5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

If you’ve read my blog post on “Why Social Media Won’t Save Your Business“, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I think some companies shouldn’t have a social media presence.

So here’s what triggered this blog post. Recently, I tried to contact a live human being at a well-known national grocery chain via their Twitter account. But I didn’t get very far as the Corporate Twit (no pun intended) kept referring me back to the website, which has the contact information of one person in “Public Affairs”. Apparently, there’s only one live person at that huge national chain or the only one who dares to put his name out there.

What’s even more amusing is the disclaimer on this company’s Twitter page which says,

 

So this company won’t tell you who is posting this information but whatever this unknown person is posting is not their responsibility. Anyone else see anything wrong with this? I wonder if their lawyers are patting themselves on the back for coming up with this.

It was almost a year back when Robert Scoble wrote his blog post on how one large retailer’s website doesn’t have any people on there. What Scoble said then and I agree:

“Here it is in simple terms: add people to your web sites.”

Scoble’s not talking just about pretty stock pictures. He’s talking about real people – your employees, your customers, people your business needs in order to thrive. The same logic applies to blogs and every other type of your company’s online social media presence. Even a year later, it’s clear that there are plenty of businesses who still don’t get it or just plain don’t care.

Here are 5 signs that your company is not ready for an external social media presence:  

#1 If your company policy prevents you from adding a name or picture of a live human being on your corporate social media account (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or other), change that policy first and then launch your social media presence.

#2 If your company culture is all about one-way propaganda rather than two-way communication, train your employees in ”social” skills before letting them loose on the social media sites.  

#3 If you’re only using social media for pitching products and/or shameless self-promotion, then you need to STOP. You’re no better than the spammers abusing the email system. Use social media for good – engage don’t annoy your customers.  

#4 If your customers didn’t like your cold and impersonal website and if try to replicate that same uninspiring experience on an external social media site, you will fail. We get that you’re a big company but don’t overdo the branding.

#5 If you don’t have a plan for managing and engaging your customers, STOP and create one before you go crazy on the social media sites.Your external social media presence should be treated as an extension of your existing community/customer programs and not as someone’s pet project.

Use of  social media by itself is not good enough any more. The only choice you have is to do it right or don’t do it. Doing it just because some “expert” says so, is far worse than waiting until you’re truly ready and can handle social media.

As far as my saga with the grocery chain goes, it had a positive outcome. I got a tweet from someone offering to introduce me to an executive he knows at that company. So we have proof that social media works but many companies still need to learn how to make it work for them and their customers.

Why Social Media ROI is Still Elusive

eMarketer reported yesterday that marketers still aren’t measuring the investment on their social media investments,

Despite widespread adoption of social media, measurement still lags. Only 16% of those polled said they currently measured ROI for their social media programs.

Lately, it’s become very fashionable to talk about the ROI on social media. You hear the dreaded term everywhere – at conferences, in meetings, on research reports, at your child’s daycare (no kidding) so the question begs to be asked and answered - Why is social media ROI so elusive?

So, here are my top reasons (and please feel free to add your own below in the comments):

#1 This report and many others are making a very flawed assumption – these reports assume social media is a “program” and it needs to be justified like any other short-term program or campaign. Newsflash: Social media is not just a program, it’s a fundamental shift in way your customers and employees consume information and communicate. Social media is fast becoming as ubiquitous as email and when’s the last time your IT department did a ROI analysis on your email network?

#2 Should you measure, track the results on your social media activity? Absolutely! However, you’ll find that with any new channel, the “I” will always be substantially higher because you’re still making investments in this new media and may not have realized any of the efficiencies yet, so any ROI analysis on the new media is skewed. 

#3 In many cases, it doesn’t even make sense to do the financial analysis on some social media activities because it’s pretty much, the cost of doing business. Here’s an example: Adding social sharing tags to your email so your customers can share your marketing email with their friends and family on some social network is a no-brainer and as essential as providing an URL link to your website. It doesn’t justify a ROI analysis, although I would recommend analyzing the click-through/share rate. This is something you should do in any case, regardless of whether or not, any social tag is included.

