Category Archives: social media

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.

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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.

Is Advertising on Facebook Really Effective?

eMarketer has predicted a 39% increase in advertising spend on Facebook for 2010.  The popularity of advertising on social networks is primarily based on the notion that sites like Facebook  have a great deal of data on their users and this information can be exploited to deliver highly targeted ads to its huge user base. In theory, it makes a great deal of sense. Afterall, users are going crazy and sharing every little detail of their personal lives on these sites so why not leverage that information for marketing to them? In fact, Facebook goes on to claim that businesses should advertise on the site because:

“People treat Facebook as an authentic part of their lives, so you can be sure you are connecting with real people with real interest in your products.”

If that’s true, it’s absolutely baffling why the site serves up inane and irrelevant ads when you browse through it. Take a look at the ads on these 2 fan pages – Microsoft and BMW. You’ll notice that ads on the right have no relation to the content on these fan pages. One’s pitching designer handbags (never mind that I am looking at a software fan page) and the other one serves up  a list of ads with the only unifying theme being they all have pictures of women (Did I mention that I am a woman?! How clever of them to figure that out).

 Microsoft Fan Page

 

BMW Fan Page

As if those 2 examples weren’t enlightening enough, the ads on the Harvard Business Review fan page are just mind-boggling. I am baffled as to the connection between HBR and pets. And no, there’s no information in my Facebook profile about my imaginary or real pets.

One would think there are advertisers in similar or related categories who would be interested in marketing to the same audience but apparently, that’s not the case on Facebook. Of course, one can just blame the clueless advertisers who don’t know how to optimize their targeting but when you look at the target filters Facebook offers, you soon realize their limitations. The site says you can,

“Target your exact audience with demographic and psychographic filters about real people.”

I am a “real” person, a female of “certain age” who also happens to be interested in luxury cars and operating systems (gasp!). Under Facebook’s current ad model, no matter which page/group I am on, it only serves up ads based on my profile. As an user, it’s annoying but as an advertiser, I would be very concerned about displaying ads to an uninterested audience and with zero context.

So here’s my theory: Facebook either has a very low inventory of ads and that’s why they cycle through the limited number of available but irrelevant ads or the ad targeting model is fundamentally flawed. In either case, I seriously doubt that advertising on Facebook is any more effective  than other advertising options like paid search or contextual ads on traditional sites.

I’ll try to get some data from businesses who’re currently advertising on Facebook and post the findings here as a follow up. If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.

Top 5 Social Media Predictions for 2010

Here’s my first blog post for 2010 with my top 5 predictions for how social media will evolve in the new year.

#1 Social media will no longer be just another way of driving buzz but will become an integral part of a company’s marketing mix. As social networks mature, companies too will get smarter about their engagement on social networks and start focusing on the ones most relevant to their target market.

#2 This year, we’ll see social media measurement slowly move from raw metrics such as number of fans/followers to business metrics like brand awareness and customer loyalty.  Engagement metrics will become more important than volume and quality of relationships will trump all.

#3 The number of social media “experts” and related services will continue to grow exponentially but in this world of increased competition, these “experts” will have to prove how their expertise can drive business results.

#4 There will be  an increase in location-based social networks, thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and growing popularity of services like FourSquare, Gowalla, and others.

#5 Last but not the least, we’ll see emergence of new technologies and services designed to help large companies integrate social media activities into their backend processes, be it CRM systems or customer support centers.

Feel free to add your predictions below. Happy new year and decade!! 🙂

Using Twitter for Customer Service in the Enterprise

There have been many innovative uses for Twitter since its inception, including finding out when your plants need watering  and many more creative uses are being devised even as you’re reading this post. On the business side, many firms are faced with the conundrum, whether they should use one account to handle all their customer inquiries, sales, promotions, and overall customer engagement. Or whether they should have a separate account dedicated solely to handling customer inquiries and leverage Twitter as a full-fledged customer support channel?

It makes good business sense to help your customers, regardless of where the query originates and for smaller companies, setting up a dedicated support forum on Twitter may be a no-brainer. However, for a large enterprise, it becomes much more challenging because of the sheer volume of queries received on a daily basis and related customer expectations. Here are some practical considerations for a medium to large-size enterprise before they start on their journey down the rabbit hole.

