Do Facebook Brand Page Likes Really Matter?

Facebook LikeSocial media marketers have a love-hate relationship with Facebook brand page “Likes”. From recent member discussions at the BlogWell Chicago, it was clear that many social media practitioners vehemently oppose the use of “Like” as a success measure. So the question that begs to be asked and answered is whether a brand page “Like”  even matters any more?

Let’s look at the pros of using it as success metric. Unless your customer likes your page, your posts will not appear in their timeline so there is no connection to your customer unless they like your page.  If you think of Facebook as a community then “Like” may be considered surrogate for “registered users” who have opted to get “alerts” any time you post something.

So are “Likes” just a means to an end or the end by themselves? That depends. While building up your community may be important initially, but once you hit a critical mass, say 1 or 10 million users (depending on your market size, customer base), the size may no longer matter and every incremental “Like” may not have the same value.

Here’s the danger with being too focused on the “Likes” – it’s not enough. What’s really important is user engagement with your Facebook content, either by sharing, commenting or liking.  So if your social media strategy is solely focused on growing “Likes” but has no effort devoted to developing interesting and engaging content to drive engagement, you’ll soon find users “unliking” your page in droves.

So back to our original question – Do Facebook brand page “Likes” really matter? And the answer is yes, but only if backed up by a solid content and fan/user engagement strategy.

The Inconvenient Truth about Social Media

Having worked with scores of global brands and getting a close look at their internal perspective on social media, here are some fundamental truths that social media practitioners need to tackle head-on rather than blundering on in denial.

#1 Social media may be mainstream, but that doesn’t mean everyone is a believer.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve had to convince executives at large global brands that social media is inevitable. Like it or not, the dirty secret of corporate America is that many executives are still leery of social media. So don’t despair if your management is not willing to adopt social media, you’re not alone. Rather than villifying the naysayers, it’s far more effective to address their concerns and prove the value of doing social media (as well as risk of avoiding it). If you’re looking for management buy-in, start by clearly articulating the benefits of proactive engagement in social media and follow that up with clear outline of the consequences of inaction.

#2 You can’t outsource social media strategy to an agency.
Having worked mostly on the client side, I have to admit that my perspective is somewhat biased and that I have worked with agencies that are simply brilliant. However, every agency is looking out for itself (as they should) and they’re more interested in increasing their share of business rather than helping your business. I mean, how many agencies have their revenue tied to your company’s performance? Probably none. So the reality is that companies need to take charge of their social media strategy and have it driven by business objectives rather than some bright shiny plan laid out by their agency.

#3 Quantity is an antiquated way of measuring success.
These days, everyone and their granny is a social media expert. I met someone recently who pointed to driving million odd fans on a Facebook page as a proof of why they’re indeed a social media expert. Measuring social media success through the number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers is the same as looking at traffic numbers as the sole success measure. Chances are that traditional media like email or search probably have similar or better metrics, but that’s conveniently ignored by these so-called experts. If you’re just getting started in social media, it’s okay to look at rudimentary metrics but once you get past the initial stage, make sure you’re hiring “experts” who can tie these metrics to your business objectives such as customer loyalty and/or sales.

5 Tips for Managing Social Media Overload

For years now, whenever I’ve told folks that I blog and tweet, the responses vary from, “How do you get time to do get any real work done?”  (translate: what a slacker) or ” Oh! You’re one of those..”  ie. typical singleton without any worthwhile aspirations. You can literally hear jaws hit the floor after the big reveal that I have an intense “day job” and am also ..gasp.. your quintessential working mom.

Over time,  the perception hasn’t changed much and once you step out of the social media bubble, you quickly realize that with the exception of posting personal updates to Facebook, the average working professional still continues to find social media daunting and mostly overwhelming. However, given the ubiquitous nature of social media and increased use in business, being active in this space has become a necessity whether you’re in HR looking for candidates or in sales, looking for viable leads.

Here are 5 tips for busy professionals to use social media effectively without drowning in data overload:

#1 Get yourself some “human filters”

Yes, there is great deal of content out there and more is being generated every second, the only way to keep from drowning in all the information glut is to get yourself some help. Start by connecting with folks who are in the know and this way you can save yourself the effort of having to cull through mountains of social content. For example: Two of my favorite people on Twitter are @avinio and @scepticgeek who share only the “good stuff”.