#4 Having a blog or Twitter account is not a social media strategy. Social media success is dependent on the sum of different parts. Just like you wouldn’t utilize just one traditional channel to market your product or services, it’s ridiculous to think that one Twitter account or a blog by itself is somehow going to generate ROI overnight. That’s why it’s essential to remember that not everything that’s important in business (and in life) can be measured and just because  you can measure it, doesn’t make it important or relevant.

#5 I’ve blogged about this before, but social media will not solve your pre-existing business problems.

A guy goes to the doctor with a broken arm and asks, “Doc, can I play the piano once my arm has healed.”

The doc says, “Of course, you can!” 

The guy says, “Great, I never knew how to play (the piano) before.”

Bottom line, if you weren’t able to accurately track the results from your traditional marketing activities because of your internal tracking/lead management issues, you’re not magically going to start doing it just because you’re using social media.

One reality that most ROI proponents gloss over is that even the most traditional, established media activities don’t have a clear defined ROI. Not to pick on events but let’s look at event sponsorships like Golf tournaments etc.?  How on earth do companies measure the ROI on those or even television ads for that matter?!

Attribution was an issue with traditional media and it will continue to remain an issue, no matter which media you choose.

Trying to assign a specific dollar amount to any social media marketing activity is an exercise in futility because individually these activities are weak but done in coordination, these can move the needle. That’s also why marketing is still part science and part art.

Rather than looking at ROI on specific social media activities, marketers should be looking at their key business objectives, selecting/incorporating the right social media elements to meet those objectives, and then evaluating the overall results. Ultimately, what matters is not whether the social media activity was a success but whether the business objectives were met.

Why Social Media Won't Save Your Business

So I’ve moved again..sixth time in six years (don’t ask). Two weeks after the move, I am still living with unfinished hardwood floors, wrong door, and a brand spanking new refrigerator with a non-functioning in-door water dispenser.  So I’ve complained, threatened and even tried to cajole the responsible parties into action, many of which are national brands, but haven’t made much progress.

I’m often asked by business owners, marketers, product  managers whether they should use social media and have heard many social media “experts” extoll the virtues of social networking sites. Here’s the brutal truth for anyone who’s still grappling with the same question: When your product doesn’t work and your customer support sucks, no amount of “tweeting” is going to save your business. Period.

Zappos (now acquired by Amazon) is the poster child for using social media for business and their brilliant use of Twitteris the stuff of legends. However, what many people conveniently overlook is that Zappos is a company with stellar customer service that happens to tweet.

If your products don’t work, customer support is unresponsive, and your returns policy is lousy, who cares how fancy your Facebook page is?! AT&T is a great example of a company who uses Twitter to spew uni-directional messages instead of engaging unhappy customers because there are so many of them. In such case, I am baffled as to why bother having a social media presence  at all? All you’re doing is giving your unhappy customer base another avenue to vent but not really solving their problems.

Yes, social media is powerful but it’s not going to solve fundamental business problems and precious business resources are better spent on fixing those problems than tweeting at your audience. Your customers deserve better.

Why Companies Struggle with Social Media Engagement

Here’s one key finding from the recent Brand Engagement study by popular industry thought leader, Charlene Li (Altimeter Group) that caught my attention,

To scale engagement, make social media part of everyone’s job. The best practice interviews have a common theme — social media is no longer the responsibility of a few people in the organization.

I agree wholeheartedly that social media shouldn’t be the monopoly of any single functional group and it should be dispersed across the organization. While cross-functional social media engagement may be a best practice, the reality is that  many enterprises still struggle with this and here’s why:

#1 We are what we do: At most companies, employees are hired for their roles based on their skill set/expertise/experience/interest (Granted, interest is a stretch, given the current economy…). While, there are plenty of geeks/technical folks who are exceptional bloggers but that doesn’t mean every engineer is cut out for social media engagement. As a result, folks who typically end up blogging and/or engaging in social media for their companies are from marcomm or PR because they are the “communicators” by virtue of their role.

#2 That’s not my job: In highly siloed organizations, outside of the traditional marcomm and PR roles, the company culture doesn’t encourage  direct interaction with customers even with traditional channels, let alone social media. So again, it’s left to marcomm and PR team to continue engaging via social media sites/tools as they did with the old media because it’s part of their job. Plus, there’s no financial or other incentive for employees from non-related functions to engage in social media so it’s not all that surprising that they shy away from it.

