Marketing Mystic blog has moved to http://marketingmysticblog.com

The Marketing Mystic blog has moved to http://marketingmysticblog.com

Making the Business Case for Social Media

Despite the skyrocketing adoption of social media by customers and explosion of “experts” in this space, there is still significant angst among social media practitioners across companies who are struggling with lack of support from management.

So let’s look at the key reasons why your management doesn’t “get” social media and effective ways of channeling the frustration into some concrete steps, which can be a much more productive way to counter this issue.

#1 Can you hear me now?

In many organizations, social media champions/practitioners have little business background or acumen. So, their case for doing social media is somewhat weak since they can’t effectively convey the value to management. To convince management why social media matters, you will need a strong evangelizer/s who understands the business objectives, has credibility with management and is able to communicate the value of social media effectively to your management.

#2 Failing the “So What” Test

Social media practitioners are failing to connect the dots between social media activities and business objectives. Management may not “get” social media but they understand business metrics. Too many social media champions are on “planet social media” while their management is firmly grounded in their financial reality. If social media champions want to make their case, they will have to start translating their social media metrics like fans, followers into real metrics like traffic, leads, and sales, ie. metrics that an executive can relate to and care about.

#3 Fuzzy is as Fuzzy Does

There are a wide variety of reasons for doing social media from “experts” ranging from “everyone is doing it” to “it’s risky not to do it”. Guilt and fear may be good instigators but rarely are good long-term motivators. The key is to share relevant examples and clearly highlight opportunities in your own industry, which is a much more effective way of getting your point across than showing random charts and examples from unrelated industries, just because the numbers look impressive. Having clearly defined business goals and tying social media activities to specific objectives will go a long way towards making a solid case.

#4 Focus on What Matters

The reality of corporate America is that your management’s top priority is the bottom line (which can be a good thing as it keeps you employed). Rather than taking it personally, social media champions should address the real issues underlying the hesitation rather than demonizing the messenger. If your management’s goal is to drive more awareness of a new product, put together a plan that can help meet that objective rather than offering to set up a social program with no clear direction or purpose.

#5 Rome Was Not Built in a Day

Last but not the least, change-resistant culture continues to be a huge inhibitor to adoption of anything new and this is no different. The only way forward is to take small steps towards the end goal and be patient yet persistent to get where you need to go. What is critical to success is your ability to listen to the concerns (you’d be surprised that some are quite genuine) and address each one as you build your case. Good news is that you’re swimming with the tide not against it, so change will come, slowly but surely.

Blogs vs. Forums Which is the Right Option for your Business?

Social media has evolved to a point that companies need to put some thought into selection of the right social media format rather than picking a medium just because everyone is using it. Take blogs as an example. I’ve touched upon this before in my blog post “To Blog or Not to Blog”, where I’ve discussed that blog is a means to an end but the end has to be clearly defined before picking the format. It’s very easy to misuse any given medium, as we’ve all seen plenty of examples where blogs are (ab)used as just another means of passing on corporate spin.

Bottom line is that it’s not about the medium, the key is to identify your objective/goal first and pick the format/medium last. Although, I have to admit in the social media crazy age, the objective seems to be an afterthought in many cases.

This month, I came across an old(er) format that we’re all familiar with and seems to have made a resurgence lately. I am referring to good ol’ fashioned forums, that had taken a backseat to their more glitzier cousins, the blogs and rarely ever featured in social media plans.

According to entrepreneurs like Vincent (Vinnie) Lauria forums are ready to rock the social media world. I rarely discuss specific products/services on my blog. When Lauria’s startup Lefora.com recently announced Tal.ki , an “embeddable forum” or (forum) software as a service, which can be deployed anywhere on your site, it sure got my attention. Tal.ki is a 2nd Generation forum product, based off of Lefora.com platform which has over 100,000 forums worldwide.

Here’s the thing, if social is all about community, crowd sourcing, and exchange of information, then forums are the original social media and yet, they rarely get featured in any social media planning or strategy conversations. Forums have traditionally been associated with customer support in the enterprise space or hobbyists/fans on the consumer side with text-based discussion threads. Forums have come a long way from the text-based discussions and now offer ability to embed videos, files into the conversation. However, the newer versions have much more potential and full of social features such as a Twitter, Facebook (likes), etc.

Lauria says, Tal.ki forums allow members to sign-in with their social networking profiles, such as Facebook and Twitter. So a member does not need to create a new account in order to participate, instead they use their existing social network profile.

So you’re probably asking yourself at this point, does this mean I should start a blog or a forum?

