Making the Leap: Why Companies Struggle with Social Media

How many people at your company are trained, equipped and empowered to talk to customers?  If your organization is large, chances are the percentage of customer-facing people is smaller.  How many customers does your company have?  How about potential customers?  No doubt the numbers stack up in a heavy ratio against people inside the company that are trained to engage them.  Traditional advertising and marketing provides a cushion, putting out messaging to the large customer population to influence their purchase behavior.  It didn’t require making a leap to engage customers in conversation or to deeply understand how they make a purchase decision.  The approach was always one-sided, and the feedback loop could be carefully and slowly measured with focus groups and research.  Social media provides opportunities for two-way and multi-way conversation, which requires discipline, research, scale and transparency.  Simply put, one way is easier, two-way (and multi-way) is hard.

An Analogy

When I was a freshman in college, a couple friends and I drove to a local quarry that had been shut down.  The quarry was flooded and it provided a great location for cliff-diving.  Was it safe? Probably not, but it was fun.  Deciding to take that last step to a more than fifty foot drop was a daunting task, but the sense of personal accomplishment and fun was rewarding afterwards.  The general sense was, “that wasn’t so bad” and “exhilarating” at the same time.

Three Industry Examples

Making the leap to engage customers through leveraging social media tools can be a similar experience to leaping off that cliff.  (Well, the decision to leap anyway – the benefits can be much more reqarding.)  I’ve worked with clients in different industries, and they all viewed that leap in different ways.  The retailer already tried the leap – they started with the prototypical Facebook page, a couple of Twitter accounts, some user generated content contests.  But they didn’t start with understanding customer preferences, needs, attitudes and behaviors, and they also didn’t use any social media monitoring.  To me that’s like making the leap without knowing how high the cliff is or how deep the water is.  The good news: no one got hurt so far and now they can be more strategic in their approach.

The financial services and banking client is conservative and hugely risk averse.  Regulatory concerns abound.  A strategy was developed and plans were made, but the company wasn’t aligned as an organization on when and how to jump in.  They’ve spent several months examining, evaluating, listening, watching competitors but not yet making that leap to converse and engage.  They have a great brand promise around community and customer service, and when they do make the leap they will be unbelievably prepared.  What’s holding them back? Scale, empowerment, fear of the unknown and fear of failure.  When they do start it will be methodical, and they will see the benefits, but their journey to the leap needs to be vetted as a company first.

The third is a consumer goods company.  They have an “old school” brand that has been around for ages, and have deep roots in the traditional marketing days where the advertising industry boomed.  Their leap decision is more about changing their ways, bringing the consumer to be the focus rather than just the product, and moving away from “broadcasting” on more channels to “engaging.”  Making the leap was inevitable, but they needed to change their mindset in order to understand customers better, why they make a brand purchase decision and how they can participate in conversation without outright selling.

Let’s Hear From You

Every company is different – the culture, the brand promise, the beliefs, the success, the level of focus on consumer insights, and the ability to apply tools and technologies that are new to mutually benefit company and client.  Why do you think companies struggle with social media?  For companies that are succeeding, what do you think got them there – what it brand affinity they could tap into or did they have to work harder to create engagement?

Photo credit: clickflashphotos via Flickr

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7 Inputs to a Social Media Strategy

seedsBuilding a social media strategy is not something that can be whipped together overnight.  For context, any company that is looking to develop a strategy for leveraging social media should first check out the POST methodology from Forrester Research.  The “People” part of the approach (followed by Objectives, Stategy and Technology) has a short description:

Don’t start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you’re targeting college students, use social networks. If you’re reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don’t start without thinking about it.

This is smart, practical advice.  Yet it doesn’t go deep enough.  Here are seven inputs that need to be considered before defining objectives and developing a strategy to leverage social media tactics.

  1. Social Media Monitoring. There are many self-service tools out there beyond Twitter search and Google blog search.  Two that work well are Radian6 and SM2.  No software is perfect, especially when it comes to analyzing sentiment of what customers are saying, but “hunting and pecking” using point-in-time search tools isn’t going to give you the broad array you need.  These tools also can review data back in time to compare tone and conversations year over year or before and after a key event like a product launch.  It takes time to sift through the chatter, but there are gems in there that constitute unfiltered customer feedback worth paying attention to.
  2. Market research. Survey your customers and ask them what tools they use.  If you are a large company, consider leveraging a segmentation that addresses the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of your customers.  This can be a significant source of insight to drive marketing strategies – not just social marketing ones.
  3. Forrester’s Social Technographics. Forrester has a great tool to stratify how your customers are actually using social media.  Do your customers heavily index against the average for Creators or Critics?  Perhaps a user-generated content idea or approach would be more suitable.  While the tool doesn’t give you the answer of what to do, it does provide some data points that help justify approaches down the road.  If you know some basic info about your customers, you can get useful data easily using this tool:

  4. Competitive Analysis. What are your competitors doing? Are you behind the pack or leading by deciding to engage in social technologies to drive your business?  It’s important to know where you stand – better yet to know where you want to be.
  5. Stakeholder Interviews. Some tactics in social media will require different departments to work together – perhaps some that aren’t used to collaborating.  Talk to the following groups: Marketing, Market Research, Innovation, Product Management, IT, Legal, Customer Service, PR and HR.  Chances are they will all have something to say about social media and what they would hope to get from it.
  6. Corporate Objectives.  What is your company’s marketing objectives in 2010?  Are you undertaking a brand refresh?  Have some major product launches teed up in Q2?  Any seasonal or cyclical impact to plan around?  Don’t think you can develop social tactics without considering what is going on in the company.
  7. Corporate Culture. Does your company thrive on innovation or on chopping down new initiatives?  Social media tactics can be measured, effective and game-changing – yet the industry is not as mature of a marketing tactic like pay-per-click search marketing.  “Making the leap” requires top down executive support and a bottoms up desire to make initiatives successful from the teams that will own the strategy going forward.  (Or fail quickly and learn from it, as I’ve heard Todd Defren say – this space is still new).