#3 What’s up with the time, doc?! I had previously blogged about an enterprise social media discussion panel, where in the post-discussion Q&A, Ken Kaplan from Intel emphasized that getting employees to engage in social media continues to remain a challenge. The reality across companies, regardless of size, is that there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.  With the onslaught of harsh layoffs, more is expected of the employees who are left behind. And unless you’re in denial or clueless about social media engagement, it won’t come as a surprise that social media needs significant time commitment. So, if it’s not part of their job description, there’s no motivation for non-PR or non-Marketing employees to spend any additional time blogging or tweeting.

#4 Are you being “social” or slacking off? There’s still a disconnect between reality and perception of social media as a productive use of time. It goes back to #3 – when there are limited resources, managers typically want their staff to focus on their core function. Across companies, there are trailblazers who are passionate about social media and spend hours after work – blogging, tweeting on their own time. It’s great to see the passion but in the long-run, it’s just not sustainable and once the initial enthusiasm wears off, social media engagement also languishes.

#5 Is that my neck on the line? Many corporate social media sites and user accounts have fine print aka legal disclaimer attached to it, that exempts the company from any liability arising from the employee’s social media activities. So in other words, companies have taken advice from the so-called experts in “trusting” their employees to engage but don’t necessarily stand behind them when these employees screw up in the line of duty. Anyone else see a big problem with this?!  

Bottomline: Companies need to start walking the walk when it comes to social media, not just talk the talk. Here’s how smart companies encourage social media engagement across their organization:

- Pro-actively seek out employees who have great product knowledge and/or are exceptional at engaging with customers, regardless of which functional area they are from.

- Team up the SMEs with communicators and PR professionals to create cross-functional cohorts that offer customers a well-rounded perspective not just fluff or technical jargon.

- Assign clear goals for social media activity tied to the business  objectives and make it part of the employee’s role.

- Align compensation with social media goals to recognize excellence in customer engagement.

- Integrate social media into business and organization goals so that it’s not something that employees do on their lunch hour.  

- Provide extensive training to these employees and stand behind them when they make a mistake, not hide behind legalese.

- Last but not the least, encourage employee culture where social media is not just hype or a campaign but rather a customer-centric state of mind.

Your Customers are Talking, Are YOU Listening?

Charlene Li shared this great video in her presentation, “Understanding And Capitalizing On The Groundswell” at the  SVAMA panel discussion at HP’s Palo Alto campus last week.

It humorously highlights how companies/campaigns that talk AT their customers instead of listening TO them, fail.

As Charlene says,

“It’s about the relationship”

Pushing content out is ineffective and you will turn off your customers in the process. The key is to engage your customers and build sustainable relationships with them. 

Your customers are talking, are YOU listening?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3qltEtl7H8&hl=en&fs=1&color1=0xcc2550&color2=0xe87a9f]

Credit: http://bringtheloveback.com/

Lessons from SAP: Reinventing Marketing to Compete in a New Media Age

newcomm09-030

Recently, Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP walked a packed room at the NewComm Forum through a study on how his company redefined the traditional role of marketing communications to compete in a highly dynamic social media landscape.

Situation:

As part of the global communications management team at SAP, Bulmer is responsible for leading the Industry and Influencer Relations organization. In 2007, the SAP communications organization was challenged by their executive board to rethink all their programs and processes. They were asked to identify changes that were required to meet company goal and to double market opportunity over 5years. 

Approach:  

SAP started the journey with discovery, research, and benchmarking for 6months. The communications team talked to experts at P&G, IBM, HP to understand communication best practices. As a result of this discovery phase, the team came up with several critical realizations:

- SAP was a transactional communication organization (tactical) and  it had to change in order to sit at the table as a credible partner with its customers.

- There was an inherent flaw with its traditional model of CIO at the center as the decision maker. The new media landscape had become a complex and highly connected network. 

- It had to create competitive advantage and also, become much more strategic in its approach to marketing.

- Many of the company communication programs were not adequate to deal with this new social media space.

- Everybody had a voice, employees became an important constituency in driving change.

