Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Moving Beyond Social Media Tactics to Find Business Value

Today’s blog has been written by Marketwire and Sysomos’ COO, Jim Delaney

If you were to believe the recent blog headline “Social Media is a Waste of Time for B-to-B,” then your company may miss an a significant opportunity to create communication that leads to valuable business outcomes.  Given the nascent nature of the Social Media revolution, there is no shortage of headlines like these based on an incomplete understanding of end-to-end business process.   Most posts, like this one, address the value of social media in the context of infrastructure only, detailing the components of the infrastructure that must be in place. Rather than focusing on the infrastructure only, businesses need to think about how social media can support the infrastructure, while also providing high-level business value.

The first question you should always ask is, ”How will social media support my company’s higher level goals, and why do we want to engage in social media?” As an executive and marketer, it’s not that I don’t care about the number of friends, followers, views and retweets.  But, I’m much more interested in seeing a clearer picture of how social media affects my company on a business level. Does social media help us to manage our company’s reputation, augment our customer service program, gain market share, and/or increase employee productivity?

Too often, the focus on social media is tactical communications, with marketing, branding and PR departments rushing to have conversations and share content, without understanding how participation connects to higher-level goals. Simply pumping content through different channels clearly is not enough.  Social media success, of course, is based on several basic best practices including:  a good functional website where you can drive social media traffic, a customer service program capable of answering questions at numerous touch points, a strong industry presence and the resources to support relationship building with your stakeholders.

However, moving beyond the initial infrastructure, you must also look more closely at using social media to create opportunities that result in better:

Reputation Management

Social media allows a company to proactively set up a customer “listening” program with data and insights to determine how your stakeholders think and feel about your brand. Armed with an enormous amount of analytics, you are able to keep a pulse on the market. You are also constantly monitoring customer sentiment and preventing the smallest negative conversations from escalating into what could be a mountain of crisis, by simply being responsive. Addressing issues as they arise is the best way to preserve a thought leadership position and maintain a positive image in an age of public conversations.

Customer Service Satisfaction

Facebook has become a customer service portal, with employee representatives answering questions, offering useful advice and solving problems on your pages. Whether it’s a simple inquiry about your product or a verified complaint, a social network can serve as a helpful forum, opening up a new avenue for stakeholders to praise your service or vent their dissatisfaction. Companies have learned quickly that using Facebook to answer questions cuts down on the call center inquiries, which, in turn, also cuts costs. Customer satisfaction is at the heart of every business. If your stakeholders are participating in social media, then you need to be listening carefully with the right tools to help and solve their issues.

Lead Generation and Sales

The social media million-dollar question is how does community engagement create leads, which convert to product sales?  Where social media analytics end, website analytics begin.  You must track how your social media program drives traffic to your website, and then monitor your stakeholder behavior from there. Using unique landing pages as a part of a Facebook contest or a Twitter promotion allows you to capture leads on the page, and then use the information to further engage with interested parties.  However, if you are not set up properly to capture the social media analytics and track from click to conversation on your website, then you will not be able to see a direct connection between social media participation and potential sales for your company.

Employee Productivity

As much as we rush to communicate through social networks, tremendous value comes from the education and subsequent internal collaboration of your employees.  Training employees to understand, embrace and use social media collectively in their departments and even cross functionally opens up your organization to innovation and idea generation. Collaborative technology can be used from brainstorming new product ideas to strategic planning initiatives. Cutting back on email, and streamlining your process by editing documents in real time, is a great way to increase productivity, and also to assure consistent communications messaging, from champion to champion across the organization.

Of course, if you don’t have the basics down, then there is no way your organization can even begin to think about how social media is tied to increased market share, reputation management, better customer service, enhanced lead generation and greater employee productivity.   Get the basics or infrastructure in place, know what you’re trying to achieve and create a social media plan with strategies that lead to greater outcomes.

If you can think about the higher-level goals first, then you will find social media is not a waste of time. In fact, you will realize it leads to valuable business outcomes.

