In November 2008—in the eye of both the economic debacle's and the Social Media tornados—the Horn Group, a leading communications firm headquartered in San Francisco, held an event titled “Is Social Media Killing PR.” As part of the event, an expert panel including Kara Swisher, Jeremiah Owyang, and Susan Etlinger shared their perspectives on where that new thing called Social Media was going. (Remember, this was November of ‘08).
The Horn Group’s space, on its three levels, was near-packed and the air was thick with anxiety. I was live-blogging from the event and the response was surprising: People appreciated the update, the tangibility around the topic, and access to others who are at the same confused state as they were. Social Media, back then, was still the“wild west”; grounding was weighed in gold. And for PR professionals who were losing their jobs by the bushels, the conversation was paramount.
That was then. This month, the Horn Group held another event—this time focusing on Social Media and Business. The space was three quarters empty, people were tweeting and blogging, a tweeter feed displayed above the panel, and the general feel was, as in most of the Valley’s networking events, cordial with low level interest, focused on connecting and listening rather than on intensely engaging.
On the panel were John Byrne, formerly at NewsWeek and now founder of C-Change Media, Karen Wickre, Google Communications and Public Affairs, Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, and Don Bulmer, Vice President of Global Communications at SAP.
Below are some highlights from the panel’s discussion, starting with Karen Wickre.
Wickre: Content surfaces content. Part of our job as communicators is to surface more, different, new news information.
New media is no longer about putting content out there but about the interaction of people and content. Media becomes relevant when you appropriately target. Mobile is a big push but companies shouldn’t mobilize all their content: it should be relevant to people’s needs and content consumption patterns.
Li: Companies should focus on building relationships, not transactions. SAP is a good example of that.
Byrne: A story is an intellectual campfire around which you keep people. If you orchestrate it so that it doesn’t die out, the content has even greater value than the original.
Bulmer: Social Media is a great opportunity for Thought Leadership for a B2B company. It has to have focus, depth, and continuity. Thought Leadership done well in this environment can yield ideas and insights that can transform an organization.
Thought Leadership = Social Currency (here at Ustrategy, we really like this statement!) If a company can provide information its audiences can’t get anywhere else they provide Thought Leadership. Businesses prefer to do business with either the creators of content or those who participated in it.
Li: You can choose to do nothing and stay in the bubble: you won’t get hurt but you also won’t build relationships.
B2B structure, and the B2B executives aren’t set for Social Media. They need to control every bit of interaction and to avoid negative exposure. Uncontrolled conversation terrify execs. Mindsets are hard to change: change happens through small steps and demonstrated success. Traditional B2B executives aren’t “sharers” by nature.
Bulmer: I own 25% of budget and influence 75% of value delivered . When people see success they take ownership. I try not to get concerned by money but focus on value.
Wickre: (Speaking about success metrics) I’m not worried about the number of followers. The people who want that bit of info find it and forward it.
Byrne originated The Engagement Model for ROI on online produced content and user-generated-content on NewsWeek.com. “We started with a goal of 15:1 return on content from others, got to 37:1, wanted to get to 100.” Got the journalist committed to taking part in the conversation, asked readers what they wanted to read about, picked stories and assigned to journalists. The stories that were generated by readers were often more popular and generated highest traffic on NewsWeek online.
Li: Analytics aren’t metrics. Metrics tie to objectives. The ones that have meaning to you. Analytics are the results (survey, google, etc) I don’t care about traffic and clicks- I care about engagement quality.
Three pieces of advice to an anti-social CEO who just doesn’t think he or his company needs to invest in Social Media:
We have to be very disciplined about this. It’s a social disciplin. Even in google where people have a great deal of freedom, there’s also discipline. You create Sandboxes, and inside these, people can do whatever, as much as, they wish.
Bulmer: SAP just launched the www.everycompanyisamediacompany.com open forum blog. People are still under the perception that the term Media refers to advertising and PR while Social Media refers to Facebook, Twitter. People should keep in mind that Social Media is more than a front line issue. There’s a lot of value that can be derived from its core business operations.
Tips and insights for getting beyond where you are now”
Byrne: Use twitter smartly. I’ve been able to find the experts in any given field, benefit from what they’re reading, thinking, in real time that’s not possible anywhere else
Li: Cluetrain Manifesto and think about how every company can be a media company.
And my takeaway?
Social Media is no longer a threat. Professionals and brands know it’s now a required channel in their overall marketing plan and PR and Marketing professionals now look for new tools, methods, frameworks rather than for a referee to call Penalty.
Finally, I liked Tom Foremsky’s comment after a few long minutes discussing the word of the evening: “authenticity.” Tom said: “Not everything needs to be authentic. (Sometimes) a press release is just a press release.”
