Friday, August 28, 2009

Why “Social” is the Most Important Part of Social Media Marketing

Why It's Vital to Put Your Best People Forward

I am getting a lot of calls from businesses today about social media marketing. The gist of these conversations is usually: “I need to get some of that social media.” And many of these conversations conclude with “But I don’t have the people to put into it.”

My advice: then you should forget it.

That may sound a bit unilateral, but for the most part it’s sound advice. Because the “social” part of “social media marketing” – people – is the most important part.

Ok, there are some exceptions. For example, we’ve seen Dell sell millions of dollars of its products over Twitter, by simply posting what’s on sale. Food trucks are boosting their sales by using Twitter to advertise their locations, and retailers are using Twitter to clear out excess inventory. Arguably, the amount of “sosh” (social interactions and content) that goes into these sales-oriented programs is minimal: the value to the customer lies in the price, the timeliness, and the location. (Although I would also argue that if companies are just pushing out products and not taking advantage of the ability to have a two-way conversation with the people they sell to, they are missing an important business opportunity.)

But for most programs the true value will be in the “sosh.” And “sosh” equals people. Their expertise and their knowledge. Their personalities. Their familiarity with your products and your customers’ problems, and their pride in helping solve those problems. Their enthusiasm and their ability to converse on behalf of the business.

These factors are what will make you a valuable resource to customers and prospects, and someone they want to do business with.

Some of the businesses who call me want to outsource their social media – in other words, check it off their marcom to-do lists.

But if this describes you, ask yourself: are you really ready to delegate your newfound, highly interactive and content-rich conversation with your customers to someone outside your company? As my colleague Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR says of “outsourcing” your social media strategy: “Do you want to create opinion leaders who aren’t internal subject matter experts? That's like shipping weapons to the Mujahideen. Yes, they may use them to fight the Russians now, but they can also use them to fight us later.”

If you’re really struggling with manpower, look for creative ways to staff your program. For example:

There may be people inside your product organization (beyond the official product managers) who are already blogging or engaging in social media. Can you draft and train them?

Could you create an employee blog, but empower your Corporate Communications team to review content from hundreds of employees before it is posted – as Southwest Airlines did successfully with Nuts About Southwest?

Could you empower current students to answer questions from prospective students like the Wharton School has done in the Student2Student forum on the MBA Admission Blog?

For some other examples of creative staffing of social media programs, see my previous posts: “Bringing Brand Image to Life through Social Media Marketing" and “Does Social Media Work for B2B Companies?”

Social media marketing can be an invaluable strategy for most businesses. But it requires a social commitment, and that means people. It requires time to create compelling content and create a living, three-dimensional brand. Taking a checklist approach to this challenge is a sure path to lackluster results or even failure.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Are You Guilty of Anti-Social Marketing?

How to avoid being an accidental blammer, drive-by shooter, or hitchhiker.

Social media marketing is evolving pretty quickly, so many of us are learning as we go. Learning means trying new things, and testing limits.

Unfortunately, I am seeing some people really testing the limits of social media – to the point of being anti-social. I think a lot of this behavior may be inadvertent. But it goes against the spirit of social media marketing and it will hurt – not help – the craft of social media marketing in the long run.

Here are three common offenders* – and some advice on how to avoid becoming one.

The Blammer: The urban dictionary defines a blammer as “someone who spams blogs in order to obtain backlinks to their own site.” Here’s one example. A colleague of mine posted an extensive, well-written “10 tips” article on his blog. A woman posted a one-line comment that essentially said “hire me for this part of the problem,” with a link to her web site. The comment seemed too intelligent to be an automated spam, but the effect was the same: thoughtless, selfish and, well, anti-social. The sad thing: this woman is tops in her field, but I would never hire her on principle for fear that she’d act thoughtless and selfish with my clients.

My advice: Don’t be an accidental blammer. If you comment on someone’s blog, leave some value behind – not just a sales pitch. Spend five minutes making some substantive comments, adding some educational value and some context before you make your sales pitch. You might just spark a dialog that enhances your reputation and opens up even more business opportunity – even if you have no blog of your own.