Five Rules to Explore New Social Media Toys

social mediaThere is an interesting and challenging balance act being waged by many brands (and individuals, for that matter) when it comes to the ever-changing social media landscape.

On one hand, there are the mainstream services that are straightforward to embrace because there have large user bases. These include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Tumblr.

On the other hand, there continues to be new social media services that seemingly come out of nowhere to attract millions of users. This category includes Pinterest and Instagram.

And then there are emerging social networks such as Path, Fancy, Highlight, LocalMind and Forecast that have people excited but have yet to establish themselves.

What this means for brands is their social media strategies must be flexible, and they have to quickly evaluate new social media opportunities to determine whether they provide any value or a competitive edge.

Given this fast-moving landscape, here are five tips for brands looking to remain socially relevant, flexible and on the leading edge.

1. Consider the major social media networks as table stakes given this is where many consumers exist. A brand may not have to embrace all of them but it needs to have play where the “party” is happening. Bottom line: Determine where your target audiences exist, and then establish a presence to meet it.

2. Explore new networks and opportunities as they emerge. Who knew, for example, that Pinterest would become one of the hottest and biggest social networks after being quasi-stealth mode for a couple of years. Some social networks may initially not appear to have much potential but they should not be dismissed until some research has been done. At the very least, it makes sense to grab the user name just in case.

3. Determine if a new social network meets the needs of your target audiences in a new way. While your target audiences may not be there yet, a social media service could have all the ingredients to engage them at some point. It could be that target audiences simply need to be educated about a social media network.

4. If a new social media networks looks interesting, assess if you have the resources to add it to the mix. A social network may look good but if spreads resources too thin, it could do more harm than good. I’m a big advocate of doing less but doing a great social, compared with doing a lot of things in a mediocre way.

5. Don’t be afraid to swap out social networks to jump on a new opportunity. As part of monitoring social media activity, a brand can should be able to tell what network are working and delivering ROI, and those struggling or missing the mark. If a new social network appears to have a lot of potential, a brand shouldn’t be afraid to turf one of its existing social networks. This keeps existing resources aligned with the social portfolio.

What’s your approach to new social media networks? How do you assess whether they have potential?

More: Here are some thoughts from Mark Schaefer about how to stay ahead of “overwhelming social media change”.

 

 

 

The Social Balance Between Real-Time vs. Long-Term

Given social media is a fast-moving, real-time medium, many brands have a short time horizon when it comes to planning.

In an ever-evolving marketplace, planning ahead one or two months could be seen as “long-term” – something that is reflected in many editorial calendars.

The reality, however, is that two months is a relatively short period of time. While a brand may have a plan in place to support its marketing and sales activities, the two months is over before you know it. Then what?

It means brands need to think long-term as being six to 12 months – something highlighted in a recent blog post by KissMetrics. It’s about having a vision about what you want to do with social media over the horizon, where you want it to take you, and the goals to be attained.

In other words, it’s not just about short-term successes like a video that mysteriously goes viral.

For most brands, long-term planning is a core component of how they do business, so why should social media be any different.

When you think about it, many social media objectives are long-term in nature – things such as brand awareness, customer service, lead generation and community build. None of these goals happen overnight. Instead, they are created and nurtured over time.

For brands to commit themselves to social media and recognize it takes time to make things happen, a long-term plan is important and, frankly, it just makes sense.

To create a long-term plan, here are a few tips:

1. Establish goals that reflect where your business is going strategically and tactically.

2. If quantity – followers, Likes, etc. – are part of the metrics mix, recognize social media is a game of inches rather than miles. In other words, it takes time to build a large community, particularly a large, engaged community.

3. Be patient. Don’t look for or expect overnight success, otherwise you’ll be disappointed.

4. Monitor and track your progress on a regular basis to make sure the benchmarks along the way are being met. If not, be prepared to tweak or change your approach to reach your long-term goals.