#2 Use  technology to your advantage

There are plenty of automated tools that will deliver information to you but you need to be strategic about what content is really important as you don’t want 200 emails/alerts every day.  A better way to manage your social media content is to use have alerts set up key topics and then use smart aggregators like Feedly that allow you to pull all the content in one place  for quick review.

#3 Make social media a priority

The reality in life and work is that if it’s important, you’ll find time for it so make engaging in social media a priority and you will find time for it. I love to blog but my 18hr day job makes it very challenging to post on my personal blog, so I’ve been getting up about half-hour early to blog and take a few minutes over lunch/coffee breaks to finish up a post. Another smart option I really like is to create the posts over the weekend and schedule them for publishing during the week when folks are most likely to read them.

#4 Schedule time for it

Social media may be real time, but unless your job includes constantly monitoring the social media channels for breaking news, you’re better off scheduling some time to do it. Time management experts swear by the benefits of blocking off some time for email so that it’s not disruptive to everything else you’re doing.

#5 Have a clear focus

Given the multidimensional nature of social media, there are many different ways of participating in social media for work, the key is knowing what you want out of it and staying true to that goal. This way you’ll get more value out of every minute you spend on it. If you are only interested in technology or a specific industry, then share/follow/fan/subscribe/join only those sources that can get you relevant information.

There you go, now even you can be the social media rock star without quitting your day job :) Now it’s your turn to share… what do you do to make social media less overwhelming?

How to Find Your Dream Job in Social Media

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion on social media with my industry peers. During the Q&A, one of the questions from an audience member was that social media seems to have left behind an entire generation of professionals and if there was any advice for folks who want to enter this field.

My response to folks, who are feeling left out of the social media space and/or are looking for that next opportunity, is that all’s not lost and many of their current skills can be very valuable in this space.  As social media has evolved, it is becoming very apparent that it’s more than just  Facebooking and tweeting all day long (although many roles still have this as a requirement).   I’ve described the evolution of social media roles in a previous blog post, where many of the emerging roles  in social media require solid experience in one or more of these traditional areas such as community management, customer engagement, and marketing/PR communications.

While anyone can start a blog, it’s not a novelty any more and not everyone can have a hit blog as it’s considerably more competitive than it was in the early days of blogging. All successful bloggers have to be good communicators. It doesn’t matter if you have great subject matter expertise because if you can’t translate that expertise into a lucid post that your customers understand, then you won’t be effective as a blogger.

Also, placing someone with zero customer/community management experience in a customer-facing role on a social network,  is a huge risk. As social media evolves you need folks who can keep their calm on the social networking sites when faced with a hostile audience and that’s where having solid community management or customer support experience is invaluable.

Other hot skill sets in this space are in search, analytics and operations. What’s often forgotten in social media is the ability to work with large volumes of social content ie. data. There is a critical need for professionals with strong analytical skills in the social media space to help businesses derive meaningful insights from their social media content and activities. In addition, with the increasing relevant of social content in search results, the strong SEO skills are more valuable than ever in this space.

Last but not the least, as social media adoption grows across companies, there is a demand need for folks who understand how to scale their social media efforts across market segments and geographies. In addition, the ability to tie all the social media activities together and integrating into existing sales, support, CRM systems is also growing in demand.

That being said, social media career success not only requires a solid background but given the fast pace of evolution in this space, it’s an absolute must to have an open mind and passion for constant learning. Hope you find this information useful as you embark on the search for your next big opportunity in the social media space.

6 Key Tips for Selecting the Right Social Media Listening Platform for Your Business

Last week, I was on a TMAG panel discussion on Social Media Listening Platforms with my industry peers Maria Poveromo, Adobe; LaSandra Brill, Cisco and Dan Zucker, Autodesk. It was a great discussion with a highly engaged audience on topics ranging from criteria for selection of a social media listening platform to what’s next in social media.

All the panelists went through an extensive review process to find the right social listening platform for their business and here are 6 key tips from our collective experience that you can use in your quest:

Coverage & Quality of Data: Most social content is captured via RSS feeds or by leveraging APIs with social networking sites that require log-in such as Facebook, Linkedin and others. However, these sites have a wide variety of agreements with vendors that allow different levels of access to the data on their sites. So understanding the scope of these agreements and consequent limitations is essential as it determines the quality and completeness of data delivered to you. Many vendors claim to cover hundreds of sites but despite that certain key niche sites that are important to your business may not be included so doing your due diligence on the sites covered will ensure there are no gaps in coverage. In addition, Listening platforms can bring in tons of junk data so understanding the vendor’s efforts to constantly update the filters to only pull in relevant data is key in reducing the number of hours it takes you/your team to do it manually.

