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Ahh, the yearly round-up. Something about the coming New Years bash makes everyone sit down and write up summaries of 2009 and predictions for 2010. Reflection is always a good thing to start with before launching into another year, so I sat down to think over a few things I learned about marketing and social media in 2009. Here are my thoughts:

1) Measurement is essential, and really hard.

We blog about the importance of measurement frequently, and tell all of our clients how important measurement is to the success of their marketing and social media efforts. But despite the use of myriad tools and the delivery of hundreds of reports, measurement remains a hurdle. Not because we don’t have a lot of metrics and measurements in place or because the numbers are hard to calculate, but because the overall results, despite measurement, can often be a more qualitative sense of success then a quantitative and proven win. Brand perception, awareness and accessibility are not, at the end of the day, easily measured in strict numbers. So while we feel our work has helped clients make great strides, it is often hard to prove that in black and white without a shadow of a doubt. Marketing has always had this hard to pin down side, but with all the numbers that ARE available now, it is harder to say that in fact there really are some things we still can’t measure.

2) Personal branding is time consuming but very effective.

This observation comes both from personal experience and observation as well as from a good degree of reading and writing about personal branding and reputation management throughout 2009. Good personal branding involves work across many online channels as well as a lot of in-person efforts. By the time you factor in blogging regularly, keeping up with twitter, updating your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, attending Tweet-ups and other local networking events, applying for and preparing for speaking engagements, hosting networking events and following up with contacts, your personal branding efforts can quickly become a full time job. Managing your time effectively so as to allow time for these efforts is essential though, as a good faith effort in all these areas can decidedly pay off. There is no doubt that if you’re looking for work or clients and you spend time each week working on your personal brand, that you won’t at least make some lasting and great contacts who will help you develop professionally.

3) The age barrier to social media adoption is basically gone.

For the last few years, social media and online tools as well as mobile technology have all been discussed as they relate to the younger generations. But in my experience this year, I would argue that is no longer the case. Baby boomers and even the 60-75 year-old crowd is adopting social media in droves, using mobile devices to connect and networking in places like LinkedIn and Facebook more than the teen group early adopters. While their full understanding of how each tool works may not be at quite the level of early adopters, they are using these technologies as much as younger people. This is an essential fact to know for 2010, as marketers consider what tools and technologies to address, don’t assume that the older age groups are still lagging behind.

Academics hear it all the time, it’s a mantra of sorts. Publish or die. Publish research, books, articles, etc. in order to maintain your career and keep your job. As a tenured professor, you’re expected to be creating new content on a regular basis.

While publish or die has been a long standing expectation in academia, it is quickly becoming a mantra for public relations, marketing and communications professionals as well. Content creation has rapidly become a foundation for successful marketing campaigns across any and all industries. From universities to tech companies, law offices to start-ups, small businesses to international corporations, content creation is often at the core of the marketing plan.

Between blogging, twittering, updating Facebook pages, sharing on delicious, uploading to YouTube or Flickr or maintaining websites, content creation has become the mainstay of communications. In addition to being great content creators, marketers have to be creative and tech savvy, developing not only print materials and website copy, but good design standards, easy-to-use web sites and other online outposts, and video and audio content as well.

Being a good marketer is no longer simply about being a good writer and strategist. It’s about being a prolific, reliable and engaging content producer. As many marketing managers can attest, publish or die can easily be applied to our positions in any industry. I do think that in many cases, especially in higher ed programs that teach communications and marketing, this publish or die concept is rarely addressed. The focus is on more traditional and high-level marketing skills, but the core skills needed to use the new tools of online marketing are rarely taught. We should not assume that correct and effective use of these tools or the understanding of the new publish or die mantra is understood by online-savvy students. Instead, we should focus on educating a new generation of marketers who understand these tools both from a technical standpoint and from a strategic standpoint.

For example, content creation has a significant impact on SEO, and every marketer will be expected to measure and report on web traffic. When is the last time you saw a core course in SEO and SEM, google analytics and web traffic management in a marketing program at the undergraduate or graduate level? We need to teach students about publish or die standards in order for them to be successful contributors to the marketing community.