#1  Begin at the beginning…
By now, every organization with any credibility has a presence on Twitter in some shape or form. To determine whether or not to use that presence to handle customer queries, start with an investigation of the support queries your organization gets from Twitter. It’s not just the volume of queries, also analyze nature of queries to see if  you’re getting certain types of support questions more than others. For example: If you have an existing channel or support line for segment A customers, yet you see significant number of questions coming from them via Twitter, that’s an indicator that your customer behavior is shifting or your existing channels aren’t working or it could be a combination of both. Use the data to determine the business case for building out your customer support on Twitter.

 #2 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat! How I wonder what you’re at?
If you’re a sizeable organization, you should already have an existing customer support center/s and related processes. Think about where  Twitter fits into your existing business processes and other Twitter accounts. The critical issue to consider here is whether you’re planning to replace the existing channel/process, supplement it or just address the occasional queries that come up via  Twitter. If your plan is some variation of the first two options, then you should put some thought into how to eliminate redundancies and avoid multiple staff members answering the same query. Include status tracking as part of your process to make sure you’re measuring the number of queries and whether they were resolved within an acceptable time frame. If you decide to handle queries as they come up using your existing Twitter account, you will still need to get some process in place to make sure the queries go to the right person/team for resolution.

#3 No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure you set clear expectation with your customers. Clarify in your Twitter account description as to what type of inquiries you will accept through the given account and when they can expect a response. If it’s an urgent inquiry, provide them with clear instructions on your escalation process. Don’t assume your customer has the same definition of  a “reasonable” response time. Your turnaround time may be 48hrs but if the customer assumes it’s 24hrs, don’t be surprised if you  find angry tweets about your company’s unresponsive customer support, the very next day.

#4 Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
One often overlooked item in the broadly prevalent social media mania is the all-important human resource question. Many organizations underestimate the time and effort needed to effectively manage and respond to queries through social channels, so the key is to leverage the existing organizational synergies where ever possible. Despite all good intentions, if you set up a Twitter support channel but don’t have the staff to handle queries in a timely manner, you may find yourself doing more harm or good. One way to handle this with a limited staff is to incorporate Twitter queries into your existing support processes. Assign queries from this new channel to your existing support staff and if you have some social media specialists managing your account, make sure they know where to route the queries internally. While, you will have to provide the jnitial training and set up the   processes, but it will allow you to take advantage of pre-existing efficiencies and also give you some time to map out your plan for meeting potential increase in queries from this new channel.

#5  …But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?
Last but not the least, the question to consider is whether the Twitter platform can scale with your needs. Using the Twitter platform as a supplementary promotional or sales channel is not the same as using it as a customer support channel, since latter often involves dissatisfied customers. I am sure you’re very familiar with the infamous Twitter Fail Whale and Twitter’s “unscheduled” down times.  So if you decide to use Twitter as your primary support channel, always bear in mind that if the Twitter site goes down (which is always a possibility), you will have some unhappy customers who can’t get to your Twitter account to have their issues resolved so make sure you have a back up plan in case of that eventuality.There is no right or wrong answer here, the decision on whether to have your company’s customer support account on Twitter should be made based on your customer and business needs. However, defining your plan upfront will help define your staffing needs as well as routing of the queries and how they should be handled. But the bottom line is to make sure that all queries, regardless of the channel, are routed to and handled by the appropriate team/s within a reasonable time frame.

The Tide is Turning for Enterprise 2.0 Adoption

Steve Wylie, General Manager for Enterprise 2.0 conference set an optimistic tone for the keynote speeches at the inaugural event in San Francisco, California. In his assessment of the current state of Enterprise 2.0, Wylie highlighted that the industry is maturing and it is no longer the domain of startups. Large players like Microsoft are leveraging their enterprise expertise and knowledge to move into this space.

Another observation he shared was the rise in professional services, which signifies the shift as enterprises move from the technology phase into adoption and implementation phase.

Tammy Erickson, President, nGenera Innovation Network, started with a bold and optimistic prediction that 2010 is going to be the year of “A-ha” for the enterprise executives who have been struggling with E 2.0 all this time. She outlined the challenges to Enterprise 2.o adoption,

For executives, E2.0 is like tsunami wave that’s overwhelming, they can’t figure out how to manage (basic, yet) critical issues like data security.

However, Erickson went on to say, that’s changing as executives move beyond the technology and understand the true business potential for this event. She also reiterated the need for executives to adopt and promote collaborative behavior to encourage E2.adoption in their organizations. She pointed out a huge shift in behavior where the E2.0 discussions have moved from technology/tools  to  serious dialogues on business implication.

Christian Finn, Director of SharePoint Product Management, Microsoft followed up with a mock “speed dating” skit designed to highlight that the software giant is serious about E2.0 with the addition of truckload of social features to SharePoint 2010.

