Debunking the Top Three Social Media Myths for Business

As social media has evolved, so have the myths. Here are the top three fallacies that are widely prevalent in the corporate circles and if left unchallenged, these can do serious damage to your business and brand.

Every Company Should have a Blog

I’ve heard so many “experts” claim that every business needs a blog, so here’s a reality check for all blog advocates – corporate spin by any other name and in any format is still…corporate spin. Unless, the medium is used for what it’s intended, i.e. genuine dialogue/conversation with the readers, a blog is no more effective than a static web page. There are plenty of examples of really bad corporate blogs out there, which should be pulled down because the content is outdated and/or in many cases, it’s just a rehash of the company press releases.

Companies and “experts’ who are fixated on blogs are missing the point. At end of the day, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about bragging rights because your company has hundreds of blogs but rather focused on what really matters - meeting and even exceeding your customer needs.

It’s a fallacy that every company needs a blog, because what a company really needs is a medium to engage with and deliver value to its customer, regardless of format. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to leverage forums, external social networks like Linkedin and Twitter to engage with their customer base rather than force them to read a badly written corporate blog post.

Listening is Critical in Social Media

I’ve said it before and here it is again, “listening” was not invented by social media experts and companies should be open to all feedback regardless of whether it originated in traditional media or social media. Customer feedback is critical to any company’s continued success and just because a customer emailed the feedback instead of tweeting it, shouldn’t make the feedback any less (or more) valuable. 

Smart companies already had programs in place, to gather and route feedback from customers, prospects, influencers and other critical stakeholders, before the advent of the social media. Granted that enabling technologies for monitoring the social media landscape may be new(er) but without an overarching framework/plan for using all that customer data, the “listening” part is quite pointless.

Anyone can “do” Social Media

Just because anyone and their granny can update their Facebook status, doesn’t mean that anyone in the company can “do” social media. Engaging on a social network in the business setting requires people skills and the ability to communicate effectively (even under pressure) on a public forum. In addition, social media roles such as blogging require content creation skill sets like solid writing and subject matter expertise, so the blogger can add value to their readers.

Social media has evolved from random tweeting and blogging to a sophisticated medium that should be taken seriously because it has serious implications for your brand. Companies should staff their teams with the right talent rather than handing off social media to the first employee who signs up, because regardless of what the “experts” say, your customers deserve better.

Let me know if there are other myths you would add to this list.

SF Giants Tweetup – Clever Use of Social Media or Overkill?

Apparently, the San Francisco Giants are planning the largest Tweetup at a baseball event in history, which (in theory) sounds like a great idea. I am all in favor of sports leagues using social media to connect with their fan base, build loyalty and all that good stuff.

But I would love to find out how many folks think it’s a good idea to host a ”panel discussion with social media experts” at a ball game???

And I guess they got so busy with planning this historic Tweetup that they forgot to tell their fan base about this.

Even if we assume the target audience is actually crazy enough about social media to pay $$ to spend quality time with these unknown “experts” , but what about the game? There’s no mention of tickets to the game and whether those are included in this super-duper deal.

So, out of sheer curiosity, love of the game and of course, cheap beer, you decide to ”Buy Tickets Now” (as I did), only to cry foul because there’s no mention of this package with the “extra-special t-shirt” and other goodies.

Whatever happened to the $20 offer? Is that in addition to the ticket price or is the Tweetup included in this final price tag? I am just baffled there are no additional details provided on this offer or is the hope that the fans will be able to figure this all out on their own?

While, I wish the  organizers good luck in their attempt at this historic record, I (along with others) can’t help but wonder if this is a good use of social media.

What do you think? Does SF Giants’ use of social media merit a mention as pure genius or does it deserve to go down in history as a prime example of social media overkill?

Are the Social Media Experts Helping or Hurting Twitter?

Recently, I’ve noticed that there is more onus on Twitter users to deliver “value” than users on other social networks. This could be attributed to the fact that Twitter started off as the playground (and still has some remnants) of the early adopter crowd. Other social networks like Facebook don’t have the same history (or baggage) and the closed nature of these sites probably promotes more non-judgmental sharing because of the perception that “you’re among friends”. Originally, the most frequently cited argument against Twitter was that it’s for folks who want to ”tweet about what they had for lunch” although, the same type of sharing was and is still perfectly acceptable on Facebook.