- There was an urgent need to align the company goals to a central vision and to create sustainable competitive advantage. 

As a result, the SAP team went through a comprehensive re-framing exercise. They started by redefining functional roles as processes and connecting each role to overall company objectives.

SAP needed an organization in place designed to identify the customers/prospects and influence the world around it. So their next step was to define what constitutes influence and influencer, and how it affects the brand and the company. 

Who are the influencers? These are good corporate citizen within customers sphere of influence that support sales by accelerating the adoption of SAP tools. Influencers helped SAP create competitive advantage. Bulmer’s team also recruited researchers from Columbia and Emory to measure the value of this influencer community and track its influence.

Outcome:

SAP took a methodical and pragmatic approach to create their influencer marketing model, where customers are at center of the equation. These were the people who made the technology decision at both IT level, like CIO,  and at business level. SAP team worked hard to understand the process of decision-making at these customers and what sources that the decision makers turned to, ie, the influencers.

Bulmer’s team identified the following categories of influencers:

 - Universities

- Analysts/IT influencers

- Business thought leaders

- Partners (ISV, Channel)

- Customer communities (User Groups and Peer Networks)

SAP

Each of these influencers had varying degree of sales impact for SAP. Universities had the highest impact. Bulmer said that, when you get into fast growth areas, research and academics are the ones who have the most influence. Customer Communities had the next largest impact, followed by the Analysts/IT influencers and Business thought leaders. Partners have the least impact of all influencers.

So SAP created a Business influencer relations group that was tasked with working with the influencers. They first used social media in SMB segment and designed the strategy to penetrate this segment. SAP built relationship-building social networking site in collaboration with Social Media Today called “My Venture Pad” which is geared at the owners, employees of startups. They made it a content-rich technology site that provides content from experts, monetized it via sponsorship.  Here are some best practices that SAP adopted to make their new media influencer model successful:

  • Create a symbiotic relationship with the influencer network by connecting the user groups through collaborative workspaces such as discussion groups, wikis, and web 2.0 platforms.
  • Bring voice of customer directly into the product and collaborate with users to provide value at every step of the relationship.
  • Provide thought leadership through webinars and event sponsorships.
  • Build strategic relations with universities to build the curriculum around supply chain. This helps build the experience of SAP into the pre-professional experience and the early exposure helps cultivate future relationships.
  • Last but not the least, connect all these groups – Universities, analysts/it influencers, business thought leaders, partners channel , customer communities (user group).

Bulmer stressed the importance of getting management buy in upfront, demonstrating value to the customer, and showing direct link to the bottomline.

He ended this highly informative session by saying, “We empowered our stakeholders to tell the story and strengthen our strategic communication goals. We learned how to use communications as a strategic tool for furthering our business goals. “

Case Study: Using Social Media to Drive Business Results in a Large Enterprise

newcomm09-016At the NewComm Forum this week, Zena Weist  and Kevin Cobb, from the Brand Management team at Embarq walked the audience  through a candid and detailed case study on how a large company successfully leveraged social media to solve a critical business problem – negative customer sentiment.

Moderated by Charlotte Ziems, Vice President at Tendo Communications and SNCR fellow, this was a highly interactive session with many questions from an engaged audience. The duo along with their customer service team manager, Linda O’Neill and team member, Joey Harper (on the phone) offered valuable insights for implementing a customer-oriented social media strategy in a large enterprise.

Headquartered in Kansas, Embarq is on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations company and  offers local and long distance home phone service and high-speed Internet services to both residential and business customers in far-flung rural areas.

Problem: When the company spun off from Sprint in 2006, it had inherited a culture that was extremely conservative. Employees were under a “gag order” and weren’t permitted to interact with customers outside of the traditional communications/customer service channels. Symptomatic  of these underlying cultural and legal issues was a high level of negative customer sentiment towards the company.

Their goal was to do a proactive outreach to customers and prospects on social media networks, typically within 24hrs, to resolve their issues, answer their questions, and change their perception of Embarq. They used pilots to test their theories before rolling out full-fledged programs, this helped in minimizing the risks, getting buy in, and ensured that their programs had higher likelihood of success.

