Posts Tagged ‘tactics’

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.

The Social Magic is Tactical Execution

social mediaIn the past month, I’ve been creating social media strategies. This includes one for a large company that has never touched social media even though many of its key competitors are all over it.

The creation of a strategic plan is an important step to provide a company with insight and recommendations on why do social media, what to do, who will do it, and the resources needed to be successful.

But one of the realities of social media is a social media strategy is nothing more than a corporate document unless there is tactical execution to make the magic happen.

A strategy provides direction, while tactical execution turns theory into action. It may not be as glamorous as developing a strategic plan but the blocking and tackling, engagement, conversations and creativity is how companies achieve social media success.

One of the things I impress upon companies looking for a social media strategy is they need to follow through with tactical implementation. It can take time for some of them to understand or appreciate the importance of tactics because from the outside looking in, how difficult can it be to tweet, update, pin, link or blog.

The reality, of course, is tactical execution is a lot of work, challenging and time-consuming. Meanwhile, it is getting more difficult to rise above the crowd because social media has become table stakes as more companies embrace Twitter, Facebook, blogs, et al.

This means companies need to be realistic about social media. Creating a strategy is relatively straightforward, the hard part is making social media happen on a consistent basis, which means having the right amount of resources to do the job.

For some companies, this is where things begin to get tricky because it involves people, money, the use of new tools, and the need to integrate a new activity into the corporate sales, marketing and communications mix.

As a result, a key part of the decision to tap into the power of social is media is having a tactical implementation plan layered upon the strategic plan.

A tactical implementation plan offers details into what social media services are going to be used, the benchmarks for success, how activity will be measured and assessed, who’s going to operate social media, and who will be responsible for it.

The other benefit is it provides companies with a good idea of what’s involved so there are no surprises. It can be a bit of an eye-opener when the different moving parts are put on display, but it also illustrates the importance of tactical execution to create the “magic” to achieve goals, success and a competitive edge.

What are your thoughts? Do you think companies looking to embrace social media spend enough time focused on tactics?

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.

Content is King But Needs Worker Bees

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the value of content as a key component of a viable social media presence. But an issue that many companies tend not to focus on is who creates the content.

In a recent blog post, Brainzooming’s Mike Brown did a great job of putting this reality in the spotlight, including a quadrant graphic that shows content richness and the ability to integrate it into your social media programs.

The creation of content falls firmly into the realm of tactical execution, which can be a lot more work than anticipated because so much content must be created to have a rich and engaging social media presence. I describe it as “grunt work” because it often receives less attention or appreciation than it deserves.

But that’s the thing about social media – strategy is sexy and glamorous; tactics are challenging and a constant pull on resources.

For companies and organizations getting into social media or looking to improve their efforts, a crucial consideration is determining the available resources so decisions can be made about how many services can be supported properly.

It makes no sense, for example, to have a multi-faceted social media program if the allocated resources are spread too thin. One of the key tenets I preach is it’s better to do less and do it as well as you can rather than do a mediocre job at many things.

It sounds like a straightforward approach but too often there is a perception the more you do, the better the effort.

Unfortunately, this is misguided.

The bottom line is content has to be constantly created, otherwise target audiences will lose interest and drift away. Second, there has to be good quality content that engages, enlightens or entertains. Third, there is needs to be people to make content happen, which can involve full-time employees, contractors or third-party agencies.

The Art of Dealing with the the Negative

It’s still a bit of a head-scratcher but one of the biggest issues that keeps many companies hesitant about social media is the possibility that someone may say something critical, bad or negative about their brands, products or services.

There is a notion bad things will be said if a company becomes part of the conversation. In some mysterious way, their participation will spark negativity so perhaps it would be more pragmatic if they stayed out from the fray.

It’s a strange approach because regardless of whether a company is involved in social media or not, the reality is people are talking about a company’s brand, products and services. For many companies, it’s a real eye-opener when they are shown what’s being said about them on different social media services.

You would think at this stage in the game, companies would accept the fact that negative, critical or bad comments, tweets, videos or updates are part of playing within the social media sandbox. It’s not always going to be a nice, comfortable and rewarding experience. Sometimes, things don’t go your way even if it’s nothing you have done or said.

As a public medium with low barriers to entry, social media provides people with an easy way to criticize, attack, disparage, diss and batter anything and everything. There are no sacred cows or objects allowed to escape the wrath of the crowd for whatever reason.

For companies who accept this reality, the most important thing is learning how to deal with the negative. Rather than being afraid or defensive, companies have to realize there are ways to mitigate, resolve, react or, sometimes, ignore criticism. Sometimes, companies have to engage, somethings they need to fight back with the facts, and sometimes they need to let bad things flow by like like water off a duck’s back.

The truth is a small minority of people use social media as a medium to be negative, complain or attack. And in many cases, what these people are seeking is acknowledgment that what they are saying is being heard. More often not, a negative situation can quickly be turned around 180 degrees simply by listening and responding in a way that makes sense.

For more thoughts on the negative, check out Brenda Somich’s post about how to deal with negative comments on blogs.

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 Art and Challenge of Listening

As more companies look to embrace social media, one of the biggest questions is “How do we get started?”

The immediate reaction is to create a strategic plan, but perhaps the best and easiest place to start is to simply listen to what’s being said about your company, brand, products, services, industry and rivals.

It’s a great way to discover the amount of activity, the kind of conversations happening, the tone of these conversations, and, as important, whether there is an opportunity jump on the social media bandwagon.

A company may learn there are lots of conversations going on so it makes complete sense to leverage social media. It may learn the competition is using social media well or not that well, which will have a huge impact on the approach a company might take to social media.

The company could discover that no one is talking about their products, competitors or industry, which means there is either a huge window of opportunity, or that doing social media makes no sense because it’s not resonating with target audiences.

The best thing about listening is it doesn’t need to involve a big investment in money or people. Instead, companies can use a variety of tools – some free and some paid – to listen over a period of time so they can decide whether social media makes sense.

After doing a listening “audit”, a company should have enough information and intelligence to figure out next steps. In other words, listening is a pragmatic and cost-effective way of taking a step toward social media as opposed to jumping into the fray only to discover there’s little or no return on investment.

For more thoughts about the value of listening, check out John Jantsch’s post on Duct Tape Marketing.

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.