How Often Do Ethical Questions Impact Your Social Media Efforts?

Over the course of the last week, while working on social media initiatives for several clients, the following questions or situations came up:

  • A client missing an opportunity to engage in a conversation (coupled with desire of agency team members to respond)
  • A situation that would require disclosing my (or my agency’s) role in working with a client who wishes to keep the work and our relationship secret
  • Working with customer data within social networks, privacy concerns about using the data for targeting
  • Agency employees interested in engaging in conversation for a client initiative (on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere) without disclosing relationships
  • A friend, knowing a client relationship, asking if it’s OK to “vent” about that client in social (of course I said yes, and I can hope my client responds and does the “right thing” to help.)

I could share my responses to these issues, but I’d rather hear from you.  So my question is to you: If you work in social media or even work for a company that is leveraging social channels for various purposes, how often do you come across ethical concerns?  What types of issues are your seeing?  Who do you turn to for guidance?

By the way, Todd Defren has a great series called Real World Ethical Dilemmas in Social Media that explore situations in greater detail.  I’m curious how often these come up for you – please describe your role too and thanks in advance.

Photo credit: swiv via flickr

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Two Dirty Little Social Media Secrets

I was intrigued by Marc Meyer’s post about social media marketing being too labor intensive.  He outlines a whole series of activities, from smaller things like creating listening posts and monitoring buzz, mentions and opportunities to bigger initiatives like creating and managing blogs, microsites using social platform providers, and broad community initiatives.  Agencies and businesses alike need to sort out the level of effort and costs required (not to mention roles and responsibilities for maintaining each).  I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but trying to highlight reality a bit by sharing two topics you don’t hear about much when it comes to how successful social tactics are deployed.

1. More Successful Means More Expensive

As these tactics become more successful, they become more expensive.  These tactics require long term effort and can certainly can do more damage if abandoned.  But it takes more effort to continue to manage, build and grow, and that can mean more costs internally, at a minimum.  The effort can result in more resources, more media, more content – all of which have a price tag unless you believe people are free (in which case I’d like to hire you for my next project).

2. Hope is Not a Plan: Paid + Earned Media

A partner at Accenture I used to work with was king of pouncing on anyone who responded to a question with “I hope…”   His response was a sharp  “Hope is not a plan.”  This applies to social ideas too.  Even the most successful social media initiatives are likely combined with other marketing tactics – especially paid media and email marketing.  I’d be surprised to hear about social ideas that were grounded purely in the “hope” they will go viral alone.  What’s the quickest way for a brand to get fans (likes) on a Facebook page?  Engagement ads on Facebook with a call to action, or emailing customers with a similar call to action.  Companies like Rapleaf can tell you which customers are active in social networks – you can be precise on the call to action, but just building something social doesn’t mean customers will show up.  Li Evans wrote an excellent post recently about how social media marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, going deeper on other tactics like SEO and PPC.  Together these tactics magnify each other.

Am I just being Master of the Obvious again? Have an example that contradicts?  I’d love to hear it, and I hope I’m wrong.  Right, hope is not a plan.

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People

The New Marketing Funnel

(Jointly authored with Rosetta‘s Director of Social Media, Gargi Patel)

The world has changed. We are in the midst of an unprecedented shift of power to the consumer fueled by the virtual megaphone handed to them through social media outlets. When a customer is angry or has a bad experience with a product or service, the old rule of thumb was that they told an average of 10 people about it. In today’s world some could easily be telling 10,000 (or more!). On the flip side, happy customers can be telling many more than the old average of 3 people about their good experience. Marketing executives just need to design initiatives that enable and activate them to do so. That shift can be represented through adapting one of every marketer’s favorite marketing conceptual frameworks, the funnel.

Infusing Engagement into the Marketing Funnel

With the expansion of the marketer’s toolbox to include social media, marketing is no longer about pushing out one way communications. The marketing world is no longer defined solely by impressions; it’s now a world of interactions. Today’s marketing includes the customer’s voice throughout the process, whether it’s intentional or not. Customers will talk online and comment on a brand’s marketing campaigns, products, services, and even how a company treats employees. It’s not enough to think about how companies communicate outwards; it’s just as important to think about how customers can communicate back, with each other, and arguably most importantly, with new prospects.

Rethinking The Funnel

A few years ago, Forrester Research published a report on “engagement” and suggested that the marketing funnel has become much more complex in today’s environment.  (See image.  Former Forrester analyst Brian Haven wrote about the complexities impacting the funnel in 2007).  While the influencing factors are more complicated, the same simple, visual framework as the traditional marketing funnel can be leveraged to show this complexity. The design needs to account for engagement throughout the process rather than looking at it through a lens of static messages we push out.