Challenges:The Embarq team faced multiple challenges that they had to overcome in order to break away from their legacy of minimal engagement and reinvent their internal culture as they tried to meet their customer service and (re)branding objectives. Here are the 4 key challenges that social media marketing practitioners in large enterprises across industries are familiar with:

  • Lack of Social Media Awareness
  • Conservative Culture
  • Technology Hurdle

Lack of Social Media Awareness:As in any other large enterprise, the lack of awareness and knowledge about the new media fuels fear of the unknown and Embarq was no different. In order to build awareness and reduce the fear of engagement as well as build internal support for their social media strategy, the tteam started by listening to customer conversations for over 6months. Going through this intensive listening process helped them to surface the issues and questions that their customers were asking. It also helped demonstrate the value of direct engagement as well as get buy in from the internal stakeholders including the executive management.

The team didn’t use any fancy tools or complex technologies for their listening process. They started off with some free tools and started using those to monitor social media conversations, some examples: – Google and Yahoo! Alerts – Google Blog Searches – BlogPulse – DSLReports.com – Complaint boards – Technorati Later on, they added more sophisticated monitoring tools, one of them being Radian6. Once the information started trickling in, the internal stakeholders started pushing for a response to the issues they were hearing.

Conservative Culture:The Embarq team started their social media cultural revolution with people within the company who were already participating in social media. They identified the champions across the organization and leveraged their knowledge to set the plan in motion. They identified about 10-15 people out there and invited them in to join their initiative. They made the individual the focus of the activities, which helped break down the traditional silos in the organization. They empowered the customer service team to reach out to the customers directly.

When asked about any friction between the traditional CS channel and the social media outreach efforts, the team explained how they made a clear differentiation between the #800 customer support  team vs. what their team was tasked with. The outreach team was reaching out to customers who chose to vent on a public/social media forum such as Twitter or Face book where the traditional channel didn’t have a presence.

Technology Hurdles: The team started their listening and research by using very manual search and react processes. As they got going, the team started leveraging the existing communication and software tools without requiring many resources. Scaling their process while staying flexible was critical because they were regionally based and were engaging in fairly long-tail conversations. They tested several different pilots to see which ones would work before they rolled it out so that also minimized the investment and increase likelihood of success for the programs that were rolled out. The presenters said it was easier to implement social media outreach because it doesn’t cost that much and mainly required human resources. That’s primarily how they managed to eliminate and avoid any additional IT investment or involvement.

Results:

The ROI question invariably comes up in every enterprise social media/web 2.0 discussion and it is a fair question. The team used a two-pronged strategy where they combined short-term wins with long-term strategic initiatives.

embarq-2The team kicked off  their rebranding and education strategy with a with highly viral video contest “48 seconds” designed to create buzz around their high-speed internet service. The team invited video submissions from contestants, which was a hugely successful campaign that also got picked up by the news media.

The presenters emphasized how relevancy in messaging was the key to their success so the campaign wasn\’t just clever but also highlighted the benefits of using their offering.

They followed up on their short-term campaign by rolling out series of short but highly effective “how-to” videosthat addressed their top 10 customer service issues. This is where the team superbly demonstrates the value of listening to the customers by basing topics on information gathered from their online outreach and call center data. Not surprising, these videos became highly popular with their customer base and also demonstrated that the company was being responsive to their customer\’s needs.

They not only managed to meet their education objectives but also their branding objective of creating a presence in an online community where customer and prospects are already engaged. Over an  one-year period, the team saw a 81% success rate (Dec 07 to Mar 09) on their social media outreach initiatives. They also found significant increase in the number of customers self-correcting their negative posts and subsequent increase in the number of customers likely to recommend their service.

Most importantly, they were able to connect their social media outreach efforts directly to orders placed. Overall, this was an excellent case study in how social media can be effectively used to drive business results and chockfull of insights for social media practitioners in other larger enterprises.

This was an outstanding example of innovation by breaking down organization silos and leveraging social media to drive business outcomes. Couple of things that stood out for me in this case study were: Listening played an important role in formulating the strategy, trials and pilots were used extensively, and clear definition of objectives, and tied it all back to the bottom line.

I want to close this post with an insightful quote from the presenters that highlights their practical, yet thoughtful approach to social media:

 “It (social media outreach) doesn’t stop the telephones but it gives you an opportunity to resolve the situation and change their experience.”

