Social Media Does Not Exist

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects (1995)

I had an interesting discussion recently about Social media strategies.  When discussing inputs to a social media strategy, an admitted “social media skeptic” replied that she thought there shouldn’t be a need for them; rather that social media strategies were really just customer relationship strategies.  Frankly, well put.   MarketingSherpa recently published a study of companies that are integrating social media tactics with offline and online marketing tactics.  I’d like to see the evolution over time and agree with the premise – “The benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone.”

Effective businesses manage all customer touchpoints – every customer interaction is a chance to impact the experience, whether it’s an ad, a product purchase, a customer service call, talking in the store with an associate, or replying to a post in a social network.  When companies start to realize these synergies, they will be able to achieve a lot more than focusing on pure social media tactics alone.  The customer lifecycle is a journey, and each interaction point can have multiple tactics that make it more compelling (and ultimately provide benefit) to the customer.

The technologies that are available influence traditional marketing tactics already.  In some cases, they magnify each other.  Take these examples:

  • 50% click through rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search (comScore & GroupM study).
  • Email marketing approaches need to factor in calls to action in social platforms, like soliciting ratings and reviews for products and services, or asking customers to become fans on Facebook.
  • Attribution of revenue from interactive marketing tactics like paid search, display advertising and landing pages now need to factor social tactics (shared links, social content on site) to understand the impact to analytics and optimization.
  • Location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are about understanding who is coming to your store offline, and enabling targeted promotions to reward visitors.  (Imagine that, technology that helps bring visitors in the door, and keep them coming back.)

While social media specific strategies can help companies digest and learn the technologies and approaches that build success, they aren’t the end game.  I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how social technologies are changing and influencing other areas of marketing.  Despite lots of hype and lots of platforms grabbing headlines, I’m convinced that companies who truly embrace social media, by understanding and engaging, are the ones who treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are others that think the same way.  Think we’ll see the day when “social media” isn’t a separate line item in a marketing plan?

Photo credit: niemster via Flickr

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Friends with Benefits: Starbucks and Foursquare

This week Starbucks announced that mayors of locations on Foursquare between now and June 28 can get one dollar off the custom Frappacino of their choice.   This morning I tried it out and received my discount.  I’ve been a user of Foursquare for several months, but for me personally it was the first time I had experienced a benefit as a consumer.  Starbucks is clearly just experimenting here, but I like the approach – there is little cost or downside to a promotion like this.  Some quick thoughts based on a nice discussion with the employees of the store:

  • Most of the employees didn’t know what Foursquare was, but were really excited about it.
  • They had been eagerly waiting to find out who the mayor was – wondering when the person would show up, what they would say, wondering if the person would be a jerk and pound a fist demanding a discount, claiming “I’m the Mayor!” and wondering if they would know the person already.
  • The employee running the cash register had to check the official “Need to Know” bulletin to know what promotion code to use when ringing me up.  I wasn’t surprised since this is a new idea and approach, and didn’t involve a paper coupon I could turn in.
  • We talked about several other ideas they could explore, like rewarding every 5th checking with something similar to benefit more than just the Mayor.
  • I explained that my role is very social media focused, and since I had been on Foursquare for awhile it may be common at a lot of stores that early adopters (also in the biz) would be most likely to retain mayorships.
  • As I left I heard some other employee ask, “Hey, was that the mayor? He’s here all the time, cool.”

Aside from the recognition, the discount was practical and got me to try a drink I wouldn’t have otherwise purchased (Iced Americano or Iced Latte are more the usual for me).  I appreciated the conversation starter to build a better relationship with the folks who worked there, although we already somewhat knew each other. My primary suggestion to Starbucks would be to see them expand to have more folks benefit.

I could really see an application here for the retail space if handled and designed properly.  Any company that has a multi-channel footprint could leverage Foursquare (or perhaps one of the other location services, like Gowalla, Brightkite or the coming Facebook changes) to build fun and relationships into their strategy.  On the flip side, because these technologies are so new and not as widely adopted, there is an opportunity for more “buzz” just by being first to market.  Or second, after Starbucks and some others (Gradon Tripp pointed out that Ben & Jerry’s offers 3 scoops for $3 for checking in, a 4th free scoop for the mayor, sparking a conversation with Sarah Wallace and others about the correlation between Foursquare and weight gain) .

Get your discount yet?  What do you think about the approach?  Is it a flash in a pan or a part of a bigger picture?

