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.

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?

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…

3 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Welcome in the Workplace

Joshua-Michéle Ross from O’Reilly Radar blogged about a real challenge that social media practitioners face and that’s the negative perception of social media as the domain of workplace slackers. Employers have a real concern about the impact of social media on employee productivity but as Ross rightly points out, social media is not the only distraction at the workplace,

The fact is that there are already tons of other outside distractions at work ranging from instant message, email, workplace socializing and the never ending cigarette break – so this is not a new problem – but an old concern applied to a new technology…

That’s a great point, but what makes social media so unique and different from other common workplace distractions is that it’s a highly visible media. One could IM all day long or surf the web and not be subject to any scrutiny but send out one too many tweets and you’re likely to be branded a slacker.

Much of this negativity can be traced back to conventional (misguided) productivity measures, lack of social media training, and company culture.

#1 When managers don’t trust their employees to do the job and use number of hours worked as the key measure of productivity instead of results, there is higher likelihood that social media will be perceived negatively. In such an environment, every minute away from the job is considered a waste and much more effort is expended on “looking busy”. However, at companies where results trump number of hours worked, the case for social media is made much more easily because it’s easier to track productivity when it’s tied to a tangible outcome.

#2 The second challenge is related to lack of understanding of social media and related training. The best analogy is email, which is a great productivity tool for employees who know how to use it, but there are others who are overwhelmed by it quite easily. Without formalized social media training, employees are much more likely to waste time on social media networks because they don’t know how to balance social media engagement with their core job function.

#3 Last and most important challenge is that a social media-centric culture requires a mindshift that has to be driven from the top. Here’s where senior management must set an example. In many companies, the senior  management  doesn’t pro-actively engage in social media, thereby fueling the perception that social media is for slackers and not for busy professionals.  When a highly visible executive starts engaging in social media, it paves the way for rest of the organization and provides an example of how to manage social networking efficiently in the workplace.

Company cultures and attitudes don’t change overnight but understanding the barriers will go a long way towards to bringing them down.