The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - “Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.

SF Giants Tweetup – Clever Use of Social Media or Overkill?

Apparently, the San Francisco Giants are planning the largest Tweetup at a baseball event in history, which (in theory) sounds like a great idea. I am all in favor of sports leagues using social media to connect with their fan base, build loyalty and all that good stuff.

But I would love to find out how many folks think it’s a good idea to host a “panel discussion with social media experts” at a ball game???

And I guess they got so busy with planning this historic Tweetup that they forgot to tell their fan base about this.

Even if we assume the target audience is actually crazy enough about social media to pay $$ to spend quality time with these unknown “experts” , but what about the game? There’s no mention of tickets to the game and whether those are included in this super-duper deal.

So, out of sheer curiosity, love of the game and of course, cheap beer, you decide to “Buy Tickets Now” (as I did), only to cry foul because there’s no mention of this package with the “extra-special t-shirt” and other goodies.

Whatever happened to the $20 offer? Is that in addition to the ticket price or is the Tweetup included in this final price tag? I am just baffled there are no additional details provided on this offer or is the hope that the fans will be able to figure this all out on their own?

While, I wish the  organizers good luck in their attempt at this historic record, I (along with others) can’t help but wonder if this is a good use of social media.

What do you think? Does SF Giants’ use of social media merit a mention as pure genius or does it deserve to go down in history as a prime example of social media overkill?

4 Simple Steps to Setting Up a Social Media Department

Lately, there has been a flurry of discussions and questions on scaling social media so here’s my take on a key question that seems to be on many minds.

Question: How do I set up a social media department for my company and what is the typical org structure (with roles & responsibilities)?

Let me start off by saying, there is no typical organization structure for a social media team or department, since companies set up their internal org structure based on business needs. Ideally, you want to plan out and budget for resources in advance so you’re not struggling to scale your social media activities. However, the reality at many medium to large-size companies is that social media is often initiated within one specific functional group like customer service or PR and the resources are not fully dedicated to social media but over time, these are shifted over from traditional investments and/or added as needed.

If your management is serious about allocating resources for a dedicated social media team, that’s great news! There are agencies who can audit your organization structure to help assess your social media resource needs. But if you’re working on a tight budget (as most of us are), no worries, here are 4 simple steps to get you off to a decent start.

#1 Define your new team/department’s objective and scope:

Social media has implications for a wide variety of functional areas from marketing to customer support, and even HR. So start by defining your team’s role along with a  clear statement of the team’s objective. Simply put, define your team’s reason for existence and what specific business need it will solve. The scope does largely depend on whether your team is aligned to any specific functional group like marketing or the team is going to structured as a centralized pool of resources that supports the entire organization.

List all the groups/departments that your team will support and level of support you’ll provide them. Remember that the way each functional group uses social media is different so take these differences into account while developing your overall plan. For example: The CS team will use social media differently than the PR team, so make sure you don’t underestimate the resources needed to support these different needs.

#2 Pull together a plan of deliverables and resource needs:

Clearly outline this new team’s responsibilities and deliverables in as much detail as possible. List specific deliverables, frequency. and timelines where ever possible. this is critical because this will help you define how many resources you’ll need to deliver on what you’ve promised. Also bear in mind that while people resources are key for any social media team, but don’t forget to include dollar resources as well for expenses related to resources, tools or external agency resources. One good way to create your estimated budget is to check with your HR, social media agencies, and contracting agencies since they can help you estimate the cost for your resource plan.

#3 Determine team roles & responsibilities:

Once you’ve defined your deliverables, then the next step is put together your potential org chart where the roles are determined by what type of skill set you will need to deliver on your plan. For example: If your plan is to deliver 6 social media training sessions on a weekly basis to all the functional groups, then you will need a) content (develop in-house or externally), b) media for delivery and recording of the sessions and c) someone qualified to lead the sessions. Based on the plan, some typical roles on your team would be social media trainer/s and training/educational content producers. Having clearly defined roles will help you hire talented folks with the right social media skill set rather than generalists aka social media “experts”.

#4 Define your KPIs:

This part is often overlooked but is very critical to the continued success of your team. It’s fair to assume that you may not get all the resources that you ask for and that the need for resources will only grow along with increase in social media adoption. So make sure you’ve defined your success metrics and planned for future growth by including clear milestones. These will help you prove the value of this new team and help you make the case for more resources as needed.

Hope you found this information helpful. Let me know if there’s anything you would add as you’re planning out your social media team.

Role of Education in Keeping US Tech Industry Competitive

Here’s a must-read post on Techcrunch, “Craig Barrett Takes On Vivek Wadhwa In The Tech Education Debate” , where two experts debate the role of education in ensuring US tech competitiveness in this era of globalization.