Real-time reporting: One of the key differentiators between social and traditional media is the real-time nature of the conversations. For some functional areas like customer support/crisis management, real-time reporting is very critical as any issues need to be reported ASAP whereas for market intelligence-type functions, getting up-to-the-second reports may not be as important. Some platforms can deliver data in seconds whereas others have lagtime of over 30mins, so the right timing will depend on your needs.

User Interface: Ease of use is critical with any platform and especially, if the plan is to have decentralized access to the platform where folks without any analytics background can use the platform, then the UI needs to be easy enough to use even by a novice user. However, if the platform will be used by folks experienced in using analytics tools, then the robustness of the system in pulling the right data set is more important than just ease of use. The ability for the user to customize the user interface is also essential to ensure maximum relevance and consistent usage.

Admin/workflow features: These are critical features for large organizations with many users as the social feedback gathered has to be routed and responded to as quickly as possible. Having automated features that allow easy tagging and routing of information of the relevant content is highly desirable. If you have a centralized model then you need the ability to manage user access and administer changes from a master dashboard rather than going into each account individually, which can be time consuming.

Analytics: The listening platforms available in the marketplace today are still 1st generation platforms features like text analytics are still very rudimentary or non-existent. What this means is that you have the platform capturing copious amounts of data but not able to derive any meaningful insights from the data gathered. This limitation has led to the need for use of multiple analysis tools that can make up this deficiency so it’s essential to understand what the platform can deliver (or not), to assess the analytics gap that needs to be filled.

Scalability: Last but certainly not the least, ability to scale is a critical decision factor for larger companies. The ease of adding new users, new regions/ languages without significant impact on performance or cost is key in the selection process. The reality for any company, both big and small, is that budget plays an important role in the final selection, so the selection isn’t only based on the best platform but rather the best platform that your company can afford. The limited budget makes it even more critical to identify which features are critical for your business and which ones are just nice-to-have, as this will help you make the best choice for your business.

All the panelists were equivocal in that, there is no “perfect” platform and there isn’t one-size-fits-all solution so conducting a short-term pilot to test your top 2-3 choices is the best way to determine whether or not a platform is the right one for your business.

As platforms continue to evolve in response to market needs, there is no doubt we’ll see additional enhancements that will help companies not just gather social data but also deliver meaningful insights that can be used for responding quickly to customer feedback and making better business decisions.

What Matters More in Social Media – Quality or Quantity?

You’ve may have heard this many times and probably even used the “Quality Trumps Quantity” argument when justifying your less-than-stellar social media results to your management. As  much as I believe in the quality argument, the reality is numbers do matter and here’s why.

Let’s take a very familiar example like dating. The more people you meet, the more likely you are to meet “the right one”. However, the argument can be made, it’s the quality of single people you meet that’s really important and not the number of “eligibles”.

Agreed. However, the assumption (and the hope) is that the few people that you do meet are of super-quality, thereby improving your odds of happily-ever-after, without any need to meet additional folks.

Let’s take the same example in the business context, you can improve your odds of success by reaching as many people as you can within your budget constraints (quantity) or reaching a highly targeted group of customers (quality). In the social media space, how confident are you of hitting that sweet spot?

Another underlying assumption for “quality over quantity” argument is that both are mutually exclusive, that more numbers mean lower quantity or vice versa. Can you really say that the fewer leads that you did capture were of better quality than the leads from a campaign that generated higher volume of leads?

Generalizations can be misleading and we have to account for differences in industry, business model, type of product/service, goals, as well as target audience. Whether reaching 100 influencers is better than reaching 10,000 customers will depend on your industry and business objective.

So going back to your original argument to your management that it’s really the quality that matters not the quantity, make sure you’re ready to back it up by showing that your conversion or engagement rates were indeed higher than if you had 10x the reach. If you can’t demonstrate that your business goals were indeed met by reaching a smaller audience, it’s a hollow argument and sooner or later, your business results will reflect that.

In my follow up post next week, I will discuss some simple ways to define your social media goals and how to measure what really matters.  Have a great weekend!

What is Social Media Governance and 5 Key Elements of a Successful Model

I’ve been noodling on the topic of social media governance for a while and it took a chat with Jim Storer and Aaron Strout on the Quick n’ Dirty podcast to finally get it on my blog. (Thanks for the question, Jim!)

