Is social media out of control?

I was on YouTube the other day looking for some dance videos, when I saw my 5yr old dancing her little heart out. I was horrified. Some overly enthusiastic parent had recorded one of the dance sessions from her class and posted it on YT. I don’t know what bothered me more, that I wasn’t asked for permission or the belief that children’s classrooms should be off-limits. The video is innocuous but it’s the principle, where do you draw the line between what’s private and what’s public?

On Global Privacy Day yesterday, Erick Schonfield from Techcrunch provided some insights from Microsoft’s recent study on customer attitudes towards online privacy and the findings are very telling and especially this one,

Once their data is online, they know that it is gone.  They say, “I need to have this value, but I’m not sure my risks are being covered.”

Have we all collectively gone nuts? Are we really so desperate to be ‘connected’ that we’re willing to risk our personal information to do it? We barely talk to our neighbors but we’re so willling to give random strangers online, the details of our personal life. It’s still shocking to me how many people add their birthdates, where they live, where they work, etc. to social networking sites. And that’s okay if you only share information with friends but when you’re adding everyone in the online world to your ‘friends’ list, how long before your information is abused by some cyber-criminal?

While we the users are behaving irrationally and irresponsibly, the social sites have been equally apathetic. Their response hasn’t been all that re-assuring either and their approach has been mostly reactive than proactive.

Twitter is working on an authentication protocol for third-party developers intended to make the site more secure, which sounds like a step in the right direction but begs the question: why it took them so long to react to a series of account hijackings? Popular blogger Louis Gray has Twittered about scamsters setting roost on Facebook, but there isn’t much transparency into what FB’s doing about it.

Identity theft-prevention experts urge consumers not to reveal too much personal information and privacy advocates are fighting for our right to keep our personal life..well..private, we are too busy tweeting every detail of our mundane lives and sharing our passwords with strange, unvetted strangers. Social media is still the wild wild west without any defined rules of engagement and we are changing the rules and making new ones up as we go along. As social media mature and users realize that following or befriending ten thousand strangers doesn’t make our social life any more fulfilling, rational thinking will (hopefully) prevail and we will start taking our privacy that much more seriously.

Social media: Statistics and Damn Lies

I am sure, many of us have seen presentations that rave about the wonder that is social media. Heck, we’ve even made some of these presentations ourselves.  What I find amusing is the random use of data and statistics to prove a point…any point. Given that I started my career in research and analytics, I love data but I abhor statistics that serve no purpose but to fill up space. Here are three questions that deserve to be asked and answered, when presented with any glittering stats on social media:

#1 Does data match the business case?
I am sure you’ve heard this a million times – Facebook and Twitter have millions of users. That’s great but…what does this mean for your business? Are these sites relevant to your customer base?  We often let large numbers distract us and underestimate the value of ‘quality’ and ‘relevance’. All the traffic on the planet isn’t going to help your business if it’s not your target audience. Explore other options, ask about the smaller  social networks out there, which cater to a more targeted audience and might be a better fit.

#2 What’s the baseline?
Taken out of context, numbers don’t mean much. If you start with a user base of one and add even one user, you have 100percent growth, on the other hand, even a 1percent growth for a company like Google is a huge deal. Same holds true when you’re talking about KPIs and metrics for lead acquisition. For a small company, a couple of leads through Twitter can have a big impact on the revenue, but for a larger company that’s a drop in the bucket. Make sure you ask for clarification on what the numbers are based on and if possible, look at comparable measures to see if the numbers are indeed that impressive when put into context of your business.  

#3 What’s driving that growth?
Presenters love to throw in factoids about social media growth, which sound wonderful but don’t tell the whole story. It’s fair to ask what’s fueling growth for a certain social site or tool. Yesterday, Techcrunch  reported   that the 8th fastest growing fan page on Facebook is devoted to masturbation, so unless, you’re in the porn or related business, this little factoid should raise a red flag. It’s a reminder that you need to do your due diligence and research the user base of any site you’re considering for your social media efforts, rather go with the most popular site.

Yes, social media represents a huge opportunity but instead of just diving in blindly,  it’s time we evolved past the statistical generalities and start digging deeper into the data that’s presented to us. That’s the only way to measure and mine the true potential of social media for your business and brand.