The answer isn’t one or the other because each format has its own purpose and benefits. Blogs are a powerful way for companies to share information and have conversations with stakeholders but they require the conversation to be driven from the company (blogger). There is an expectation that the company/blogger will respond to the user’s comments.

However, forums require a more hands-off approach with minimal company “intervention”. If your objective is to foster conversations and nurture a community then forums are the best way to help get discussions rolling between customers. A forum provides a great online place where customers can help each other but there‘s a great deal of value in getting insights from the customer exchanges. You can use forums to uncover customer pain points, get product feedback, and also, channel top-of-mind issues to generate blog topics.

According to Google search, there are over 100million monthly global searches for “forum”.

 

The challenge for any company today is that social content is growing exponentially and companies are caught up in this tsunami of social data. So the question for enterprises is around data security and storage. Amazon has addressed this need by allowing that allows startups like LeFora, offering software as a service, to be hosted on Amazon EC2 platform that offers secure storage and access to data walled off within Amazon on a private firewall with a private VPN tunnel to the organization. So with SaaS offerings like Tal.ki, a company doesn’t need to install new servers, new software, nor worry about maintaining the security of the system, so that also allows them to scale easily as their community grows.

I think forums should be integrated into every social media practitioner and marketer’s plan. Forums are a treasure trove of invaluable insights direct from your customers. So the question that begs to be asked and answered is why do companies pay for market research when they could be mining data that’s available through their own forums for free?

Facebook Privacy Debate Heats Up but do Users Really Care?

The controversy around Facebook’s announcements at the recent f8 developer conference has kicked into high gear, as first lawmakers and now consumer groups weigh in on the privacy implications of the social networking giant’s recent moves.

GigaOM reports that over 15 consumer groups have now filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission to to protest the unauthorized sharing of private information by the social networking Goliath.

Epic.org, one of the organizations that has filed the complaint has described gist of the complaint,

“…that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.””

At the heart of this firestorm is the “instant personalization” option that auto-opts in Facebook users into sharing their social graph with a few partners selected by Facebook, which according to GigaOM are  Microsoft’s Docs.com, Yelp and Pandora.

The Facebook experience has been described by some as bland and homogenized but the user response to these changes has been anything but unanimous. The responses vary from highly contentious to generally apathetic, depending on which of the following 5 categories, the user belongs to.

#1 Blissfully Ignorant users that belong to the “I Don’t Know, Don’t Care” group.

This group includes otherwise perfectly smart people, who have bought into the myth perpetuated by Facebook that all conversations on the site are “private” or “between friends”. This group doesn’t get what the fuss is all about and doesn’t have a point of view on the privacy debate. This group of users doesn’t care enough to educate itself because it firmly believes that the benefits of sharing far outweigh the costs/consequences from lack of privacy.

#2 The Pragmatists from “I Know, but Don’t Care” group.

I’ve come across scores of users who belong to this group and my friend, Dennis is one of them. He says,

“If I wanted privacy, I wouldn’t be sharing my information online. I know the information I share on Facebook is not private and I don’t care. Facebook is convenient and free, that’s all that matters to me.”

Those who belong to this segment don’t mind sharing information as long as they get something in return. Many within this group know better than to share anything personal or don’t think they have much to lose from the information they do share. This group is willing to give up their privacy in return for some perceived value so you probably won’t hear them complaining much or at all.

#3 This is a very familiar group – the Opportunists that are mostly concerned with “What’s in it for me?”

This user segment has the most to gain from this forced openness and probably the least to lose. This group includes businesses, news media, developers, celebrities, artists, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing the users profile information being shared broadly and want to see their own social graph being indexed in search.

#4 Ambivalents or the “I Know but Not Sure if I Should Care” is the group that’s still on the fence.

This group may be a larger majority than some might suspect and has mixed feelings about the whole privacy debate. These users will take their cue from the “experts” and the lawmakers to determine the full implications of the Facebook changes. You can call this group, Facebook’s “swing constituency”, the one that can go either way and spell success or defeat for Facebook in this privacy debate.

#5 Last but not the least, the Activists belong to the “Keep Your Mittens off my Social Graph (and my privacy settings)” group.

This group is probably Facebook’s fiercest and most vocal critic. The users from this group wants choices, and want to ensure that users are aware of consequences of their decision so they can make an informed decision. I believe that the online world is a safer (if not better) place because of this group’s diligence because it forces sites like Facebook to think twice before forcing “openness” on the users. This is the group seems to be increasingly concerned with Facebook’s quest to dominate/control all social data. This group will not willingly give up the social graph debate without a fight and is likely to become part of advocacy groups that want to prevent any one site’s dominance of the web, especially Facebook.