Twitter has evolved since its early days and so has the criticism. Now the popular opinion is that it’s become a propaganda channel for media, celebrities, and social media “experts”, which isn’t surprising when you consider that the Top 100 Twitter Users are mainly from the first two groups. According to Mashable, there’s also been a surge in the social media “experts” population on Twitter over the last year and they counted over 15,000 social media “experts” on Twitter, increase of 250% in appx. 7 months.

I have to confess that I am in biased in favor of Twitter, mainly because I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very amazing and talented folks who are now part of my professional network. However, I also have to admit that the micro-blogging site is rife with self-professed gurus who are extremely opinionated and not afraid to vocalize their thoughts.

Here’s an example from my recent experience: I had started sending FourSquare updates to my Twitter stream, when out of the blue, one of the “experts” contacted me and asked me stop the updates as they “added no value”. Needless to say, I was baffled as I hadn’t realized that some folks think that the purpose of my tweets is to provide them with some “value”. What I also found most perplexing is this – if you wouldn’t go up to someone in the offline world and say, “Can you please stop talking about your cat because it’s annoying?!”, then why do some folks think it’s acceptable to do that on Twitter?

Nielsen reported its findings last year on Twitter’s high churn rate where they said,

“about 60 percent of people on Twitter end up abandoning the service after a month.”

This news wasn’t received very well by the vocal users but regardless how you slice the data, the reality is that Twitter is intimidating for new users. I’ve heard many (geeks, nerds, tech entrepreneurs included) confess that they just don’t get it.  I’ve been on Twitter for a while, so unsolicited feedback doesn’t bother me but one can’t help but wonder how damaging this self-righteous attitude can be for new users. The site is daunting enough for them, without having to worry about some “expert” policing and critiquing their every tweet.

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.

Facebook and the Quest for Social Media Domination

The Data Portability blog reports that the recent Power.com lawsuit accuses Facebook of being a monopoly,

“Facebook’s conduct constitutes monopolization (or attempted monopolization, ed.) of the market for social networking website services…”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been tracking the recent moves by Facebook to control and exploit user data and addition of Twitter and FriendFeed-like features. It wants to be your one and only social destination where you can tweet, blog, share, and heck, even search for content. Regardless of whether you think Facebook + FriendFeed news is all hype or if you’re truly concerned about the future of FriendFeed – one dangerous trend that’s undeniable in this saga, is this move towards consolidation in the social media space.  

For those who argue that it’s all about survival of the fittest, this acquisition is anything but that. Acquisitions of strong startups like FriendFeed stack the odds in favor of the weakest species that no one wants to buy and yet, they continue to exist, even if for no other reason, than to fill the void left by the strongest of the pack. One can hope that a strong startup is replaced by another stronger alternative, but if that startup too gets acquired before reaching critical mass, where does that leave the users?

I think it’s fantastic that talent is recognized and well-deserving entrepreneurs get their turn at the big pay-off. But there’s a real danger that if these acquisition sprees continue unchecked, it will dramatically reduce the choices for users, who are the real losers in this deal. When strong startups are bought out, all that the users are left with are mediocre me-too sites that don’t add any value or goliaths that have too much control over their online data.

The debate around FriendFeed acquisition is much more than just rooting for the underdog and all that fluff. What many are glossing over is the underlying truth, which is – by taking over FriendFeed, Facebook  has just about eliminated the only real competition that the uber-site has today in the social networking space.  

FriendFeed is much more than just a social network. It offers social conten aggregation, social media client, micro-blogging, real-time threaded conversations, and much more, all rolled up into one. Despite the steep learning curve, it trumps other social networks (including Facebook) in richness of features and robustness of the system.

In a short amount of time, it’s gone from a social aggregator on steroids to a feature-rich platform that even the popular sites are copying. By buying FriendFeed at this critical stage in its lifecycle, Facebook no longer has to worry if this site will take off and threaten its dominance in the near future.

