5 1/2 Things I Am Not Going To Tell You About Social Media

October 31, 2009

There has been so much written and recorded about social media in historic and social media channels. The coverage in the various blogs and tweets runs the gamut between opportunism and relevance. You’ll find the 3, 5 or 10 things you need to know about twitter etiquette, making the most of twitter, how to drive traffic to you blog, how to get thousands of followers in a matter of days or weeks and, most importantly, how to make money using social media.

Our goal at the Community Marketing Blog has been to avoid opportunism and provide relevance – 5, 6 or 7 points of relevance. However, I am not going to tell you about those points today.  In fact, there are 5 ½ things that I am not going to tell you about social media.

  1. I am not going to tell you that it’s easy because it’s not. It’s hard work. In recent presentations by Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee from Winelibrary.com) and the people behind the Doritos Guru Campaign they both mentioned how much effort was required. This is not a get rich quick scheme. In Gary’s case, it’s a relentless and highly focused effort to establish and maintain engagement with his audience. With Doritos, they were accustomed to creating an ad and running it with little to no effort required once the ad was ready but with social media-based campaigns they must remain engaged and staff appropriately for the duration of the campaign to handle the volume of interactions and content accumulation.
  2. I am not going to tell you that it’s complicated because it’s not. It’s simple. I know what you’re thinking. I just finished saying that it wasn’t easy. What I mean is that it’s hard work but it’s not complicated work. Some social media gurus might take offense to that statement. Calm down. I am not trying to offend anyone but the underlying principles of social media are not complicated. Sharing, communicating, relevancy, transparency and being helpful are not difficult to understand. The difficulties or complexities seem to come from the inability of people or brands to be comfortable sharing, communicating, providing relevant content, being transparent, and being helpful.
  3. I’m not going to tell you that things won’t go wrong because they can and, possibly, will go wrong. There are numerous examples where social media tools were used to publicly shame organizations like Dell, Dominos, United Airlines, Comcast, and Amazon when they screwed up. The key is to be prepared for such events, take responsibility quickly and own it. Admit you were wrong and explain what you are going to do to make it right. Even if you weren’t wrong but someone is raising a concern then at least acknowledge the concern and commit to investigating it in pursuit of a satisfactory resolution. Silence and/or indifference will not be tolerated so be prepared to step up.
  4. I’m not going to tell you that you’ll get rich quickly because you won’t. Doing anything in social media requires a great deal of time and effort. Do you have the patience and stamina to stick with it for a payoff that may not come for a while or, even it when it comes, is not as big as you hoped for? Building trusting relationships takes time and commitment. There are plenty of people promoting social media for getting rich quickly but it is and always will be about quality of relationships over quantity of followers and friends.
  5. I’m not going to tell you that anyone can do social media because that’s not true. Not everyone is comfortable with all of the aspects of social media. Some people are not comfortable sharing like others do. Organizations are uneasy about the lack of control. Incorporate only what feels right because the discomfort will be evident if you try to do it all only to fall short in some areas. There is also the risk of making a mistake and having that mistake broadcast which is, I’m sure, not your objective. So if you are a better writer than talker then blog. If you are better talker than writer then do podcasts. If brevity is your thing then tweet. If you want to do more or all of it then outsource, delegate, or give a partner whatever you are not good at or not comfortable with.

5.5  I’m not going to tell you all of it but I will tell you half of it. It’s about a two-way conversation and you’re one half of that conversation. Your audience is the other half and they want to be engaged. They want to communicate with you. Are you ready? Can you give me 3, 5, or 10 reasons why or why not?

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Is The Enterprise Ready For Social Media?

October 20, 2009

I was at a Salesforce event last week where they demonstrated the integration of their platform with Facebook and Twitter. The more impressive of their two examples was Twitter.  With it a tweet could be captured with a customer profile to initiate a trouble ticket or sales lead. While this was interesting it still seems to be lacking something.

I’m not faulting Salesforce. They are simply integrating with complementary platforms that are becoming more prominent in their market. What I am suggesting, however, is that they are missing the social part. In fairness to them, many enterprises and their suppliers are also missing the social part.

