Machiavellian boyscouts get more influence in social business

It’s not just courteous and kind to help little old ladies cross the street: it pays.

Last month I attended an excellent presentation concerning social media analytics and ROI by the esteemed Chuck Hemann, Director of Analytics for WCG, sponsored by the Social Media Club of Seattle. Chuck made an important point about social media influence that I want to share with you.

Both quantity and quality are important for social influence

On one particular slide Chuck showed us an image of Edelman Digital VP Michael Brito accompanied by a few bullet points scoping out his social media influence. At the sight of this slide the standing-room-only crowd murmured approvingly. More than 30,000 folks, myself included, follow @britopian on Twitter. He’s a well known thought leader and published author in the social business realm.

Chuck’s next slide showed a sweet looking woman wearing a straw hat with a flower on it—Chuck’s mom. She has around 1300 Twitter followers: very respectable…but she’s no @britopian, at least at first glance.

Flower power: social influence means talk gardening to gardeners Question: Given the choice, would you rather have @britopian or @susanhemann tweeting about your brand? Answer: It depends what your message is.

In Chuck’s hypothetical, your message is about gardening. You’re trying to influence people who are into gardening and have personal networks of like-minded people. Low and behold, Chuck’s mom is a well-established gardening Twitter personality and blogger. Many of her 1300+ Twitter followers are, presumably, rabid, over-the-top gardeners and gardening influencers. So naturally the person you want tweeting about you is Chuck’s mom.

Not that there’s anything shabby about Michael Brito or his followers, thank you very much. But they’re not focused on gardening. Yours is not a high Continue reading “Machiavellian boyscouts get more influence in social business”

Confusion over the meaning of ROI in social media

You say tomato, I say tomahto….

Here’s a quick vocabulary lesson I’ve learned about social media ROI (“return on investment”), a topic I’ve been writing a lot about lately. In a nutshell: ROI means different things to different people, so it pays to be specific when you are talking about it.

Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead

This is the second in a series of posts about why I advise certain clients to adopt a “dynamic brochure” social media strategy, focusing on publishing, active listening, and measuring “pulse” without attempting to meet numerical goals for metrics such as “likes”, comments, shares, page views, Klout score, etc.

You can read part one here. In this part I discuss the benefits of a dynamic brochure strategy. In part three I’ll discuss false assumptions about the relationship between social media activity volume and ROI. And in a future post I’ll circle back to how social media ROI can be measured effectively, and some of the frameworks that can be used to measure it.

If you can’t connect social media investment to revenue generation, aka calculate ROI for social media, how does a social media  program help you? Let me count the ways. But first, a new metaphor. In part one of this series you were a rock star. This time you are a rock star’s stalker. You want to get to know a rock star online — really, really get to know a rock star online — what are you going to do? You’ll take a spin through all of that rock star’s (brand’s) web properties, gathering information, and saving or sharing the tasty bits with like-minded friends.

In real life (which for most of us means not being rock stars or having stalkers), who’s going to take this information gathering approach?

  • Prospective customers evaluating your offerings, either before or after hearing about you from other sources.
  • Current customers, and other brand fans, who want to share information about you (referrals).
  • Customers and brand fans just checking in to keep up with the brand.
  • Journalists and bloggers considering the brand for a story.
  • Conference organizers considering your people for speaking positions.
  • Potential employees, either before or after contact with your recruiters.
  • Current employees staying connected to the company, or sharing information with potential customers or Continue reading “Ignore social media metrics: what to focus on instead”

How often should I blog?

Bruce WilsonThe primary flaw of much advice given around the topic of “how often should a blogger blog?” is that it involves examining popular bloggers and deducing what they must have done to become popular. This approach presupposes that your goal is to become a popular blogger, and that you have the resources to accomplish this goal. I’m not going to offer this type of advice because it doesn’t apply to most bloggers who have “day jobs” which preclude this degree of focus on blogging.

Instead I encourage you to consider your audience and consider your own motivation.

Your audience: no one is making potential readers read every word. Whether they discover new posts by tweet, LinkedIn update, Facebook post, email notification, RSS, or browsing the blog, they can simply decline to read posts that don’t interest them. There is definitely a saturation point, but Continue reading “How often should I blog?”