Every marketer struggles with this idea; if they don’t then they should. How do we know what our target audiences would respond to? What if we have multiple target audiences, how do we engage each without alienating the others? In what cases do we really need to step back and rethink the way we communicate with our constituents?

I came across a great example of this earlier this week when Andy Shaindlin of alumni futures did a quick look at what people on twitter were saying about alumni offices. And let’s just say, the results were not great. My favorite quote was: “Alumni associations are worse than telemarketers.”

This got me thinking. Why do colleges still have telethons? I get called by my alma maters with relative consistency, always at awkward times, and always from some poor undergraduate who has been instructed to not let me get off the phone without basically begging me for $10 on a Sunday evening. The alumni association then follows up with mailings and invitations to local events. There are a number of problems with this picture, so let’s start with a brief list:

- I am not really in a great group to begin soliciting for money, due primarily to fact that I still have a considerable amount of student loan debt.

- I hate phone calls. I’ve never given information or money over the phone before, and I don’t plan to start now with an alumni donation.

-  I would rather give online. You’d be much more likely to have success in getting me to donate small sums if you made it drop dead simple and easy, online.

- I don’t need to paper mailings either. I throw them out. I feel bad when I do it because I know how many resources go into those mailings, but they simply don’t work to get me to act.

- I don’t golf or go to meetings at 7:30 am. For years my alumni association has been baiting me with getting more involved with the school through one of three options: Golf, ridiculously early networking events, or “young alumni” gatherings at bars I would NEVER go to.

You get the picture. The overall theme here is that the college is using number of techniques that they’ve used for years to try to solicit funds, but not much thought has been given to audience. For example, I happen to know that a lot of thought goes into whether or not people will be home to receive the phone call at a given time. And yet no one ever asks “should we even be calling these people?” Often the answer is that the telethon at least brings in SOME funding, so we should keep going even though the actual percentage of people who give vs. hang up, get mad, refuse, tell you to never call again, etc. is quite low.

Which brings us back to the original question. Are you really thinking about your audience before you start a particular marketing program? Sure you might think that because someone attended the university they have a greater feeling of association to the institution than, say, a car insurance company. That does NOT mean they want to get a phone call from you. The feeling of rapport with the institution is not aided by what most people have blocked from their phone lines: unexpected and unsolicited phone calls asking for money.

Thinking about your audience then is not just about the content of what you’re trying to communicate (the callers from the university are usually very nice and loaded with tidbits of info on how far the school has come and how my tiny gift could help.) No, in fact, the method of delivery is JUST as important, if not more so. Getting to know your audience is as much about context as it is content, and paying attention to that will allow your campaigns to be much more effective.

I’m going old school this week to rant about something I actually haven’t faced in awhile but that is beginning to crop up again and drives me nuts. Meetings. Meetings about meetings. Being in meetings and having someone suggest, maybe we should schedule a meeting to discuss this. Really? We’re already IN a meeting! We’ve been in it for an hour and half! How could we possibly need more meetings?

(Insert various expletives and, as my mother would say, using the Lord’s name in vain) Meetings are the bane of productivity. Ok, correction, SOME meetings are the bane of productivity. Meetings can, and should, be great opportunities for idea creation and collaboration. But for the most part, meetings easily become a colossal waste of time.

What’s interesting to me is that having worked in the consulting world for the last two years, I haven’t had to suffer the unending meetings in awhile. There are plenty of things that drive me crazy about consulting vs. in-house work, but one thing we get right is the limit on meetings. Because we bill hourly and our clients are very conscious of how they use our time, we’re rarely subjected to the needless number of meetings. There are exceptions, and things can get out of hand, but when reminded how much those three phone calls a week are costing, most clients lock it down.

But they continue to have meetings without us AND they continue to waste time! The last two weeks I’ve had a first hand look at the inside story, the sheer number of meetings that can accumulate, and more than that, WHY they happen and what can be done to stop this nonsense! So I’ll share a few thoughts on managing meeting madness.