Wouldn’t be least bit surprising if FriendFeed is shut down within a year, if not sooner, after Facebook’s ripped off every possible feature and integrated it into the mother-ship.

And why wouldn’t Facebook keep this wonderful community alive, you ask?  Oh yeah…I am sure Facebook would love to retain that passionate and vocal base of users who love FriendFeed precisely because it’s NOT Facebook.

Facebook is hardly the only one who’s been accused of vying for world domination. Google and Microsoft both have had their share of bad PR for trying to monopolize the marketplace. And even if Facebook shut down FriendFeed tomorrow, what’s the big deal? It’s just about million users, a mere drop in the ocean compared to Facebook and Twitter.

As a user, do you really care if there’s just one uber-social network? Should you care? I am sure many of us just love the idea of having just one search engine or just one “great” operating system or how about just one ”perfect” flavor of icecream?! Who needs so many choices, anyway?! Really…

4 Common Excuses from Social Media Skeptics

Yes, Oprah’s on Twitter and so’s your 50-year old neighbor but that doesn’t mean everyone is on planet Social Media. Once you get out of the social media bubble and if you’re willing to listen to some professionals in the B2B space, you’ll more likely than not, come up against pockets of resistance to the new media. I have tremendous respect for folks who think before latching on to the latest latest fad and and in a previous post, I gave 5 reasons why social media skeptics may be onto something. But, there is a difference between healthy skepticism and unwillingess to change/adapt to a new environment.

Here are 4 typical pushbacks that I’ve come across that are a result of ignorance rather than pragmatism:

#1 “Our customers don’t do social media” I have heard this excuse so many times, even from organizers of social media events, who have confessed that they don’t see the value of social media for their customers. So finally, I asked one of them, “If your customers don’t read blogs or tweet, what channels do they use? Have you asked where they’re getting their information” and the answer is often a resounding “No”. Many professionals who play the “New media doesn’t apply to our customers” card haven’t even talked to their customers because leading research shows that social media is increasing in use among B2B marketers. Many purchase decision-makers pay attention to non-traditional media such as blogs and now, Twitter, thanks to big name celebrities. How much social media influences their decision-making is something the skeptics need to look into rather than hiding behind this excuse.

#2 “We’ve tried it but didn’t get any response” There’s a sense of “build it and they will come” attitude that’s very destructive for social media implementation because poor execution and lack of promotion is often blamed on the media. Companies spend a lot of time encouraging their employees to blog and tweet but don’t really spend any time promoting their efforts to the customers. “Tell our customer, what we’re doing? What a crazy concept!” Social media is new and will take some time for your customer base to adopt. That’s no different from email, not everyone was on it but you need to promote it and do it well for it to be successful.

#3  ”There’s no clear ROI” That’s another common excuse that I’ve heard over and over again. Many companies still struggle with the ROI dilemma, but if social media doesn’t have clear returns, neither do many of traditional alternatives that your company currently uses. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it’s working. Social media metrics should be tied to clear business objectives and keep in mind, setting up a new channel will take time. Marketers who expect results overnight are setting themselves up for failure. Given that even the most traditional and established media struggle with the question of attribution, we need to give social media due time to get to its full potential.

#4 “It’s a fad“  Skeptics can keep hoping that the social media fad will blow over but hype aside, social media gives you the the ability to engage directly with your customers and that’s very powerful. Social sharing features provide the ability to make your marketing more impactful and empower your customers, champions to do the marketing for you and that’s not something you want to wish away. 

I am too much of a pragmatist to buy into all that jazz about how “social media is so wonderful and everyone on the planet should be on Twitter” but that being said, social media is inevitable. Engaging with our customers isn’t new, it’s not rocket-science, and it’s a no-brainer. So if social media tools enable us to do a better job at it, you either learn to do it and do it right, or else risk being irrelevant to your customers. While it’s not perfect, social media is revolutionizing the way we do business and communication, sooner companies learn how to navigate it the better off they’ll be in the long-run.

Tech and Social Media events in SF Bay Area for July

Here’s a roundup of interesting tech and social media events happening in the SF Bay Area in July. Let me know in the comments or tweet me, if you’re planning to be at any of these and if there others that should be on this list. 

