How To: Kill A Brand With Social Media

Posted on May 14, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

Brand_AxeSocial Media is the new darling of many brands, the silver bullet that will fix all ills. While some brands have made major in roads in discovering a new method of expanding their ability to reach their customers and potential customers some have quite obviously become so over enamoured with Social Media that they have forgotten the basics of managing a brand.

Lack of Alignment

While most Twitter users are aware of the amazing job that Frank Eliason has done for ComCast on Twitter, acting as a one person rescue squad for their customer service issues, the rest of the brand has not aligned with this new way of doing business. A quick search on google for customer service at ComCast continues to result in many more horror stories than it does in success stories. Why? Because having one or two people creating a good impression on one platform is not enough. If there is no brand alignment behind the philosophy of listening and responding then all of the Social Media efforts in the world will not turn a brand around.

A search on Facebook brings equally crushing results, of the first ten (page one), one is fairly obscurely related to ComCast, Six are Anti-ComCast groups, One is a fan page for ComCast technology, one is a fan page for ComCast Interactive Capital and one appears to be a group for past employees.

Twitter is Not Social Media

As popular as Twitter is, it still only has a 5% penetration, being on Twitter, even if you do it well is not a Social Media Strategy. Twitter is at best a small part of an overarching strategy that includes not only the tool set, comprising tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube etc but also the internal education and alignment that ensures these tools are part of a much broader “Social” focus within the organization.

Brands like Zappo’s aren’t good at things like Twitter and Facebook because they have some awesome marketing department working 24/7 to provide thrilling content. They are good at Social Media because their stated aim is to be the best service company in the world, they just happen to sell clothing and footwear. When you start with a socially focused goal like that, it’s hard not to be a success in Social Media.

Which brands do you think have focused too much on the platform and not enough on the philosophy?

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How To : Choose a Social Media Partner

Posted on April 17, 2009. Filed under: Business, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , |

expertsWith the term “Social Media Expert” being added to just about every company and consultants profile these days it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. What follows is my opinion on how to identify a Social Media partner for your business or organization. I want to explain why I am writing this post, it is the product of several conversations with people, clients, prospective clients and just friends who all asked me this question.

Disclaimer

Before going any further with this post it is important that I acknowledge that I & my company provide Social Media advice, guidance and execution as part of our service offerings as an integrated Marketing communication company. However, what follows is in no way an advertorial, I will not be promoting our services in this post.

The Basics

A quick search of Twitter profiles turned up 80 Twitter users just on one results page that included the term Social Media expert in their profile. I think most people know to be wary of “self-proclaimed” experts. However, just in case you aren’t, you should be.

So ignoring those who will loudly proclaim their own expertise how can you find someone to work with who can provide you and your organization sound advice? There are several important criteria to consider when evaluating a potential Social Media Partner:

  • Longevity
  • Experience – Doing Not Saying
  • Results
  • Shiny Object Syndrome

Longevity

How long have they actually been doing this? Some people maintain that Social Media is so new that it is impossible for anyone to have gained expertise in the space. I disagree, Social Media has only been new to those who didn’t recognize it for what it was – primarily the mainstream media. Social Media has been around a long time in one form or another. Podcasts used to be called Webcasts, they pre-date the iPod by several years (I launched my first series of webcasts in 1998). Blogs have been around at least that long, admittedly you had to have some coding skills to create one and they weren’t really recognized as blogs per se, they were referred more to as lifestreaming or online journals (posted my first one in 2002). So to state that the space is so new that no one has gained enough knowledge to have expertise seems to me to be a way of making excuses for those who, after 3 months of Twitter use hang out their shingle as a Social Media expert. As with any “consultant” check and see how long they have been in the field.

