Are you the David or Goliath of Social Media?

It’s super bowl time! While the average viewer is reaching for that bowl of spicy nachos, many well-known brands will be huddled with their agencies and social media teams. Their goal is simple. Replicate Oreo’s success with the now legendary “dunking in the dark” tweet, which was created by their agency, 360i.










So, if you work for a lesser-known brand with a limited budget, the question you’re probably asking yourself is if you can possibly compete with the big dogs and their deep pockets.

Fret not. One thing Arby’s recent Grammy tweet has taught us is that spunk, creativity and timing trumps all in today’s real-time world.

ArbyThis is a stellar example of a spontaneous tweet by a social media manager who’s on the ball and outperformed the agency-created ($$) moment by a huge margin.

So here’s to all the folks waiting for this week with bated breath for their shot at social media glory.

Game on.

The Dark Side of Community Management

In honor of Community Manager Appreciation Day, here’s a huge shout out to all the amazing Community Managers out there. You rock!!

Community management is a tough job. Community managers are the critical last line of defense for your brand against all external forces. They are on the front-lines every day answering questions, helping customers, providing tips, engaging users, and much more.

There is a dark side to community management that doesn’t get much attention. We can all agree that most users are mostly good and even normal. But spend some time with any seasoned community manager and you’ll cringe at the horror stories of users gone bad or plain cuckoo. Here are some real-life incidents that you might recognize and may relate to:

A community manager for a well-known tech company was stalked online by an irate user who felt his questions weren’t being answered. Pictures of this employee along with address were posted all over social networks along with derogatory remarks about the employee.

Another instance was when an user posted profanity and complaints multiple times a day on the company’s Facebook page. When he was blocked from that page, he started posting on the company’s other social media pages, creating a nightmare not only for that community manager but for others across the company.

And there was that time when a user threatened the community manager with a lawsuit and death threats because he wasn’t happy with the help he received.

And the list goes on.

Given the potential for risk to your employee’s sanity, well-being not to mention lawsuits waiting to happen, every company needs a clearly documented crisis/escalation plan to handle these types of issues but it’s shocking very few companies actually have any type of plan in place.

These plans don’t need to be onerous or laborious but at the very least, should outline the rules of engagement for your community (social media or other) along with a game plan to follow in case of a crisis. Here is some basic guidance to include in your plan; this is especially helpful when on-boarding new community managers:

– What constitutes prohibited behavior in your community. Ex: profanity, spammy links
– When to stop engaging with an angry user and escalate/flag. Ex: lawsuit, death threats
– Contact information for key stakeholders in case of an escalation or crisis. Ex: legal

What’s also helpful is a list of users who have a history of bad behavior and examples of past incidents used for training purposes.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but just a starting point for you to build your own escalation/crisis plan.

Do you have a community crisis/escalation plan? What other information would you include in it?

PS: This is my first blog post of the year and dedicated to all the awesome Community Managers out there, including those on my present/past teams 🙂

Why I stopped and then started blogging again…

Today, someone reached out to me on Twitter asking about a follow up to my  Social Media Today post on Governance from 2010.  That’s when I realized the last time I blogged was back in July of 2012.  Wow! Has it really been that long?!

Many people like myself with corporate (social media) day jobs either don’t blog or stop because of lack of time but that’s a cop out. As someone very wise once said , “If it’s important you’ll find a reason (to do it), if not you’ll find an excuse.”

It all comes down to priorities. When your typical work day is 12-14hrs,  it is tempting to devote time to other things  food, sleep, etc.

I also blame my disinclination to blog on Twitter and other social media channels, which are the lazy blogger’s alternative for self-expression and in either case, brevity is way underrated.

All that being said, underlying the lack of motivation and de-prioritization of blogging also stems from the question of whether one is adding any value or simply adding to the noise. The online world is teeming with social media experts, gurus who churn out blog posts, books more frequently than most of us change out our shoes. Does the world really need another blog post or another book on social media?

Which brings me back to the reason I started blogging in the first place and that’s to share ideas, answer questions….every one faces very similar challenges in social media but it’s the difference in approach/attitude/philosophy that makes every voice unique.

So my inspiration to start blogging again is the request du jour for my latest thoughts on social media governance, which I think is a very important topic for all sizes of organization.

I am currently working on (among million other things) a  tiered governance model, which is based on an organization’s state of social media adoption and will post that soon…in brief, as organizations/companies grow in their adoption of social media, their governance model also needs to evolve just like IT organizations are having to adapt to the growing trend of BYOD…

Bottom line, it’s all complex but exciting stay tuned 🙂

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.

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?