Depending on which group you belong to, you may think Facebook’s move to a more “open social web” is the greatest gift to the online world or it’s a pact with the devil himself. Facebook’s model is based on users being open and sharing all their personal information, but this aggressive push for openness may backfire in ways that Facebook didn’t imagine.

Even, as I was opting out of the “personalization” option, the “are you sure” confirmation message was very clear in that, even if I opt out, my friends could share my “public” information to “enhance” their experience. Apparently, the only way to truly and completely opt out of sharing your social data on Facebook is to block all applications and/ore start ditching your “over-sharing” friends.

It’s not the vocal minority that Facebook should be most concerned about but rather the quiet ones. By forcing too many changes on its users, Facebook may have a passive rebellion on its hands where users are concerned enough to limit their use of the site and block what they share, which would make the social graph data mined from Facebook incomplete..and actually quite worthless.

How to: Demystify the Social Media Expert Myth

Much has been said about social media “experts” ranging from Hallelujah, they exist! to “(they) are the cancer..and must be stopped.

These diverse responses are perfectly understandable in an age where every other person (and her nanny) is an “expert”, “guru”, “pundit” or other. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, companies still rely on these darn “experts” to help navigate the uncharted and often turbulent social media waters.

The key to demystifying the social media “expert” myth and finding the real deal is to take a hard look at what a social media “expert” actually does. Based on their role, the experts can be classified into 3 major categories – “Do”ers, Planners, and Talkers.

The most popular and generic “Social Media Manager” roles typically belong to the “Do”ers category, which includes folks who “do” social media and typically are the public face of the brand on social networking sites. These are the folks who manage communities, tweet, blog, and engage on sites like Facebook on behalf of the brand. “Do”ers tend to be individual contributors who spend a great deal of time on the social networking sites and/or have roles that require them to be highly visible brand ambassadors. Having strong online communication skills is a must-have for this role. Folks with engaging personalities and community background (forums, chat, etc.) shine in these types of roles. While this is often an after-thought, this role is best suited for folks with calm temperaments who are less likely to go off the deep end in a crisis. Case in point is the Nestle crisis, where the company rep snapped under pressure on Facebook and had to apologize at the end.

Planners are typically folks who have decent social media expertise and presence but their focus is primarily on planning/managing social media activities. The typical role in this category is social media strategist, who is responsible for pulling together all disparate social media activities into a cohesive strategy/plan. Actively engaging on social media sites is a time-consuming activity, it’s rare to find someone who can balance both roles (planning and engaging) without getting overwhelmed. Folks with solid marketing and/or community management backgrounds seem to do well in these roles. You’ll probably see these types of roles filled by people managers who typically work behind-the-scenes vs. on the front-lines. There aren’t many folks who have the skill set/experience required for these types of roles so increasingly, companies are relying on external social media agencies and consultants to meet their planning needs.

Talkers are your blogbertis or twitteratis who are well-known for talking/writing about social media and may or may not actually engage in social media on behalf of any specific cause for your company (other than social media). Folks in this category typically have a large following on social networks, but may lack the experience in applying social media in a business context. This is a great category for hiring your spokespeople especially if your company is trying to build brand-recognition and wants to get more visibility in the social media space. Many major brands seem to have at least one social media celebrity on their roster, who is not strategically aligned to any specific business function or objective but is rather focused on promoting the company’s overall brand and related messaging.

So there you have it, not everyone is an expert but even among the real experts, different folks excel at different roles. That being said, knowing what you want to achieve is key to deciding the type of expert you need and to avoid getting sucked into the expert myth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on other categories/roles that should be added here.

What Facebook’s New Platform Means for your Business

The online world’s been buzzing about the bold announcements at Facebook’s third f8 developer conference yesterday, where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision of the new social web and unrolled the next version of the Facebook platform.

While this conference was primarily aimed at developers, here are 3 announcements that have significant implications for businesses and users – Social Plugins, Open Graph protocol, and Graph API.

Social Plugins are the “like”/“recommend” buttons or widgets that allow users to share content from any site with their social network. Here’s the “like” button on Levis.com, which is one of the 30 launch partners along with Microsoft and CNN.com.

Levis.com

The Open Graph protocol is the rebranded Facebook Connect but “on steroids”. Developers using this protocol will enable users to “like” and “recommend” content anywhere on the internet as long as the Social Plugins  are enabled on that site.

This allows users to share information back to their Facebook social hub without ever leaving the page or website. Facebook claims that this will enable companies/website developers to,

“ integrate your web pages into a user’s social graph and also allows your pages to be seen across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.”