The Drive-By Shooter: By my estimates, more than half of comments to blogs and other social media sites are off-topic, crazy or just plain mean: offhand comments lobbed just for the heck of it, and usually anonymously. So I was surprised when I received an offhand comment like that in the relatively intimate and accountable world of Facebook.

A friend of a friend made an offhand comment about something I had posted. While I was tempted to dismiss it for what it appeared to be, I didn’t. Reading between the lines, I saw that the commenter was making an interesting point. So, I responded in public: I thanked her for her comment and encouraged her to blog about it if she wasn’t already. She later sent me a personal message apologizing for the offhand remark, and thanking me for responding seriously and graciously. We are now Facebook friends. I have met someone new with professional interests and personal interests similar to mine – the value of social media.

My advice: Don’t join the mindless ranks of drive-by shooters, or lob-em-and-leave-em commenters. Do be thought-provoking and sensationalist, but also be thoughtful. Take advantage of the available real estate in comments sections: provide your thoughts, get a dialog going, spark a useful debate. Dialog and debate is incredibly powerful, and it advances not only your personal brand but also the cumulative value of social media.

And remember: a lot of what you say is searchable forever, so it contributes – positively or negatively – to your personal digital profile on the Web.

The Hitchhiker: Ok, this one really ticks me off. A Tweep Tweeted his own blog as if it were someone else’s: “wow, here’s a great blog! Tell everyone!!” He also tacked on the names of three other Tweeps – unrelated (as far as I can tell) to anything in the blog. And this wasn’t an isolated Tweet; it’s apparently his standard M.O.

This seems like a cheap way to amass followers. Ironically, the blog is actually pretty good. But I would never follow it on principle, because I now don’t trust the blogger. If he uses such transparent trickery to promote his blog, he’s completely untrustworthy in my opinion. I can’t trust his content.

My advice: Let your blog content stand on its own. Use your Tweets to get the right people to your blog. Be controversial, colorful and “out there.” SEO as you go. You may not build your followers as fast, but you will create a more valuable, committed audience – which ultimately has much more marketing value.

Social media marketers seem to be diverging into two camps: the Sluts and the Substance. The Sluts want to get business and followers without extending themselves. The Substance are people who understand that great, thoughtful content is more likely to attract the right followers – and that good business will follow and sustain itself.

Call me naïve, but I aspire to the Substance.

* I am avoiding real names here because lawyers have apparently identified social media as fertile ground for defamation lawsuits.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Online Marketing Video: From Truth to “Truman Show"

I saw two pieces of video in the last few weeks that drew my attention.

The first: J&K’s Wedding Entrance Dance video, a homemade video that went viral on YouTube and helped answer the burning question: “How will YouTube make money?”

The second: the infamous Beer Summit, a video storyboarded (and probably scripted, she said cynically) by politicians and apparently shot by a pool news videographer.

I was drawn to these two pieces of online video for a couple of reasons.

As a consumer, I am increasingly being marketed to with documentary-style Internet video like this – as opposed to traditional television commercials. As a marketer, I am learning how to use this medium effectively for clients – and more importantly, how not to mis-use it.

Comparing these two pieces of video may seem like comparing apples with tiramisu, but they are both essentially marketing videos.

J&K wanted to market their love for each other and their special day to the world – or at least beyond the people who were in the church. (Or maybe I am naïve – perhaps they were plotting all along to become a YouTube monetization star.) The politicians wanted to market the idea that race relations – a huge problem in America that has everybody jumpy – can be solved if we just started talking to each other as individuals and not as symbols.

My understanding of their intentions aside, I picked up some good lessons from these two videos: what worked and what didn’t. Here are my observations as a marketer:

J&K: High engagement level can trump low production quality: I have watched this video at least five times when I could have been doing billable client work, and I don’t even know these people. J&K (and their friends) cared enough to invest some time in making something that other people would enjoy and that would be memorable – there was some serious rehearsal time involved here. They used humor gently and very well: although there was some really comical dancing and some people looked silly, it was endearing, laugh-with-you humor not laugh-at-you humor (compare with the man-bashing that passes for humor in your average TV commercial). The story was real and very human. This silly video was uplifting and it made me feel good. (And, yes, good enough to buy the song from Chris Brown.) My verdict: two thumbs up.