As research about social media adoption and use patterns continues to flourish, so is the evidence that social media is a women-centric vehicle. A recent Compass study by BlogHer reveals that of the 79 million women online, 42 million (~53%) use social networks; Facebook reported earlier in the year that their fastest growing population is that of 35-65 year old women; and BusinessWeek reports that while both young men and women in their twenties are equally represented as members of social networks, young women are much more active on these sites than young men.
There are many reasons for this trend but at its core is the fact that social media is less about technology and more about being social. Unlike pre-web2.0 gadgets, operational software, or convoluted front-end algorithmic solutions that have been traditionally adopted by men first, social media is propelled and adopted by women. There are five key factors influencing this trend:
1. Social media is gender agnostic. It is a channel open to all, at the same cost, no special club membership or lineage required. In fact, many of the traditional requirements such as formal education, location, full-time availability are obsolete in a social media world.
2. Social media is about expression. It is a platform for communication, for self-disclosure, for sharing--things women do naturally but have had to learn to keep under control in board rooms and team meetings.
3. Social media is about people. It is a channel designed for those people who understand what others want, who can express themselves eloquently (and, increasingly, very concisely), and who can connect with others through words or actions. Most women are born with these capabilities: they tend to be better at relationships, they are more attentive and compassionate, and are happy to share with others while having no desire for immediate return other than recognition.
4. Social media powers instant communication. Live feed, comments, cross links--all enable immediate communication and feedback--which are key values for women. We thrive on communication: we want to know what others think, what works and doesn't work, how we can improve--it is part of our own self-awareness and growth.
5. Social media is as much about the process as it is about the results. It requires time, strategy, careful construction, fine-tuning, conversing with others, helping—all those things many women enjoy and are good at.
While there may be other factors that make social media a women’s channel and gives women advantage both as consumers and as job seekers, these five are key because they speak to the alignment between the nature of the channel/tool and the human nature of its users. And, as in any discipline, with alignment comes momentum, speed, growth, and, ultimately--success.
Last week, a piece I wrote about social media and enterprises was published on ReadWriteWeb. Here's the reposting. We've had some discussion in the comments on RWW (I love RWW readers--always very thoughtful comments). If you'd like to join the conversation, please go here and add your thoughts.
Enterprises and Social Media: 5 Must-HavesCorporations know that their relationships
with customers are drastically changing as a result of the new
capabilities made possible by Web 2.0 and social media. Customers
increasingly expect to engage with brands instantaneously and
satisfactorily. They no longer tolerate long delays in response, live
operators buried down the 1-800-line call tree, or the ever-mounting
Gradually, but extremely well, customers are learning to sound their voices for everyone to hear. Gone are the days when a customer needed to write a letter to an anonymous clerk at a random PO box address, leaving response to chance and corrective action to a Hanukkah miracle. Customers today can sound their likes and dislikes at anytime across multiple media, uncensored: no smart nephew, neighbor with a printer, or attorney needed.
Corporations are recognizing this shift as well. To survive, brands know they must interact with their customers in new ways across all channels: from outbound marketing to product feedback to sales to support. They also know that as undefined as the space is at the moment, they must take a highly creative and strategic approach to connecting with their customers online and offline. There is no corporate manual yet, no large consultancy slideshow to refer to. Customers themselves are setting the rules, which is a challenging model for most large corporations.
But some enterprises are starting to figure it out. They try different approaches, push the boundaries of experimentation, and continually test themselves, asking their customers to play judge. BurgerKing's WhopperSacrifice campaign is one example. When else has a large corporation asked people to sacrifice 10 of their friends? The campaign resulted in a whopping 233,906 people interacting with the brand in a new way (and to great controversy, always a good sign). Starbucks tried a safer approach after customer backlash against the automated coffee brewers it introduced in its stores. The MyStarbucksIdea campaign brought back some customers and put baristas back behind the coffee machines.
So what makes some brands more successful than others when interacting with customers online? What sets them apart? Here are five fundamental requirements for brands that want to form relationships with their customers in a Web 2.0 world:
Size, complexity, and distance from the end customer play a substantial part in any enterprise's ability to effectively connect with customers. The closer a company's employees are to end customers and the more direct contact C-level executives have with customers, the faster the company will be able to adapt to new means of customer interaction, to allocate budget, and to get everyone on board with an actionable plan.
Zappos' CEO, Tony Hsieh, grew his company into a $1 billion a year retailer with his unmitigated commitment to customers. Hsieh applied a dynamic method early on, changing Zappos' offerings constantly and agilely (free shipping, new product lines, 360-day return policy) until they fit customers just right. Corporations today must learn agility, be able to adapt and change quickly, and commit to making all decisions based on customer benefit. The corporate dinosaur will not survive for long.
