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(Note, this piece assumes that an organization has created a strategic plan for using social media, rather than having someone in a cube in the back office posting to a blog once a week).

I got into an interesting discussion in the comments section of a post about social media success over on B2B Voices with Mark W Schaefer, wherein I came to the conclusion that we were both basically saying the same thing, but looking at the process differently.

It really emphasized the importance of segmenting your overall Program in order to accurately identify success - or failure. This could be your business program, your marketing program, your sales program… in this case it’s the program that you’ve decided to supplement with social media.

It goes without saying that you should be setting measurable goals for your Program, and that they should all point towards money, whether it’s in a corporate setting or a non-profit setting or what have you. The dough may come in different forms, but let’s be honest, without it, you really don’t exist. However, the ability to bring in this money more often than not does not rest on one single mechanism, it rests on many.

All of this may seem blatantly obvious when I say it, but it really surprises me how many times I hear that social media is a failure because it didn’t sell something, or how many times people expect that a Twitter following is directly related to ROI.

The conversation should go more like this:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  Additionally, the number of sales that resulted from our website increased by 30%.  We can draw the conclusion that our Twitter program is bringing in valuable traffic to our website, which has always had a great conversion rate.”

Or, perhaps more telling:

“The website traffic from the month of October increased by 40%, with 80% of that being from our new Twitter program.  However, the number of sales that resulted from our website didn’t change.  Either our Social Media Program is not bringing in valuable website traffic, or our website is not structured in a way to convert viewers to customers.”

This conversation is entirely dependent on the goals you’ve set out for your Social Media Program, and then how they are linked to your other programs.  The process looks like this:

  1. Identify overall Program Goals
  2. Identify Components that will go into this Program to achieve those goals
  3. Determine the goals of each separate Component and how each of those goals is connect to your overall Program Goals.

So, if our social media program brought in more qualified leaders to our website (Component Goal), which was restructured to funnel any traffic to a new sales team (Component Goal), who would then convert them to users (Component Goal), we profit (Program Goal).  If one of these fails, it doesn’t mean all of them are failures.

Of course, if you set up your social media program to get direct sales, and that’s not happening, then yes, social media is a failure.  But just because your sales are not increasing when you start using social media doesn’t categorically mean that your Social Media Program is a failure.  If you haven’t touched your website in 5 years and you were never getting sales from it, and you’re hoping to increase website traffic with social media, your problem is probably not social media, it’s your website.

A couple of scenarios to consider:

Social Media Success + Sales Team Success = Program Success

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Failure IF the website was in place to convert viewers to buyers

Social Media Success + Website Failure = Program Success IF the website was in place to actually convert without the website (therefore you’re really running two separate programs)

Social Media Success + Customer Service Success = Program Success (this is an implicit one that addresses the Lifetime Value of the Customer, and assuming that with happier customers, you will get continual long-term share-of-wallet from them)

Social Media Failure + Sales Team Success = Program Failure IF social media was meant to bring increased leads to the Sales Team

Social Media Success + Product Failure = Program Failure (more accurately, this would be Business Failure, since nothing can support a lousy product)

I could go on with various scenarios, but I’ll stop….

The focus here is on the Component level and the fact that, far too often, people draw too-direct a connection between a Social Media Program (which, at first glance, can seem quite qualitative) and money coming in the door.  By highlighting a series of connections, you’ll be much better equipped to account for success, measure for it, and build an effective overall Program that is illustrated in stages, rather than “If I build a Facebook, when should I expect to see money in the door.”

This is why it’s so important to think strategically about what a social media program really means for your company, and how it fits into a Program that has been well thought out, and is well-measured.  Don’t go out and hire social media guru and expect him to move mountains unless you plan on allowing them access to your overall business processes and make darn sure that he is capable of making the above links and laying out effective goals that support your Program.