July 7th
The SiliconValley NewTech July Meetup (Free! hugely popular event, nearly impossible to get in)
7:00 PM
at DLA Piper in Palo Alto, CA
The SiliconValley NewTech Meetup Group [SVNewTech]

July 8th
Women in Tech
5:30 PM
at Orange Labs in South San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Mobile Meetup

July 8th
MIGHTY
119 Utah St
San Francisco, CA 94103
 

July 23rd   
Silicon Valley Tweetup
5:30 to 8:00 PM at Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub, Santana Row in San Jose

July 27th
313 Fairchild Drive
Mountain View, CA 94043
 

Is Web 2.0 Over?

This morning, I saw what seems like a scam contest on “RIP Web 2.0″ that’s driving traffic to my blog for no apparent reason, while I am still baffled by it, the notion of “Web 2.0 is over” got me thinking.  

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a blogger from the SF Bay Area at the Web 2.0 Expo recently. He proclaimed that “Web 2.0 is over and it’s time to move on.” and went on to say “It was an era and I doubt they’ll have this conference next year.”

Later that day, as I was noodling on what he said, I ran into Robert Scoble. So I asked him – Do you think Web 2.0 is over? What he said was very illuminating, ”Until Best Buy puts people on its website, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Web 2.0.” You can read more of Scoble’s thoughts on his blog.

He brought up a great point, while innovators and early adopters who are focused on the technology and are clamoring to move on, one has to question if the true potential of this era has been realized.

Later on at the same conference, Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester, shared an interesting insight that he has seen companies turning off the commenting feature on their blogs. Which means that even companies who claim to be all over Web 2.0 and related social technologies aren’t ready to embrace the participation or openness that Web 2.0 purportedly is all about.

Web 2.0 is a phrase that seemed to have caught on in early 2000s O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference . According to Wikipedia,

“Tim O’Reilly states Web 2.0 is a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet-a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects. (O’Reilly Radar,Principles and Best Practices, 2007)”

 Web 2.0 has manifested itself in the form of blogs, social networks, social sharing tools, etc. but now even O’Reilly has moved on to the next Web ie. Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web. At a blogger roundtable, O’Reilly was asked by a blogger, “What is the Semantic Web?” O’Reilly got up and said “This is Tim O’Reilly” and he took off his badge, “This is Tim O’Reilly”, highlighting a more intelligent web that will be able to provide context no matter where we are on the web.

The Semantic Web isn’t a new concept, it’s about intelligence built into the web (or rather the machines underlying the web) and Tim Berners-Lee already gave us a sneak peak into the future way back in the 1990s.  But it seems that the technologies and momentum to make Semantic Web part of our everyday web experience are finally available now.  

So what does that mean for Web 2.0? No matter what you want to call it, one thing is for sure, we are moving towards a more intelligent web experience and that’s a good thing.

That being said, I’ll believe that Web 2.0 is over, when I see social-sharing features become as ubiquitous as the websites themselves. I’ll believe it, when companies are able to use these social technologies to harness the knowledge embedded across their global employee base and seamlessly share the data across their organizations. In other words, when the “human” element becomes more important than the underlying technologies and tools. We’re getting there, but we are not there yet. Until then, it’s just hype - Web 2.o hype replaced by Web 3.0 hype.

Btw, I confirmed with show organizers that the Web 2.0 Conference is still on for next year. Janetti Chon from the Web 2.0 said that,

“We’re definitely having a Web 2.0 Expo again, our dates for NY and SF 2010 are already confirmed.”

And no, I didn’t ask if they’re planning to change the name to Web 3.0 :)

Ford Case Study: Control is an illusion in the social media age

freeI recently attended a brilliant presentation on “Setting Content Free at Ford” by Scott Monty, Digital Communications Manager at Ford and Maggie Fox, CEO of Social Media Group. The presenters led a packed house at the Web 2.0 Expo through an insightful case study on how Ford and Social Media Group partnered to turn traditional PR on its head to create a highly impactful social media content strategy.