UPDATE: Tipping Point Labs’ Andrew Davis (a previous Marketing Hot Seat author here) today published a great perspective on Starbucks’ promotion, highly worth the read.

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Facebook Changes Relationship Marketing, Again

The discipline of relationship marketing is already facing waves of changes with social media providing a variety of new approaches and opportunities to communicate with customers.  Optimizing communications with email marketing alone has been an ongoing challenge for companies of all sizes.  Developing an appropriate communication strategy requires understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviors of customers, fine tuning copy and frequency that will resonate with customers a business is trying to reach.

Clearly social media is already having an impact.  Customers opting to follow Twitter streams, join community programs or become “fans” on Facebook are signaling they are opting in to some sort of communication.  I met recently with a financial services company who is leveraging these opt-in communication points to offset email marketing – literally, they are sending less email because customers are choosing to interact with their brands through different vehicles.

Facebook just threw yet another a monkey wrench into the mix. With the ability to “like” any page or content out there with a unique URL, a communication strategist has another dimension to manage.  When a customer “likes” a page, or perhaps even a specific product, the brand then has the capability to communicate directly with those fans.  For example, as a reader if you “like” this blog post (you can choose the verb “recommend” instead, in the settings for the API), I have the ability just like a normal fan page in Facebook to communicate to just the fans of this post.  Facebook creates a ‘ghost’ page only available to the admin, which will allow me to track statistics and see an explicit list of people who “like” or “recommend” the post.

Imagine the applications.  Companies in all industries could consider implications around targeting through Facebook for specific brands, product lines or individual products. A pharma company, for example, could leverage this function to communicate with Facebook users around specific conditions if they happen to “like” a specific treatment.  Retailers could too, except they need to be careful – do they really want to manage communications and fans at a SKU level?  Nike could integrate communications via Facebook likes for fans of Air Jordan, but it’s probably not sustainable for each shoe.  Bookstores could manage communications with folks who “like” historical fiction different those who “like” Manga.

At the big business level I think there is going to be an emerging emphasis on communication management, copywriters and ongoing relationship marketing strategists to digest these technologies and build case studies to drive business results.  Have a favorite example of the application of Facebook’s new “like” API and approach?  I’d love to hear it.

Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn via Flickr – who also provides a template for businesses wanting to create a similar sign

5 Ways Social Media Impacts Consideration

Ask any marketer to draw you a picture of the sales funnel and you’ll get virtually the same picture.  There are a number of proposed ways to look at the funnel applied to social media, including a post I wrote last year about the New Marketing Funnel and the new book, Flip the Funnel, from Powered/crayon’s Joseph Jaffe.  What’s clear though, is that social media provides definitive means to impacting the “consideration” phase – when a customer makes the leap from awareness of a brand or product to evaluating, before committing to make a purchase.  Here are five ways that social media can impact a customer who is considering a purchase.

1. Research

When deciding to make an important purchase, like a car, a cell phone or a home, few people do so without evaluating options and doing some research.  You may have a friend who knows a lot about cars.  You might start searching online for consumer groups.  You might ask your family, neighbors, work colleagues.  Social media provides means do do all of the above online, including looking at reviews from perfect strangers.  It’s more relevant to look at reviews of products than to trust marketers alone.  Allowing user ratings and reviews on your product site, which can be moderated for abuse, can be a very effective way to engage in user generated content without the open-ended risk associated with a platform like Facebook.

2. Validation

Is there any truth to what my neighbor said about that product or service?  Or the recall rumor I just heard yesterday? Look at blogs, discuss on Facebook, search on Twitter.  Consumers can use social platforms to validate or refute information easily with their social graphs or through searching.  With Bing and Google indexing much of those discussions in real time, answers can be found immediately.  Separately if you have a perception of a brand (positive or negative), social channels can help validate those thoughts and views.

3. Creating an Emotional Connection

An emotional connection to a product, service or brand can influence purchase behavior.  Cause marketing can be an indirect way to build brand loyalty.  One of my favorite recent examples is the Chase Community Giving program on Facebook.  Personalized stories of real customers can also be a way to build an emotional connection.