For example, traditionally, marketers look to create awareness by placing carefully planned messages across appropriate media outlets. Today, customers can create and spread their own messages about a brand through user-generated content and social networks. Traditionally, marketers would hope to influence customers in the “consideration” phase through strategic promotions and sales tactics. Today, user-generated ratings and reviews are frequently enough to convince a customer to make the purchase. Building loyalty is no longer just about loyalty points programs for repeat purchase or sending regular emails to customers. Building loyalty now means entering into a dialogue with them and letting customers participate in more meaningful ways than static customer feedback surveys or a constant barrage of emails announcing special promotions.

Extending the Marketing Funnel

The old marketing funnel generally followed some version of this pattern:

  • Awareness > Research/Consideration > Purchase / Conversion

With the widespread adoption of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in the 1990’s, marketers began focusing more on loyalty or customer retention and brought the funnel one level deeper. The customer’s voice was considered important, but only in the context of customer service and a closed feedback loop. The old thinking was that sending customers regular emails would keep the brand top of mind and that special offers would keep customers from switching to competitors.

As mentioned before, today’s marketers will need to build a more authentic, deeper relationship with customers by truly engaging them to earn their loyalty—and this is how companies can begin to cultivate advocates.

Figure 2: The New Marketing Funnel

It’s time to extend the marketing funnel one level deeper to account for advocacy. There are two reasons that cultivating and enabling advocacy is critical in today’s world:

  1. People trust other people more than they trust companies. A recommendation from a friend or family member is still the single most important criteria in making a purchase decision and recommendations from strangers online also hold more weight than marketing messages.
  2. With the growing voice of the customer online and the “power” (virtual megaphone) handed to them through social media outlets, it’s important to help make sure the voice of happy customers is louder than that of the few unhappy customers.

Cultivating and enabling advocates will generate authentic word-of-mouth, bringing the best new customer prospects into the marketing funnel. The ROI on that? Priceless.  (Rosetta does in fact have a framework to measure ROI on advocacy programs.)

What do you think?  Is this old news?  Would this help you construct a framework to measure social media initiatives or sell the concept of driving advocacy to executives?  How would you change it?

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Can Social Media be Taught?

school

I imagine there are two camps: those who believe you can teach someone how to use social media and those who think it’s absurd to teach people to do what they can learn on their own.  The term “Social Media” covers such a gamut of technologies, approaches, tools and lessons learned that it’s challenging to think about how a training course could be packaged and would stay current, but I’d like to explore what a course could achieve.

There Is No Set Formula

When it comes to leveraging social media for marketing, there is no set formula.  In other areas of online marketing, there is a formula, skill sets and disciplines.  For example, pay-per-click and online display advertising can be measured in terms of return on investment to several decimal points, and there are proven methods that work in each discipline.  The social media space is constantly changing – there is no set formula for success and whether or not you believe the ROI can be measured, every tool/community/approach is different.  If someone tries to sell you a discrete formula for success, chances are they are trying to get rich quick over the hype.  And if you buy their formula, please contact me, I’ve got some contacts via email who are looking to connect folks like you to a late Russian tycoon’s inheritance.

Others may suggest that (aside from spam) there is no wrong way to use social media really.  I see arguments on this front all the time, especially when it comes to using specific tools.  People use Twitter in all sorts of ways – as a broadcast channel, as a conversation channel, for work, for play, for distractions and for adding value.  If what is right for you works, how could there be another right way that works for someone else?

Resources Galore

There are a lot of great books, blogs, conferences and people to learn from.  I’ve attended many local and industry events and have had the pleasure of meeting several folks who are influential in the social media industry.   A key part of learning about social media is to immerse yourself in it – subscribe to blogs, connect with people on social networks and really use it.  If you can commit to do a little each day, it can start to pay dividends over time through the relationships you build – whether its for your own personal use of for your business.  If you are looking for recommendations on people to connect to that you can learn from (and who show an interest in sharing that knowledge), some of the best include Amber Naslund, Chris Brogan, Beth Harte and Jay Baer.

What a Course Could Provide

A training course in social media could consolidate a lot of the disparate sources of information out there.  A part of the training could capture how tools work, define terminology and give examples of successes or failures.  The course could showcase case studies where companies or individuals took risks in specific industries.  There are lots of approaches and strategies that can be covered – often the advice is to “start with listening,” but a course could provide details on how to set up monitoring stations, the differences between free tools like Google Blog Search and enterprise tools like Radian6 or SM2.  The course would need a dynamic element to it – I could easily see the case studies become dated and the technology changes and new tools making it difficult to keep up.