Experience – Doing Not Saying

This is where I prefer the term Practitioner rather than Consultant – its a semantics thing, and at the end of the day the job title doesn’t really matter. However, in my experience consultants are usually very good at talking about a topic, not necessarily good at executing. When considering a Social Media Partner find out if they have actually had personal success with Social Media. When I think of Social Media Practitioners I think of people like Chris Brogan who doesn’t just talk about Social Media, nor does he just consult with companies on the topic, he “does” Social Media and as such has gained recognition as a Social Media Influencer, being approached by brands to be an online evangelist for their product. At a more local level to me, here in Austin, we are very fortunate to have some excellent Social Media practitioners. One that jumps immediately to mind is the very talented Shelia Scarborough. Sheila is a blogger, Social Media trainer and practitioner. As a travel blogger she was invited to go on a tour of China to experience the growth and changes in that country. You don’t get invited on trips like that simply by calling yourself an expert, other people have to recognize your ability and your practice in the space.

Results

Does your prospective partner know how to get you results? Can they cite previous examples of having gained results for others? Remember that in this age of sometimes semi-transparent business practices, some companies demand that external consultants sign strict Non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from using the company name on any marketing materials. So don’t be overly surprised if they aren’t able to give you a name and number to call for a large project, but they should be able to produce data at a detail level such that they aren’t faking it.

Shiny Object Syndrome

If your potential Social Media Partner wants to talk endlessly about the latest new technology, new platform or widget that they think you should be using, proceed with caution. While a good knowledge of upcoming trends is essential, the habit of simply running to the latest and greatest platform and dragging you & your organization with them isn’t good for you. Remember that Social Media isn’t about technology, its about people. The platforms we use now will be very old hat in 2 years time. Being obsessed with the technology won’t lead to a successful Social Media strategy.

Hopefully you have some things with which to separate the wheat from the chaff when considering a Social Media partner. What qualities do you think I missed, what would you add to the list?

Image by Neil Rickards
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How To : Add Relevance When Searching For New Tweeps

Posted on April 13, 2009. Filed under: Technology, twitter | Tags: , , |

I am not a big advocate of the numbers game played by an increasing number of Twitter users these days. However, I do believe that it is important to continually grow your Twitter network to get the most from Twitter as a tool. Where the difference lies between gathering large numbers and growing your Twitter network in a postive way is in relevance to you.

Simply using a tool to auto follow everyone who mentions a key phrase, or worse still paying a monthly fee to a service to provide you with thousands of followers will not enhance your Twitter experience. Most of the users of these services are either too lazy to grow an organic network or are so hung up on the numbers that they miss the point of Social Media networks, engagement.

TwitSeeker from Guy Hagen, the creator  of Twinfluence (a tool I reviewed some time ago), allows you to search for specific phrases from either a Twitter users Tweets or their profile.  The results are then shown to you as a grid of users complete with a snapshot of their bio and whether you are already following them or not, if they follow you back and how many followers they have. It auto-selects all the users you aren’t following so that, with the click of a button you can follow them all. You can also choose to unselect some and just follow the remainder.

Below is a walkthrough of how to use TwitSeeker:

twitseeker_front

Twitseeker has both a simple search and an advanced search, unsurprisingly the advanced search is very similar in style to search.twitter.com advanced search. For the simple search enter the term you are interested in, enter your screen name and then select either from tweets or from bio then click search.

What you will get back is a results page similar to this:

ts_search-results

What I like about this is that it shows me who I am already following and being followed by (full green circle), who I follow but does not follow me (half green circle) and who I am not following (black circle). Rolling over the twitter bird will give you a snapshot of that users profile, rolling over the cloud icon gives you a cloud tag of recent tweets, clicking on the users name gives you a detail page for that user.

Overall this is a great tool, there are a few bugs, such as you can’t search by keyword and location at the same time, but I am sure these will be ironed out eventually. The key to this is that you are able to find Twitter users that you aren’t following by keyword from either their conversations or their bio – this adds the relevance to your searching and provides you with the first step in engagement.

