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In case you missed it, the “social media guru certification” crowd is at it again. Hat tip to Jim Mitchem for pointing me to this new one earlier today. Here… let’s give them lots of traffic*. (And get caught up on the fun.)

*Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post (yes, the entire LinkedIn group discussion) has now been deleted by the community manager. Wow!

Pretty quickly after being posted, the LinkedIn comment thread* started to turn sour. Here are several of the comments so far:

Jim Mitchem • What? They didn’t offer me a certification for being a copywriter. I just did it. Won awards and sold a ton of product. No certification necessary. They didn’t offer certifications for me being an entrepreneur who launched one of the first virtual ad agencies in the world in 2001. I just did it. Won clients and shifted perception. They didn’t offer a certification when I helped launch Boxman Studios in the social space (exclusively) in 2009 based solely on a concept only to yield 6 million a year in sales in just 3 years. I just did it. No certification necessary. You ask how I differentiate myself from the fake gurus out there? By avoiding snake oil certifications. And just putting my mind to doing something right. Seriously, if you’re trying to get certified to be a social media rock star – you might want to make an appointment with a psychologist as well.

Jon Evans • I’ve been in the social media strategy field for sometime now and I have NEVER been asked for a certification. It is disappointing to see someone try to make money off of scrambling “Social Media Consultants” because those agents can’t figure out how to run their business and make money. I would also like to point out that the people that are most defensive are the ones that stand to benefit from the sale of this product. I find that interesting… Bad form folks just bad form.

Jessica Wicks • Until there is a professional standards body for licensing social media professionals (unlikely to EVER happen) that recognizes this ‘certification’, it means nothing. Perhaps you could use your certificate to con a couple clients into thinking that there is a governing body over the profession? Other than that, I can’t think of a reason anyone would open their wallet to this offer. You’re better off to sell this course as a learning opportunity only – or better yet offer it for free to promote something of value you’ve created like an analytical tool or aggregator. There are so many sources out there for FREE advice on using social media – perhaps you should take note. By offering to ‘certify’ me, I’m going to completely ignore your links.

Todd Copilevitz • This is the worst kind of entrepreneur, someone who sees where the crowd is moving and tries to cash in from behind. Actually there is some value to this program, it will allow me to quickly dismiss as irrelevant anyone holding this certification.

Linton Robinson • This is a sick joke. This entire type of mentality is a stupid rip-off.

Okay… You get the idea. (You can go check out the thread for yourself here*… assuming that any of the comments are still there. One of my questions was deleted just a few minutes ago, so I have to assume that the folks behind this thing are being selective about what actually stays in the thread and what doesn’t… but no worries, we’ll come back to that in two shakes.) *Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has been deleted by the community manager.

A few points:

1. Read the whole thread*. It’s well worth it. The problems I raise and the way that they are “addressed”* or answered by the person who seems to be organizing this thing will fill you in on several of the things I find suspect about certification programs like this. (Namely that without verified accreditation, any kind of so-called “certification” is worthless.)

*Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – Sorry. It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has been deleted.

Note that I have no problem whatsoever with training programs. My issue, which is purely an ethical one, deals with people selling certifications that actually are not. (We’ve been here before.) Especially when the sales pitch includes stuff like this:

Do you think i can find a job after this certification?

Our Social Media certification program was designed by Social Media industry professionals. Combined they have done lot of hiring and one of the important element in any resume is actual social media work experience. That’s the reason we created a project based certification program so right after our program you will have something tangible to show on your resume. After all, in the business world it is WHAT you have done that matters. And no where is this more true than in social media. (Source: http://www.instantetraining.com/certification/smct-mc/)

2. There’s something strange going on with the experts list. When asked who the “top experts” who put this training together were, I was pointed to this list of folks: http://www.instantetraining.com/smct-mc/index.html#experts

Here’s where things get fun. Curious to find some pretty respectable names on the list (not the usual suspects), I reached out to several of them. I quickly heard back from two of them. They both indicated several things:

– Though they had been involved with the organization in the past (free webinars for their book launches, for instance) they were not in any way associated with the certification program.

– Moreover, they had no idea that their names, image and reputations were being used to sell this program.

I’ve only talked to 2 so far, so it isn’t to say that all of the “top experts” listed on that site are unaware that they are being used to sell a program that they did not contribute to… but some of them are, and that’s a little peculiar. I gave the organizers the benefit of the doubt and asked them if they wanted to either comment or amend the list. The answer I received was this:

Bob Tripathi • If they have spoken with us it would be this year and we have them as our on-demand session.