The biggest culprit is the planning meeting. It can also be known by other names, like “brainstorming session.” I can’t stress this enough, seriously. Do NOT, unless absolutely necessary, schedule a “planning meeting” and expect to get anything done without some preliminary work. I’ve sat in so many meetings where everyone came to the meeting to hatch a plan, but no one came WITH a plan. Not even the beginnings of a plan. A meeting should never be a way to start something from scratch. Instead, have key players draft a plan or make a list of priorities. Or assign one person to put together an outline of the plan, then use the meeting to expand on or provide more detail for the plan.

Another good one is the weekly meeting. These get to be routine so people don’t feel the need to prepare. Bad plan! Weekly meetings need structure, or you’ll end up sitting around for hours discussing the sun and the moon. Put together a bulleted list of topics to discuss each week. The list should NOT be a comprehensive look at everything that needs to get done in the next month. You won’t get to everything on the list during the meeting, so why bother? Pick five core items that are pressing. And stay on topic. Encourage the team to weigh in on meeting topics ahead of time. Send the agenda the day before and request that everyone review topics for discussion, add any others they want to address, and come PREPARED. If your colleagues show up at the meeting with other items, encourage them to add it to next week’s agenda. The five bullet points should, as much as possible, be the limit to what you discuss that week.

My third and final piece of advice (for now!) is to not involve the group in a discussion on something that one person or two can handle. Meetings easily digress into needless debates and banter about a task that at the end of the day one person is going to go away, research, complete, and then present to the group. Let your individual team members do their jobs. You’ll save time and the task will be much more efficient without the opinions of team members who are not involved in actual implementation.

Ok… one more, I can’t help myself. Assign someone to run the meeting. And I don’t mean the highest ranking person in the room, though that person could do it. Pick the person who will be most likely to move things along and not be afraid to jump in and say great, take that conversation offline after the meeting, let’s get to the next topic. With someone in charge of getting things going, the meeting is more likely to be efficient and SHORTER!

I wrote a guest post for Pop!Tech on how citizen journalism is being effected by new digital mapping tools.  You can find the full post here.

I wanted to let everyone know of two events hosted by organizations that I’m involved in:


What: Marketing in a Down Economy - How to get the most out of your marketing spend
When: 19 February 2009, 6-9pm
Where: Waltham
Who: Put on by TiE.  Moderator: Doug Banks, Editor of Mass High Tech.  Panelists Include: Praveen Ramanathan (Founder of Ayantek), Robert Collins (VP of SHIFT Communications), Altaf Shaikh (Founder of List Engage)


What: Girls in Tech Launch Event
When: 2 March, 7-10pm
Where: Lir, downtown Boston
Who: Girls in Tech is a community for professional women in the technology field…. and we  like to think broadly about the definition of “technology”

Speaking of RSS Feeds, we’ve updated the feed settings on our subscription and would ask that you do the same!  Please click here to re-subscribe so that we can keep you around

Session One: Michael Lewis, President of the Business Marketing Association of Boston

What is “New Marketing?” (and why should I care?)

New Marketing incorporates old and new ideas and tactics.  Some main findings:

  1. More than technology; it may involve old techniques or old ideas.
  2. It’s about listening and dialog, not broadcasting.
  3. Measuring the right things is better than everything - marketers measure too much, just measure the good, quality “stuff” a bunch of new metrics, better to measure focused things.
  4. Extends beyond the marketing department - You marketing team is a lot bigger than the marketing team.
  5. Not “One size fits all;” no standard blueprint - Different tools are more ideal for some than they are others and tools that work for some may not work for others.

Finally, the goals of marketing haven’t actually changed.  It’s still about connecting with your customer

Anya had some good insight over on her blog about what to ask yourself before starting up a company blog.

Check it out here.

I’m exaggerating, but I do think the plunge that companies have taken into the new media space has largely ignored the importance of strategy in a way we haven’t quite seen before.


