9 timely social media and brand communication insights from SIC 2011

SIC LogoI recently attended the 2011 Seattle Interactive Conference (#SIC2011) at the downtown Seattle convention center. Besides enjoying the opportunity to catch up with friends in the local marketing and social media communities, I was impressed by the overall caliber of presenters and the hard-won insights they shared. Looking back, they gave us a snapshot of the state of the industry as of Q4, 2011.

The following are some of the presentation takeaways I jotted down at the event (click on any of the items in this list to jump down to the details):

1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates
2: Brands must plan in advance to be authentic in social media conversations
3: Preempt negative comments about your brand to rob them of their power
4: How to make a “good” social media video
5: Comcast “sucks” if it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem
6: Social media ROI requires a multiple touch attribution model
7: Brand advocates disproportionally influence content consumption, conversions
8: Content is the carrier, the click is the action
9: Seek to increase social media engagement with actual customers
More insights from SIC 2011

#1: Identify and engage with your brand’s social media advocates

Kim Johnston, VP of Marketing, Desktop Virtualization, at Parallels, spoke about how brands can mobilize their unpaid “advocates”—those people who are speaking out about the brand in social media. Brands’ social media strategy, she recommended, should include identifying these advocates and “engaging” them by showing them respect: ask for their feedback, and let them know when changes are made based on advocate feedback.

#2: Brands must plan in advance to be authentic in social media conversations

Marketing consultant Louis D. LoPresti of Red Pants Digital asked: What are your brand’s core values? Where is it appropriate to talk about the brand? Answers: All communications should be consistent with brand values, which should only be discussed when appropriate. Being authentic, and owning mistakes, he said, is essential. For example, the Kenneth Cole Egypt tweet debacle: the insincere apology just made it worse.

He also noted that “Adult supervision” of outbound social media communication is necessary, which is to say, don’t leave Tweeting to someone who merely has social media experience. Don’t settle for less than someone with deep knowledge of the brand plus business communication skills.

On the topic of being authentic and telling the truth: someone from the audience asked what they should do when people post comments to their Facebook wall in languages no one on their team speaks. LoPresti recommended respectfully posting an admission that they would like to respond, but no one currently on their team speaks that language.

#3: Preempt negative comments about your brand to rob them of their power

Jason Toon, lead writer and editor for Woot, spoke about Woot’s in-house marketing communications style, which is distinguished by its tone of “savage self-deprecation.”

He advised that whenever something about your product or service is manifestly sub-par, negative comments will be inevitable. Example: Motorola shouldn’t have been advertising the Xoom Tablet as if it was just as good as the iPad because nobody believes it–it’s just embarrassing to the brand to say so. Woot’s approach is to preempt negative comments to “rob them of their power”. Don’t deny the obvious negatives, be up front about them. Discuss negatives openly and with an element of freshness (no cliches) and surprise (shock value) that entertains so that people want to come back for more. For example: when Woot has leftover odds and ends to get rid of, they bag them up and sell it as a “Bag of Crap”–a hugely popular item for them.

#4: How to make a “good” social media video

Scott Macklin, Associate Director of the Masters of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington, told us he likes the fact that everyone can shoot and share video: “What’s the best camera to use? The one in your pocket” according to him. But Scott also recommended shooting video with the intended audience—and the intended takeaways—in mind. For this purpose he recommends writing out a logline briefly synopsizing the plot and hook of a video before shooting it.

To help make his point Scott showed us (what else?) a number of videos, including the following oldie but goodie from The Onion News Network: YouTube Contest Challenges Users To Make A ‘Good’ Video

#5: Comcast “sucks” if it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem

Michael Brito, a senior vice president of Social Business Planning at Edelman Digital, spoke about the intersection between customer relationships and social media. One point he made that stuck with me was the fact the Comcast’s high profile @comcastcares social media customer service program fails because it merely attempts to take the pain away, while Comcast still can’t keep its customer service appointments as scheduled, at considerable cost to the individual customers in time and aggravation. “Comcast sucks”, he said, speaking for himself and uncounted other highly aggravated customers, because they’ve known they have this huge, loud customer service problem for 6 years but haven’t fixed it.