I checked again with those two folks, and that certainly was news to them.

Let’s just leave it at that for now. I don’t want to get between them and this organization. They’re aware of what’s going on now and I will let them handle it how they feel is most appropriate. All I’ve inferred so far is that the list – as it stands as I write this blog post – may not be 100% representative of the “top experts” who are actually involved with this certification program. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. (Better yet, do your own research.)

3. Then I did a little more digging, and it all went sideways from there.

A quick check of the twitter account for the thread poster’s organization (@SocialMediopols, listed at the top of the thread) raised some puzzling questions – and feel free to try this for yourselves:

a) According to http://fakers.statuspeople.com/Fakers/Scores, @SocialMediopols, which currently counts around 9,500 followers, seems to be composed of 85% fake followers, 1% inactive followers and 14% “real” followers. That’s a pretty high percentage of fake followers by any standard. That would mean that… out of 9,500 followers, only about 1,300 aren’t fake. [Note: I mistakenly put the number of followers at 18,000 earlier. That was incorrect. (It was an August figure.)]

I found that surprising. Maybe it was an error, right? Perhaps the app screwed up. So I decided to get a second opinion…

b) I went to TwitterCounter.com and checked out the account’s follower growth for the last 6 months. Here’s what I found:

The most amazing thing I learned from that quick snapshot is that the @SocialMediopolis account grew by exactly 768 net new followers per day from May 31, 2012 to July 4, 2012.

That’s right. Every single day, the account attracted precisely 768 new followers. No variance at all. No 767 one day and 769 the next. Exactly 768 per day, every day, for 36 consecutive days.

Amazing.

Sadly, as if someone had flipped a switch, the follower count started dropping on July 5th, and has been ever since.

Ruh-roh.

4. Upon which my questions about this get mysteriously deleted from the thread. 

I brought this information to the attention of Bob, and asked him several questions. They went essentially along the lines of…

– Will buying fake followers be included in the normal certification training, or will that be covered by the top experts in the on-demand calls?

– Will you also explain how not to lose 100+ followers per day once you stop buying fake followers?

– Since your social media community claims to have 400,000 members, why is it that you only have about 1,300 real twitter followers? Even if all 9,500 were 100% legit, that’s a very low percentage. 40,000 followers would only be 10% of your membership.

Source: Twitter profile for the @SocialMediopolis account – “We’re the largest #private #community of Social Media Marketing (#SMM) #professionals on the planet! Social Media Marketing on #LinkedIn, over 400,000 members!”

I then offered to connect Bob and his organization to actual social media professionals who might be able to give them pointers on how to build a community on Twitter… but that evidently wasn’t received very well. Instead of answering my questions, my comment was quickly deleted from the thread. *Update 9/20/2012, 14:30pm EST – It appears that the entire thread has now been deleted as well.

5. Yes, that’s right: deleting my comment will make the tough questions go away. That’s how social media works.

These are the guys selling social media certifications. Awesome. Sounds super legit to me. Please take my money and send me a certificate of “you’re hired.”

Update 1 (9/19/2012): I have actually been banned from that thread now. I can’t comment there anymore. Classic fail. 😀

Update 2 (9/20/2012): It appears that the entire thread referenced in this post has also been deleted by the community manager. Fail x infinity.

Update 3 (9/20/2012): The community manager (I believe this would be Michael Crosson) attempted to repost his sales pitch/post on his community page. Nice attempt at a clean slate. Unfortunately, folks started commenting on it again. Those comments must have been inconvenient, because that post and all of the ensuing discussion and comments have now been deleted too. Link: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Social-Media-Certification-Your-Ticket-66325.S.165779329?qid=482532ba-6f31-471c-a3b2-f09184d2ad35&trk=group_items_see_more-0-b-ttl

What a fiasco.

Okay. It’s all fun and games, but I want to leave you with some constructive advice, so here it is:

1. Do not delete comments unless they actually violate your TOS or community standards. Do not delete entire comment threads just because the comments being left are inconvenient. Do not attempt to repost the same content in an effort to wipe the slate clean of comments. Do not delete that thread as well when the same criticisms pop up in the comment thread. ugh… This is really basic stuff.

2. If you’re going to fake your reach and influence, at least learn how to do it properly. Adding 768 net new followers every single day for a month is something a robot would do. You have to mix it up. 327 here, 781 there… Make it random. You can’t be lazy when it comes to faking your shit. You have to work at it. That’s how the real pros do it.