4. Creating Touchpoints

How many brand touchpoints and impressions does it take to impact consideration?  I’m not sure, but chances are that it’s more than one.  An impression or interaction in social media can be measured in a lot of ways, but it takes multiple exposures to a brand to have it be front of mind when a consumer moves from awareness to consideration in the funnel.  Sure, no one actually talks about themselves moving from one stage in the funnel to another.  But as usage of social media grows, having a presence where consumers are will be a way to foster those impressions in a different way than traditional advertising.  Marketing behemoth Proctor & Gamble is exploring Facebook more aggressively for just that reason.

5.  Search

The folks at ComScore and GroupM have a great study that shows the impact of social media on branded search – just one way that shows how social media is impacting search.  Discussions related to a brand in social networks, discussion boards, forums, and on brand-owned assets will impact search results when a consume starts to look for information.  Brands can’t ignore the SEO implications of any content they own – Lee Odden has a great post about tools that can help optimize social content for search.

Think about the last time you moved from awareness to consideration.  What influenced you?  Did I miss any other way that social media could have impacted your decision process?

Photo credit: cpstorm via flickr

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Return on Serendipity

According to Wikipedia, Serendipity “is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated.”  I’ve found that since engaging on several different social media tools like Twitter, that has happened a lot more often.  How about you?  “Return on serendipity” really makes no sense – how can you plan to get a return on something that happens by accident?

Last week I attended the Social Business Summit, hosted by the Dachis Group in Austin, TX just before the SXSW Interactive conference.  One of the speakers was John Hagel. John is the co-chair of a Silicon Valley research center for Deloitte.  One quote stood out for me, and it applies to both individuals and businesses:

You can increase the opportunity to achieve serendipity.  What’s your serendipity strategy?

You can put yourself out there.  Businesses can establish outposts in social channels, build and foster relationships, and have a presence where customers expect them to be.  With the growth of social media tools, and their resulting impact on other digital channels, this will give you more opportunities for people to find you.

Last fall, GroupM and Comscore announced the results of a compelling study on the correlation between social media and paid search.  One highlight for me hits home for the digital marketer:

The study…showed a 50 percent click-through-rate (CTR) increase in paid search when sonsumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search.  This revealed consumers exposed to social media are more likely to click on a brand’s paid search ad as compared to those exposed to the brand’s paid search alone.

To me, that’s hard evidence that building a footprint increases the likelihood of serendipity – consumers will find you, perhaps when they were not expecting to.  The term “return on serendipity” may be a non sequitor, but there are signs of real, tangible return on making opportunities more likely to happen.   Have other examples?  I’d love to hear them.

Update: After a little discussion on Twitter I was alerted to this great post by Rachel Happe: 5 Ways to Orchestrate Serendipity.  Worth the read.

Photo credit: shashachu via flickr

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A Free eBook for Marketers: Learning in 2010

I virtually met Ellen Hoenig Carlson several months ago through Twitter. As I have continued to work on social media initiatives in Rosetta‘s Healthcare practice, Ellen’s blog has continually been a tremendous resource to gain insight on the subtle (and often not so subtle) intricacies of marketing in healthcare and pharma. Ellen reached out to me to be included in her ebook for Pharma marketers, entitled “The Gift of Learning for Pharma and Healthcare Marketers in 2010.” First, I’m very grateful to be able to contribute and be included.  But second, my background is more traditional retail and high tech – so it’s great to read the themes from some of the top healthcare social media strategists included.  Below are the other contibutors;  One of my goals in 2010 is to meet as many of them as possible in person, Ellen included.

  • Phil Baumann, Phil Baumann online blog, CareVocate Interactive Media Solutions
  • Wendy Blackburn, ePharma Rx blog, Intouch Solutions
  • Dave deBronkart, The New Life of e-Patient Dave blog, Society for Participatory Medicine
  • Angela Dunn, Odom Lewis blog, Executive Search Specialists in Healthcare Marketing/Medical Education
  • Susannah Fox, Health Research for Pew Internet & American Life Project
  • Fard Johnmar, Path of the Blue Eye Project, Envision Consultancy
  • John Mack, Pharma Marketing blog, Editor-in-chief of Pharma Marketing News
  • Jonathan Richman, Dose of Digital blog, Bridge Worldwide
  • Marsha Shenk, Thriving Enterprise blog, The Bestwork People
  • Andrew Spong, STweM blog and Consultancy, UK
  • Steve Woodruff, Impactiviti blog and Consultancy

Themes the authors wrote about include, from Ellen’s blog summary:

1)  e-Patients are at the center and critical to learning and design;

2)  Authenticity isn’t a ‘nice to do’, it’s a ‘must’ (and you won’t be the one who decides whether you’ve succeeded);

3)  Don’t get distracted by ‘bells and whistles’ – remember the basics and keep your brand core strong;

4)  New marketing challenges require new ROI thinking…the ROI of connection, authenticity and compassion;

5)  The marketing cycle of life is going through unprecedented change requiring all marketers and communications people to unlearn much – the movement from paid marketing to earned marketing requires a different mindset and skills; and

6)  Effective marketing and engagement will require new kinds of leadership skills.