This article was written for PINK Magazine, published today.
How do you grow when consumers and clients are spending less?  Maintain or increase marketing your business spending to get ahead of competitors who don’t, adjust your product portfolio, support your distributors, adjust pricing – all risky and challenging when cash flow is down.

Thanks to Web 2.0 and social media, your customers are giving you a perfect opportunity to put minimal dollars to find out what they’re saying about your company. And if they’re not, ask them…..

[For the full article, please visit the PINK Magazine site]

Illustration by Henry Blackburn in the New York GRAPHIC, Nov. 5, 1873 from the Dave Thomson collection.

I was explaining how to think about framing blog content as a thought leader to someone the other day and used the following analogy, which, at least in this particular case, proved effective.

Think of being able to have two different speaking opportunities, each one with a different section of your core audience, and each one with different goals. Allow me to elaborate.

Audience One:

Larger sized audience of people with a broader range of interests.  Your role is to offer education at a level that many people will be able to find value in it, and most of them will want to hear more about it.

Audience Two:

Smaller sized audience of well-informed individuals and decision-makers.  Your role here is to demonstrate your leadership in an area directly related to their needs, and to your solution.  Your subject matter will be much more focused and in-depth.

Example: You offer a tool that greatly enhances the online fundraising capability for non-profits specifically on Twitter.

  • To Audience One you might talk about the role that social media plays in increasing support for your organization and allowing for more opportunities to donate.
  • To Audience Two you would talk specifically about the power of Twitter in general, and how that tool can be leveraged to enhance fundraising efforts. [Please note, I'm not discussing whether your language is sales-y or not... it never should be, but that's for another discussion].

Ideally, you have a series of speeches to Audience One, educating large numbers of people enough that you can convert them to a position where they might join Audience Two, and address Audience Two (converts from Audience One along with those who would have already been Audience Two candidates) in a few targeted speeches.

Translation? In general, a blog strategy works pretty well if you have your overall direction be focused on Audience One (most of your posts) and have a few posts strategically placed that target Audience Two.

How do you think of your blog strategy?

Over on the Econsultancy blog, they interviewed Jeremiah Owyang (who I’m a big fan of), who had a lot of really great answers to questions on his new role at the Altimeter Group what a personal brand means to him.  I had a quick thought that I wanted to share with you.

One of the questions - or rather, his answer - that popped out at me was:

So you don’t want to use the ’social’ word anymore?
Social is here today, and brands are wrestling with how to harness it.  However, there are more technologies coming, and we don’t want our clients to be blindsided by the next wave of tools that will empower customers and leave brands behind. Mobile, location based cloud services are all on the horizon. It’s more than social.
There was a knee-jerk reaction with social: “Quick, establish a work team.” But social is just one tool set. We’re looking at the broader set of emerging technologies and on boarding these technologies. We want to get companies ready with the roles and process to onboard these new technologies and conduct experiments where failure is acceptable. Rather than having the knee jerk reaction like they did in social. It used to be that all of a sudden, a CEO would mandate they must have a blog but not truly understand why and how it fits in to the corporate strategy. Most companies don’t have a way to allow new technology to come in. Most importantly, employees and customers can adopt these technologies without the CIO involved at all. If management allows for experimentation to happen, the successful elements will come through. Right now they happen in skunk works that are not sanctioned by management.

I love this answer because it’s how I and the rest of the crew here at the Other Side feels about using the word “social.”  We don’t consider ourselves to be a social media firm, and never have.  While we certainly do most of our work in that space, we also consider the “social media” part to be a set of tools.

We do marketing.  We feel strongly that marketing is a larger function in which social media components exist.  Online is a  channel that marketing should be developed in, and, as Jeremiah points out, not a knee-jerk reaction to an industry trend.  Facebook could be gone tomorrow.  Strong development of your brand in a place that people - your customers - are going to continue to go to is where the long-term value resides, and being able to navigate that landscape is the important part.