The skit itself was wholly uninspired but what was very intriguing was the promise to deliver the best of both worlds. On the “social” side, Microsoft’s promising a slew of social features like streaming podcasts, real-time news feeds, ratings, commenting, and even social tagging. All backed by the company’s experience and expertise in enterprise software and content management system.

SpeakerAndrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist from MIT Sloan School of Management followed up with a stellar speech on what the champions of E2.0 are doing wrong.
McAfee said the tide is turning on E2.0 adoption as the success stories and case studies continue to mount. However, the evangelists are doing a huge disservice to their cause by attacking  the enterprise because they should be working with the Enterprise 1.0 advocates rather than against them. Trying to replace them will just create more barriers to E2.0 adoption.
 
In their effort to be fair and transparent, many E2.0 vendors and champions over-emphasize the negative aspects and thereby scare off  the decision makers. The positives far outweigh the negatives and that’s something the champions need to constantly reiterate.
 
McAfee pointed out something that’s very obvious to the end-user but often overlooked by the vendors and that’s to keep things simple. E2.0 champions often fall in love with the features without considering whether or not it works for the end users. McAfee was emphatic,
“Your customers don’t need more bells and whistles”
He also cautioned the audience against the pitfalls of advocating and creating walled gardens within the enterprise because E2.0 is about collaboration and these silos defeat the purpose. 
 
Another key point he highlighted was the attempt to replace the email was self-defeating because E2.0 and email serve two different purposes, to try to replace email was futile because for all its flaws, email works okay for most enterprises.
 
Another critical flaw he pointed was overuse (abuse) of the word “social”, as that word has a negative connotation for business leaders. He gave the example of executive who made it very clear that,  “I am not running a social club, I am running a business.”  So, champions need to make sure they don’t oversell the social features of E2.0 but rather focus on the business implications for an effective pitch.
 
The last (but not the least) speech was from Rob Tarkoff, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Business Productivity Solutions at Adobe. He also started off with a provocative statement that,
“”Enterprise Software is Failing”
According to Tarkoff, the full potential of E2.0 has yet to be realized. He gave a real example of how social web can be used in a very traditional industry like healthcare for real-time collaboration and provide exceptional service to end consumer. He went on to say how Adobe’s focus is on creating end-to-end user engagement while giving due attention to the “on ramps” or the devices that consumers use to access the information.

Why Social Media will not Save Bad Content

I’ve blogged in the past on why social media won’t save your business and I’ll say the same thing about bad content. Social media is powerful in amplifying your messages and increasing the reach of your content BUT, it will not save your bad content.

If your audience didn’t want to read your content when you sent it via email, why presume they’ll read it just because it’s on Twitter? Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you get on the social media band wagon to pitch your content:

#1 Test your content: Experts typically start by asking you to “Create great content”. As if  anyone deliberately creates bad content?! However, the shockingly high levels of bad marketing messages even in this day and age, highlight that many marketers still don’t get the importance of good content. If  your content is uninteresting and irrelevant your customers are NOT going to read it even if it’s on some “cool” social network. Always test your content. Make sure it resonates with your target audience and if your unsubscribe rates are going through the roof, you know you have a problem and it’s probably not the medium.

#2 Be adventurous with different media types: Once you have the “good content” part down, then it’s time to test out different media types because sometimes the wrong media can get in the way of a good message. Test different types of media formats to find the best way to share your content. Podcasts are a great way to connect with an audience that’s always on the move, while short demo videos are highly popular among the tech crowd. Both may be good options depending on your audience, instead of  lengthy documents that no one wants to read. Here again, let your customers lead the way and be fanatical about tracking the viewer/download metrics to see what worked well (or didn’t) for your audience.

#3 Location, Location, Location!  Last but not the least, it’s not just about content and media but also where you place the content is just as critical. If your target audience is on LinkedIn but you post your content on Facebook, don’t be surprised to get low response rates. While millions of folks may share pictures on a specific social network, but that’s not necessarily where they go to find information about your company’s products/services. Wrong messaging on the wrong platform will get you guaranteed mediocre results.

What some marketers tend to overlook, in their enthusiasm to embrace social media, is that there’s no substitute for understanding your customer’s behavior patterns – both online and offline. Knowing what information your customers want and how they want to get it, is the key to successful messaging. Regardless of which social media network you use to promote your content, don’t forget the basics: Make it relevant, make it easy to find, and easy to consume. It’s really as simple as that!