Generating B2B sales leads using social media

The 2009 Forrester Research report about what influences IT buyers in a B2B context presented the following list of the most influential sources of information for technology buyers. As it happens, the positive impact of all of the sources of influence on Forrester’s list can be enhanced through social media efforts. Starting from the top, in order of influence, the sources are:

  1. Peers and colleagues
  2. Vendor, industry, trade web sites
  3. Your direct vendor salesperson
  4. Technology or business magazines
  5. Consultants, VARs, or SIs
  6. Industry trade shows or conferences (in person)
  7. Industry analyst firms
  8. Forums, online communities, social networks
  9. E-mail or electronic newsletters
  10. Web events or virtual trade shows
  11. Interactive media: podcasts, video, online demos
  12. Blogs

(surveying 1217 technology decision makers at companies with more than 100 employees).

B2B sales lead generation - fitting the pieces togetherAlso according to Forrester, 91% of B2B technology buyer decision makers use social media to gather information.

It’s critical to recognize that a successful social media lead generation strategy doesn’t require reaching out to every customer on a one-to-one basis. Instead, the most powerful online strategy is to use existing communication channels by reaching out to the influencers who already have a one-to-one relationship with customers. Here’s how this strategy maps to Forresters list:

Peers and colleagues” – People will go out of their way to share good news with their friends. It’s human nature to tip off friends about big finds. The right tools can make it extremely easy for people to share information about products and services via email, Twitter, and other channels. State of the art viral messaging hooks can be built into the sellers web site, including a subscrition email messaging system and connections to other transmission mechanisms on the web (like Twitter). These are all trackable, incidentally, to provide feedback about the spread of a seller’s messages via various channels.

Technology or business magazines,” “Consultants, VARs, or SIs“, and “Industry analyst firms” – I lump all of these together under the category public relations (PR). The experts and commentators in almost every B2B community are constantly trading information. More and more of this discussion happens using social media. Social media like Twitter and blogs are now a key conduit for building relationships with journalists, bloggers, analysts, consultants, and other experts, who in turn influence IT decision makers. (See my post earlier this week for more about this.)

Your direct vendor salesperson” – Social media can reveal which specific people working for potential buyers are looking for a seller’s solution. For instance, LinkedIn provides a virtual directory of who does what inside many companies. Twitter and blogs can provide a blow-by-blow account of the projects specific people are working on.

Web site“, “E-mail/newsletters“, “Web events“, “Interactive media“, and “Blogs” – Initial contacts are stickier, stronger, and last longer when people can effortlessly keep in touch with a seller using the form of online communication – email, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, webinar, etc. – that they are most at home with. But a surprising number of B2B sellers aren’t using these off-the-shelf subscription and interaction options to convert contacts into leads.

Forums, online communities, social networks” – These three are pure social media. But a company must actively and consistently participate in them to have an impact.

Last but not least, within every communication channel mentioned above it’s important to listen and learn what people are saying about your company, its competitors, and its markets. Companies that don’t make an effort to become aware of what influencers and customers are saying are likely to miss both sales opportunities and criticism. It takes an effort, but a wide variety of tools are available to automate the process.

PR in the 2010s: reach bloggers to feed journalists

It’s important to recognize how influential bloggers have become in the PR food chain. Journalists typically follow bloggers to spot news and trends for them. When journalists first hear about a new story, they’ll Google it to see what people are saying. If the only one talking about a new product or service is the company promoting it, journalists are less likely to pursue it.

On the flip side, many bloggers are highly motivated to stay ahead of the curve and are quick to break new stories. It’s comparatively easy to get noticed by bloggers via strategically re-tweeting their tweets and by submitting useful comments to their blog posts. To the extent that you care about the same things that a blogger does, and show it by contributing to their impact via your own tweets and blog posts, most bloggers will reciprocate. Then, when they receive news from you that is relevant to their audience, they will Tweet or blog about it. And after your information has been vetted by bloggers, journalists will be more likely to pay attention also. Of course, journalists may have received your message already via the bloggers by the time you contact them directly.