We talked a little bit today at SMB15 about getting over legal hurdles within a company in order to use social media, and how to convince decision-makers - the legal department - that it’s worth it.

A lot of great points were made, however there’s one piece of the conversation they left out, and one that I feel is really important (and should be considered first) when approaching this process internally.

You first have to have a legal structure that has considered social media before you talk about jumping over hurdles.

We work with a few clients in the higher ed space, which, in case you didn’t know, has legal walls and red tape up the wazoo.  We’re often confronted with the “legal department” problem, and if it doesn’t completely stop the process, it’s a cause for major hesitation.

What I continually say to these clients and anyone in this position is:

  1. Your current legal system has not considered social media as part of the business, therefore, it hasn’t considered it as something that needs stipulations.
  2. The first reaction to something that is not currently built into the legal framework of an organization is to say no to it.
  3. It usually follows that the way it is handled is on a case-by-case basis with the attempt to fit it somewhere into this system that was not built to support it.
  4. Therefore, your first order of business is to sit down as a team to decide on how social media fits into your organization, and what legal framework needs to put into place to support that effort.

Blog posts should not have a 2-week approval process just because legal is trying to determine how those blog posts should be considered with a system that has, until then, only support traditional pieces of marketing content or media.  It should have a 2-week approval process (which, by the way, makes your blog posting obsolete, but that’s another issue) only after legal has set out rules and regulations that govern the use of social media within the organization.

Social media needs to be accepted as a business process, and built into the legal system before you can begin to have the right conversations about what’s legally working and what’s not.

Don’t just try to cram a social media program into your existing legal structure.  Push legal to update that legal structure to support your social media program.  If it means making a separate argument for social media just for legal, so be it.

The important thing is to make legal an important part of the social media integration process of your organization from the get-go. Don’t wait until you reach your first hurdle.

I recently had a conversation with someone about numbers and social media.  It was not unlike many conversations I’ve had before.  I was asked to defend my mere 2,000 Twitter followers against someone else’s 5,000 or so.  Doesn’t that make them better at social media?  To his credit, he was merely playing with me, and was not necessarily a numbers guy himself, but many people DO base your skill level on this!

My answer is flat out no.  I’m a huge proponent of value.  Value, value, VALUE.  I can’t even say it enough.  And that’s why I’m very picky about my own numbers and my company’s numbers when it comes to what that audience means for me and Other Side Group in the long term.

As an example, let’s talk about my Twitter following.

So firstly, I don’t think 2,182 is so paltry in terms of followers.  Secondly, I feel that over 75% of my followers (basically, the ones I’m following back) are of high value.

I have not actively sought additional followers since I reached the 300 mark or so. Which means almost everyone past that followed me.  Which then means that, as mentioned above, the 75% that were not spam, found me worth following in the first place. I’m offering them something.

What type of qualities in a follower or fan do I define as valuable? Everything that we say is important in social media:

  • They are seeking value from the people they go to
  • They engage in discussion and conversation
  • They seek two-way communications
  • They are actually listening to the people they are following - in this case me - because of these things.

I follow people that I know will have great ideas, pass along great articles or resources, respond to me when I’m seeking advice or answers, be receptive to my discussion and advice-giving, and want to have “meaningful” online relationships.  That’s what I’m here for.

Fred Wilson had a great post about total users versus active users in which he said:

“Your best advocates are always your most active users. So focus on them, make them successful in your service, focus on growing that number, and the non-active problem will take care of itself.”

In my opinion, you should work from the get-go to get users that have the most chance of remaining active and engagement in the long-run, which further lessens you having to “deal” with the problem of non-active users.