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You’re A Competitor – I’m A Fan

Posted on April 9, 2009. Filed under: Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

Rally Towels

Social Media has brought a lot of new opportunities to build stronger connections with customers. That’s what everyone talks about. How wonderful all this transparency is and how being able to engage with customers will only strenghten the buying relationship. While all of that might or might not be true (a lot of variables involved in that broad statement), what is certainly true is that it is now to get a greater level of transparency into companies than it was before.

Friend or Foe?

More and more companies are including things like a Twitter stream and a Facebook fan page in their marketing communications strategy and while it has always been possible for your competitors to read your sales material, now they can become fan’s too. Why would you choose to do that? What possible benefit is there to you to becoming a fan of a company that is your competitor, especially in a recession when everyone is scrambling for the dollar spend?

Actually there are several reasons to become a fan of your competitors and this is a lesson that brands can learn from watching the behavior of their latest media darlings – bloggers. One of the most common practices of bloggers is to leave comments on the posts of other bloggers, some of these other bloggers are in the same space as they are, they are in essence competitors for readers. So why leave a comment? because it includes a link back to their blog and is an open invitation for readers of that post to take a look at their blog.

Become A Fan

Apply the same philosophy to becoming a fan of your competitor and suddenly you just gained visibility to all of your competitors current fans, some of whom are probaby customers. Now you just provided them with an alternative. On facebook there is no way to control who becomes a fan of your page, unlike friending, there is no request, it is a user based choice to become a fan or not. Now of course, your fans can see who you have become a fan of and that provides your own fans with an alternative doesn’t it? Well they could have found them on their own but now you have found them for them, score one for you and your transparency. Rather than offering them an alternative provider you just proved that you are willing to show them how transparent you are, and after all isn’t that what Social Media is all about?

Image by alykat via Flickr
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The Death of Twitter

Posted on April 6, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Social Media, twitter, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

People Pyramid

The death of Twitter is a much discussed topic. The April Fool’s posts this year about Google buying Twitter and then some of that being revealed as real potential brought it to the surface again. Originally it was felt by some that Twitter would cease to be an effective communication tool as soon as big brands started using it. That hasn’t happened, brands are using Twitter and for the most part it has had little or no impact on Twitter users in general, at least in a negative way.

What Will Kill Twitter?

So if the arrival of brands didn’t kill Twitter what is the next big threat. Unfortunately that threat has already arrived and woven itself into the very fabric of Twitter, no not the spam-bots, but the MLM’ers. Those people who have got the lastest and greatest get rich quick scheme, all of which is vaporware. They sell courses on how to sell courses, they write e-books on how to write e-books, they sell you a plan that you only have to sell to 10 other people before you will see money just roll in.

Now they have turned their attention to Twitter. There are already people selling Twitter user courses, which in of itself, while a bit of a head-scratcher, is not too awful, but now there are those who are selling Twitter based get rich quick schemes. They vary from schemes that guarantee you 7000 followers in 24 hours to tools that will get you 20,000 followers in a month.

What’s The Harm?

I am all about the freedom to use Social Media in the way that best suits your business model or in fact your personal goals, there have been way too many people who have tried to write the “Social Media Rulebook”. So why are MLM or Internet Marketers as they now prefer to be called (no offense to real Internet Marketers) a bad thing for Twitter and Social Media in general? The main reason is that they are experts at “gaming” the system, they will use every shortcut they can to provide an image of knowledge or influence. That is how their business model works. This past week I have been followed by at least half a dozen Twitter users who have less than 500 updates (which gives you a sense of how long they have been active on Twitter) but have 20k followers and are following a similar number. How can you possibly grow an organic following of over 20k followers in a month? You use tools like Tweetgetter or other services that charge up to $10 a month to provide you with 1000’s of followers.