Can you package up enough in one course to make it worthwhile? The folks at SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Association, are trying.  I was honored to be asked by the SEMPO team to review the course outline for one of two new summer sessions available, covering Social Media.  (My agency, Rosetta, is a SEMPO member.)  I’m curious to see how the course will fair and what the participants think of the content.

Which Camp Are You In?

Would a training course in social media appeal to you?  What do you think a training course could achieve?  If the course is focused on how the tools work, the implications and risks, case studies, etc then I don’t have a problem with it.  But if the course is going to claim that it can guarantee success by building followers and following someone’s specific formula, avoid it like the plague.  Thoughts?

Photo credit: foreversouls via flickr

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How to Show The Value of Twitter In 2 Minutes or Less

2170597742_77181240ccTwitter is not a service that will appeal to everyone.  Allegedly 60% of Twitter users leave after the first month (although this doesn’t include those who switch to desktop apps like Tweetdeck).  I’d argue it’s because they only have Oprah and Ashton Kutcher showing them the ropes and need some better guidance; Twitter is intuitive to use but not to build a network or get the most value out of it.  Here are some simple steps to show someone the value of Twitter.

  1. Pick a topic the person is passionate about.
  2. Go to http://search.twitter.com and run a search on the term.
  3. Find an interesting tweet or post about the topic, and click through to the profile of the person who posted it.  If the profile looks interesting, follow that person.  Follow a few folks like this.
  4. Start a conversation, reply to one of the posts as if you had started a conversation in line at the supermarket.
  5. Look for someone sharing a useful website or blog post related to the topic, click through to the blog and consider subscribing to it.  Maybe reply to the author via comment or back on Twitter to let them know what you thought.
  6. Spend a few minutes in the conversation and see what happens.  Try again the next day.
  7. Repeat.

Within a few minutes you’ll likely get valuable content and conversation to you, relevant to a topic you are interested in.  You might even find a job listing.  I just tried this approach on 3 people – using photography, user experience and summer camp – and went 3 for 3 on “wows.”  New to Twitter? Let me know if this helps.  Twitter veteran? What else would you recommend to get someone started?

ps. Try “ball bearings” – you’ll find manufacturing suppliers, engineers, and people who like Fletch.

photo credit: 2create via Flickr

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Celebrities Are Not Taking Over Twitter

crowdsCelebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and Britney Spears are not taking over Twitter.  A well publicized event like Oprah tweeting on her show won’t help.  Ashton vs. Larry King, in a contest to see which account, @aplusk (“a plus k”) or @cnnbrk can reach a million followers first is a publicity event that had lots of benefits for both in terms of building large networks, but they are not taking over.  Any way you slice it, their efforts are futile. They can’t take over Twitter because of one simple fact: people choose who they follow.

Twitter is a social network that allows a member to choose who to follow, and followers choose whether they follow back.  Follow who you are interested in.  Ignore spammers or folks who don’t interest you. It’s that simple.

The major benefit of all the celebrity activity around Twitter is that more people will be drawn to use the service.  For a concept that is so simple, Twitter is not the most intuitive network to navigate.  Understanding how to start and join in a conversation online is a little outside of the comfort zone of many people.  I’ve seen many people join Twitter and 6 months later they are following 10 people, no one is following back and the only post on their account is “Joined twitter, trying to figure this out.”  Take a look for yourself.

I will still contend that Twitter is not for everybody, but as more people figure out how to build their own communities on the platform, the more valuable content and discussion will be aggregated.  I like to think of the volume of content on Twitter as an unstructured Wikipedia – it’s not precisely accurate but directionally correct, and the more sources that contribute the better it gets.

Here’s an example.  I had a conversation last night with someone who had just joined twitter and had trouble convincing a friend why it is valuable.  I asked what that friend did for a living – the friend was a user experience designer, and very skeptical about Twitter.  I pulled up search.twitter.com and searched for “UX” – and immediately found UX job listings, informative blogs of well known people in the industry and a lot of people talking about user experience design.  I clicked through to a couple of twitter profiles and quickly identified the lead of user experience of AutoTrader.com.  Within a few minutes I could identify a dozen valuable resources that would help that friend in his career.