Last week I presented a hybrid social media and PR (public relations) proposal to a prospective client who is rolling out a new online service across the US. Obviously the financial success of this business will depend upon being found by customers, which he believes (and I agree) will depend upon a strong PR component, although I personally think the customer-to-customer viral component will wind up being huge as well.

The term PR as I’m using it here translates to “Reaching out to journalists to encourage them to write about your product, service, or company, which amounts to free advertising but can be much more influential because it isn’t paid for.”

There are two interesting twists to this online service, either one of which makes it more challenging from both a social media and a PR perspective. First, it’s hyperlocal, which is to say, the content delivered by the service is different depending upon where you use it. For this reason it needs to be developed on a city by city basis. (By way of analogy think Yelp, which spread from city to city and accumulated a critical mass of reviews in each city, rather than Hotmail, which could be used as-is all over the world right out of the box.) Because of the time and expense of adapting the service for each locality, he expects to go live in only a handful of U.S. counties per month over the the next year or so, depending upon how fast he can scale. This already presents an interesting PR challenge. But it gets better: this online service isn’t just local, its seasonal. In each city his service is only useful for a month or two each year (think “back to school,” “spring break,” or “holiday shopping” by way of analogy).

The curse of this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal is that, just because this service becomes news in one city – which is to say, it becomes available and valuable to people living there – it isn’t necessarily news anywhere else.

The beauty is that this combination of hyperlocal and seasonal creates a relatively small news window, which in turn drives a sense of immediacy for local bloggers and journalists who learn about the online service. They are under pressure to cover this story quickly. No one else is going to cover it, and if their readers are going to benefit from it they’d better report it soon before the window closes again. (Think about how much reporters value “breaking a story” and “an exclusive”.)

It’s tempting to take a “boil the ocean” approach and attempt to blanket every blogger and every media outlet in each city. But here we’re talking about a large number of cities and a startup PR budget. It makes more sense to cultivate a reputation in each community via a select group of bloggers first, then pitch the big local news outlets. Between the two, all of the other interested bloggers and news outlets should hear about the service and will have the opportunity to add their coverage.

Building social media connections with as many qualified bloggers and journalists as possible also increases the likelihood of getting their attention again during the local service season in subsequent years.

The process I suggested for each city was, beginning with the bloggers, then a week later with the traditional news outlets:

  • identify the right people to approach using a combination of search and lists (the expense of soup-to-nuts PR services like Vocus and Cision are unnecessary for this purpose alone, and because their media databases rely on user-contributed information, they are not necessarily reliable for this type of project);
  • subscribe to bloggers’ feeds, including Twitter, retweet each author at least once, and attempt to comment on posts on each of the blogs;
  • make confirmed contact with each blogger via an exchange of email, blog posts, tweets, or phone calls in an effort to get coverage near the beginning of the service season; and,
  • follow up with each blogger just before the end of the local service window in an effort to get a “reminder” mention or a second chance at getting full coverage.

While this online service may be tempted to put resources into obtaining national media coverage, like the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show, or Oprah, their story won’t be ripe enough until a larger portion of the audience these outlets serve is covered. And even if it did receive coverage—for example, as a business story (“innovative Seattle startup”)—if most of those exposed to the story were unable to use the service within the next year, the startup would have largely wasted their PR efforts. For these reasons, I recommended approaching national media outlets at a later date.

On the other hand, it will make sense to pitch national trade publications within the sectors covered by the online service if the online service provides a way for interested bloggers and journalists to subscribe to be notified once their city is covered by the service. Follow up stories can be placed with those trade publications as the online service reaches milestones like 25%, 50%, etc., of the percentage of the US population gaining access to the service. For this reason I suggested adding a press page with a subscription option to the online service’s web site.

No man behind the curtain: Twitter is only a tool (no faith required)

Once again last week I found myself complaining that no one seems to recognize the connection between Twitter and PR. But later that same day I saw a tweet from Laurel Papworth linking back to her own blog post: BBC says Use Social Media – or Leave (citing The Guardian).

Thanks Laurel!