The field of new media “gained” on us very quickly, it changes every day, new tools pop up while others disappear, and one thing will work for one company while it’ll wreak havoc on another. The focus on tools lends itself to a focus on tactics. A company that “gets it” and becomes successful either gets those tools, or they’re lucky, but the success alone makes more people want to jump in and get a piece of the action.

One of the big factors in this field is exactly the speed at which it’s developing: It’s so hot right now that people feel like they should be in it or they’ll die, but at the same time, it’s a different field almost every day.

Coupled with that is the fact that the field is open and can be used by anyone. It’s not industry specific. It’s not like a few car companies with a new technology (which can certainly cause failures for some and huge successes for others). EVERYONE wants to be in the new media space and it can theoretically be used by ANY company or individual with access to the internet.  Successes and failures start adding up a lot more at that level, and it becomes harder to identify best- or worse-practices.

The Problem

What I’m seeing more and more, however, is companies that both jump-in-blind and shoot-from-the-hip. Not only do they not really get some of the technologies or platforms, but they more often than not don’t think about an overall strategy for their entry, let alone incorporating their moves into overall company strategy.

I’ve seen the following trends (some of these are very general and not meant to be all-encompassing):

  1. Companies are going to PR agencies first, because PR agencies are the ones that tend to implement the tools.  Companies aren’t consulting marketers or strategists, and often times they aren’t even consulting the marketing department inside their own companies as much as they should.  Somehow they’ve decided that the two are separate functions.
  2. PR agencies tend to use tactics over strategy.  They gather up the new media tools and develop a process behind one or a few, and focus on the implementation.  Strategy is downplayed, if brought into the equation at all, and the campaign ends up being sporadic or misaligned with company strategy because it’s separated and made to be simply a process.
  3. Companies sometimes try and take new media involvement on themselves, and again, lose sight of strategy, and develop a very ad hoc system to play around with in the new media space, tool-by-tool.

What this leads to is a colossal waste of resources on a program that isn’t cohesive and doesn’t get the results one hopes for.

Fixing the Problem

Using a military example, any successful military commander that has ever lived will tell you that tactics are useless without a good strategy (or without a strategy period).  You can’t patch things together into a successful fort seizure unless you have the entire plan laid out and the objective made clear.

Any great marketer or any basic Marketing 101 book will tell you the exact same thing.  This was pulled from one such book, which stresses both the importance of top-level strategy to any strong marketing plan as well as the need to develop tactics and programs to support that strategy.

A few things companies can do when thinking about diving into this space:

  1. Internally align yourself with your own marketing department and make sure that everyone is clear on how this works into overall company strategy.  There have to be reasons why you think it would benefit the company and clear ways in which it can remain cohesive.  As Zach said last night in his talk on Corporate Blogging: “if you want to set up a corporate blog just to set up a corporate blog, you’re not doing it for the right reasons.” [disclaimer: his talk was far more interesting than that simple statement, for more check out his blog].
  2. If you choose to do the process internally, do not go tool by tool and use them separately.  Develop a plan, do research on what others have found beneficial or detrimental, know how to use the tools and how they can work together.  Then make sure that transfers into a clear strategy.  Make the strategy detailed and focused, too general will lead to the shooting-from-the-belt syndrome.
  3. If you go to an external firm for help, I would suggest going with one that highlights strategy in their process.  If they’re not asking you for overall goals, what you hope to gain, they may not know themselves.

Obviously I’m a little biased, since I work for a marketing strategy firm that deals in the new media space, but I would suggest going with a marketing firm first.  Most of them have relationships with PR agencies that will then help you with the tactics and programs (although, for the record, we can help on the tactical level as well).  For instance, we have a relationship with Spotlight Communications for some of our PR needs: we can develop the strategy and then pass it to the communications folks.  Usually, since the project is split, the cost doesn’t end up being that much more, but you get a heck of a lot more in terms of taking the process from strategy straight through to program (which is what you should be doing anyway!).

You can also easily go with just a PR agency, but choose ones that are asking the right questions and identifying the right things concerning your strategy before they start talking about all the great tools out there that you can use.

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