Politicians: Good production quality can’t overcome an awkward storyboard. Although there were some engaging moments – yes! politicians get peanut shells on their trousers too! – I felt distant, disengaged and distrustful. It didn’t help that the video was shot from 50+ feet away, making it essentially a silent movie or the video equivalent of a photo opp. The whole thing had a stagey “Truman Show” feel to it. My verdict: two thumbs down, but a free six-pack of Heineken for giving it a try.

My personal conclusion: good marketing video is video that…

Has the honest ring of truth in its storytelling (for example: if it’s fantasy make it obvious that it’s fantasy)
Cares about and respects the audience
Engages me and makes me honestly care about the subject
Uses humor in a natural vs. cartoonish way
Surprises me, on the upside

What else makes marketing video good video? What do you think, as marketers or consumers? Please comment below.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social Media: Good News, Bad News

Why It's Important to Have a Policy for Handling Bad News

David Meerman Scott, author of the international best-seller The New Rules of Marketing & PR and World Wide Rave, has a great interview in the Oneicity blog about how the new rules can help nonprofits. This statement caught my eye:

“DMS: Many company executives and public relations people trace their worries about social media to their belief that ‘people will say bad things about our company.’ This fear leads them to ignore blogs and online forums and to prohibit employees from participating in social media. In every discussion that I’ve had with employees who freely participate in social media, I’ve confirmed that this fear is significantly overblown. Sure, an occasional person might vent frustrations online, and now and then a dissatisfied customer might complain (unless you’re in the airline industry and then it might be more than a few).”

I agree with David.

But you know what? People will say bad things about your company. It is inevitable. So why not be prepared for this, by creating a policy?

This policy doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be written down and shared with everyone who represents your business in social media. Of course, if you work for a large or multi-division company, you will probably want to check with corporate legal counsel — you know your company culture. And if you’ve got a corporate crisis communications plan, you should update it (if you haven’t already) to incorporate the Social Web.

I’ve created simple bad-news-handling policies for several clients. My policies typically have three guidelines, or areas of “best practices”:

Tone: What is our demeanor in answering negative criticism or comments that appear in public (such as in a public Twitter feed or on Facebook)?

Example practice: “Always thank people for their comments. Acknowledge them. Be humble.”

Escalation: What do we do with negative comments or problems?

Example practice: “Tell the customer that we always want to make things right. Request an email address so we can contact him personally. Escalate to the General Manager for resolution.”

Resolution: How do we know how and when the problem has been resolved?

Example practice: “Follow up with the General Manager a day after the escalation. When the problem has been fixed, post a public message: 'Thanks to XXX for bringing this to our attention. We’ve fixed the problem.'”

Of course, it’s impossible to anticipate every bad-news situation, so your policy by definition will always be a work-in-progress — just as it was before the era of social media. And, like everything else in social media, you will learn by doing, as you go along.

The worst thing you can do is prescribe behavior so tightly that your social media ambassadors’ personalities and initiative are stifled. Making good public use of your employees' personalities and expertise is a big part of social media — and why it's so powerful.

But a few basic guidelines can help prevent most little problems from becoming big problems, and can ensure a consistent experience with your brand.

Here’s a real-life example of what I mean.

Recently, one of my clients saw someone post a public comment on Twitter about a bad experience with the business. The tone of her comment was snide (we sensed that there was something more going on here, and probably nothing to do with the business).

As individuals, we might have been tempted to ignore the comment because of its tone, or to respond defensively. But because we had a policy about how to respond – thank, acknowledge, and take offline – the business was able to make things right with the customer, to everyone’s satisfaction.

And we observed an interesting phenomenon: immediately in the wake of her negative comment, several other customers jumped right in with positive comments.

That’s the power of the Social Web. People have a heightened, more-personal connection with your brand – which can help spread good news and defuse bad news.

As another client put it: “In social media, you can’t be a wimp. You just have to put yourself out there, and be prepared for both the good and the bad.”

That’s wise counsel.