5. Be consistent, constant and accessible. Make it clear to your community and the people you want to attract that you’re in it for the long haul as opposed to simply being social to drive short-term campaigns.

What do you think? How can brands take a long-term approach to social media?

How Scripted Should Social Media Be?

Like any marketing or communications program, social media can’t be completely done on the fly or by the seat of the pants. There needs to be a plan of attack and structure so social media can happen as efficiently and effectively as possible.

To provide structure, many companies have created well-defined editorial calendars that include scripted updates and tweets that leverage keywords and marketing promotions. It means that a good chunk of tactical execution is set in stone as opposed to being opportunistic. For companies, a script provides them with editorial control because they know exactly what is going to happen and when. It allows them to do social media but, in some respects, apply the same approach as traditional marketing.

While there may be a role for a scripted approach, it would be a mistake for any company to believe this approach should be exclusively embraced. While it makes social media easier to manage, a scripted approach also removes the spontaneity, flexibility, engagement and, arguably, the fun from social media. By sticking to a plan that is created and then methodically implemented, a company is really just going through the motions as opposed to using social media in the right way.

A big part of social media is being engaged and listening to what is being said about your company, brand, industry and rivals. It means having a good sense of what people are thinking, and then having the ability to react accordingly. It could be direct engagement by answering a question, providing a resource or a link to relevant content, or acknowledging that you are, in fact listening.

Having a scripted approach, on the other hand, doesn’t allow much room for acting when required because, well, it’s not in the script. If you can’t play with other kids in the social sandbox, it really brings into question whether social media is really going to be effective.

My take on companies that insist on a scripted approach is they are either scared of social media, they feel an obligation to use social media but they’re not passionate about it, or they see a scripted approach as an effective way to manage resources. Whatever the reason, it seems like the wrong way to go.

This is not to suggest there is no room for scripted tweets or updates because it does provide a consistent foundation for a social media program. But there also needs to be room to react when required without having to get things approved or think too much. Social media is a real-time, dynamic ecosystem that sometimes forces companies to jump into action – something that can’t be scripted in advance.

What Happens When Everyone’s Doing Social Media?

Whether it’s a company, organization or non-profit, it seems everyone is getting into social media. To not be on Twitter or have a Facebook Page is now almost as strange as not having a Web site. It’s part of doing business, driven by the fact the barriers to entry are low because the services are free and user-friendly.

But what happens when everyone’s doing social media? What happens when being on social media is no longer a way to differentiate your business or establish a competitive edge? When social media becomes ubiquitous as a way to do business, then what happens?

Perhaps the biggest issue – and the one that will separate the cream from the milk – will be content. It’s easy to set up a Facebook Page or Twitter account, it’s another thing entirely to create content that engages, entertains and educate.

Starbucks, for example, has 23 million fans of its Facebook Page because it is a popular consumer-facing brand that has embraced social media and integrated it into its communications and marketing efforts.

At the same time, Starbucks generates a tremendous amount of content to drive social media – polls, contests, giveaways, etc. This activity has let Starbucks maintain its early-mover advantage and continued to drive its competitive edge. For rivals, it must be a daunting task to go head-to-head with Starbucks within the social media realm.

The challenge facing companies looking to carve out a social media edge when everyone is using social media. It’s not enough anymore to be using social media; that’s just the price of admission. As social media becomes an integral part of company’s communication, marketing and sales activities, the stakes and demands to use social media as a competitive weapon are getting higher.

Content will become even more important. It will require companies to be even more diligent, committed, creative and engaging. The resources to make this happen will increase as well, forcing companies to hire more people to operate their social media efforts, or find other ways such as outsourcing to fill the gaps.

In many ways, social media has reached an interesting fork in the road. So far, it has mostly been a matter of making sure you were on the road as opposed to what you did or how you drove. Now, the road will become more challenging to navigate and being successful will require more work, resources and a dose of luck.

The companies that embrace the challenge will be able to rise above the crowd but the competitive landscape means they have to stay committed and focused.