Journalists and bloggers: more wired than most.The whole “Twitter: Pro or Con” argument is a bit like debating “Planetary rings: pro or con.” Twitter is what it is. Those of us in harm’s way because we are in marketing, public relations, or other areas now exposed to public discussion should learn how to use Twitter, then put it to work when it fits. Whether and how to use Twitter is a choice that should be decided on the merits of the tool, not on hype or emotional reaction to random, apocryphal stories in which people tweet about brushing their teeth, etc.

A lot of bloggers and journalists already use Twitter. Based on my unscientific sample that now includes the BBC, this isn’t likely to change any time soon. So if you’re reaching out to journalists and bloggers, use Twitter.

More about this in my next post.

Now PR like journalism is really Social Media

Bruce WilsonNot surprisingly, public relations (“PR”) is undergoing revolutionary change right along with journalism. I just attended a Seattle Lunch 2.0 presentation based on the premise that social media is now the primary vehicle for PR.

Panelist John Cook is a journalist-cum-blogger, a former Seattle Post Intelligencer beat reporter and blogger for venture capital, now co-founder and executive editor of TechFlash. He made two particularly interesting points:

1) In response to an audience member who expressed the widely held view that press releases are mostly useful for SEO purposes nowadays, he said he still WANTs to receive press releases, they help him assess potential stories.

2) His “sources” for investigative journalism stories he’s covering now include people who read about his investigation online and give him tips via posts (comments on his blog, Tweets, and emails I assume) in real time.

Jaime Riley from Deloitte said that since it’s inevitable that the “Gen Y” future leaders of Deloitte will wind up using social media in the ordinary course of business, they’ve started incubating a healthy social media culture now (Deloitte has two Twitter accounts, she said–not sure if that’s company wide or Seattle or where).

Thanks MWW Group for a tasty lunch, an eloquent panel, and interesting attendees. (For more insights, and plenty of plain old redundant Twitter chatter from attendees, tweets concerning the event can be found at #mww2dot0.)

New FTC guidelines are not quite law and not fully baked yet

Bruce WilsonThe FTC has announced new guidelines which concern “endorsements” by bloggers (21 of the document’s 81 pages have some direct reference to blogs or bloggers). If I understand correctly, under the guidelines which become effective December 1, 2009, a blogger can be fined for failing to reveal that they received payment or kept an object they were given to review–even a book–if they publish a review of the item or the company that made it.

Three points:

First, we all (not just bloggers, but everyone) should just do this anyway. Your credibility will suffer if you endorse something to me and I find out later that you received something of value from the folks you endorsed, whether or not YOU think it influenced you! So FTC or no FTC, this is a good reminder about minimum ethical standards for communicating about products and services.

Second, there is a lot of confusion about the power the FTC is packing behind these new guidelines. To vastly oversimplify the US regulatory system: this thing that we’re talking about isn’t part of the Constitution (obviously), Federal Statutes (passed by Congress) or Federal Regulations (passed by individual Federal Agencies). It’s more of an announcement by an agency, the FTC, clarifying how they intend to interpret and enforce the laws and regulations that already exist in this realm. Keep in mind that until the FTC actually goes after someone citing this guideline, and their enforcement action challenged in Court, its implications are murky. And in the mean time the FTC can simply change its interpretation or otherwise enforce this (and related) principles in a wide variety of ways.

Third, the FTC seems remarkably poorly prepared to deal with this area of regulation. Which might explain this embarrassing interview between a blogger and a representative of the FTC (thanks to blogger Edward Champion at Reluctant Habits for digging deeper) revealing that the representative (and very likely the FTC) hasn’t really thought this through yet. (Bloggers would be able to open used book stores? Come again?!)

So I’m predicting that these guidelines won’t be featured in any enforcement actions any time soon. But I’m hoping that any bloggers (and non-bloggers) who aren’t disclosing their relationships with the products and companies they review take the hint and begin doing so!

(By the way, these guidelines are by the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, who are responsible for consumer protection, not to be confused with the FCC, the Federal Communications commission, who are responsible for regulating communication via radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, and are central to the “net neutrality” debate.)

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