You can look at the detailed slides from the Embarq presentation on the NewComm Forum site.

Purpose-Driven Social Media is Key to Elusive ROI

One question that consistently comes up in social media discussions is the one about ROI on social media activities or lack thereof. Social media practitioners across companies seem to be struggling  to  justify their company’s investment in social media and many even question the value of doing social media.

Donald Bulmer, VP of Industry and Influencer Relations at SAP  hit the nail right on the head at a panel discussion recently where he evangelized ”purpose-driven” social media as the key to successful social engagement.

When planning a new marketing or customer engagement activity, the critical first step is to define the objective for that activity and tie to a desired business outcome. However, this critical step is missing in many social media activities and is often an after-thought. 

Social media enthusiasts find it challenging to determine social media ROI is because there’s no clear purpose to their social media activity or the purpose is very fuzzy. Without a clear purpose, it’s challenging to gauge what resources will be needed for that social media activity and worst of all, it’s nearly impossible to measure if that activity generated any value.

On the other hand, social media activities that are touted as successful are tied to some specific business need. Two great examples are Ford with its Social Media PR strategy or Dell with the exclusive discounts  (lead generation) via Twitter. Both these companies identified a specific need and used social media to solve that need and drive results.

Many social media enthusiasts justify the lack of purpose or goal by saying that they don’t know what to expect since it’s a new media and they don’t want to be associated with failure. Unfortunately, failure comes with the territory when testing any new media or channel, and without a clear purpose, it’s tough to build support for social media within any organization especially to get executive buy in.

Moreover, it’s challenging to justify resources for social media within any company, if you can’t articulate the business need that will be solved by doing the said activity, which takes us back to the point that Bulmer made about “purpose-driven’ social media. The era of doing social media because it’s cool is coming to an end, it’s no longer acceptable to engage in social media just because “everyone else is doing it”.

Like any other media, social media practitioners will have to build a solid business case for their social media activity and demonstrate how it can be used to drive real business outcomes. Starting on the social media quest without any clear direction is a primary reason why social media practitioners find their projects floundering. As Yogi Berra once famously said, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

Transparency is the Keynote Theme at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2009_logo1The second round of keynotes yesterday at the Web 2.0 Expo focused mainly on transparency, both in business and in government.

The first to take the stage was Douglas Rushkoff, the author of “Get Back in the Box”. His perspective was both radical and refreshing. He said, “It’s not distraction from core competency to be transparent, transparency forces you to be competent.” According to him, companies with core activity and competency in their industries find it easier to be transparent.

He gave the example of the outgoing Gap CEO who said when he joined the company that “I’ve never worked a day in the garment company.” He asked a thought provoking question, which was – How did management and business become generic? He also narrated how creation of corporations prevented free market competition and hindered creation of value. He supported his assertion with related instances in history where the first companies were chartered monopolies by the government, like the East India Company.

He said that Web 2.0 has ushered in a new era that allows people to create value from the peripheries again where central bank and VC lending were not needed unless you’re setting up a ponzi scheme. Laughter and applause broke out, when Rushkoff said the banks fell for their own ponzi scheme.

He ended by saying that using the traditional currency model in the digital world with abundance of value is not sustainable. It’s up to the net industry to create value with the purpose of making a living rather than to cash out.

Anssi Vanjoki from Nokia followed this fiesty presentation with some bold predictions of his own. According to Vanjoki, by 2015, we will have wireless network connecting us 24×7 globally. His second prediction was that everything will be based on context because it’s awareness that separates us from other creatures.

He repeated multiple times during his talk that there was an emerging trend of marrying reality with virtual world and added that this new behavior required a new device.  According to him, this a “mobile computer” that would replace all current phones. This device will have hundreds of gigabytes of memory and allow users to store and leave your own traces on coordinates.

Nokia has invested a lot in the location services and recently bought a digital map maker, Navteq because it’s their belief that everything on this planet can be described with coordinates. He ended his speech by giving a glimpse at phone of the future, which looked like a watch and ended by saying -  “We (Nokia) will bring the net to everyone, everywhere.