3. If you fake this stuff, you will get caught. First, as you can see from the thread, our bullshit meters have gotten very good. Second, the tools to uncover the BS are free and available to everyone. It took less than 5 minutes for me to turn out those two reports and see what was going on there. All you need is an internet connection and an espresso, okay? Don’t play these games anymore. Once your reputation is shot in this space, it’s shot. There are far better ways of making money in social media.

4. This is what happens when you delete someone’s comments and then block them from further commenting. You force them to take the discussion elsewhere… like on their blog, and Facebook and Twitter. Had I not been deleted or blocked for merely asking inconvenient questions, I would have never written this post. It could have all gone away in a couple of days. But no. Instead, I came here and wrote about it. Lesson: don’t delete comments on a thread just because the present an inconvenient opinion. Social Media 101. (I wonder if Bob will include that in his certification program.)

5. Social media certifications will not get you hired by anyone. What looks good on a resumé is experience, not some piece of paper some blogger mailed you after attending a few of his webinars and writing an essay. Do the work. Build your own case studies. Do pro-bono work if you have to (that’s how many great portfolios begin), but don’t waste your time and your money on someone’s lame money-making scheme. Especially when the tactics they employ to appear to be legit are so weak that they can be shredded by anyone with an internet connection in just a couple of minutes.

6. There are solid training programs out there that don’t try to pass themselves off as certification programs. If those are too pricey, most of what you need to learn is already available for free on the web anyway. But the good stuff, the classroom-level stuff put together by real professionals, it’s there if you look for it. Just one word of caution: check the “experts” out. See what they’ve done. See who they’ve worked for. Are they just a “social media personality?” A blogger? A speaker? A network marketer with an incredible ground-level opportunity he would like to share with you and thousands of facebook friends? Red flags, all.

7. Go forth and socialize. Learn by doing and watching others. Save your money for something cool… like renewing a gym membership or going on vacation.

As always, this is all a matter of opinion… except for the parts that are, you know… fact-checked. 😉

Cheers,

O.

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Yesterday, I promised you a post that would help hiring managers identify key skills and abilities needed in a prospective hire looking to fill a social media manager role. Note that we are talking about management, not just content creation or community relations. Before I get into it, a few considerations:

1.  This list isn’t complete. It is meant to help guide you and point you in some key directions, but you’re going to have to add a few requirements of your own and ignore the ones that don’t apply to your specific needs.

2. Every company has different capabilities and objectives. Every company will also look at social media’s role in a  completely unique way. Some will see it merely as a digital marketing function while others will see it as a fully integrated component of an organization-wide communications ecosystem. Because every company is unique, every social media management position’s requirements will also be unique. Keep that in mind.

3. Are you hiring someone who will help you build a social media program from scratch, or are you hiring someone who will manage an existing social media program? Because the requirements for each won’t be the same.

4. Are you a small, medium, local company, or are you a global consumer brand? Because again, the degree of complexity (internal to the org and external to the org) will require completely different types of resumes.

5. Are you looking to fill a strategic role or a tactical role? Strategic = more vision and planning oriented. Tactical = more day-to-day, operationally oriented.

6. Are you a niche or specialty brand in an obscure industry, or an international superbrand? Because again, the req is going to look different based on that.

7. Is your social media program purely internal or are you working with one or five or twenty agencies as well?

8. Is your social media program focused on lead generation and fan acquisition, or is it also focused on customer development, customer retention, and/or organic WOM? Again, huge differences in skill-sets and abilities to consider there.

9. How many departments will this role be working intimately with? Mostly digital marketing, or also HR, Customer Service, Product Management, Technical Support, PR and R&D?

10. Is your brand a challenger? A rebel? Conservative? Academic? Irreverent? Political? Apolitical? These things matter. Hire someone who understands who you are and will fit within your culture and brand ecosystem.

Right off the bat, you kind of have your work cut out for you. Building out a req for your social media management role is going to require a little more work than just throwing together some bullet points and filling the blanks on a standard x years of blogging experience bullets. This is not an exercise in generic job req design. There is nothing generic about this hiring process.