Frankly, I don’t see how the rest of the POST methodology – Objectives, Strategy and Technology – can be developed without these inputs.  Do you agree? What did I miss?

Photo credit: h-d-k via Flickr

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The Marketing Hot Seat

hotseatOver the course of the last several years I’ve gotten to know and interact with a bunch of talented marketers.  One of my favorite benefits of the community on Twitter is access to these folks for great discussions.  In the interest of showcasing that talent pool, over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you several posts here in response to a challenge, inspired by this line in the movie Speed:

“Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?”

After some Mr. Burns-like scheming with my friend Kyle Flaherty, I’m pleased to kick off the first Marketing Hot Seat challenge.  I have posed the following situation to 13 marketing-minded folks who span a breadth of knowledge and experience in the industry:speed

  • You’re the CMO.  You have a marketing budget of $1M.  Your company is a consumer product company, relatively unknown / early stage.  Customers who know the product like it. CEO wants ROI within 12 months.  What do you do?

Each participant will get a maximum of 500 words for a blog post to be shared back here in the next several weeks. The hope is a Harvard Business Case-like discussion on factors that go into a decision process, strategy development and prioritization of budget.  We have a diverse set of minds from the worlds of eBusiness, digital strategy, marketing consultants, content marketing, search engine marketing, community management and PR.  I am really grateful to these talented individuals for being willing to jump on the hot seat:

Upcoming posts:

  • Todd Defren, principal at SHIFT Communications – TBD
  • Jennifer Leggio, ZDNet social business blogger + Fortinet strategic communications director + Security Twits herder emeritus – TBD
  • Alan Wolk – Blogger, Creative Strategist, Consultant – TBD
  • Jim Storer – Experienced community manager and social media strategist. Working on my next venture… The Community Roundtable – TBD
  • Ken Burbary – Digital Strategy and Social Media for Ernst & Young – TBD
  • Kipp Bodnar – Social Media Marketer who blogs at SocialMediaB2B.com – TBD
  • Li Evans (Liana ‘Li’ Evans) –  Director of Social Media for Serengeti Communications – TBD
  • Beth HarteMarketingProfs Community Manager and #pr20chat Moderator. – TBD

You can bulk follow them here:

…and you can find them in a list on Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamcohen/marketinghotseat.

This is a great chance for all of us to engage in a healthy debate – extra points for creativity.  Where do you think they should get started?  Interested in being the company in the example?  It’s not too late, please let me know.

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1 + 1 = 3: Rosetta and Brulant

Rosetta Acquires Brulant How do you build a top digital agency?

In July Rosetta announced the acquisition of interactive agency Brulant, where I am a partner in the Consumer Product and Retail practice.  The first couple of days since the announcement have been some of the most fun in my career.  The two firms build a compelling value proposition when combined, and I’ve spent a better part of those two days calling clients and friends to talk about it.

Acquisitions and mergers have negative connotations to many folks.  They can mean personnel conflicts, culture clashes and diluting of the “juice” that makes either one of the parties successful – not to mention distractions to high performing project teams.  I have friends who have been through it in the digital industry (think large conglomerates eating up smaller independent agencies), and there are many horror stories.  In stark contrast, being a part of this merger is ripe with excitement and promise.  We remain independent, and the services each agency provides complement each other.

“We are creating one of the nation’s biggest interactive agencies which will allow us to grow current relationships and build new ones quite dramatically,” said Chris Kuenne, Rosetta’s founder, chairman and CEO. “The interactive marketing landscape is rapidly shifting from mass to personalized targeting and from fuzzy equity measures to precisely measured, managed and optimized customer relationship economics.”

There is a science behind the shift from traditional media to targeted, personalized marketing, and Rosetta has figured it out.  Look at their client list– these are advanced organizations where how they market is a key differentiator in their success.  Infuse that with the execution capabilities of the teams I’ve watched deliver at Brulant, and it’s a powerful combination.

“You put your chocolate in my peanut butter!”

Rosetta is technically acquiring Brulant, but in reality the firms complement each other.  The breadth of Brulant’s interactive services in customer experience, acquisition marketing and technology implementation are the “chocolate” to Rosetta’s marketing strategy and personalized targeting offerings “peanut butter.”   The value proposition of bringing those capabilities together, along with the ever growing significance of the online channel and its influence on other channels, is a compelling service offering that puts Rosetta in a unique place in the market.  (I’m actually writing that because I believe it; it wasn’t spoonfed by our marketing team, I promise.)

Hey, that sounds great, but we have a lot of work to do.  On the first day of the announcement being public, I had the privilege of sitting with one of our top clients and the CEOs of both Brulant and Rosetta.  It was very clear in the conversation that the value proposition can be applied right away, and I will be spending lots of time with the “legacy” Rosetta team to understand their offering more in the coming weeks.

New opportunities

For me personally, this provides an opportunity to work with talented people and expand my professional horizons up the value chain.  Being in Boston and working on several clients in the New York City area, I am thrilled to see the expansion in the Northeast. This is also the first time I have been through an acquisition and watched an integration team get up and running.  I look forward to participating in building the new organization.  Can’t wait to see it in action and share what I learn, and I look forward to working with the Rosetta team. 

Have you been through an acquisition?  What are some pitfalls you’ve seen?  How would you advise we keep the momentum going through this exciting time with all of the “buzz”?

Check out Rosetta.com for more information.

Rosetta