What I mean by that is that they are focusing on the tools rather than the social interaction. Salesforce sells tools but I wonder if enterprises and their suppliers give much consideration to the environment into which they wish to install a tool or solutions. Is the environment or culture already social or at least predisposed to it? If not, there is a high risk of failure for the solution and the enterprise’s social objectives will likely not be achieved.

Even if the enterprise could be considered highly social, there is a great deal of trepidation regarding social media, which is why organizations have been slow to adopt.  Having a proper sense of what approach to take provides some comfort and Dave Fleet provides some helpful tips on social media policy for companies, which should serve to reduce their fears and elevate their comfort level.

On Radian6’s blog, How can you help the enterprise socialize?, Lauren Vargas discusses their internal efforts to create a safe haven for staff to test social media, ask questions, and better understand the demands put on organizations before they can gradually embrace it. As I mentioned earlier, the focus was on tools rather than social interaction and Lauren says it even better when she says “The tool is not the platform for sharing information, it is the people.”

This is where I think a lot of social media gurus, consultants and solution providers seem to be missing the point.  There seems to be very little time and effort devoted to situational analysis or organizational assessments, specifically the people and their readiness to adopt social media.  If there were, the success rate for social media initiatives would most certainly increase. That is, of course, if the analysis or assessment concluded the environment (i.e. people) was conducive to social media.  If it wasn’t conducive then the enterprise would avoid wasting time, incurring extra costs and, even worse, the prospect of a public shaming via social media if they went about it all the wrong way.

The hype surrounding social media would give the impression that things are moving rapidly but the enterprises, and the people within them, need to be slow in their approach because putting a strain on an organization should not be the intent with social media. Enterprises need to ensure that any social media initiatives align with their strategy but most importantly, their culture and their capability.


A Community of Game Changers

October 12, 2009

This post is not about social media or marketing. It’s about community.

I have had the pleasure of being a part of an online community of game changers defying outmoded business models and testing new ones.

It began with the sharing of a doctoral thesis and turned into a community of 470+ people from 45 countries sharing ideas and contributing to a book on business models entitled Business Model Generation.

The collaboration saw book chunks or chapters released to the community for review and feedback. The path from idea through to book launch can be followed in the video here and you can learn more about the catalyst and author, Alex Osterwalder, here. As well, the book’s producer, Patrick van der Pilj, captured some of the experience.

The collaboration culminated in a conference held in Amsterdam in June, which I had the opportunity to attend and is archived here, followed by the formal book launch just a few weeks ago. You can download a 72 page preview, which I highly recommend.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in the community because of what I have learned and because of the people that I have met. It has been a phenomenal experience.

I am providing all this history and context in order to ask, with respect to your own work, is there an opportunity to build a community around what you are doing? Can you tap into the interests or passions of your audience for contributions and collaboration and then make the results available to the community and beyond? What could be the halo effect from such efforts?  Would it serve to amplify and/or grow your business? Would community members benefit such that they would become evangelists for your efforts? Are they passionate enough about what you are doing or your brand to become advocates?

There has been a lot of talk about crowdsourcing and innovations coming from the involvement of your stakeholders. What I am suggesting has aspects of those but goes further to align it with what motivates people, which is the opportunity to be contributing to and be a part of something bigger. Daniel Pink discusses this kind of motivation in his TED talk.

Why not take a moment to reflect on your work and see if an opportunity to establish and build a community around you exists? Just think about the possibilities, the ideas that could be shared, and the impact such a community could have.

I look forward to hearing the results of your efforts. Keep me posted.


Social Media as a Catapult

September 25, 2009

We’ve all had that experience with customer service where a company’s policy beats your desire for a solution to your problem. Companies, in some ways, have become like castles with moats, drawbridges and high walls designed to keep customer service inquiries at bay.

Social Media has become a new channel of access and empowered consumers to raise issues with companies. Think of social media as this era’s catapult enabling consumers to get over the castle walls and find solutions to their problems.

The following is a short story about someone who faced one of those problems, refused to take “no” for an answer and, instead, used social media to get a “yes.” That someone is me.

