Category Archives: Blogging

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?

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.

Is Social Media Only About Influence?

A few months back, I was discussing the use of social media in the enterprise with a group of marketers, when one of them asked “Isn’t social media just about influence?”  I was somewhat troubled about this overly simplistic view of social media but I dismissed it as wishful thinking. But recently, I’ve come across many “experts” who are advocating this uni-dimensional model that confines social media to a single function or purpose.

The “influence management” model is largely based on the assumption that leveraging a handful of influencers (typically from news media) to reach/influence a large audience is much more effective and efficient than trying to build 1:1 relationship with a large group of end users.

Although widely accepted, this idea is based on a traditional media hierarchy and falls short in the social media model where the level of influence constantly ebbs and flows. Everyone has the power to be an “influencer” in this new media age so no one can accurately predict where the next ground-breaking news or viral video is going to emerge and it could very well be from someone who doesn’t appear anywhere on your top influencer list.  

Influencers have their place in the marketing mix but smart companies choose not to be fixated on that one dimension of social media. They opt instead to build social media bridges to connect with their user base rather than outsource that responsibility to external influencers.

Many forward-thinking companies like Zappos (now part of Amazon) have done it very successfully by engaging the customer base directly through social media channels like Twitter and others like Ford who have empowered their users to spread their message through the use of social media-friendly content.

Social media is slowly emerging from the shadows of traditional marketing to become an integral part of every function in the organization from recruiting top talent and solving customer problems to driving innovation through internal collaboration.

That being said, every business makes it own decision on how to leverage social media so it remains to be seen as to how many companies are willing to embrace the full potential of social media and move beyond the comfort zone of traditional media mindset.

Are the Social Media Experts Helping or Hurting Twitter?

Recently, I’ve noticed that there is more onus on Twitter users to deliver “value” than users on other social networks. This could be attributed to the fact that Twitter started off as the playground (and still has some remnants) of the early adopter crowd. Other social networks like Facebook don’t have the same history (or baggage) and the closed nature of these sites probably promotes more non-judgmental sharing because of the perception that “you’re among friends”. Originally, the most frequently cited argument against Twitter was that it’s for folks who want to “tweet about what they had for lunch” although, the same type of sharing was and is still perfectly acceptable on Facebook.

Twitter has evolved since its early days and so has the criticism. Now the popular opinion is that it’s become a propaganda channel for media, celebrities, and social media “experts”, which isn’t surprising when you consider that the Top 100 Twitter Users are mainly from the first two groups. According to Mashable, there’s also been a surge in the social media “experts” population on Twitter over the last year and they counted over 15,000 social media “experts” on Twitter, increase of 250% in appx. 7 months.

I have to confess that I am in biased in favor of Twitter, mainly because I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very amazing and talented folks who are now part of my professional network. However, I also have to admit that the micro-blogging site is rife with self-professed gurus who are extremely opinionated and not afraid to vocalize their thoughts.

Here’s an example from my recent experience: I had started sending FourSquare updates to my Twitter stream, when out of the blue, one of the “experts” contacted me and asked me stop the updates as they “added no value”. Needless to say, I was baffled as I hadn’t realized that some folks think that the purpose of my tweets is to provide them with some “value”. What I also found most perplexing is this – if you wouldn’t go up to someone in the offline world and say, “Can you please stop talking about your cat because it’s annoying?!”, then why do some folks think it’s acceptable to do that on Twitter?

Nielsen reported its findings last year on Twitter’s high churn rate where they said,

“about 60 percent of people on Twitter end up abandoning the service after a month.”

This news wasn’t received very well by the vocal users but regardless how you slice the data, the reality is that Twitter is intimidating for new users. I’ve heard many (geeks, nerds, tech entrepreneurs included) confess that they just don’t get it.  I’ve been on Twitter for a while, so unsolicited feedback doesn’t bother me but one can’t help but wonder how damaging this self-righteous attitude can be for new users. The site is daunting enough for them, without having to worry about some “expert” policing and critiquing their every tweet.

Why Social Media ROI is Still Elusive

eMarketer reported yesterday that marketers still aren’t measuring the investment on their social media investments,

Despite widespread adoption of social media, measurement still lags. Only 16% of those polled said they currently measured ROI for their social media programs.

Lately, it’s become very fashionable to talk about the ROI on social media. You hear the dreaded term everywhere – at conferences, in meetings, on research reports, at your child’s daycare (no kidding) so the question begs to be asked and answered – Why is social media ROI so elusive?