Like many other large global firms in traditional industries, Ford retained tight control on its digital and other marketing/ communication assets including images and videos, by allowing access to only a select few accredited automotive journalists and typically distributed those assets by request only, both out of habit or fear of unflattering mashups. Monty said, “Ford recognized that “control” of digital assets was an illusion. So they stopped pretending.”

In 2007, Ford Motor company recognized and accepted the changing dynamics of an environment where everyone was a publisher  and this model no longer made sense because the bloggers were not interested in traversing the walled garden to get to the restricted content and on the flip side, there were dozens of organic digital content projects were popping up within Ford – from “semi official”  YouTube channels to small-scale, one-off sharing of images and other content with enthusiast groups. Monty described it as, ”A thousand points of light, not focused enough to truly illuminate or accomplish anything.”

Ford adopted an open and pragmatic approach to their content strategy where they started by helping online content producers to start conversations and tell richer, better informed stories by providing them with great content that even the “Citizen Journalists” could access easily and use to tell their own stories.

Here are the key learnings from Ford’s experience:

#1 Create rich content that’s ready to share: Ford established its first Social Media Press Release (SMPR) filled with rich content ready for sharing. Ford also aggregated its digital content and made Creative-Commons licensed assets available for use by anyone who was interested in talking about the company or their brands – good or bad. Moreover, all Ford content is hosted with third-party plaforms, like Flickr and YouTube, to leverage their native sharing properties and popularity.

#2 Eliminate the need to pitch: Ford provides individual and global RSS feeds for their SMPRs, meaning subscribers are automatically notified of updates – and only get what they’re interested in. They found many anticipated and unanticipated benefits, including an unsolicited placement in Wired magazine shortly after Chris Anderson’s infamous “Blacklist” post. Giving traditional media and bloggers access to what they’re most interested in, made pitching content irrelevant. Wired and other news media are subscribed to Ford’s SMPR feeds and they regularly pick up stories without having to be pitched.

#3 Reduce fear of the unknown: Monty rightly pointed out that social media is scary mostly because people don’t understand it. So  they helped people understand it, epecially legal people. By sitting down with the legal folks and demonstrating value to the folks who are most interested in controlling the content, they were able to change the way content was treated at Ford. Another big issue, they ran into was digital rights management (DRM). For images it was simple – in most cases digital rights were already being obtained for the online editions of print publications.

Video is another issue, and Monty pointed out, “We’re not the only ones wrestling with that challenge… if we put them online, it’s usually only for a set period of time until the rights expire.” Like many companies, however, Ford is working with its agencies are working together to get digital rights in place to manage their digital content.”

#4 Take a long-term approach to social media:  Ford’s approach was so successful because they didn’t use this as a trendy one-time campaign but rather as a  revolution in the way Ford, traditionally treated its digital assets and controlled access to them. Starting with Focus, Ford began making all of their content digitally available to everyone under a license that would permit publication under almost any circumstances.  All of the images, video and text on Ford’s first and subsequent SMPRs are licensed under Creative Commons non-commercial.

When asked what’s next for Ford, Monty said, “We are weaving digital influencers into every program we run for mainstream media. We’re also establishing digital-only events and programs for online influencers. Integrating with MSM programs – digital should not exist in a vacuum, it goes farther when amplified and paired with traditional efforts, which it can assist and compliment.”

So, how successful has this new strategy been for Ford?

When asked about the ROI on social media, Monty quipped, “What’s the ROI for putting on your pants every morning? But it’s still important to your business.” That was was probably the most profound quote of the event and highlights how doing social media is no longer optional for large companies, but rather a necessity for every business.

Overall, Ford has seen its content come back to them in thousands of unsolicited posts and stories. Here are the concrete  success metrics that Monty and Fox shared on their content:
 - Their content has been used in over 5,000 posts since Sept 2007.
- SMPRs are regularly used as a source of news and assets by Autoblog.com (Technorati Top 50), Wired, NYTimes, ABC News & many others, both traditional & “new” media.
- Approximately 1.2 million video views on YouTube, 499 channel subscribers, 120,000 views on Flickr images.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lights_out_222/2996484787/

You can access the presentation on the Web 2.0 Expo website.