10 essential tips for successful social media launch

Last week, I gave 5 reasons why social media skeptics might be on to something and their skepticism has plenty of basis. I enjoyed hearing back from many who shared their insights and experiences.  Some asked for suggestions on how to overcome skepticism and generate support for their social media efforts within the organization. So here are my top 10 tips for getting your social media initiatives off to a good start.

Please bear in mind that my POV is generally geared towards larger enterprises, so some of these may or may not hold true for smaller organizations. Many of the following hold true for launching any major new initiative not just social media.

#1 Don’t let your social media strategy be an orphan
Many underestimate the value of having an executive champion and evangelist for social media in the organization. Social media requires a mindshift and a culture change that needs to be driven from above. It doesn’t mean a grassroots effort won’t work, but directive from the top management helps move things along faster. Especially in larger organizations, management support can get your efforts more attention and the resources it needs to succeed.

#2 Aim for the stars, but let small wins pave the way
It’s great to have a comprehensive, grand plan but remember that even when you are planning a long-term strategy, you should also plan for short-term wins to keep your internal stakeholders engaged. These small wins  validate your plan and build critical support, which is critical to ensure  long-term survival of your initiatives in times of shifting priorities.

# 3 Don’t stand in a corner, get out there and dance
Sure way to make your social plan fail: Make it a standalone project run by a handful of social media enthusiasts without any relevance to what rest of the company is doing.  To be truly successful, regardless of which group it resides in, your social media plan has to be incorporated in the overall corporate strategy so it can leverage as well as support what other departments are doing.

#4 Charity begins at home
Remember many traditional marketers are used to ‘one-way’ communication and the notion of ‘multi-way’ interaction still makes many uncomfortable. It’s no longer easy as sending out a press release and waiting for it get picked up, it’s more likely it will get picked apart by the social-citizens on some public forum. Work with them and make sure they grasp that you’re on their side and help them through the nuances of customer engagement in a social media world.

#5 Don’t get distracted by those fireworks
If you haven’t experienced it already, you will soon find out that everyone wants to own social media. Steer clear of those political landmines and make sure you have clearly defined goals and objectives for your social media plan so there’s no confusion as to what you’re doing or why. This is also why #1 is so important, having great ideas don’t mean much if you don’t have anyone to listen or support them. Be clear about the value your plan adds and enlist supporters/advocates/evangelists at every level in the organization.

#6 Play nice with your fellow marketers
I’ve heard so many comments about how traditional marketers ‘just don’t get it’. This attitude is just plain wrong and unproductive. I am not defending marketers who refuse to evolve and are unwilling to adapt, but please stop dissing marketing techniques (and marketers) who have proventhemselves and are generating positive ROI for the company. Social media for all it’s virtues is relatively unproven, and it’s not going to replace traditional marketing any time soon. My suggestion is to work with traditional marketers and not against them, to launch your social media initiatives.

#7 Don’t go it alone, Cowboy
Okay, so you’re already on top of the planning, evangelizing but now comes the fun part – implementation. Social media is all about interaction, collaboration, and a catalyst for breaking down silos within large organizations. There’s a lot of work to be done and you can’t do it all yourself. Clearly outline what you (and your team) is responsble for and identify partners in other departments who can take responsibility for doing the work because I can’t emphasize enough, social media is a LOT of work and one person can’t do it all.

#8 If you build it, they may never show up
I’ve seen way too many presentations that focus on how to ‘do social media’, engage the customers and achieve all things glorious and wonderful, however not many put any thought into how exactly they are plannning to drive engagement. You can’t just build the social site and expect that folks will magically show up at your door. It’s like throwing a huge party but not telling anyone about it. Build a solid marketing plan not just for publicizing your social media initiative but also to keep it going, so it doesn’t fizzle out after a spectacular launch.

#9 Don’t drink your own kool-aid…
…but do eat your own dogfood. It’s great to be a believer and evangelize social media, but make sure you back it up with plenty of know-how and action. Experimenting and testing various sites/tools will make you aware of what works and what doesn’t.  Social media is not all wonderful, nothing ever is, but you will have an easier time winning over skeptics and rolling out a successful social media strategy, if you understand and absorb what social media is and what social media isn’t. (Here’s a fantastic post by Mike Fruchter to help you out).

