interviewing is like a dance with give and take. You have to be able to give something of yourself and surrender some control to the interviewer in order to tell your story. And if you are conducting the interview, you have to be willing to work with your subject and give them a platform for their key messages before asking permission to dive deeper; to get that extra information. It’s a power exchange, and if you understand the rules, you can control the interview and get what you want out of the exchange, whether you are conducting the interview, or trying to tell your story.

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Harness the Twittersphere with New Twitter Features

If you are working to harness Twitter to help build your Internet presence, you should know about the latest Twitter innovations – Twitter lists and Project Retweet.

Twitter lists are a new innovation that let you create your own customized lists, or access other users’ lists. It’s an open source approach to tame the Twittersphere that allows you to organize fellow Twitterers by relationship, expertise, topics, or whatever suits your fancy. Anyone can create a list and become curator of that list. Twitter currently allows only 20 lists per user, and up to 500 names per list, but that’s still a lot to keep track of.

Who knows? Twitter lists could become a real innovation to marketers looking to carve out a niche on Twitter. We will have to see what creative approaches people start to apply, and see what the developers start doing with this new feature.

Project Retweet has been anxiously awaited by a number of the Twitterers  I follow. This is a new beta program that basically adds a retweet icon to each microblog post, allowing you to immediately retweet posts without manually cutting and pasting the Tweet content. If you use some of the third-party Twitter applications, like TweetDeck, this feature has already been included. However, Twitter has just added it as part of their Web AUI to you can now retweet at the click of an icon.

If you read the Twitter blog post, you will also see that this new icon is just the tip of the iceberg. Twitter developers are opening up a new API that will help aggregate retweets, even beyond your immediate sphere of contacts. And if you find the retweets annoying, you can turn them off.

The point here is that Twitter is adding new ways to help you extend your sphere of online influence in a way that promote your personal brand and expertise. Now you can build new lists that relate to your expertise and your professional passions and share those lists with the world. And you can share retweets beyond your sphere of influence which can help extend your brand.

Now if Twitter could only start coming up with a revenue model…

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Where’s the Grammar Sheriff When You Need Him?

I had two interesting grammatical revelations from my stepkids this week. The school systems are failing our kids and contributing to the erosion of English grammar. It’s not just the advent of text messaging and e-mail and “quick, qwerty” communications. There is something more fundamental going on here. Kids are not being taught the basics of grammar and sentence construction, and if they are being taught the basics, the schools are not reinforcing those lessons with solid writing assignments.

My stepdaughter is in her freshman year at college, and was trying to get her mid-term paper completed for her writing class. I told her I would be happy to look it over before she submitted it. When I read it, I was amazed that a college freshman had such a weak grasp of basic grammar and sentence structure. I know that she’s a very hard worker and not the best writer, but even so, she needed to submit a solid admissions essay to get into college, so I wondered why this paper seemed to be so poorly written? Most of the problems were things that have become second nature to me, such as subject/verb agreement, starting sentences with a conjunction, and a myriad of other simple rules that were drilled into my head at an early age.

Now consider her younger brother who is a very gifted writer with a natural grasp of language and grammar. He has aspirations to become a professional journalist; whatever that role looks like in the future.  However, his high school stands in his way. He can’t write for the school paper without first completing a series of prerequisite writing courses, so even if he wanted to try his hand at journalism, he will have to wait until the end of his senior year.

We need to encourage students to write, not discourage them. And we need to work with them to help them understand the structure of language and how and why the rules are applied. I taught English as a second language for a time and know it can be difficult to master the English language. The key is to practice using it, and not by texting or sending funny e-mails, but with true writing projects that will help you master grammar. Maybe it’s time to bring back Grammar Rock.

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