While some brands, like Disney and Zappos, have always put the customer at the center of their organizational culture, others, like Wal-Mart and Panda Express, are just now figuring out the importance of aligning their internal culture with their customers' culture. This evolution is easier for brands that are already structured around their customers, but for others it will be trial and error.
No matter how it gets there, every enterprise -- whether B2C or B2B -- will have to evolve its culture in the coming three to five years to survive. This evolution means re-examining traditional approaches to inbound and outbound customer outreach and being willing to shift ownership and re-structure so that each and every employee is responsible for the customer experience. Organizations will likely become flatter and return to cultivating leaders from within who can move the organizational culture forward.
For most people, the mere thought of switching online banking providers and having to re-enter all of their information in a new system is dreadful enough that they just don't do it. Cell phone carriers in the US have contract termination fees that are higher than the cost of most phones. These companies rely less on loyalty than on "customer hijacking."
Other companies, including software and hardware manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo, cannot constrict customer choice. These companies compete for mostly similar markets -- offering similar products, services, and prices -- and are after customer loyalty most of all. Ask any of these three corporations what it would like to be when it grows up, and it will point to Apple. Apple is the gold standard for generating customer loyalty -- no ransom required.
As Web 2.0 breaks down the walls among customers and between customers and brands, the tie between loyalty and revenue will grow even stronger, and brands that hold customers hostage will be deserted for those that provide real value. A corporation's ability to demonstrate value and secure loyalty will now be measured by their presence and customer relationships online.
Traditional consultancies like McKinsey and Bain were once valuable to corporations because of their subject matter expertise. They provided top-down know-how that was adopted by executives and pushed down the chain of command. This approach is completely useless for expanding a corporation's connection to customers online. The right people today possess two key qualities. The first, which is the more easily found of the two, is "in the trenches" experience. People with this quality regularly interact with others online, use various social media conversation tools, are passionate about communities, and can mobilize others with a 140-character line.
The second, much more difficult to find, is the ability to articulate and translate this in-the-trenches knowledge in a way that makes sense to corporations. The right people for an enterprise's interactions with customers have to be able to connect the new psychology of customers with the traditional way in which corporations work. They must know how to help corporations create new strategies, foster change management, and create action plans that lead to clear and measurable results. Corporations will have a tough time finding people with just the right combination of qualities and capabilities; but once found, these emissaries will deliver crucial and uncompromising value to the customer-oriented corporation in the Web 2.0 world.
Brands today that have an effective online presence didn't just stumble on the right formula. Getting things right takes work, commitment, experimentation, and genuine care. Whether they realize it or not, brands that are successful in social media have always acted on strategies. They have always set clear goals, developed a plan to reach those goals, and put budgets and people behind them.
Before Web 2.0, Southwest Airlines was the poster child of great customer service. Today, Zappos does for online retail what Southwest did for the discount airline industry. Wal-Mart may not pay its merchants to blog, but the merchants' time is paid for with their salaries. Corporations today, more than ever, need to reassess their strategies and ensure that those strategies are an expression of their desire to move forward rather than fear of losing momentum or control.
Having a Twitter or Facebook page is not a strategy. Nor is it very effective to hire community managers and charge them with reducing marketing dollars. The corporation today must first figure out its goals in the Web 2.0 world, set relevant metrics, invest in understanding customer needs, and map out an actionable plan it can implement. Only then will its full potential in the online social world be realized.
With 68% of online adults using one or more social media tools and 42% of online adults reporting an interest in at least one type of social application from brands they like, enterprises cannot ignore the changing landscape of customer relationships. In the coming years, corporations will not survive on product lines and competitive pricing alone. For corporations to remain competitive, they will need to become more flexible, put people at the center of their culture, and remain dynamically attentive to human needs. It is time again to realize that change should be embraced, not feared, and to put in place the right structures, strategies, and people to support this change.
A few weeks back I was invited to speak at the Social Media Club of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. We had a crowd of about 40 people, a fun sochu tasting from Haamonii, and a great conversation about social media and how to think of it in the context of the enterprise world.
After presenting how the corporate ecosystem is changing and discussing elements of Social Media strategy for enterprises, we then put things to the test and broke into small groups--each tasked with developing a Social Media strategy for a company in the retail, tech, of financial industry. It is not always easy to shift from thinking of Social Media in traditional terms of campaigns and demographics and speaking in "Twitter" and "Facebook" terms but most groups came back with real strategies, not just tactics (although we had fun ones too--like putting executives in high heels with Dr. Scholl inserts. Okay. Maybe you had to be there).