#10 Remember me?! I am the CUSTOMER
When planning out your social media strategy, take into account your customer demographics and their communication preferences. If you cater to an older demographic, which prefers to interface via phone, focusing your efforts on Facebook may not get you any traction. Let your social media efforts be guided by your customers to ensure that you are engaging them through the most relevant media not just the ‘hottest’ ones.

 I love hearing about your struggles and success stories, please take full advantage of the comment box below  and let me know if you have a #11, #12…that I can add to this list 🙂

5 reasons why social media skeptics maybe right

When it comes to social media, there are plenty of skeptics out there who  have dabbled in social media but are still having a hard time buying into the hoopla. Typical skeptics include your traditional marketers, enterprise executives, etc. who are intrigued by social media but are very reluctant to commit many resources to it.

Here are 5 reasons why the skeptics might be on to something.

#1 Show me the metrics! 
The biggest problem with social media today is that there aren’t many  clearly defined metrics. For traditional marketers, that’s a huge hurdle, not just in getting their social media budget approved but also proving that their social media programs were successful. If you don’t even know what you’re supposed to measure, how do you measure it’s success??? ROI is becoming increasingly important, as it should be, especially in this tight economy. Social media may sound like the greatest thing ever invented but without quantifiable results, it’s hard to justify any $$ investment.

2# Here today and gone tomorrow?
There are fundamental site stability and security issues and even major social networks like Facebook, Twitter are not immune to hacking and site stability issues. And let’s not forget that most, if not all, social networking sites are  privately or VC funded with little or no revenue  despite all the traffic. Given the economic recession, it’s anyone’s guess which ones are going to be still around this time next year, so it’s no surprise that many still remain reluctant to invest resources in this media.

#3 It’s not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ that’s also perplexing
Once you’re over the challenge of figuring out what metrics are meaningful, the challenge still remains around tracking  and assigning some meaningful value to these metrics. Say you decide to monitor tweets, retweets, # of followers on Twitter; # of ‘friends’ or posts on FB.

A multitude of questions arise, one which is how can you drive more tweets? And how much is a retweet worth, anyways? Also, which tools or services should you use to track activity? And last but not the least, which one will last the downturn?
#4 Not enough experienced guides for the uncharted waters
Given that it’s so new, there aren’t many ‘experts’ who are experienced in implementing social media campaigns or figuring out how it should fit into a company’s overall corporate strategy. Social media has many evangelists  talking up the opportunity of this media but not many who are able to articulate the value in quantifiable terms that traditional marketers and executives are comfortable with.
#5 It’s the culture, stupid!
Let’s not forget that many are not used to being so ‘social’ or open on public forums. Before Twitter came along and made ‘twittering’ acceptable, it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to be constantly pitching details of your mundane life on websites unless you were a publicity-crazy celebrity. In some circles, shameless self-promotion is still considered bad taste and downright loony, so while there might be millions of users on social networks, the active users are still early adopters.
There’s no doubt about the immense opportunity that social media presents, but it still has a long way to go and the dots from opportunity to reality need to be connected before it can truly deliver on its promise and make believers out of the nay-sayers.

Will the real social media expert please stand up?!

Just about everyone I meet these days claims to be a social media expert but 2minutes into the conversation, one realizes that apart  from the general gushing  over Twitter and blogs, there isn’t much else. So, I cheered when I saw this great blog post on 25signs of a strong SM consultant (which incidentally also  inspired my first blog post of 2009).

My favorite one on the list is,

 “#25 Understands that social media isn’t the sole terrain of marketing or PR and helps clients educate internally to other departments.” 

Although, it’s easy to think of social media as just Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, there’s much more to social media than just a handful of tools and websites.

The social media revolution is a  fundamental shift in the way customers are using and sharing information across the web. Marketing/PR are  no longer one-way channels, the consumers now have the power to take information your company puts out there and do with it as they please. They can blog it, digg it, stumble it, twitter it, etc. across their social networks and the scary part is that you might not even know about it until it”s too late. 

For me, one of the most exciting parts of this new ‘social’ revolution is how it has not only democratized external communications but it’s on the verge  of breaking down silos within organizations. It’s no longer just the marketing Joe or Jane who’s responsible for the messaging, it could very well be Jack, the product line manager who’s messaging the customer directly.

I can’t imagine a better use for social media than to open up real communication between a company and it’s customers – without restricting it to one department or group of people – now that’s real enterprise social media/web 2.0.