So, here are my top reasons (and please feel free to add your own below in the comments):

#1 This report and many others are making a very flawed assumption – these reports assume social media is a “program” and it needs to be justified like any other short-term program or campaign. Newsflash: Social media is not just a program, it’s a fundamental shift in way your customers and employees consume information and communicate. Social media is fast becoming as ubiquitous as email and when’s the last time your IT department did a ROI analysis on your email network?

#2 Should you measure, track the results on your social media activity? Absolutely! However, you’ll find that with any new channel, the “I” will always be substantially higher because you’re still making investments in this new media and may not have realized any of the efficiencies yet, so any ROI analysis on the new media is skewed. 

#3 In many cases, it doesn’t even make sense to do the financial analysis on some social media activities because it’s pretty much, the cost of doing business. Here’s an example: Adding social sharing tags to your email so your customers can share your marketing email with their friends and family on some social network is a no-brainer and as essential as providing an URL link to your website. It doesn’t justify a ROI analysis, although I would recommend analyzing the click-through/share rate. This is something you should do in any case, regardless of whether or not, any social tag is included.

#4 Having a blog or Twitter account is not a social media strategy. Social media success is dependent on the sum of different parts. Just like you wouldn’t utilize just one traditional channel to market your product or services, it’s ridiculous to think that one Twitter account or a blog by itself is somehow going to generate ROI overnight. That’s why it’s essential to remember that not everything that’s important in business (and in life) can be measured and just because  you can measure it, doesn’t make it important or relevant.

#5 I’ve blogged about this before, but social media will not solve your pre-existing business problems.

A guy goes to the doctor with a broken arm and asks, “Doc, can I play the piano once my arm has healed.”

The doc says, “Of course, you can!” 

The guy says, “Great, I never knew how to play (the piano) before.”

Bottom line, if you weren’t able to accurately track the results from your traditional marketing activities because of your internal tracking/lead management issues, you’re not magically going to start doing it just because you’re using social media.

One reality that most ROI proponents gloss over is that even the most traditional, established media activities don’t have a clear defined ROI. Not to pick on events but let’s look at event sponsorships like Golf tournaments etc.?  How on earth do companies measure the ROI on those or even television ads for that matter?!

Attribution was an issue with traditional media and it will continue to remain an issue, no matter which media you choose.

Trying to assign a specific dollar amount to any social media marketing activity is an exercise in futility because individually these activities are weak but done in coordination, these can move the needle. That’s also why marketing is still part science and part art.

Rather than looking at ROI on specific social media activities, marketers should be looking at their key business objectives, selecting/incorporating the right social media elements to meet those objectives, and then evaluating the overall results. Ultimately, what matters is not whether the social media activity was a success but whether the business objectives were met.

3 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Welcome in the Workplace

Joshua-Michéle Ross from O’Reilly Radar blogged about a real challenge that social media practitioners face and that’s the negative perception of social media as the domain of workplace slackers. Employers have a real concern about the impact of social media on employee productivity but as Ross rightly points out, social media is not the only distraction at the workplace,

The fact is that there are already tons of other outside distractions at work ranging from instant message, email, workplace socializing and the never ending cigarette break – so this is not a new problem – but an old concern applied to a new technology…

That’s a great point, but what makes social media so unique and different from other common workplace distractions is that it’s a highly visible media. One could IM all day long or surf the web and not be subject to any scrutiny but send out one too many tweets and you’re likely to be branded a slacker.

Much of this negativity can be traced back to conventional (misguided) productivity measures, lack of social media training, and company culture.

#1 When managers don’t trust their employees to do the job and use number of hours worked as the key measure of productivity instead of results, there is higher likelihood that social media will be perceived negatively. In such an environment, every minute away from the job is considered a waste and much more effort is expended on “looking busy”. However, at companies where results trump number of hours worked, the case for social media is made much more easily because it’s easier to track productivity when it’s tied to a tangible outcome.

#2 The second challenge is related to lack of understanding of social media and related training. The best analogy is email, which is a great productivity tool for employees who know how to use it, but there are others who are overwhelmed by it quite easily. Without formalized social media training, employees are much more likely to waste time on social media networks because they don’t know how to balance social media engagement with their core job function.

#3 Last and most important challenge is that a social media-centric culture requires a mindshift that has to be driven from the top. Here’s where senior management must set an example. In many companies, the senior  management  doesn’t pro-actively engage in social media, thereby fueling the perception that social media is for slackers and not for busy professionals.  When a highly visible executive starts engaging in social media, it paves the way for rest of the organization and provides an example of how to manage social networking efficiently in the workplace.

Company cultures and attitudes don’t change overnight but understanding the barriers will go a long way towards to bringing them down.

Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

- Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

- Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

- Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

- Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

- Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

- Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

- Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.