This move brings users closer to the “semantic web” than ever before, where any website can automatically recognize the user and serve up relevant content without requiring multiple logins. With Open Graph, all information on user’s preferences and social graph is delivered directly to the website (from Facebook) so the users can effortlessly share and recommend their favorite products to their social network, all of which is great for marketing.

Graph API reflects Facebook’s push towards a more open social web and putting the onus back on the users to pro-actively manage their privacy settings but it remains to be seen how users feel about that responsibility once this is rolled out widely. Facebook is simplifying all its individual privacy permissions into one unified permission.

However, this convenience will come at a price – users may not have much control over how much of their data should be shared with an external site and how their data is being shared or used by those sites.

What adds some more complexity is that Facebook is asking their developers to have their own privacy policies which means that users will have to be diligent in reviewing the policy for every site where they have opted to share their data, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

“In addition, with explicit user consent, you can use their data for purposes beyond displaying it back to the user. However, you’ll now need to have your own privacy policy and enable users to delete all of their data from your app.”

Also, for company websites (where this is enabled), it’s not clear if there’s any responsibility on part of the company to safeguard the user information, given there is personal data flowing between Facebook and other sites, which raises some privacy concerns.

These social plugins don’t provide option to “unlike” or share negative reviews of products, which is great for marketers, not so good for consumers. I believe this will complement rather than replace the existing reviews/ratings feature which are widely implemented on most retail sites.

This move also strengthens Facebook’s control over any and all social data, which will reside on Facebook hub not on the company’s website so if you’re a business, you will be dependent on Facebook for access to that social data.

Some additional great news for businesses is that Facebook will be able to provide analytics on their users’ social behavior, which would help in more targeted marketing. However, this move towards “social web” makes Facebook the de facto owner of all social data on these users and could potentially charge for access to this data in the future. This is a bit scary and as MG Siegler points out,

“that’s a lot of power for a still-private company to have.”

Overall, this is a game changing move for Facebook, which is already nearing a formidable 500million visitors per month, according to ComScore. But as they say the Devil is in the details and many of the questions/concerns will be hopefully addressed as this becomes widely deployed.

Here are some great write ups, if you want to learn more:

Debunking the Top Three Social Media Myths for Business

As social media has evolved, so have the myths. Here are the top three fallacies that are widely prevalent in the corporate circles and if left unchallenged, these can do serious damage to your business and brand.

Every Company Should have a Blog

I’ve heard so many “experts” claim that every business needs a blog, so here’s a reality check for all blog advocates – corporate spin by any other name and in any format is still…corporate spin. Unless, the medium is used for what it’s intended, i.e. genuine dialogue/conversation with the readers, a blog is no more effective than a static web page. There are plenty of examples of really bad corporate blogs out there, which should be pulled down because the content is outdated and/or in many cases, it’s just a rehash of the company press releases.

Companies and “experts’ who are fixated on blogs are missing the point. At end of the day, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about bragging rights because your company has hundreds of blogs but rather focused on what really matters – meeting and even exceeding your customer needs.

It’s a fallacy that every company needs a blog, because what a company really needs is a medium to engage with and deliver value to its customer, regardless of format. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to leverage forums, external social networks like Linkedin and Twitter to engage with their customer base rather than force them to read a badly written corporate blog post.

Listening is Critical in Social Media

I’ve said it before and here it is again, “listening” was not invented by social media experts and companies should be open to all feedback regardless of whether it originated in traditional media or social media. Customer feedback is critical to any company’s continued success and just because a customer emailed the feedback instead of tweeting it, shouldn’t make the feedback any less (or more) valuable. 

Smart companies already had programs in place, to gather and route feedback from customers, prospects, influencers and other critical stakeholders, before the advent of the social media. Granted that enabling technologies for monitoring the social media landscape may be new(er) but without an overarching framework/plan for using all that customer data, the “listening” part is quite pointless.

Anyone can “do” Social Media

Just because anyone and their granny can update their Facebook status, doesn’t mean that anyone in the company can “do” social media. Engaging on a social network in the business setting requires people skills and the ability to communicate effectively (even under pressure) on a public forum. In addition, social media roles such as blogging require content creation skill sets like solid writing and subject matter expertise, so the blogger can add value to their readers.

Social media has evolved from random tweeting and blogging to a sophisticated medium that should be taken seriously because it has serious implications for your brand. Companies should staff their teams with the right talent rather than handing off social media to the first employee who signs up, because regardless of what the “experts” say, your customers deserve better.

Let me know if there are other myths you would add to this list.