Tag Archives: Blogging

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.


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.

How Cisco uses Social Media

As I analyze how large companies are leveraging Web 2.o and social media tools, I recently came across a great example at the Blogwell event in San Francisco on the same topic. Jeanette Gibson from Cisco shared terrific insights on Cisco’s approach to social media and how it engages Customers, Partners, and Press with Social Media.

Gibson opened her talk with a statement that captures the essence of social media at Cisco.

“In a world where everything is open, we value openness and transparency.”

There are three ways that Cisco uses social media especially blogs to drive customer engagement:

1) Thought leadership

Gibson started by saying, “Blogging is about creating conversations with customers, partners, employees, and the public.”

Cisco’s been blogging for over 4years and the first blog was on govt. affairs. It was focused on having highly targeted 1:1 conversations and later their blogging efforts expanded to include other topics. However, their blogs tend to be more around larger industry topics like  Green IT rather than individual product-focused.

Gibson talked about how Cisco’s been using video to increase engagement between their customers and Cisco executives.  Cisco’s using flip cameras to follow their executives around. They capture their executives on video and repurpose that content where ever possible. One example is where Cisco CEO, John Chambers talks about what’s happening at the Channel Partner event, on their blog which is very open and visible to everyone.

She cited Padmasree, the well-known Cisco CTO as a great example of successful executive twittering. One way that Padamsree uses Twitter is to get ideas for one of her keynote speeches. She sent out a question on Twitter – “What’s the future of collaboration?”. She got an overwhelming response to her questions and she incorporated this direct feedback from the audience in her talk.

2) Events are an area where Cisco leverages social media as event and travel budget cuts are driving the need and demand for virtual events. The company has been hosting events via Twitter: “Tweetup” Cisco TelePresence Tweet-up with Guy Kawasaki(virtual meeting). Cisco has set up public telepresence suites where anyone can come in and use these for instant conference with Cisco. In addition, the company also organizes many virtual partner events using teleconferencing technologies.

3) Global product launches are typically very expensive and this presented yet another opportunity for Cisco to leverage social media. The company has moved from launch executions, press conferences, pr/ar briefings, large budgets, teams of spokespeople in 2005 to months of messaging cycles with real-time global impact, two-way customer interactions, and community building events in 2009. This has resulted in 50-75% cost saving and created opportunities for thought leadership. It went from transactions to interactions and engagement. Bigger launch at lower cost.

Here are some great questions from the audience:

  • How are blog posts optimized for SEO?

Cisco bloggers get a list of keywords and  training in optimizing the content with keywords and links.

  • What’s the process for setting up a blog at Cisco?

Cisco requires extensive training for all their bloggers and every blog has to be approved by multiple layers of management. After going through the initial rigor, the bloggers are free to blog without any restraints.

  • Who owns the brand in the case of Padmasree and does she do the tweeting herself?

Padmasree has her own brand and she has so many followers, is because she was on the shortlist for CTO for President Obama’s team.She’s very active on twitter and does her own tweeting.

Cisco also has team Twitter accounts like Cisco Systems, where multiple people tweet behalf of Cisco.

  • No social media conversation is complete without the metrics question and how does Cisco tie back to revenue?

Cisco like many other pioneering companies is grappling with the revenue question. Currently, it uses a mix of qualitative vs. quantitative. They have a set of standardized metrics for blogging and every blogger has access to the analytics on their own blog as well as that of their peers. So they are able to compare their blog’s traffic with that of other bloggers. They also do brand monitoring with an external agency. There are interesting tools being introduced in the Sales/CRM focus is looking interesting

  • Another revenue-related question was on how Cisco measures ROI?

While Cisco is very focused on ROI, there are no standard metrics, so it uses a variety of metrics. For example: they look at the free media impressions from social media activities and measure how much does that would have cost them to assess cost savings. However, since social media is resource and management-intensive, the cost for it is still fuzzy.

  • Monetization of sales opportunities was another great question that came up, which is again very closely related to the monetizing question.

Cisco has just started testing ways to leverage social media for sales and is working with the sales team to get more traction for direct sales/revenue impact from social media.