Where this has an impact is that it skews the ability of both new users of these tools and brands to be able to recognize those with influence and those with just numbers. Unfortunately at this point a lot of people are still associating the two. Tools like Twitter Grader and Twinfluence used to be both fun and provide some indication of at least how popular a user was, now they have, in my opinion, become redundant. A recent look at Twinfluence showed the top users are no longer Barack Obama, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Scoble or any of the other usual suspects, the users in the top ranked places are people who have made major gains in their follower numbers. Now I am not claiming that they have used any of these tools, maybe they are just Twitter addicts who spend hours searching out great Twitter users to follow and following them – but if you think that it probably takes about 1 minute to perform a search by topic, then another minute at least to identify a Twitter user from the list returned by Twitter Search then clicking follow that would be 40,000 minutes – or nearly 28 days of non-stop Twitter activity, no food, sleep or bathroom breaks!

Image by Dan of Future’s Past via Flickr
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When Did Mashable Lose the Plot?

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Business, Observations | Tags: , , , , , |

Image representing Mashable as depicted in Cru...

I used to think Mashable.com was a pretty good online publication. Certainly enough to pitch them ideas and actually have a few posts published by them, but of late, I really think that Pete Cashmore and his organization has lost the plot. Mashable used to be “All That’s New on the Web”, now they are titled “The Social Media Guide”. Unfortunately they aren’t either.

The posts they now put out are mostly lists, now I know that blog readers like lists, 10 best this, 7 ways to do that, 18 plugins for this problem. But seriously are there not enough bloggers out there already producing those types of posts. If you have a visitor base of some 1.5m unique visitors per month (according to Compete.com) don’t you think you could try and be a little bit different?

Has Mashable gone the way of its print cousins and become so focussed on Ad revenue that they have decided it is better to turn out the same old stuff that everyone else is doing and play it safe?  One post today just made me laugh, 18 WordPress Plugins for RSS – this is one of the laziest types of posts, and takes about 5 minutes to pull together. Just go to the WordPress Plugins Directory type in the resource you are looking for, and viola you have a list of plugins.

For example here’s how to produce a post called 5 WordPress Plugins for Podcasters:

Type in podcasting, get the following result:

podcast_plugins

Now just rewrite some of this info which comes from the developers and you have a post! No magic to it, no effort either.

Perhaps I am holding them to too high a standard, perhaps I shouldn’t expect anything approaching journalism from what is really “just” a blog. But I do, if Social Media is to progress, those that put themselves out there as “leaders” in the space need to try harder, need to raise the bar, not just produce the same old junk that any hack can pull out in a pinch.

Whilst I agree finding new and interesting Social Media stories is hard work, if you are truly going to be “The Social Media Guide”, then guide don’t follow.

Mashable Image via CrunchBase
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Is Making Friends Social Engineering?

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , |

Dr. Frankenstein and His Monster

Two sessions at SXSWi that I attended have had me thinking for a few days now. They were seemingly unconnected, one by Brian Brushwood of Scam School and one run by David Armano & Russ Unger on the topic of Friendship is Dead.

The Right Words

It occurs to me that the language that we are using to using to describe friends & friendship has been overtaken by the way in which people employ activities that used to be described by them. The one that, for me, exemplifies this is “making friends”. As children we were encouraged to “make friends” with other children, as adults we are impressed with the ease that some “make friends”.

Whilst the concept is popular, and has a clearly understood meaning, I wonder if it has not been overtaken by the technology now employed by so many to “make friends”. Social Networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc. have made Making Friends, easier even for those who were previously lacking in real life social skills. The ability to be physically removed from a situation allows everyone to be more social.

However, are these friendships “made”, are they in fact manufactured rather than grown? I would argue that real friendships are the result of an organic process, not a manufacturing process. The technology that has brought people closer together has also enabled people to employ ever increasing amounts of social engineering to “make friends”. Social Engineering, Transactional Analysis and other behavioral theories cover the same basic principles and when online behavior is compared with these theories there are some obvious correlations.

Influence

There are six generally accepted methods to influence a person’s behavior, liking, reciprocity, authority, scarcity, commitment & social proof. If you map just three of these to behaviors on Twitter for example, and look at what Twitter users see as “good behavior” recommending someone by mentioning them in something like the #followfriday posts or by Retweeting their posts, these actions can be seen to be both acts of liking and acts of reciprocity. When you examine the Twitter ranking tools they all place a high value on these types of activity. These acts of “friendship”.