A few more numbers that I would be interested in, or that I’d love people or potential clients to be asking me (and that I care about when people tell me their social media “numbers”):

  1. I am regularly “nominated” by at least 5 people each week for #followfriday.  Now, some people will scoff at it, but at the very least I feel this is testament to the fact that I am offering them at least some reason to follow me.  Yes I have to work at it, but it’s worth it to me because they’re loyal and I know I can go to them when I need to.
  2. When I need answers or advice, I get responses to questions within minutes from people following me.  They are engaged in their community (of which I’m a part) and they want to give back.  I love this, and I thank them.
  3. When I invited people to the Other Side Group Facebook Page, I could have easily sent it to every one of my 700+ friends and Boom! I would have an envious fan following for a firm our size.  But I didn’t.  I went through each of those friends and decided who I thought would actually value what we were doing and providing, who might interact with our content, etc.  That’s all that matters to me.  We’re at 113 fans right now, and it slowly grows every day with new people who are being exposed to our information through those initial fans.
  4. I was able to organize - which means find speakers, find sponsors and promote - an event that brought 150+ attendees in the short span of about three weeks using almost solely my following on Twitter and Facebook.  I’m not tooting my horn, I’m highlighting how darn powerful that is! (Thank you guys!).

These are just a few examples, but my biggest question remains.  Why don’t people ask more about the value of these networks rather than just the numbers?

We talk a lot in marketing about Reach (R), Frequency (F) and Impact (I).  From my observations, too many people are focusing on just the R and F when it comes to social media marketing.

R and F cater to the 0.5 second blasts that people send out, which are usually memorable for perhaps 1 second total by the majority of “listeners.”  This can be useful for general brand awareness.  But what about the I? The brand IMPACT?

More emphasis needs to be placed on the I and how to achieve that, because that’s really all that matters in the long run.  This is the only way to achieve long-term brand loyalty.

I would venture a bet that my 2,000 Twitter followers have way more Impact than someone who went out and aggressively sought followers from anywhere just to get their numbers up, which is what I see time after time again. [I've met so many people at social media networking events that say things like "yeah I just reached 5,000 followers."  Great, I say, what's their profile?  What are they doing for you? Will they still be around in and paying attention in six months?

This may not matter as an individual (although it may), but it becomes poor strategy (or no strategy!) when it comes to business.

Case in point:

I recently spoke to a company that was marketing the fact that they were "social."  What this meant, to them, was listing on their homepage the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans that they had.

Well, that could be great if it weren't for the fact that the way they GOT those fans was by running a promotion for a giveaway of a prize completely unrelated to their product offering.  The "fans" rallied behind the brand for the prize giveaway, and once the prize was given out and the contest ended, the majority of the fans were completely uninterested in the product offering, and those that may have been were left idle because of a lack of sales follow-up on the part of the company.

This is a waste of money and a missed revenue opportunity.  Period.

Yet they still tout their numbers on their homepage.....

So let's start talking about value more when you're both increasing your own social media presence and when you're analyzing others.

What do you think about numbers?  Are you getting value out of your numbers?  Are you wishing you got more value?  Have you found a straight numbers approach to social media useful in anyway?  We'd love to hear from you!

As in any profession, our jobs are never done when it comes to learning. 

Learning can come in many forms: industry articles, conferences and seminars, internal training sessions, or going back to school.  But there’s a different type of learning that requires being very conscious of yourself not as a marketer, but as a consumer.  The age old “Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

I call it Subjective Learning.  No, this isn’t technical, and probably somewhere in psychology or something there is a different (and more formal) definition of this.  But the idea is that you have your own personal feelings as a consumer that could be valuable when it comes time to make decisions as a marketer.

For instance, why does one direct emailing campaign cause you press delete, while another one causes you to sign up for a two hour free webinar during the busiest day of your week?  Is it the content?  Was it the subject line?

We need to actively identify ways in which data, content, info and….well…marketing campaigns either reach us or don’t.  And while you certainly don’t want to run a marketing campaign solely on what you feel as a consumer (that’s like running a one-person focus group!), these actively sought out pieces of information can be very valuable, especially when it comes down to the little things like the updating of your Facebook Pages status, or a company Tweet.  What’s going to make people come to your page or Retweet you?