Key take aways from this honest, insightful presentation:

  • Make the tools work for you, “First decide what you want to do and then decide on the tools.”
  • Key is finding a few focus areas in social media and doing it well, rather than trying everything and not succeeding.
  • Openness and transparency in social media has to start from the top. Senior management needs to be engaged and lead by example.
  • Budget constraints and travel restrictions favor the use of social media and virtual events, which can help with cost savings.
  • The ROI/monetization question is becoming increasing important but there’s isn’t one standard set of metrics or methodology for calculating that yet, every company uses their own metrics.
  • Social media doesn’t only save cost, but can be more impactful than traditional marketing/PR. This is a great point to keep in mind, when you’re pondering ROI on your social media initiatives.

The Social Media Reality Show

Lately, it seems as though “citizen journalism” in the form of blogging has been replaced with “celebrity journalism”. There are days when you think you’re watching a really bad reality show unfold online and in real time, no less.

Most recently, it was battle of the titans, Michael Arrington vs. Leo Laporte that generated  a great deal of buzz. What started off as a benign review of the new Palm Pre, unleashed a full-blown drama in the blogosphere. The trigger was Arrington’s questioning  of whether Laporte was being forthright about having received the Palm device for free. That line of questioning ticked Laporte off who perceived this as an attack on his his integrity and let off a tirade of expletives before shutting down the show.

Despite the very public “kiss and make up” in form of published apologies, angry mobs descended on the sites to drown out any rational debate. So now that we’ve all had some time to digest these happenings, here’s my take on this very real sordid saga.

First of all, it seems to have become common practice to issue death threats in the blogosphere. Anyone remember Kathy Sierra? Arrington’s brief hiatus earlier this year? And death threats now once again on the TechCrunch blog because of this latest incident. Despite overwhelming public condemnation of the hateful comments, there’s really no reason to believe we won’t continue to see repeat of this in the future.



 Secondly, cussing on-air seems to have become acceptable and anything’s fair game as long as you’re a “blogberty”. (On a slightly different note, I recently attended a keynote by a very well-known social media personality who couldn’t stop talking about alcohol and porn. As much as I respect the person in question and the speech was highly entertaining, I am still puzzled by that speech to this day.)

Lastly, the news itself..um what news? It’s a dangerous trend when the people who are supposed to report the news instead become the news themselves. With one-man machinations wielding considerable influence in the blogosphere, the news reporters are competing with the news makers for the headlines.

Although the traffic (driven by morbid curiosity) goes up, overall the credibility of the media goes down and it strengthens the perception that,

– Blogosphere is still the wild wild west, where anything goes and there are no rules

– Personal egos trump professionalism

– Fanatical mobs and trolls rule the social media space

The success of a truly “social” media is dependent on openness where everyone is free to opine but that doesn’t mean a vocal minority should be able to drown out the quiet majority. It also hinders social media adoption and participation if folks have to constantly worry about being drowned out by the mob. Jeremiah Owyang and other experts referred to this “fear” at a recent SNCR summit. Owyang said that people are afraid of speaking up online because they don’t want to be singled out and picked on.

Here’s one suggestion, how about getting serious about comment moderation? Arrington said that he deleted many of the death threats, and that’s a good start. Why give the crazies a forum to spew their hatred and hijack the conversation?!

But that’s just one part of it, these social media/blog celebrities also need to keep their egos (and mobs) in check and take these tiffs offline like most “normal” people do. Public drama may help traffic but it hurts the cause. Companies are trying to build relationships with these influential bloggers because of their ability to influence their customers not for their ability to rally fanatical mobs. 

The challenge is that these are larger than life celebrities with giant egos and while they completely deserve the glory that they’ve worked so hard for but these folks also need to set the right tone for their audience. I am hoping for some leadership to emerge from the early adopters who will hopefully, collectively devise some commonly accepted standards for online conduct. It won’t be easy with every blogberty jostling to be the top dog, but one has to start somewhere.

Is Web 2.0 Over?

This morning, I saw what seems like a scam contest on “RIP Web 2.0” that’s driving traffic to my blog for no apparent reason, while I am still baffled by it, the notion of “Web 2.0 is over” got me thinking.  