One thing I'd like to emphasize is that Social Media isn't a "fix" or a "thing" organizations now must do. It is a manifestation of new capabilities we have in a Web2.0-3.0 world. As a result, the ecosystem itself is changing in large corporations: what used to be a closed system between corporations, their partners, and their customers, is increasingly open and fluid; partnerships, once limited to large and established vendors or consultants is now expanding to include startups and their solutions--which means startups need to learn how to communicate the value proposition in their products in new ways; A traditional corporate-controlled push/pull model for customer feedback and marketing is now dynamic: customers can tell corporations what they need and want whether corporations ask for it or not--this also means that corporations can count on their customers to speak about those things they're excited about and spread the word at a fraction of the cost. Just yesterday, Sandy Carter, VP IBM Software Channels and Social Media Evangelist demonstrated how IBM was able to save $100,000 on maketing campaigns using Social Media tools to mobilize customers (more about this later this week).
Here's the presentation I shared. Also check out David Libby's thoughts on the topic.
You can also download it from Slideshare.
Loehmann's this month joins scores of consumer-facing businesses who are jumping on the Social Media bandwagon. Today, Inside Members received this loosely-branded email, urging them to text, join twitter, and connect via Facebook for all things Loehmann's.
Loehmann's appeal to customers via "Social Media" or Web2.0 tools suggests the company is smartly reconsidering how it interacts with its customers. Perhaps Loehmann's execs finally realize there's room for improvement and that selling at discount prices doesn't automatically mean market share. That's a good thing. It also suggests Loehmann's is thinking hard of how to evangelize itself as an accessible, with-the-times, retailer.
But while it is a noble effort Loehmann's Social Media strategy is far from being solid.
First, Loehmann's risks setting the wrong expectations. While customers do want to know about new promotions and discounts and will be tempted to follow the instructions and text "INSIDER" to the number provided, their initial excitement will soon be replaced with dismay when they begin to get the semi-weekly announcements Loehmann's now sends via mail and email.
Second, the campaign seems to mix two types of audiences. Customers with PDAs such as iPhone and Blackberry can easily open emails at the store and use the code from the email--they do not need text duplicate. But then there are the less mobile-savvy users, those who primarily use text messaging, and to these, facebook and twitter may not be the right channel. So it seems that Loehmann's is trying everything hoping to see what will stick. Definitely one strategy, but it may not be the one I'd choose for a company who's strapped for cash.
In essence, what Loehmann's is saying is:
And what Ms Customer is likely to say in response is:
Fun aside, this is an extremely difficult time for retailers who thrive on consumers' discretionary income. Discount fashion retailers are no exception. For Loehmann's, this is not the first downturn having submitted for Chapter 11 in 1999. For Loehmann's to win this downturn, it must first do better at listening to its customers and build optimal experiences around its customers' needs before trying to patch the cracks with a Facebook fans page or a twitter account. Only then, when it is focused on the customer experience (and less on outbound marketing), will it be able to capitalize on the power of passionate, fashion-minded customers.
A guest article I wrote was published today on ReadWriteWeb. The question of where Social Media is heading has been a center of conversation in the startup circles as well as in large corporation and most recently--government. This post originally was titled "Why Social Media Is Dead." As I interviewed people and engaged in fascinating dialogs, it has morphed into a discussion of evolution.
Social Media as a concept is by no means dead but it is changing drastically--as most innovations do. If this topic interests you, read more, comment, and join the conversation.
I've talked about the difference between User experience and Customer experience in a recent post. I've also talked plenty about why creating deliberate experiences is key to success that produces measurable advantages. This is so important especially now in these difficult times. Bottom line, without a compelling user experience, your users won't become your customers. Without customers...well--you know how that ends.
There are many (endless, in fact) tactical things you can do to ensure good user and customer experience. Ensure good usability, task flow, give customers a way to reach you and share feedback, etc. But when you start with tactical you also risk becoming reactive--a change here, a change there, per this or that user feedback--and you end up with a bunch of patches and no clear cause-and-effect to speak of. In short- a mess.
So before you get into taking action on creating winning user and customer experiences make sure you have these 10 meta-practices down and go from there:
As you take a look at companies that succeed, you'll notice that they have clear user and customer experience principles. While their development is supported and enabled by technology, their strategies are guided by user and customer experience requirements, expectations, and needs. They invest a great deal of attention and funds in understanding what their customers expect now (baseline must haves) and what they'll expect over specific milestones relevant for their sector or industry. In the tech startup world, it might be in 3 month intervals; in building machinery it might be 3 years.
To succeed, you too need to think of your users, your customers, how they're different and what makes them the same. Use this knowledge to create truly compelling experiences that can stand the test of time and entrants and continue to delivery experiences that turn users to customers and make it easy for customers to stick with you.
The Wall Street Journal published a great piece called The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World. What makes this piece good is that it provides simple answers to questions most of us in the web product and startup world face regularly from clients and curious minds.
The piece desires to provide "principles for Web 2.0 marketers" but they're more like general thoughts and less so actionable. They also seem to speak in larger companies' terms but they still provide a nice baseline understanding of how to engage your audience and start to frame a common language.