A lot of these themes apply to other industries – so I think it’s a great gift for all marketers.  Download a copy of the ebook, share it, and drop by Ellen’s post to let her know what you think.  Thanks again Ellen for including me.

Download: Best Strategic Learning Investment in 2010

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No Amount of Social Media Overcomes Bad Customer Experience


This is not a post to bash AT&T.

I know many folks who have had issues with their network, dropping calls and customer service.  I’ve had quite the opposite.  Sure I’ve dropped a call occasionally, but I actually switched to AT&T because they were the only service provider that had great coverage when I was traveling to a client in Ann Arbor, MI, years ago.  In addition to my Blackberry, I purchased a broadband USB card that has helped me tremendously while I have been on the road.  All in all I’ve been a pleased customer for nearly three years.

Where They’re Doing Some Things Well

On the social media side, AT&T has made some compelling strides over the last year plus.  For years they have been working with Seth Bloom (who I have met and think very highly of) and they took the leap to put him customer facing representing the company.  They have shown a good progression – starting with a Youtube channel and an engaging Facebook page, expanding to listening and customer service directly via Twitter, and making all the help more accessible via a social media landing page.  This week AT&T announced a new iPhone app called “Mark That Spot” – it allows customers to indicate when they are in a location with poor 3G coverage – they are listening to customers, and it’s a good start.  I’m not sure how many of AT&T’s competitors have made this much effort, frankly.  For a recent issue I had, @ATTNatasha reached out to me via Twitter and has been extremely patient, helpful and proactive in working to resolve the issue.  Just last week, when Natasha was out of the office, she asked @ATTJason to follow up on another request I had – he was professional, responsive and helpful.

Where The Experience Falls Short

ATTBillHere’s where my personal experience with AT&T fell down. In September I took a 2-day trip to Toronto, Canada, for a conference.  Before I left, I called customer service and asked for recommendations for voice, data and broadband plan changes that would help.  I put measures in place for each.  When I got back, I had a $6,000 bill.  My average monthly bill for all services is $250.

Over the next 6 weeks, I had many calls with Natasha and other customer service reps.  AT&T Billing (not Natasha) called me twice to threaten to disconnect my service while the September bill was in dispute.  Natasha was able to work out several credits offline through her supervisors, and continued to keep me posted via Twitter.  I really enjoyed working with her in this way – I avoided long wait times on the phone.  However in the end her supervisors told her that she could credit me only so much, they believe my broadband card was legitimately connected, and still invoiced me for $1300 worth of data and roaming charges in a two day period.  I have ample spreadsheets to keep track of the discussions and calculations we went through.

On my last call with Natasha, she delivered the news, and I immediately canceled my broadband service.  I already have a Verizon broadband card activated. I am actively shopping for cell phone service.  We agreed to disagree on the bill amount but considered the matter closed.  Two weeks later AT&T suspended all service to my cell phone and only reactivated after I paid the amount due in full.  I felt like I had no other option.

Here’s the point: No amount of interaction through Twitter or other social media outlets could prevent ultimately a bad customer experience and loss of a customer.

In the progression that AT&T has started in social media, a pivotal next step will be to integrate these customer relationships and interactions into their overall business process, with customer feedback being added to the product lifecycle, driving their programs and revamping their overall customer experience. I think I just lived at least a portion of what David Armano and Peter Kim are talking about when they preach “social business design.”

A disclaimer: Was user error involved? Probably – I may have left the broadband card plugged in overnight, which I have since learned is a quick way to rack up usage charges (even if not connected). I definitely did not download however many GB of data they have on record though. Was it worth AT&T to eat more of that cost to keep a long term customer? Apparently not.

Where have you had a bad customer experience?  Did the company try to use social media to overcome it?  Please no AT&T network bashing comments – there are plenty of other outlets for that.

Photo credit: dwfree1967 via Flickr