To become influential on a social network requires not a friendly nature but simply an understanding of social engineering. Guy Kawasaki, in an article in Entrepreneur, talked about how to increase your Twitter followers, one method he recommended was to @reply to A listers (or SMores as he refers to them), not because they would respond but because others would see you in a conversation with them and make the assumption you had a relationship, this is the use of Authority.

There is more to it than Numbers

Of course its easy to read this post as simply me being cynical, and actually I am far from it. My own experience of using Social Networking has been very positive. Facebook allowed me to find old friends and extend relationships with new ones. However, not everyone online is using Social Media with the same intent. Numbers have become increasingly more important, especially as Marketers see the potential in Social Media. Businesses run on numbers, so measuring Influence on the basis of numbers becomes an easy way to identify people worth connecting with. The number of readers a blogger has, the number of followers a Twitter user has.

I argue that these are manufactured, that they are transient, and relate more to popularity in the celebrity sense than they do with Influence. That is not to say that influential Social Media users don’t have large numbers of followers, but there is not necessarily a direct correlation. That is where it becomes really difficult to measure influence.

Friends or Influence

So are we seeking to make lots of friends or are we seeking to increase our sphere of influence? Is the aim to be seen as a friend to all, or to be seen as influential? Is there room for both? Can we “make friends” to increase our sphere of influence and still be geniune?

Image by Dunechaser via Flickr
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Tasting The Rainbow: Skittles & Brand Ownership

Posted on March 12, 2009. Filed under: Facebook, Marketing, Social Media, twitter | Tags: , , , , , |

Skittles.

Again this week I am provided with the thoughts for my post by Marketing Profs newsletter – “Get to the point”. Last week it was their coverage of the Cenk Uygur story and his view of the branding issues surrounding Michael Phelps and Kellogg’s.

Today, I was equally amazed to read the following comment in their newsletter, entitled “When the Crowd Attacks”, it tells the story of how Skittles tried to be involved with the Social Media crowd and got their fingers burned, Marketing Profs close the newsletter with the following advice:

What’s the lesson here? Simple: Don’t be afraid to let users help shape your brand, but remember it is still your brand. As in any healthy relationship, sometimes even prospects need a little pushback.

“Your brand”, if it were their brand then why would companies try to court public opinion and why would it apparently impact brand based organizations so heavily?  Just as companies have very little sway over their stock price because the value is controlled by those willing to buy or sell the stock so companies have little or no influence over their brand. Far from being “your brand”, in the world of Social Media, a brand belongs to whoever wishes to use it to exert influence.

A company that thinks they own their brand are likely to face a very sharp wake up call – Motrin anyone? Motrin displayed all the traits of a company that thought it owned its brand, the influential “mommy bloggers” proved them wrong. So did Skittles get their fingers burned by trying to play along with the Social Media crowd? As far as I can see they got some mileage from their campaign and then it ran its course, what they were guilty of was not recognizing the limited life that their campaign has. This is the world of Twitter, blogs & Facebook. It moves at the speed of crowd-thought, which is much faster than most organizations can compete with. In my opinion Skittles did the right thing, they tried something new, different and hopefully they have learned from it. That’s a lot better than many companies who are currently paralyzed trying to work out how to be involved with the “cool kids” at the Social Media party and not end up with a virtual wedgie.

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Paying Bloggers – Right or Wrong is Not the Question

Posted on March 3, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

An article on Read Write Web caught my attention yesterday because of its position on a Forrester report on why companies should pay bloggers to write articles about their products.

Now my first impression is that the RWW article is an “opinion” post, these are always good for driving traffic. Take a stance and put it out there, some people will agree with you, some will disagree, hopefully some of them will leave comments and therefore you increase your audience. So when we get into “tactics” used by organizations whether they are branding companies or “blogging” companies like RWW we should examine all the tactics used.