Here are a few bullets for you:

Basic skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has had a continuous professional presence in the Social Media space (via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning or other platforms) for at least two years.
  • Applicant has managed a business blog and/or business community for a minimum of one year.
  • Applicant has built or managed a community for longer than one year. (This could be as a product manager or customer service rep, for instance.)
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the Social Media space, including usage and demographic statistics for the most popular/relevant platforms as well as a few niche platforms of his/her choice.
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough understanding of the nuances between Social Media platforms and the communities they serve.
  • Impeccable communications skills.
  • Applicant understands the breadth of tools and methods at his/her disposal to set goals and measure success in the Social Media space. (Applicant’s toolkit is not limited to Google analytics.)
  • Applicant has been active on Twitter for more than two years.
  • Applicant knows who Scott Monty, Frank Eliason, Jeremiah Owyang, Porter Gale and Christopher Barger are, and can explain why these names are important to the social media profession.
  • Applicant can explain succinctly why buying followers and fans is both unethical and counterproductive.
  • Applicant demonstrates a high level of proficiency working with popular Social Media platforms and apps such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Seesmic, YouTube, FriendFeed, WordPress, Pinterest and Tumblr. (As applicable.)
  • Applicant is capable of mapping out a basic Social Media monitoring plan on a cocktail napkin.
  • Given 5 screens to play with, applicant can build you a social media monitoring control center in just a few days.
  • Applicant can cite examples of companies with successful social media programs and companies with ineffective social media programs. He/she can also argue comfortably why each was either successful or unsuccessful.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year working in a customer-facing role, preferably customer-service related.
  • Applicant is more excited about engagement, building an internal practice and finding out about your business’ pain points than he/she is about firebombing you with the awesomeness of their personal brand.

Advanced skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has developed and managed marketing programs before. Not just campaigns but programs. Find out about them. What worked? What didn’t work? Lessons learned?
  • Applicant has at least two years of experience managing projects and working across organizational silos. What worked? What didn’t? Etc.
  • Applicant has managed a brand or product line for more than one year.
  • Applicant has demonstrated a strong ability to forge lasting relationships across a variety of media platforms over the course of his/her career.
  • Applicant understand the difference between vertical and lateral action when it comes to customer/community engagement – and has working knowledge of how to leverage both.
  • Applicant has managed national market research projects.
  • Applicant is comfortable enough with business measurement methods to know the difference between financial impact (ROI) and non-financial impact. He/she also knows why the difference between the two is relevant.
  • Applicant demonstrates the ability to build and manage a Social Media practice that works seamlessly with PR, product marketing, event management and customer support teams within the organization.
  • Applicant has managed a team for more than one year. He/she was responsible for the training and development of that team.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year in a project management role outside of an ad agency, PR or other Marketing firm.
  • Applicant has been responsible for managing a budget/P&L.
  • Applicant already has the framework of a Social Media plan for your company before he/she even walks through the front door, and thankfully, it doesn’t involve setting up a fan page on FaceBook.

Enterprise & Global CPG skills:

  • All of the above, but with 5 – 10+ years of experience instead of 1 – 3.
  • For everything else, scale up.

What you shouldn’t waste a whole lot of time worrying about:

  • The applicant’s age.
  • The applicant’s Klout or Kred scores.
  • The applicant’s number of followers on Twitter or fans/likes on Facebook.*
  • The applicant’s SxSW or blogworld stories.
  • How many Top 10, 15, 20 or 100 lists the applicant is on.

* Less than 1,000 Twitter followers is suspect. Unless they are a media celebrity, more than 75,000 Twitter followers is suspect as well.

All right. You still have some work to do, but that ought to get you started.

Other sources:

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your OrganizationParticularly Chapter 6 (pages 73-82).

The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out – by Christopher Barger

Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization – by Michael Brito

I hope that was helpful.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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So evidently, the ideal age for a social media manager is under 25.

Wait… no… the ideal age for a social media manager is over 25.

Are you kidding me? Age? We’re talking about age? Like… the ideal age to be a CEO is 45-65? Or the ideal age to be an HR manager is 43-52? Would anyone with the slightest bit of credibility ever write a piece like that? No. Not without concrete research to back it up, at any rate. So why is it acceptable when it comes to social media? Why? Because it’s still en vogue to write complete nonsense about social media management?

There is no ideal age to manage a social media program, just like there is no ideal age to manage a PR or marketing or HR campaign, program or department. Unless you’re a professional athlete, age is pretty much irrelevant when it comes to your ability to do a job. Any job. Some people are already good at 20. Others still suck at 40. There is no magic formula. What you are looking for is competence, professionalism and a sharp, agile mind. That is what you should focus on. Not age.

Let’s take a look at this piece published by Inc. just a few days ago: 11 Reasons a 23-year-old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media, by Hollis Thomases.