I’ve been using Twitter for nearly two years, and the community has changed and evolved.  I still keep to the core of interacting with folks who share common interests, whether it’s the Red Sox, social media or the fun of a lazy Saturday morning with the kids at home.  I’ve come to heavily rely on Tweetdeck to manage groups of friends and contacts that I don’t want to lose in the sea of “tweets,” but I am also continuing to find value by identifying interesting people who have something valuable to share.  With valuable contributors, searching Twitter has become an increasingly relevant way to get to content.  Celebrities joining twitter can only bring more interesting people to follow right along with them.

Are you using Twitter? Do you think celebrities joining is positive or negative, and has it changed how you use Twitter?  Feel free to reach out to me @adamcohen on Twitter to discuss, I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Neon23 via flickr

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The Second Coming of Twitter

PeopleTwitter is all the rage.  CNN talks about it at every opportunity.  Famous people from Shaquille O’Neal to MCHammer to Demi Moore are using it to share snippets of their daily lives.  Legions of new joiners are popping up each day.  Books are being published left and right about Twitter for business and monetizing Twitter accounts (some questionable, others focusing on the community in microsharing – the most anticipated one I’m looking forward to is Laura Fitton‘s (aka Pistachio) Twitter for Dummies).  Blog posts about Twitter are profilic.  Yep, I’m full of irony by adding to the mix – and there are some that would probably say what is happening now is a third or even fourth coming of Twitter.

Observations

I’ve been on Twitter for a year and a half and here are some observations about what has changed, for better or worse:

  • Spammers have become more advanced, using bots, auto-follow/un-follows, and other nefarious ways to collect followers.
  • Gone are the days of “Twitter Karma” where we all try to maintain equilibrium of follower to following ratios.  Now it’s more focused on how we can be useful or interesting to each other.
  • People are very caught up in numbers – of followers, of retweets, of conversations.  New tools continue to crop up to grade your twitter participation, experience and influence.
  • The more followers you have, the more reliant you become on solid third party tools like Tweetdeck and Tweetworks to manage groups and connections that are most important. Tags and search capability are key functions in day to day use.
  • Twitter is no longer solely for the early adopter tech crowd or the social media consulting/services crowd. It’s clearly a useful platform for lawyers, real estate agents, graphic artists, moms, dads, sports fans, you name it.
  • The coverage of Twitter use in traditional media, like the evening news on TV, to me seems like hunting and pecking for needles in a haystack.  It can be devoid of metrics or real analysis, using it more like finding a funny tweet and showing it to the audience.  It reminds me of the Chris Farley show on SNL.  (“Do you remember that?…That was AWESOME.”)
  • The echo chamber of people on Twitter talking about Twitter has grown louder, stronger and more frequent, which can be good and bad.  It’s good for educating folks on what tweetups are, how to use hashtags to help track conversations, which 3rd party apps are great for desktop and iPhone use.  It’s also good when businesses are leveraging the platform to connect with customers and resolve or acknowledge challenges.  It’s bad when people presume to know about someone’s intentions or preach too strongly about how to use Twitter.

Back to the Basics

With all of the hype, there are many who forget or neglect what I would describe as some basic guidelines on Twitter.  I am by no means an authority but am sharing my thoughts as a long time (in technology terms, anyway) user, and I would welcome your suggestions and input.

  • Twitter is for conversations.  Find people who like to talk about topics you’re interested in, connect and participate.
  • It’s a great tool for sharing useful or fun information.
  • Sure, Twitter can be a promotion vehicle, but spend less than 10% of your time on Twitter promoting your own wares (hat tip to Chris Brogan who mentions this approach often).  Would you go into a large networking event and start shouting?  How successful would it be?
  • I try to look at all of the numbers and measurements of grading one’s Twitter use with a grain of salt – they can be indicators of intent, suggestions and guides on what to do differently, and in some cases show influence, but in the same regard do you keep measure of offline conversations with friends, families and coworkers?  I don’t, especially not to decimal points.  I like to check out the tools but I don’t get too caught up in them.
  • Twitter enables meaningful connections, but they are not a given.  Building relationships, just like meeting new people at a conference, party or event, takes time, patience and sincere interest in connecting with other people.
  • Twitter represents a way to build relationships, find useful information, gain access to expertise and connect.  Here is a representation (definitely a subset) of many folks who I have met through Twitter and others who I hope to meet but follow because they share something useful and meaningful – they are real people.  (Twitter Mosaic courtesy of sxoop.com, get your own here).

Have you been on Twitter for a long time?  If so, how have you seen the community and use evolve?  If you’re new to Twitter, what brought you to the platform and what do you think so far?

Photo credit: left-hand via Flickr

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