So, be a little subjective in your information gathering and it could really help you hone your skills as a marketer.

What are some of the things you’ve noticed as a marketer when you put on your consumer shoes?

After reading the recent Mashable article about Twitter fTags, I’ve got one concern: Is Twitter turning into Facebook?

These new Twitter fTags are an alternative to Twitter hashtags. Hashtags are keywords that allow users to find relevant tweets on a topic of interest, and also if desired, to have their own tweets easily found by others seeking discussions on that topic. Simply entering a hashtag into the search bar pulls search results from other tweets containing the same hashtag, similarly to organic search results from a search engine.

This is obviously a good feature, as social interaction is the very essence of being a social media outlet. When I first joined Twitter, I was surprised at its simplicity. Unlike Facebook, which provided personal information, pictures, quotes, favorite movies, groups and countless other applications, Twitter didn’t have those search options, so it was more difficult to find discussions or people of interest.

Before hashtags and trending topics on Twitter, you could search for specific terms, but if that exact phrase did not show up in any tweets then the search would not pull any results. This would be further limited by tweet context; say you were looking to tweet about photography tips, a search for “photography” would pull results for anyone who had mentioned the word “photography” in a tweet, name or description.

Hashtags bring it one step further, allowing a search term to pull results from other tweets that authors deemed relevant by putting in that hashtag to their tweet. Twitter fTags are even better than hashtags. fTags are real-time streams about any topic (already created or an original discussion), but is best for niche discussions, as the fTag discussions can be very specific.

fTags are also great because, unlike a hashtag, which is usually a keyword related to a topic, fTags are labeled so it is not obvious what the discussion is about. This way, in order to participate, a user must actually understand what the stream is about, and as a result, fTags can help cut down on spam tweets, where every word is preceded by “#.”

Despite the obvious interactive benefits of fTags, I think there is a potential vulnerability. While it is good to be able to find specific discussion topics, these advancements are very reminiscent of Facebook Groups. Are these fTags eventually going to have the option of private discussions or invite only scenarios? Will these fTags evolve into Twitter Groups, as this author has pointed out. What originally set Twitter apart was the openness and lack of privacy; not a lot of personal information was asked for, but the whole point was that everyone sees everything. Facebook too, has been blurring the lines between the different social media platforms with their addition of “status updates,” which is very similar to a tweet.

I am curious to see how fTags and subsequent applications are received. fTags are a great application because the discussions are still interactive and communication based. Twitter and Facebook have not yet lost the fundamental essence of what makes them social media outlets, but they need to be cautious about maintaining the qualities that keep the social media platforms distinct. We are able to do so much with social media today, because there are many channels to go through, but if they all eventually have the same exact capabilities, we will not have accounts for more than one platform. You will either have Twitter or Facebook, not both, which could undermine the growth of social media and limit its user potential.

What are your thoughts on fTags?

I was talking to someone last week about the focus of her firm, and she said to me “We don’t really do word-of-mouth marketing, right now we’re into viral marketing.” It was one of those moments where you stop and think you missed something huge somewhere along the lines.

But I didn’t.  Viral marketing is word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.  According to the very helpful definitions on the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA):

Word of mouth: The act of consumers providing information to other consumers.

Word of mouth marketing: Giving people a reason to talk about your products and services, and making it easier for that conversation to take place. It is the art and science of building active, mutually beneficial consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-marketer communications.

Ok, so what about viral marketing?  On WOMMA’s “Types of Word of Mouth Marketing” page:

Viral Marketing: Creating entertaining or informative messages that are designed to be passed along in an exponential fashion, often electronically or by email.

The key word here is “exponential.”  The uptake of the marketing message is large and fast.  But it is still done by creating enough of a reason for people to spread that message themselves via consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-marketer communication.