Much has been written about the importance of social media policy and why every company should have one. However, what’s often overlooked by companies and experts alike is that creation of a policy by itself isn’t cause enough to celebrate.

So, let me start by saying that social media governance is much more than just a policy (even if policy is the first thing that comes to mind, when you use  the term “Governance”).   Governance is much more broader in scope than policy and has greater significance, especially for larger companies.

While your social media policy defines how your employees should engage via social media channels, your governance model is a bundle of policies, guidelines, processes, and educational resources to guide your employees to successfully represent your company in social media activities.

Here are the 5 key elements of a solid social media governance model:

#1 Definition of Scope: This sounds so basic but it is critical that you define what is and isn’t covered by your governance model. Be sure to call out the specific social channels along with the policies and guidelines that relate to each of them. Depending on business and organizational needs, some companies may decide to have a common governance model for their internal and external customer-facing communities, while others may decide to keep the two separate. So it’s essential to call out which ones are included to provide clarity to your employees.

#2 Frequency & Process for Updates: Given that social media is evolving at the pace of light, your governance model will need regular review and update. Make sure you define the frequency of updates and the process for those updates. This will ensure that your governance model is not outdated and provides clarity on how the updates are made. If you want employee participation in the review (highly recommended), make sure you call it out along with details on when and how to provide input.

#3 Branding Guidelines: For a large company, the broad variety of social media channels makes it imperative to clearly call out the branding guidelines for your external channels. The same principles that govern the design of all your external-facing communications such as website, collateral, etc. should be applied to official social channels. This would include, but not limited to, branded templates for your social channels like Twitter, social sharing & follow icons, as well as the use of company logo and related elements on external-facing channels.

#4 Training & Education: A solid governance model should have plenty of educational resources for employees. This should include training on responding to customer feedback, both positive and negative. Typically, it’s the customer support and PR organizations that are tasked with the responsibility of responding to customer feedback. However, social media is breaking down the traditional boundaries and depending on your company’s social media engagement policy, it could be a marketing or salesperson who is having to respond to a customer query. So it’s essential to have training as a cornerstone of your social media governance model.

#5: Approval Processes & Continuity Planning: Your governance model should clearly call out what approval processes are in place for employees to engage in social media. It should answer questions such as: Can everyone participate (highly recommended) or only members of certain external-facing groups can engage via your company’s social channels? What is the process for getting approval for an official account?

Last but not the least, it’s critical you have a continuity plan, which covers not only accounts are set up but how the account will be transitioned to a new owner, if needed. Having a centralized governace model in place will ensure that you’re not locked out of your highly popular Twitter or Facebook account/s if the person engaging on your company’s behalf decides to leave the company.

Bottom line, rather than policing your employees, start with a robust social media governance model as that will empower your employees with the right resources and training to become successful advocates for your company.

If you think there are other items that should be included here, feel free to chime in.

Listening (by itself) is Not Enough in Social Media

I recently talked about ”B2B marketing in the Real Time Web” at the #140conf in San Francisco, organized by Jeff Pulver. One point that resonated the most with the audience is that “listening” has become the most overused and abused word in social media.

Some people actually think that “listening” is  a brand-new concept invited by social media gurus. The reality is that if you need an expert to tell you that you should “listen” to the customers, your business may already be in more trouble than you realize.

While listening is a great first step in getting started in social media and helps set up a good foundation for your activities, that by itself is not enough any more. As consumers get more savvy in their use of social media, it’s become a business imperative that companies move beyond just listening and start responding to what they’re hearing.

Setting up social channels by itself or “being on Facebook” is not good enough any more, companies need to have solid processes in place to quickly relay feedback from social media channels to create better products and help solve customer issues before they reach a crisis point. Social media monitoring/listening tool vendors should be focused on translating the streams of data into meaningful insights for their clients as quicky as possible.

In this fast evolving conversational age,  the true measure of success and a key differentiator will be how quickly companies respond to feedback from their customers. It’s time to assess – Is your company ready for this challenge?

Using Social Media to Reach a Local Audience

Typically, when the average user thinks about social media, the first sites that come to mind are Facebook and Twitter. These sites have formidable global reach and can help reach audiences from Asia to Europe. However, when it comes to reaching a local or regional audience, are these sites still as effective?

This is a key question for firms that operate in a niche industry or cater to a specific geographical region that requires a more tailored approach. As businesses contemplate investments in this new(er) media, here are 4 tips, for small and large companies alike, on using social media to reach as well as engage with a local audience.

