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.

Oreo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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: Demystify the Social Media Expert Myth

Much has been said about social media “experts” ranging from Hallelujah, they exist! to “(they) are the cancer..and must be stopped.

These diverse responses are perfectly understandable in an age where every other person (and her nanny) is an “expert”, “guru”, “pundit” or other. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, companies still rely on these darn “experts” to help navigate the uncharted and often turbulent social media waters.

The key to demystifying the social media “expert” myth and finding the real deal is to take a hard look at what a social media “expert” actually does. Based on their role, the experts can be classified into 3 major categories – “Do”ers, Planners, and Talkers.

The most popular and generic “Social Media Manager” roles typically belong to the “Do”ers category, which includes folks who “do” social media and typically are the public face of the brand on social networking sites. These are the folks who manage communities, tweet, blog, and engage on sites like Facebook on behalf of the brand. “Do”ers tend to be individual contributors who spend a great deal of time on the social networking sites and/or have roles that require them to be highly visible brand ambassadors. Having strong online communication skills is a must-have for this role. Folks with engaging personalities and community background (forums, chat, etc.) shine in these types of roles. While this is often an after-thought, this role is best suited for folks with calm temperaments who are less likely to go off the deep end in a crisis. Case in point is the Nestle crisis, where the company rep snapped under pressure on Facebook and had to apologize at the end.

Planners are typically folks who have decent social media expertise and presence but their focus is primarily on planning/managing social media activities. The typical role in this category is social media strategist, who is responsible for pulling together all disparate social media activities into a cohesive strategy/plan. Actively engaging on social media sites is a time-consuming activity, it’s rare to find someone who can balance both roles (planning and engaging) without getting overwhelmed. Folks with solid marketing and/or community management backgrounds seem to do well in these roles. You’ll probably see these types of roles filled by people managers who typically work behind-the-scenes vs. on the front-lines. There aren’t many folks who have the skill set/experience required for these types of roles so increasingly, companies are relying on external social media agencies and consultants to meet their planning needs.

Talkers are your blogbertis or twitteratis who are well-known for talking/writing about social media and may or may not actually engage in social media on behalf of any specific cause for your company (other than social media). Folks in this category typically have a large following on social networks, but may lack the experience in applying social media in a business context. This is a great category for hiring your spokespeople especially if your company is trying to build brand-recognition and wants to get more visibility in the social media space. Many major brands seem to have at least one social media celebrity on their roster, who is not strategically aligned to any specific business function or objective but is rather focused on promoting the company’s overall brand and related messaging.

So there you have it, not everyone is an expert but even among the real experts, different folks excel at different roles. That being said, knowing what you want to achieve is key to deciding the type of expert you need and to avoid getting sucked into the expert myth.

Would love to hear your thoughts on other categories/roles that should be added here.

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - ”Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.

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?

5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Using Twitter for Customer Service in the Enterprise

There have been many innovative uses for Twitter since its inception, including finding out when your plants need watering  and many more creative uses are being devised even as you’re reading this post. On the business side, many firms are faced with the conundrum, whether they should use one account to handle all their customer inquiries, sales, promotions, and overall customer engagement. Or whether they should have a separate account dedicated solely to handling customer inquiries and leverage Twitter as a full-fledged customer support channel?

It makes good business sense to help your customers, regardless of where the query originates and for smaller companies, setting up a dedicated support forum on Twitter may be a no-brainer. However, for a large enterprise, it becomes much more challenging because of the sheer volume of queries received on a daily basis and related customer expectations. Here are some practical considerations for a medium to large-size enterprise before they start on their journey down the rabbit hole.

#1  Begin at the beginning…
By now, every organization with any credibility has a presence on Twitter in some shape or form. To determine whether or not to use that presence to handle customer queries, start with an investigation of the support queries your organization gets from Twitter. It’s not just the volume of queries, also analyze nature of queries to see if  you’re getting certain types of support questions more than others. For example: If you have an existing channel or support line for segment A customers, yet you see significant number of questions coming from them via Twitter, that’s an indicator that your customer behavior is shifting or your existing channels aren’t working or it could be a combination of both. Use the data to determine the business case for building out your customer support on Twitter.

 #2 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat! How I wonder what you’re at?
If you’re a sizeable organization, you should already have an existing customer support center/s and related processes. Think about where  Twitter fits into your existing business processes and other Twitter accounts. The critical issue to consider here is whether you’re planning to replace the existing channel/process, supplement it or just address the occasional queries that come up via  Twitter. If your plan is some variation of the first two options, then you should put some thought into how to eliminate redundancies and avoid multiple staff members answering the same query. Include status tracking as part of your process to make sure you’re measuring the number of queries and whether they were resolved within an acceptable time frame. If you decide to handle queries as they come up using your existing Twitter account, you will still need to get some process in place to make sure the queries go to the right person/team for resolution.

#3 No wonder you’re late. Why, this watch is exactly two days slow.
Regardless of which approach you take, make sure you set clear expectation with your customers. Clarify in your Twitter account description as to what type of inquiries you will accept through the given account and when they can expect a response. If it’s an urgent inquiry, provide them with clear instructions on your escalation process. Don’t assume your customer has the same definition of  a “reasonable” response time. Your turnaround time may be 48hrs but if the customer assumes it’s 24hrs, don’t be surprised if you  find angry tweets about your company’s unresponsive customer support, the very next day.

#4 Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.
One often overlooked item in the broadly prevalent social media mania is the all-important human resource question. Many organizations underestimate the time and effort needed to effectively manage and respond to queries through social channels, so the key is to leverage the existing organizational synergies where ever possible. Despite all good intentions, if you set up a Twitter support channel but don’t have the staff to handle queries in a timely manner, you may find yourself doing more harm or good. One way to handle this with a limited staff is to incorporate Twitter queries into your existing support processes. Assign queries from this new channel to your existing support staff and if you have some social media specialists managing your account, make sure they know where to route the queries internally. While, you will have to provide the jnitial training and set up the   processes, but it will allow you to take advantage of pre-existing efficiencies and also give you some time to map out your plan for meeting potential increase in queries from this new channel.

#5  …But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?
Last but not the least, the question to consider is whether the Twitter platform can scale with your needs. Using the Twitter platform as a supplementary promotional or sales channel is not the same as using it as a customer support channel, since latter often involves dissatisfied customers. I am sure you’re very familiar with the infamous Twitter Fail Whale and Twitter’s “unscheduled” down times.  So if you decide to use Twitter as your primary support channel, always bear in mind that if the Twitter site goes down (which is always a possibility), you will have some unhappy customers who can’t get to your Twitter account to have their issues resolved so make sure you have a back up plan in case of that eventuality.There is no right or wrong answer here, the decision on whether to have your company’s customer support account on Twitter should be made based on your customer and business needs. However, defining your plan upfront will help define your staffing needs as well as routing of the queries and how they should be handled. But the bottom line is to make sure that all queries, regardless of the channel, are routed to and handled by the appropriate team/s within a reasonable time frame.

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.

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