For more thoughts about what companies need to think about, check out this post from Bazaarblog, which features thoughts from several social media thought leaders.

What’s the Cost of Social Media?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the ROI of social media but probably not as much attention about the costs to make social media happen.

Part of the challenge in determining ROI is costs can vary depending on the approach, the extent and kind of the programs and campaigns, and the resources allocated to day-to-day tactics, monitoring and analysis.

A recent info-graphic by Focus.com (shown below) suggests the cost of social media is $210,000. It is split into several parts with the two largest components being a social media strategist ($52,000) and community manager ($93,600).

For large companies, these costs might be relevant, although $50,000 for a social media strategist strike me as high. For smaller companies, it is probably difficult, if not impossible, to justify this kind of investment.

A more realistic cost structure to social media can be achieved by adopting a staged approach. For small and large companies, the cost of doing social media really starts once a social media strategy is implemented.

This helps to establish why social media is being used, how much activity there will be, the upfront investment needed to launch and customize social media services, and the resources required to create content, engage, monitor, etc.

At this point, companies can start to put together estimates about costs, including whether it makes sense within the scheme of things, and whether a good ROI can be achieved.

In many cases, getting into social media can start with a modest investment. It could see having an internal person designated as the social media manager, which means the investment is the time being carved out of that person’s other responsibilities.

It could mean hiring someone on a full-time or part-time basis, retaining someone on contract, or outsourcing to a third-party such as a social media or public relations agency.

Whatever option is selected, the costs can be managed depend on how much is being done and who’s going to do. The Focus.com info-graphic is eye-catching but far from being an ubiquitous approach.

The End of the Social Media Consultant?

Shel Israel had an interesting blog post last week about how many social media consultants within his social circles are accepting full-time positions.

When Shel asks them why they decided to jump back into the corporate world, the answer was “it’s time” – to which Shel wrote: “They’re absolutely right. It’s time because the times have fast-evolved”.

Shel’s observation is bang on because it reflects how quickly the social media landscape is changing. In simple terms, social media as a standalone activity is coming to an end.

For the past few years, the emergence of social media has generated a lot of interest and demand by companies looking for information about what’s happening and why/if they should get involved.

It’s been a great time to be a social media consultant because there is such a thirst for knowledge. But as companies gain more insight into social media and have employees who are social media savvy, there is less need to hire social media consultants.

This is not to suggest that companies no longer need social media consultants but their roles will be different and arguably less in demand.

If you are a social media consultant, you need to be really, really good at providing strategic counsel, as well as have in-depth knowledge of the tools and services need to execute tactically.

For everyone else, they will need to offer than just social media strategic and tactical services. Instead, they have to offer services that embrace communications, marketing and sales strategies and goals.

In other words, it will be the people who are multi-dimensional and able to offer insight about big-picture issues who will thrive.

More: An interesting read is Peter Shankman’s post on why he wouldn’t hire a “social media expert”, which offers some more thoughts on how these kind of people are uni-dimensional. Again, it’s not a bad thing to be a specialist but I think there will be less demand as companies become more sophisticated and educated about social media.

The Importance of Target Audiences

As companies create social media strategies and tactical plans, it is surprising to see how often a crucial element is overlooked: target audiences (aka the people that companies are trying to reach, engage and build relationships with).

It probably has to do with the focus on coming up with a plan of attack and the mechanics of day-to-day execution. Companies spend a lot of time working on getting a handle on why they want to use social media, what they want to get out of it and how it’s going to happen but the consumer sometimes gets lost in the mix.

It’s a head-scratcher because a key part of creating and selling a product – be it tangible or social media activity – is identifying the target audiences, and trying to determine who they are, what kind of content and information they would be interested in getting, their consumption habits, and what kind of social media services they are using, if any.

Having a solid knowledge of the target audience plays a crucial play in making sure whatever a company does with social media is effective and focused. It makes no sense, for example, to be enthusiastic about Facebook if only a small portion of the target audience uses Facebook as a way to consume information and engage with brands.