#1 Create Location-Specific Social Communties:

Setting up a generic social media presence that appeals to a global audience but ignores your local customer base is a wasteful exercise. There are plenty of options that businesses can use to create social experiences that resonate with their local audience. Whether it’s through a location-specific Linkedin group or a regional Facebook page, it is possible to carve out highly engaging location-specific social presence on any social network. Moreover, sites like Linkedin enable highly targeted advertising based on location, which can be leveraged to reach your local audience.

#2 Leverage Existing Channels:

In their enthusiasm to use social media, many businesses forget to leverage the information that’s available, right at their finger tips. Unless your business was set up yesterday, your company already has a customer database that can be used to jump-start your social media community. Leveraging traditional channels like email and direct mail lists can be a smart and (cost)effective way of building your social media presence. And don’t just stop there! Make it easy for your customers to join/follow you on a social network by integrating social media links into all your traditional marketing channels to make the most out of every touch point with the customer, whether it’s through traditional or new media.

#3 Promote! Promote! Promote!

One thing to keep in mind when building your social media presence is that, “Just because you built it, they will not come!” …unless, of course you promote (the heck out of) it. Many businesses set up their social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but they forget the basics, which is to tell their customers and prospects about it. If your audience is small and local, it is very likely that your presence on a larger social network will go unnoticed, unless you make a great deal of noise about it and that’s where #2 can be very effective in getting the word out. Local events that bring your online and offline community together such as Tweetups can be a very effective way of growing the online social engagement for a local audience.

#4 Try Location-Based Services:

With the growing popularity of  geo-location services and applications like Foursquare, GoWalla, and white-label apps like DoubleDutch, going local has never been easier. These services now enable you to build social networks for specific states, cities, and even neighborhoods. However, your audience may not be adept at using some of these new technologies so, businesses may need to help them along with some education and plenty of incentives to keep them engaged.

As you can see, the “one-size-fits-all” social media model is evolving and making way for highly localized experiences. The key is for businesses to stay focused on their target audience and optimize their social media presence to make it more relevant for their customer, based on where he or she is located.

Making the Business Case for Social Media

Despite the skyrocketing adoption of social media by customers and explosion of “experts” in this space, there is still significant angst among social media practitioners across companies who are struggling with lack of support from management.

So let’s look at the key reasons why your management doesn’t “get” social media and effective ways of channeling the frustration into some concrete steps, which can be a much more productive way to counter this issue.

#1 Can you hear me now?

In many organizations, social media champions/practitioners have little business background or acumen. So, their case for doing social media is somewhat weak since they can’t effectively convey the value to management. To convince management why social media matters, you will need a strong evangelizer/s who understands the business objectives, has credibility with management and is able to communicate the value of social media effectively to your management.

#2 Failing the “So What” Test

Social media practitioners are failing to connect the dots between social media activities and business objectives. Management may not “get” social media but they understand business metrics. Too many social media champions are on “planet social media” while their management is firmly grounded in their financial reality. If social media champions want to make their case, they will have to start translating their social media metrics like fans, followers into real metrics like traffic, leads, and sales, ie. metrics that an executive can relate to and care about.

#3 Fuzzy is as Fuzzy Does

There are a wide variety of reasons for doing social media from “experts” ranging from “everyone is doing it” to “it’s risky not to do it”. Guilt and fear may be good instigators but rarely are good long-term motivators. The key is to share relevant examples and clearly highlight opportunities in your own industry, which is a much more effective way of getting your point across than showing random charts and examples from unrelated industries, just because the numbers look impressive. Having clearly defined business goals and tying social media activities to specific objectives will go a long way towards making a solid case.

#4 Focus on What Matters

The reality of corporate America is that your management’s top priority is the bottom line (which can be a good thing as it keeps you employed). Rather than taking it personally, social media champions should address the real issues underlying the hesitation rather than demonizing the messenger. If your management’s goal is to drive more awareness of a new product, put together a plan that can help meet that objective rather than offering to set up a social program with no clear direction or purpose.

#5 Rome Was Not Built in a Day

Last but not the least, change-resistant culture continues to be a huge inhibitor to adoption of anything new and this is no different. The only way forward is to take small steps towards the end goal and be patient yet persistent to get where you need to go. What is critical to success is your ability to listen to the concerns (you’d be surprised that some are quite genuine) and address each one as you build your case. Good news is that you’re swimming with the tide not against it, so change will come, slowly but surely.