That out of the way I think that the RWW post ignores the “Why” question and takes a too simplistic view of how brands are trying to cope with the surge in interest in Social Media and their efforts to keep up or in some cases catch up.  They are taking the stance of blogging as a pure art. To that I say “nonesense”, blogging is no such thing, if it were Adsense wouldn’t be available to bloggers. Bloggers have utilized different ways of making money since they first started to produce blogs. The very fact that there are so many posts out there on how to position ads, how to get the most out of ad based systems is testimony to that.  The argument that As are not the same thing as paid articles is to some how elevate the blog post.

All bloggers, by their nature are opinionated, therefore all blogs have an angle.  For example, anyone who reads my updates on Twitter knows I don’t like iPhones. So there is not much point in reading my blog looking for something great about an iPhone here. I have an opinion and I am not afraid to share it. Therefore it would come as no great surprise to my readers if I were to make a post about the Blackberry Storm and disclose in the post that RIM had paid me to do the post.

What the RWW article misses is why brands are doing this and why Forrester would tell them its ok to do it. Its a very simple reason – scalability. Large brands are still struggling with internal discussions over where Social Media Marketing sits within the organization – I know this because some of our own clients are still having these discussion as they engage us to help us solve that question. Is it a MarCom activity, is it PR, is it Online? When you are dealing with organizations that employ tens of thousands of people and have had only one way communications for decades, figuring out how they truly engage their customers is extremely difficult. People point to companies like Zappo’s and say thats how you do it. Zappo’s employs 250 people, even at that level its still relatively easy to make it a company wide activity, try doing that with 25,000 people not all of whom are there because they love the company but because they need a paycheck.

Hiring an enthusiastic blogger to write about your product, giving them a free sample, or even, heaven forbid, actually paying them for their efforts, is a scalable way to get the word out while making adjustments internally. Is it a long term solution, in my opinion no, is it particularly imaginative, again in my opinion no. Does it work? If done right, with the right disclosure, undoubtedly.

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Snake Oil Certificates

Posted on February 23, 2009. Filed under: Observations, Social Media | Tags: , , , |

This past week I happened across two different people offering Social Media “Certification”.  I was interested to see what these offerings consisted of and what these two people’s level of involvement in the field was.

After doing just the most perfunctory research on both individuals it became very apparent that they were Snake Oil salesmen. One was charging $800 for an online course the other $1495 for a similar online course both staged over several weeks. What amazed me is that neither of their websites cite any customer success stories, or particular personal achievements in Social Media. In fact when I dug a little deeper one of these so called experts had only 2,500 twitter followers, and 150 “friends” on Facebook.

They were of course the author of several e-books on the topic, apparently that made them qualified.  What troubles me more than the fact that they are selling their knowledge, is the fact that they feel qualified to “Certify” others in Social Media.

Disclaimer: Before continuing I feel it is only fair to point out that I too sell Social Media consultancy to organizations and companies as part of the services my company offers. So as I say I am not concerned with someone making a living at Social Media.

What concerns me is that having seen so many people lose their jobs in the Marketing field and so many companies looking for Social Media guidance these Snake Oil salesmen are muddying the waters and taking advantage of people desperate to find something that sets them apart. When going for a job interview, having a certificate that says you are a qualified Social Media practitioner would certainly do that, however, quite probably not in a good way.

If these certificates were being offered by someone in the field who had proven skills then I would probably be at the front of the queue to sign up. In a field that changes all the time you can never believe you know it all. However, these people are too busy to setup “schemes” like this, they are out there doing.

So if you really want to know how to get “qualified” in social media what is your best avenue, where should you spend your money?  My recommendation would be to attend the conferences where the best practioners are giving sessions – SXSWi, SOBCon, Blogword etc. go and meet the people who are the thought leaders in this field. Read what they and others are writing on a daily basis and then practice with your own brand.  Find out what works, and what doesn’t and don’t rely on a piece of paper that someone printed out that says you are now an “expert”.

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