“Tim O’Reilly sat down to talk to Ellen Miller from the Sunlight Foundation who is working on getting more transparency in the government. She said that the foundation is not interested in digitizing the information just for academic use but put it into hands of the citizens – feedback loop aka accountability. Here are the Open Government Data Principles that that they have put together: Data should be Complete, Primary, Timely accessible, machine processable, non-discriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free. Miller said, “For data to be useful, it must be consumable.” She also mentioned that databases are already created, which show who’s lobbying for whom and where the campaigns are coming from.

She alluded to an ongoing contest between Republicans and Democrats on who is more transparent. Ellen said that the house and executive branch are not open to being transparent, but they don‘t have a choice, as she so eloquently put it, “Transparency will be done to them (government).” She went on to say that government needs to be held accountable and that it’s not non-profits like Sunlight who should be responsible but rather it’s the government’s responsibility to provide transparency.

Kevin Lynch, Adobe Systems Incorporated followed up with a short but effective demo on the Adobe Flash Catalyst, which is still in beta. This is a professional design tool that automatically generates the Flex code for any static composition created using Adobe’s other design tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. This allows the designer to deliver a finished application to the developer for additional functionality without losing any of its original fidelity.

Last but not the least, John Battelle, Federated Media sat down with Will Wright, from Electronic Arts for a discussion on the online gaming business. Will mentioned that EA is focusing on getting more transparency in the gaming business especially when it comes to data that‘s being shared online. When asked about the Wii, he said he liked it and that it highlighted a trend in non-immersive gaming. Immersive is when the gamer is so absorbed in the game and tunes out everything going on around him/her. However, games like Wii make the environment part of the game and he sees the trend continuing with virtual worlds meeting reality.

Experts Discuss 4 Key Reasons Why Social Media Fails

webexsf2009_logo1Today at the Web 2.0 Expo, a panel of industry thought leaders – Peter Kim (Dachis Corporation), Charlene Li (Altimeter Group), and Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research) discussed “Why Social Media Marketing Fails  - and how to fix it.”

Keeping true to the spirit of social media, Peter Kim invited input for this session before the show, on his blog where folks responded with what they wanted to see at this session. Not surprising, it was standing room only for this brilliant panel of former and current Forrester analysts.

Here are the key highlights from this insightful discussion where panelists also provided concrete suggestions on overcoming major hurdles to social media success in companies.

#1 How do I get my culture to adopt? (Lack of buy-in from C-level executives)
This was quoted as the No.1 reason by the panelists for the failure of social media adoption and success in companies. Charlene Li bluntly stated that, most companies are not ready for change. “Big guns” need to get involved and for those executives to get onboard is show the connection to bottom-line/revenue. Li highly recommends “Go for the sweet spot”, which are corporate (financial) goals that the management is focused on and to demonstrate how social media can help drive those results.

Jeremiah’s experience was different in that executives are usually the last to adopt. Smaller groups at lower level management were more likely to drive social media adoption. However all three agreed on the need for a champion at the executive level to make social media successful in the long-term.

Peter Kim asked whether companies needed a ”Chief Social Officer” to help social media adoption in companies?  Li disagreed and said that it was a fallacy. Social media shouldn’t be just one person and that it would be “dangerous” to have just one person responsible for social media. She believed that it’s everybody’s responsibility. She gave the example of Charles Schwab, which is focused on a customer engagement strategy and for them social media is just one of the many ways to achieve that strategy.  

Kim pointed out another dangerous fallacy and that was the perception  that social media ia young person’s game and many companies hire interns to do their social media strategy. Li thought a good practice she has seen is that many companies are pairing up marketing folks with younger people. Owyang suggested using the Hub and Spoke model, where various cross-functional groups drive the initiatives but coordination is done centrally. The other two models he discussed were: Tire – social media is initiated from the edges and grows organically without any coordination. Tower – social media is initiated from upper management levels and can be inauthentic.

#2 How do I make my campaigns work? (Using the “Campaign” model)
All three panelists pointed out that it was wrong and misguided for marketers to treat social media as just another “campaign”. Li said that attitude is the biggest problem, because social media is not a campaign. She went on to add that it’s about relationships and conversations,  not about technologies and she also said that very few brands do this right. 