Like Kim from Parallels, Michael recommends engaging with brand advocates in social media. Invite them to join a private LinkedIn group, talk to them, give them swag, he said, and take action based on their ideas, which is the reward they really care about.

Update: I’ve changed the header for this section from “Comcast ‘sucks’ because it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem” to “Comcast ‘sucks’ if it still hasn’t addressed the underlying problem”. Michael Brito tweeted to let me know that he personally is a satisfied Comcast customer. And my local (Washington) Comcast customer service director tweeted both of us to find out if either of us was having a problem that he needs address—neither of us do. Comcast honcho also let me know that they believe they have been improving their scheduling, an improvement which he hopes has been visible to customers such as ourselves.

I’d also like to clarify the takeaway above. Changing course based on customer feedback is the most powerful way to show customers respect and reinforce their brand advocacy. Not making changes, particularly after a long notice period, will be interpreted as disrespect. As for Comcast, while at one time they developed a bad reputation for service issues, they are in fact listening (as I have just seen) and I’m wiling to believe (as I have been told) they are making real improvement, which is a healthy direction for everyone. Here’s hoping that Comcast will be synonymous with excellent service soon!

#6: Social media ROI requires a multiple touch attribution model

Kevin O’Reilly, Director of Social Marketing Analytics + Research at Spring Creek Group, recommended recording the contribution of multiple touchpoints to account for social media ROI, so that the attribution for financial impact isn’t given to a single source. Attribution can be indirect (e.g. the indirect contribution of a campaign that leads to 5000 product information requests) as well as direct. He also recommended focusing on micro-influencers, that is, customers who are talking with other customers, rather than mega-influencers, because the absolute size of an influencer’s follower base isn’t the most important consideration.

#7: Brand advocates disproportionally influence content consumption, conversions

Ben Straley, CEO and Co-Founder of Meteor Solutions, briefly described how Meteor lets customers assign monetary (numeric) values to actions triggered by social media activity, such as sales, webinar registrations, etc.

Speaking about brand advocates, Ben mentioned an MTV study which revealed that 1% of an audience may be influential enough to drive 10 to 70% of the audience bump that results from social media sharing. This is significant because people who are referred are more likely to convert than people driven by ads.

Ben pointed out that its not hard to reach a million people, in fact there are a lot of different ways to do it (by buying advertising, for example). What’s hard is getting their attention, getting them to engage, and setting up integration and measurement that allows you to gauge the full and complete impact of your outreach. For example, how does Proctor & Gamble measure the influence of social media on consumer behavior inside supermarkets? Lot’s of interesting ways of doing this are emerging, he said.

Since most people don’t participate in conversations about a brand online, those who do participate are not representative of the population as a whole–relatively small numbers actually participate, so Ben recommended that brands also do surveys to understand customers.

#8: Content is the carrier, the click is the action

Neil Beam from Converseon, which profiles customers by what they are saying and by their psychographics, said: content is the carrier, the click is the action. He underlined the importance of looking at outcomes, not just the number of times something is viewed, and distinguishing between negativity in comments and negativity towards a brand itself.

#9: Seek to increase social media engagement with actual customers

Julie Storer from HTC spoke about their decision to increase engagement rather than simply adding followers on Facebook. After HTC hired a celebrity to promote the brand on Facebook they gained a lot of likes quickly. But the fans were loyal to the celebrity, not to HTC. When the promotion ended the celebrity stopped promoting HTC and those customers stopped paying attention. So instead they began focusing on increasing the level of engagement with actual customers on Facebook and have seen significant growth in followers (from 150,000 to over 1,000,000 in a few months) and have achieved an unusually high percentage of followers who are engaged (30%). Key action steps have included speaking authentically with clear editorial plan, and helping fans play nicely together (moderation). She also emphasized the importance of not assuming that people actually behave consistently with how they respond to a survey.

More insights from SIC 2011

I also recommend…

…my friend Karin’s vivid overview of #SIC2011 via attendee Twitter posts: Attendees Tell the Conference Story Via Twitter

…my friend Vicky’s perspective on the event: its success in bringing together old friends, making new friends, and provoking interesting conversations: A Quick Shtick About SIC

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