Recently my car developed some corrosion in two different places and I pursued the matter with the manufacturer. After some discussion, an exchange of digital photos and meeting the regional representative, I was told that only one of the damaged areas would be covered under warranty.

They could not cover it all because the other section of damage in question had been modified from its original state due to an accident. The corrosion and the accident were unrelated and the repair certainly did not cause the corrosion. Regardless, the rep said they would not cover the corrosion damage for that area under warranty because the repair was deemed to be third party modification. The irony is that the third party was one of their dealerships, but they told me that they treat them as third parties.

Leaving the dealership in frustration, I tweeted why I was upset and the word “FAIL.” Within fifteen minutes, one of my followers tweeted back with a toll-free number and the name of a customer service advocate at the manufacturer’s corporate headquarters.

I called the customer advocate and explained the situation. They said they would look into the matter. A week went by and I received a call from them repeating the decision of the regional rep. I was still going to have to pay for half of what I felt should be covered under warranty.

After stewing on it for a day or two, I decided to check LinkedIn to see who might come up from the manufacturer. I found the Director of After Sales Service and sent him a message. I later received a call from a member of his staff. I explained the situation and sent the digital pictures. She said that she would look into the matter.

I am happy to report that I took my car in for repairs this week. They agreed to cover everything under warranty. Yippee! I respect the fact that they must try to keep warranty coverage costs in control but I felt I had a case. Their reasoning seemed illogical to me and, based on principle, I felt justified in pursuing the matter.

This is just my story but there are many more like it being talked about in the media. Brands need to understand that consumers have more tools and channels with which to complain to or about them. It was not difficult or complicated for me to reach the company. I knew where and how to look for the information I needed.

As more people become familiar with social media, the more they will use it to directly or indirectly engage companies. More consumers will get over the moat and climb the castle walls of a corporation. The choice companies have now is whether they want to continue to fight off consumers from the parapets or engage in a new type of conversation.

Let’s see how it plays out. Hopefully, some companies will see where things are headed and proactively adjust their approach to customer interaction. In the meantime, I am going to keep working on my social media catapult.


Social Media is so 1999

September 12, 2009

I worked for an e-commerce software company during the late nineties and on one occasion I attended a presentation in San Francisco by our #1 competitor for their channel partners.  This was during the dot-com period when e-commerce was the thing being hyped and the growing belief was “if you build it, they will come.”

At one point during the presentation, the speaker, the VP of Sales and Marketing, said that what was happening in the marketplace was exactly like the “gold rush and we are selling shovels.”  Here was someone blatantly suggesting the exploitative selling of tools for the futile pursuit of gold, in this case online success, to people being sucked in by the hype of that period.

Fast forward ten years and we are experiencing another period of hype but this time it concerns social media rather than e-commerce.  Just as with e-commerce, social media will become commonplace in the coming year or two and we won’t talk about it to the same degree anymore, if at all.

Amidst the hype, new companies have emerged that have garnered a great deal of attention, users and valuations but little to no profits.  This is especially true of social media companies like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.  All were founded on simple ideas without viable business models as underpinnings.   Remember that Facebook is only five years old and Twitter is only three years old yet strategy has been with us for centuries.

We should also remember that the dot-com bust flushed or shrunk many of the companies whose business models were unstable or premature.  The firms that survived hunkered down and relied on sound strategies that they always had, evolved or developed in response to what was happening in the market.

Today, just like during the nineties, requires sound strategies.  Social Media is not a business model.  It is only a complement to your business model.  It enhances your strategy and serves to amplify your marketing efforts but it shouldn’t be something you bet the company on.

While much of what we are experiencing now is different from the dot-com period, a lot remains the same.  Hype still clouds rational thinking and judgment and, because of that fact, you need to move cautiously.  There are tons of people purporting to be social media experts who can help you navigate this new online world and sell you the new version of “shovel.”

If you are not clear about the risks and the benefits, don’t just ask a self-proclaimed expert.  Ask someone who has been a student and practitioner of social media and has the scars to prove it.  Learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others that the media has been so kind to document.  You will be better served by someone who has struggled before succeeding than by someone whose success likely came as a result of dumb luck.