Here’s the premise for this highly insightful debate,

The most valuable employees of any technology company are the engineers and scientists, which is why everyone in Silicon Valley does whatever they can to ensure the continuous supply to this talent pool. The size of the talent pool is ultimately determined by the number of people who graduate from colleges and universities with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degrees. The U.S. is graduating fewer and fewer scientists and engineers, causing concern in many quarters. While many people agree this is a problem, not everyone agrees on what should be done about it.

In this highly insightful debate between Dr.Vivek Wadhwa , Harvard Law School fellow and Dr. Craig Barrett, former Intel CEO take on an important topic, which is the role of education in ensuring the future global competitiveness of US in technology.

It’s interesting that Dr. Wadhwa points out that the real issue at heart of this debate is NOT that “The U.S. is graduating fewer and fewer scientists and engineers.” The real problem is “that the majority of these graduates are foreign nationals (who are now increasingly returning home).”

So Dr.Wadhwa suggests,

“…while we fix the incentives for Americans, let’s do all we can to keep the best foreign students who come to the U.S. to study, here, so they are competing on our side.”

Although, retention of talented foreign students may help US competitiveness in the short-term, there is a definite need to grow the US Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) talent pool as Dr. Barrett has pointed out. He goes on to say,

“If the US is really serious about competing in the 21st Century economy we will have to decide to compete. This simply means that you have to create the work force (smart people), invest in R&D (smart ideas) and make sure the environment is attractive to investment in innovation (do something about tax rates, make it easier to form corporations, provide incentives to invest in R&D and make capital investments, etc).”

This is an issue that requires a comprehensive solution and there is no quick fix. Both agree that it is imperative to foster children’s interest and excitement in STEM early on in the education system, but the onus is on both public and private sectors to create an ecosystem with the right incentives for deserving talent, regardless of whether it’s US or foreign-bred. Creating an ecosystem without fostering the talent pool or having an abundant talent base with few opportunities is meaningless.

One point that especially resonates with me is Dr.Barrett’s contention that “it’s not just a financial compensation issue”. I completely agree that without genuine passion, pride, and excitement, all you’re left with is a culture of dollar-chasing sociopaths.

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.

5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

If you’ve read my blog post on “Why Social Media Won’t Save Your Business“, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I think some companies shouldn’t have a social media presence.

So here’s what triggered this blog post. Recently, I tried to contact a live human being at a well-known national grocery chain via their Twitter account. But I didn’t get very far as the Corporate Twit (no pun intended) kept referring me back to the website, which has the contact information of one person in “Public Affairs”. Apparently, there’s only one live person at that huge national chain or the only one who dares to put his name out there.

What’s even more amusing is the disclaimer on this company’s Twitter page which says,

 

So this company won’t tell you who is posting this information but whatever this unknown person is posting is not their responsibility. Anyone else see anything wrong with this? I wonder if their lawyers are patting themselves on the back for coming up with this.

It was almost a year back when Robert Scoble wrote his blog post on how one large retailer’s website doesn’t have any people on there. What Scoble said then and I agree:

“Here it is in simple terms: add people to your web sites.”

Scoble’s not talking just about pretty stock pictures. He’s talking about real people – your employees, your customers, people your business needs in order to thrive. The same logic applies to blogs and every other type of your company’s online social media presence. Even a year later, it’s clear that there are plenty of businesses who still don’t get it or just plain don’t care.

Here are 5 signs that your company is not ready for an external social media presence:  

#1 If your company policy prevents you from adding a name or picture of a live human being on your corporate social media account (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or other), change that policy first and then launch your social media presence.

#2 If your company culture is all about one-way propaganda rather than two-way communication, train your employees in “social” skills before letting them loose on the social media sites.  

#3 If you’re only using social media for pitching products and/or shameless self-promotion, then you need to STOP. You’re no better than the spammers abusing the email system. Use social media for good – engage don’t annoy your customers.  

#4 If your customers didn’t like your cold and impersonal website and if try to replicate that same uninspiring experience on an external social media site, you will fail. We get that you’re a big company but don’t overdo the branding.

#5 If you don’t have a plan for managing and engaging your customers, STOP and create one before you go crazy on the social media sites.Your external social media presence should be treated as an extension of your existing community/customer programs and not as someone’s pet project.

Use of  social media by itself is not good enough any more. The only choice you have is to do it right or don’t do it. Doing it just because some “expert” says so, is far worse than waiting until you’re truly ready and can handle social media.

As far as my saga with the grocery chain goes, it had a positive outcome. I got a tweet from someone offering to introduce me to an executive he knows at that company. So we have proof that social media works but many companies still need to learn how to make it work for them and their customers.

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.