Kim interjected with a question (and reality check) - How do we align the need for conversations in public companies with quarterly pressures, which necessitates focus on campaigns? To which, Owyang responded there should be a balance between business objectives and community objectives with equal counts of both. He cautions marketers against using campaigns, which are short-term and instead focus on long-term objectives of the company.

Kim pointed out there is need to change how public companies work and the way they think of their external and internal stakeholders including detractors. He also acknowledged that it’s a difficult road ahead. Li agreed and found that there’s much more collaboration going on. There are conversations already happening, folks are asking recommendations, and it’s all occuring very naturally for local brands and business.

He also acknowledged, the real fear for many traditional marketers, with this question – Should we get rid of the marketing dept? He was alluding to how social media is changing the role of marketers in the organization. To which Li responded that marketing is all about promotion and advertising. Social media helps get those other parts get elevated however, she also pointed out that advertising on social network advertising is a bad idea and it doesn’t work.

One interesting idea that came up was around some type of educational courses, credentials or ”certification” for social media practitioners. Li was in favor of having some type of certification however, Owyang was against it, saying that he himself was a practitioner and believed that experience was more important.

#3 What should I measure? (Lack of measurement)
Kim pointed out that the biggest fail in social media and marketing in general is measurement.  Owyang said the traditional marketers measure using on dashboards that show them the page views, visits, and other metrics. However, he said that’s not very meaningful way to measure social media ROI. He advocates the use of a directional system, similar to GPS system rather than a dashboard. In order to measure social media success, he suggests using business metrics around what you trying to accomplish such as customer retention and satisfaction measures rather than web metrics.

Li brought a great point - start by asking yourself why are you measuring? Are you trying to decide the allocation of budget or do a comparison with other channels? She said that social media shouldn’t be measured in isolation but rather as part of the overall measurement of other efforts. She said, “How can you measure social media if you don’t measure in other areas?” She did an informal poll of the audience at the discussion and many hands went up when she asked how many were working on social media initiatives. It was very telling that very few raised their hand, when Li asked how many were able to measure their results.

#4 Does social media matter? (Real impact of social media)
This was yet another very interesting point that was brought up in the discussion. Owyang mentioned a recent informal poll by Adage, who asked mainstream folks about Motrin Twitter Moms controversy. Most hadn’t heard about the incident or didn’t know much about it, so that begged the question whether social media was even relevant to mainstream. One thing Owyang mentioned was that when social media buzz such as the Motrin Moms, starts getting picked up by the mainstream media, that’s when it starts becoming relevant. 

Li followed up with a fascinating perspective, that it’s failure in social media that really matters. She went on to say that it’s more important to understand whether your culture can adopt it. It’s also all about extending yourself and learning.  According to Li,  if you’re not failing, that means you are not doing anything and not learning anything in the process.

Throughout the discussion, the panelists took questions from the audience on a variety of related topics. Some had questions around liability issues arising from social media activities especially, in sensitive industries like finance.  Li gave the example of Wells Fargo, who had recently launched a Twitter account. The panel agreed that it was all about experimenting and learning. Li cautioned against companies starting in social media with Twitter. Companies need to have some experience under their belt in social media, before they start on Twitter so they already have processes built to effectively engage their audience.  

Another question was around multi-national implementation. Owyang suggested using the hub and spoke where hub is corporate, while spoke represent the regions. Both Li and Kim suggested learning and aggregating learnings from other countries. Li also pointed out something interesting, which was that social networks might be global but folks limit their social media activity to specific geographic regions. Some exceptions might be industries like movies and media. Kim reiterated this by saying that rather than using global presence as a barrier, company should use it as learning opportunity.

Addressing the question around use of social media in gathering intelligence, Kim said that all the information in the world won’t help, if the companies are not willing to do anything with it.

Lastly, when someone asked about companies that gotten it right, the panelist mentioned Dell as an example of a huge social media failure but also as a success story as a company that also learned from those failures to get it right? Another example, Li gave was WalMart, who has been blogging since 2006. She commended how they keep trying and don’t give up. Overall, the panel was unanimous in that companies need to let go and that continues to be a challenge. 

You can follow the conversation around this panel discussion on Twitter #smfail.