For some reading this, it may seem mundane.  But when you’re a professional in the field, out talking about what your company does, these distinctions are important.  I should have heard from the woman talking about her firm “We do WOM marketing, specifically viral marketing.”  Not one or the other.

While definitions may sometimes be tedious, they are still useful, if not necessary, to make distinctions, define functions and set industry standards.

Since we’re on the topic of WOM, the image above is WOMMA’s new logo, which I think is really great, so I figured I’d spread the word

What are some definitions you’re confused about?  Some you think need more refining?  Ones you see misused often?

My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
Image by luc legay via Flickr

I was having a Twitter conversation late last week with Conner McCall about the definition of Twitter.  Is it social networking?  Is it a social network?  I had asked:

“Twitter - Social Network? Still just microblogging? Somewhere in between?”

Conner wrote a follow-up post on the topic, in which he brought up some good points about why defining Twitter just shouldn’t happen.

Under most circumstances, I too shy away from defining and corralling social media tools into categories.  Honestly, what’s the point sometimes?

However, I’m involved in some research through DigiActive concerning the use of digital tools in activism efforts around the world.  When it came time to coding qualitative data on how people use their mobile phones for their advocacy work, I had separated out Twitter from all of the other social networks such as Facebook.

While going over the survey coding with the research team, someone suggested that several of the responses get combined in some way, and one of those ways was to lump Twitter in with the social networks.  In fact, it was more like “Twitter is a social network so let’s put it in there.”

I really needed to push back on this because I see some key differences between the two, at least in terms of this project.  Firstly though, some important similarities:

  • One-to-many communication
  • Everything is public within your “network”
  • Information/data sharing

Aside from those major similarities, there are some differences that are too important to overlook for the purposes of trying to define how people use these tools to disseminate information and communicate with people.

In Conner’s thought process came one of the very reasons I needed to have a definition of Twitter.  He said:

“It’s a free eco-system that allows you to talk about what you want, but by limiting you to 140 characters it keeps conversations clean and neat.  E-mail, instant message, and social networks will all be around for a long time, but you get messages that take minutes to read where Twitter’s messages take seconds.  This enforced brevity let’s you interact with a lot more people on a daily basis.  Twitter just takes online communication and adds what events like Ignite add to presentations.”

It’s this quick, one-time communication aspect of Twitter that makes it very different than some of the longer-standing ways in which people interact on places like Facebook.  You can have months-long campaigns on Facebook, where you gather fans and advocates for your cause.  Or you can share photos or videos that can still be top-of-mind (read: in the first two pages of your friends’ Stream) the next day or several days. The interaction with information on a platform like Facebook is much more dynamic than it is on a platform like Twitter.

Twitter, on the other hand, is done-and-done.  Information is disseminated real time, and often forgotten after that.  This comes into play in any sort of activism effort because the length of time that Twitter is really useful is often much shorter than on social networks, and the reason that Twitter is used is usually much different than the reasons that Facebook is used.

Additionally, “this forced brevity [that] let’s you interact with a lot more people on a daily [or hourly] basis” is one of the reasons why people will use Twitter over social networks to mobilize efforts.  Such was (sort of) the case in the Moldovan protests last month (note: the Twitter aspect of these protests was, in my opinion, overblown by much of the media).

The one tough thing about this question is that I’m not necessarily in disagreement with calling Twitter a social network.  It is a network of people that you interact with socially, through social media (whatever that means), which is, at a high-level, what happens on Facebook and other “social networks.”  I have a problem bunching them together when you get into the specifics of how those social networks work at a functional level.

In closing, while I like to also leave thing undefined a lot of the times and agree, for the most part, with Conner when he says that Twitter has no rules, there are times when the distinctions between these tools, like any set of tools, need to be highlighted.  And usually these functional distinctions translate into at least small conceptual distinctions as well.

I would love to know your thoughts on how you might define social networks, or how you would make the distinction between Twitter and what everyone else considers social networks, or what you think about the whole definition thing in general!

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