So first… who is this Hollis Thomases person, and more importantly, why does Inc. feel that she is qualified to write an article on this topic? Well, there’s this:

Hollis Thomases is the President & CEO of Web Ad.vantage, which provides outcome-based digital marketing and advertising services to up-and-coming brands. She is also the author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, a contributing expert to Social Media Marketing Magazine, and has been a Media Planning columnist for ClickZ since 2005. She has taken her subject matter expertise to television, radio, and trade conferences. Here is her Twitter account: @hollisthomases (6,820 followers).

Note the url, by the way, which is different from the title Inc. eventually went with: http://www.inc.com/hollis-thomases/social-media-dont-put-intern-in-charge.html – don’t put intern in charge. Ah, well. We’re already off to a killer start: what’s a 23-year-old good for? Being an intern. Great.

Now don’t get me wrong: anyone who puts an intern in charge of their social media program is clearly being negligent. But we aren’t talking about interns here. We are talking about 23-year-olds and “young hires.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but that hoodied 23-year-old you just crossed in the hallway might not be the intern anymore. In this day and age, he or she might be the CEO, and a solid one at that. There are “kids” right now building  companies at 23 that will reshape the face of business, technology and communications in the next ten years. There are guys leading combat teams at 23, and I can tell you from experience that they are supremely competent and plenty mature. There are young women right now, today, already on their way to revolutionizing dozens of fields, from particle physics and presidential campaign strategy to industrial design and popular fashion. A few of them even won Olympic medals in London over the last few weeks. So how about this: instead of discounting young twenty-somethings as quasi-worthless, not particularly dependable assclowns, why not get to know them instead?

But no. It’s much easier to fall back on crap stereotypes to write a poorly researched article, and then somehow get Inc.’s editorial staff to give it the go-ahead. And thus begins an 11-point exercise in shameless clichés and assumptions. Let’s have a look-see:

  1. They’re not mature enough.
  2. They may be focused on their own social media activity.
  3. They may not have the same experience – or etiquette.
  4. You can’t control their friends.
  5. No class can replace on-the-job-training.
  6. They may not understand your business.
  7. Communications skills are critical.
  8. Humor is tricky business.
  9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy.
  10. Social media management can become crisis management.
  11. You need to keep the keys.

Where do I begin? Do I even need to explain how absurd this is? It seems that professional, capable twenty-somethings have suddenly become as immature as ninth-graders on a school field trip.

1. They’re not mature enough. Right. Based on what data? And compared to whom?

I have a friend. Let’s call him Tim. Tim is 48. Tim has been going through a mid-life crisis for the last four years. You want to talk to me about the maturity level of a 23-year-old? You don’t get to unless you’ve spent a Friday evening around Tim. Tim is a CEO, by the way.

But that isn’t even the point. The real point here is this: if someone isn’t mature enough to manage your social media program, regardless of their age, don’t be an asshole and put them in charge of your social media program. Instead, hire someone who is qualified and well-suited for the job. Is that too simple? Too obvious maybe?  Or should we keep going on the stupid stereotypes?

Okay. Let’s keep going then.

2. They may be focused on their own social media activity. Yeah, and they also may not. Because age has not a damn thing to do with that.

Not hiring unprofessional assholes usually takes care of that problem.

3. They may not have the... oh, whatever. If they don’t have the experience or etiquette, why did you hire them to manage anything, let alone your social media program? Regardless of their age, if they don’t have the skills or experience or etiquette, don’t put them in charge. But if they have the experience, skills and etiquette, and they happen to be 23, don’t be stupid: hire the shit out of them before someone else does.

I know. This stuff is really hard to grasp.

4. You can’t control their friends. Really? Is that because 23-year-olds are just party-going loudmouths who will post obnoxious updates on Facebook? So naturally, yeah… a 23-year-old is going to be a liability to your brand, right? Nice!

Except, no. Show me the data that supports your theory. What… no data? Hmmm. That’s too bad. My next question would have dealt with how you intend to “control” angry customers and trolls.

Ms. Thomases, your personal prejudices against this age group suck.

5. No class can replace on-the-job-training. I have no idea what that even means or what it has to do with age.

6. They may not understand your business.

This article is starting to give me a headache.

What if that 23-year-old has been a fan of your business since they were a kid? Say you’re Nike or Disney or Nintendo, you really think a 23-year-old managed to live their whole lives without knowing what you do and how? Why do you think they’re applying for a job at your company in the first place?