Another thing that makes target audiences so challenging is different groups could use different types of social media services and be interested in consuming different kinds of information. One part of your audience may be all over Twitter because they want a steady flow of content, while a blog would resonate with another group looking for in-depth perspective, insight and information.

In other words, it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. This makes the importance of identifying target audiences that much more necessary and important. At the end of the day, a social media program will thrive if enough people consume, use, interact or share the content that a company generates. Otherwise, a company is wasting its time if no one is buying what they’re selling.

The 10 Keys to Hiring a Social Media “Expert”

First, I’m being somewhat tongue in cheek with the use of “expert” in the headline given I’m not sure anyone can claim to be a social media “expert”. The marketplace is so new and moving at such a rapid clip, that it’s difficult to suggest anyone has a super-strong grasp on everything.

That said, social media experts (or consultants, gurus, strategists, etc.) can play a key role in helping companies embrace and execute on social media. The right person can help you break out of the gates with the right strategic and tactical approach to provide a good shot at being successful.

So what should you be looking for in a social media expert/guru/consultant? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Look for someone who doesn’t think Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al are the coolest things ever. You don’t need a social media enthusiast, you need someone who understand how social media can be leveraged to achieve your company’s strategic and tactical goals. It means hiring someone with solid business knowledge, who also happens to know social media.

2. Find someone who can help create a strategic plan that reflects your company, industry and target audiences – as opposed to getting a cookie-cutter plan. These people are worth the money because they align your business needs with your social media efforts. No offense but good tactical help is much easier to find and staff.

3. Focus on someone who talks the talk and walks the walk. While you can learn a lot about someone by what they do on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, it is also important see how active and successful they are socially. How many followers do they have on Twitter? How many “Likes” do they have on Facebook? How many blog posts do they write and how many RSS subscribers do they have?

4. Part II of walking the walk is working with people who have a track record with clients. There are lots of social media experts/consultants who are great communicators but it is also important to work with people who have hands-on experience helping companies create strategic and tactical plans.

5. Make sure a social media expert/consultant has examples of how their efforts have helped clients be successful. Get details on how their worked helped a client reach specific goals.

6. Look for someone willing to stick around after the strategic and tactical plan is completed – be it to provide hands-on training or education, tweaking your tactical execution, or, if required, recalibrating what you’re doing. Avoid anyone who takes an in and out approach.

7. Ask for references. Anyone who is any good will be happy to provide them to demonstrate their expertise.

8. Shop around. Be willing to get proposals from several suppliers to compare their approaches, goals and prices. Ask other companies for their suggestions and recommendations.

9. Be an educated consumer by reading about what social media experts/consultants do and the value provide. There’s no lack of information out there.

10. Establish benchmarks for success, and get these benchmarks in writing. Make sure that what you’re buying is well-articulated, including the time involved and deliverables.

The Value of the Social Media Champion

Social media is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s activity in which gains take place in inches, rather than miles. And after the initial novelty disappears, social media is tough slogging.

So what can companies do to maintain their momentum when social media starts to blend into the background rather than being the belle of the ball?

One of the weapons to keep your social media mojo is having a “champion” internally – someone who’s responsible for making sure the excitement and effort remains alive and well. This is a particularly valuable role if social media tactics are outsourced because it keeps social media front and centre within the company.

Being a social media champion can be a difficult and challenging job because it not only takes a lot of energy but requires a commitment from senior management that social media isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow activity.

A social media champion can be the CEO if that person is social media savvy or, at least, a believer in social media as a key strategic and corporate component.

A social media champion can be a community manager – someone such as Frank Eliason, who filled the role at Comcast, or Ford’s Scott Monty.

It could be an evangelist who is immersed within the social media community. Robert Scoble fills this role in his gig with RackSpace.

At the end of the day, the social media champion plays an important role by not letting social media lose its importance or momentum.

At times, it can be a glamorous job. But it can also be a tough position because sometimes it can require a stick to get people motivated and moving.