Success in this new world requires a viable business model, a sound strategy, and near flawless execution.  Consider social media, its risks and its benefits, carefully in the context of those three requirements and use it if, and only if, it serves to enhance any one or all of them.


Is Social Media part of your strategy or is it your whole strategy?

August 31, 2009

Companies are still struggling to understand social media and where it could fit into what they do and how they do it.  Many organizations act too quickly or don’t act at all and face the consequences.

It’s not just about them understanding social media either.  Companies need to understand their current situation, where they want to go and determine the appropriateness of incorporating social media in their efforts to get there.

They need to develop a strategic plan to cross the chasm between their current situation and the end goal.  That plan should describe the overarching strategy and the tactics involved in moving the company forward and the plan may or may not incorporate social media depending on whether or not it was deemed appropriate for the company or aligned with their strategy or tactics.

Some companies aren’t ready for it and may never be.  Social Media demands that companies not pay it lip service.  It demands two-way conversations, transparency and responsiveness.  Some or all of that may prove to be too much for companies.

A company’s readiness for using social media also includes something as basic as staffing.  They need to have the right people dedicated to the effort and the right quantity.  Giving community management and twitter outreach, for example, to someone in marketing who is already overwhelmed is an approach destined to fail.  Giving social media activities to someone or some people whose first inclinations are not being social will also prove to be a failure.

Social Media engagement can be a 24/7 endeavor so companies need to prepare accordingly but they can also wade into things slowly by taking on only what they can handle and ramp up over time.  Some say, “Go Big or Go Home” but if you “Go Big” and aren’t ready for the possible onslaught then you’ll be “Going Home” whether you like it or not.


Does Your Company Need a Counter-Twitterism Unit?

August 17, 2009

With the increasing dominance of social media and the growing number of companies experiencing bad publicity because of that dominance, organizations may wish to consider the establishment of a counter-twitterism unit.  It can be literal or figurative but the idea is to identify someone or some people to monitor the social media footprint of the organization, establish a level of preparedness should issues arise that require a response, and, most importantly,  make the response quickly and appropriately.  Just acknowledging that concerns have been heard may be enough to calm the situation.

If smoke becomes embers and embers become flames, why aren’t companies being more conscious about what people are saying and doing on blogs, social networks and twitter and proactively responding to escalating issues?  Many organizations seem paralyzed by fear and an inability to determine a plan of action.

Time can be taken to investigate the issue and possible resolutions but tell people that they have been heard and that the matter is under investigation rather than saying nothing at all.  Silence will just act like gasoline on the fire and even if the problem is based on a misunderstanding, it won’t matter because perception will become reality while the organization remains silent with its internal investigation underway.

Frankly, there are only three simple steps necessary for companies to incorporate in order to address concerns being raised and escalated:

  1. Acknowledge the issue so that people know they have been heard
  2. Tell them what you are going to do
  3. Do it

As simple as those steps might be, it is amazing how many companies fail to do them.

There have been a number of recent examples where organizations fell victim to online activities that escalated.  Domino’s Pizza and the viral YouTube Video by some franchise managers, the system error that caused problems for search results regarding gay and lesbian themed books on Amazon, Tim Horton’s run-in with the Providence Daily Dose Blog coverage of a family oriented event that was anti-gay and the fall out on Encyclopedia Dramatica regarding Nissan Canada’s contest involving their car, the Cube.

To some, these examples may not have warranted the level of escalation that occurred but that’s not the point.  The point is that people raised the issues high enough and loud enough to catch the attention of other online and mainstream media channels and responses by companies varied from prompt and understanding to far too late and indifferent.

There are many more examples of situations like these and plenty of opportunity to learn from them.  Also, organizations don’t seem to realize what an opportunity this is.  They now have the opportunity to insert themselves into conversations that were happening anyway but now, with the arrival of social media, they can participate in and possibly influence the outcome of those conversations.

I am reminded of a quote by Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables – “What are you prepared to do?”  Are you prepared to proactively engaged in two-way conversations with uncertainty about the outcome?  If you are then you are ready for social media.  If you aren’t then perhaps you need to reflect more on the idea of a counter-twitterism unit.  The blog’s in your court.