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a blogger from the SF Bay Area at the Web 2.0 Expo recently. He proclaimed that “Web 2.0 is over and it’s time to move on.” and went on to say “It was an era and I doubt they’ll have this conference next year.”

Later that day, as I was noodling on what he said, I ran into Robert Scoble. So I asked him – Do you think Web 2.0 is over? What he said was very illuminating, “Until Best Buy puts people on its website, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Web 2.0.” You can read more of Scoble’s thoughts on his blog.

He brought up a great point, while innovators and early adopters who are focused on the technology and are clamoring to move on, one has to question if the true potential of this era has been realized.

Later on at the same conference, Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester, shared an interesting insight that he has seen companies turning off the commenting feature on their blogs. Which means that even companies who claim to be all over Web 2.0 and related social technologies aren’t ready to embrace the participation or openness that Web 2.0 purportedly is all about.

Web 2.0 is a phrase that seemed to have caught on in early 2000s O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference . According to Wikipedia,

“Tim O’Reilly states Web 2.0 is a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet-a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects. (O’Reilly Radar,Principles and Best Practices, 2007)”

 Web 2.0 has manifested itself in the form of blogs, social networks, social sharing tools, etc. but now even O’Reilly has moved on to the next Web ie. Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web. At a blogger roundtable, O’Reilly was asked by a blogger, “What is the Semantic Web?” O’Reilly got up and said “This is Tim O’Reilly” and he took off his badge, “This is Tim O’Reilly”, highlighting a more intelligent web that will be able to provide context no matter where we are on the web.

The Semantic Web isn’t a new concept, it’s about intelligence built into the web (or rather the machines underlying the web) and Tim Berners-Lee already gave us a sneak peak into the future way back in the 1990s.  But it seems that the technologies and momentum to make Semantic Web part of our everyday web experience are finally available now.  

So what does that mean for Web 2.0? No matter what you want to call it, one thing is for sure, we are moving towards a more intelligent web experience and that’s a good thing.

That being said, I’ll believe that Web 2.0 is over, when I see social-sharing features become as ubiquitous as the websites themselves. I’ll believe it, when companies are able to use these social technologies to harness the knowledge embedded across their global employee base and seamlessly share the data across their organizations. In other words, when the “human” element becomes more important than the underlying technologies and tools. We’re getting there, but we are not there yet. Until then, it’s just hype – Web 2.o hype replaced by Web 3.0 hype.

Btw, I confirmed with show organizers that the Web 2.0 Conference is still on for next year. Janetti Chon from the Web 2.0 said that,

“We’re definitely having a Web 2.0 Expo again, our dates for NY and SF 2010 are already confirmed.”

And no, I didn’t ask if they’re planning to change the name to Web 3.0 🙂

Purpose-Driven Social Media is Key to Elusive ROI

One question that consistently comes up in social media discussions is the one about ROI on social media activities or lack thereof. Social media practitioners across companies seem to be struggling  to  justify their company’s investment in social media and many even question the value of doing social media.

Donald Bulmer, VP of Industry and Influencer Relations at SAP  hit the nail right on the head at a panel discussion recently where he evangelized “purpose-driven” social media as the key to successful social engagement.

When planning a new marketing or customer engagement activity, the critical first step is to define the objective for that activity and tie to a desired business outcome. However, this critical step is missing in many social media activities and is often an after-thought. 

Social media enthusiasts find it challenging to determine social media ROI is because there’s no clear purpose to their social media activity or the purpose is very fuzzy. Without a clear purpose, it’s challenging to gauge what resources will be needed for that social media activity and worst of all, it’s nearly impossible to measure if that activity generated any value.

On the other hand, social media activities that are touted as successful are tied to some specific business need. Two great examples are Ford with its Social Media PR strategy or Dell with the exclusive discounts  (lead generation) via Twitter. Both these companies identified a specific need and used social media to solve that need and drive results.

Many social media enthusiasts justify the lack of purpose or goal by saying that they don’t know what to expect since it’s a new media and they don’t want to be associated with failure. Unfortunately, failure comes with the territory when testing any new media or channel, and without a clear purpose, it’s tough to build support for social media within any organization especially to get executive buy in.

Moreover, it’s challenging to justify resources for social media within any company, if you can’t articulate the business need that will be solved by doing the said activity, which takes us back to the point that Bulmer made about “purpose-driven’ social media. The era of doing social media because it’s cool is coming to an end, it’s no longer acceptable to engage in social media just because “everyone else is doing it”.

Like any other media, social media practitioners will have to build a solid business case for their social media activity and demonstrate how it can be used to drive real business outcomes. Starting on the social media quest without any clear direction is a primary reason why social media practitioners find their projects floundering. As Yogi Berra once famously said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

6 Reasons Why Enterprise Social Media Needs its Own Playbook

The last thing any company getting on the social media bandwagon should do is adopt  best practices established by practitioners and “experts” in the consumer space. Consumers and enterprises have very different objectives so here are 6 reasons why enterprises should write their own playbook rather than borrow from the consumer space:

  1. Numbers do matter: I recently wrote a blog post on how folks are getting too obsessed with their Twittercount. I still believe that when you aren’t selling something, the obsession with Twitter and Facebook numbers is just an ego trip. Individual social media activity should be focused on quality of engagement rather than quantity. However, when you are a business – quality is important but so is quantity, perhaps more so. If you’re running social media campaigns or activities for your company, you’re expected to deliver results. One way of measuring results is by looking at customer engagement numbers, but how will you engage when there’s no one to engage with?
  2. Consistency is important: I remember when the Motrin/Twitter Momscontroversy erupted, well-known blogger Louis Gray had a great blog post on how “Brand Reputation Management is Not  a Monday-Friday Gig“. The same applies to social media in general. You can’t say, I am taking the week off, so the corporate blog can languish until I get back or the unhappy customer who has been tweeting about a product issue will just have to wait. When you’re doing it for your business, you have to make sure the show goes on regardless of  what’s going on in the background. Can you imagine, shutting down your company website just because the guy who manages it has gone on vacation? That becomes even more critical for social media, which is a much more dynamic media and people expect consistent real-time updates.
  3. It’s a team sport:Unless you’re a company of one, your social media team should involve many other cross-functional folks. so that you are representing voice of the company not just your individual thoughts. Having an individual voice for a personal blog is fine, but ideally you want to have consistent messaging even through your social media channels. As a business, you want to ensure you’re not confusing your customers by having conflicting points of view from two different employees from the same company. To make the content authentic,  input on social media content should come from subject matter and content experts, not just the best communicator/blogger on the team.
  4. It’s not personal:Like it or not, enterprise social media is all about business, so companies shouldn’t go crazy trying to emulate personal blogs in their content and approach. Your company’s social media content needs to be authentic, by which I mean present truthful information without any marketing or PR spiel. Being professional is also right up there with authenticity. As your customer, I don’t want to know about your six cats unless I am buying cat food from you and even then, I don’t care unless the information is  relevant and interesting to *me*. Your customers come to you for value (no matter which social media channel you choose to use) and it’s your job to make sure you deliver that value..minus any spin or personal stories, please.
  5. You can’t fake it: I cringe when I see social media enthusiasts trying to conjure up a fictitious fun persona for their corporate social media accounts, especially when their company culture is anything but customer-centric. This warm and fuzzy approach works for companies like Southwest Airlines or Zappos, because their brand IS fun and customer-oriented, so are their employees. However, if your company is notorious for lousy customer service, no amount of cutesy tweets will help your cause.
  6. Last but not the least, it’s NOT free:When you’re writing your personal blog, it’s a fun hobby and since most social sites/tools are free, there’s no financial cost involved. However, if this activity is for a company account, it’s costing the company $$$ because the company still has to pay their employees, right?! So it’s essential to put some productivity and business outcome metrics around social media activities to ensure that these activities are aligned with company’s financial objectives and goals.

Enterprises are in business to generate value for their stakeholders, whereas personal/consumer social media activities are not encumbered by those responsibilities. Enterprises should ignore the social media hype and do right by their customers. They should leverage the social media sites/tools to deliver value to and engage their customer base even when it’s perceived as being “uncool” to do so.