Here’s another one: a 40-year-old new hire and a 23-year-old new hire are going to go through the same onboarding process. Why would the 23-year-old be somehow less qualified than the 40-year-old to manage the company’s social media program solely based on “not understanding the business?” Is there something physiological about 23-year olds that makes them incapable of learning your business model?

If you are hiring someone to manage your social media program, they’ll need to understand your business, regardless of their age. Train them. Get them ready to manage that function. This is not an age issue, it’s a preparation issue.

This argument is invalid.

7. Communications skills are critical. I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Let me just quote the writer and see if you can make any sense of it:

“Communication is critical to solid social-media execution. Before you let a young hire take over your company blog posts, take stock of his or her writing skills. Also: Many young people have not yet learned the “art” of communicating. Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

That’s it. That’s the whole explanation.

Between you and me, I have no idea what half of that means. “Many young people have not yet learned the ‘art’ of communicating?”

“Make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things literally?”

Let that be the point: communication is indeed critical to solid social-media execution. Which is why social media professionals who write expert commentary for Inc. should learn how to express themselves clearly. “Make sure they know how to read” between what lines, exactly? Is there something about 23-year-olds that makes them read everything literally? And can we at least get some kind of idea as to what the “art” of communicating is? I wonder if it involves learning proper comma usage. Here’s an example: “Make sure they know how to read between the lines rather than taking things too literally” instead of “make sure they know how to read between the lines, rather than taking things too literally.”

I know a bunch of young 20-somethings with terrific communications skills and a shit-ton of people my age with horrendous communications skills (and many of them are in PR and marketing). So can we please stick to competence and skill instead of crapping on young twenty-somethings for the sake of it?

8. Humor is tricky business. Let me guess… because young twenty-somethings are incapable of understanding the boundaries and cultural nuances of certain types of humor… As opposed to 35-year-olds or 50-year-olds?

You’re right. Humor is tricky business. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with age. Not one thing.

Something just occurred to me: if you took that piece and replaced “young hire” with “women” or “old people,” it would be taken offline immediately. Prejudice is prejudice, and the opinions listed in these eleven points reek of it.

9. Social media savvy is not the same as technical savvy. Excuse my French, but… (cover your ears) what the fuck does that have to do with age?

This argument is invalid.

10. Social media management can become crisis management. Yes. It can and it does. What does that have to do with age? Do you want me to list every PR crisis in the last ten years that was completely botched by people over the age of 25? Here’s a taste: BP, Nestle, Enron, Toyota, Southwest Airlines, Chic-Fil-a, United Airlines, Eurostar, FEMA… We could be here all day.

This argument is frightfully invalid.

11. You need to keep the keys. Yes. That’s a basic social media program management 101 lesson that is applicable regardless of your social media manager’s age.

This argument isn’t just invalid, it isn’t even an argument.

Here’s an idea: instead of writing (and publishing) pointless pieces of hateful, misinformed garbage that fail to a) offer relevant reasons why young professionals under the age of 25 are somehow not qualified (or under-qualified) to manage a social communications program, and b) provide evidence to back up the writer’s opinion, why not write a piece that outlines the qualities and skills you should look for in someone who will help you build and manage a social media program? You know, things like competence, skill, talent, personality, adaptability, resourcefulness, even cultural fit with the company, for instance?

But no. Let’s focus on age instead. Let’s talk about age as a qualification to run a social media program… Good grief. How did we even get here? Really. WTF.

I can’t leave you like this though, so here’s basically all you need to know about the ideal candidate for your social media management job. Are you ready? Here it is:

Hire someone wonderful and competent. Who gives a shit how old they are?

Okay? And if you want some pointers on what to look for, I’ll be back tomorrow with a few.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

As an aside, you can find some pointers on how to hire (and train) a social media manager in Chapter 6. (Pages 73-82.)

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in yourOrganization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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The 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook ‘fan’

A question that routinely comes up in social media circles is what is the value of a Facebook fan? (The question also applies to the value of a Twitter follower, Youtube subscriber, email recipient, etc.)

Invariably, whenever the question is asked, some mathematical savant – typically a self-professed digital alchemist – produces a proprietary algorithm that has somehow arrived at answer along the lines of $1.07 (Source: WSJ) or $3.60 (source: Vitrue) or even $136.38 (source: Syncapse), and so begins the race to answer this now quasi-hallowed question of the new digital age. The lure: He who can convince companies that he can calculate the value of a Facebook fan might have a shot at selling them on the notion that fan the more fans they acquire, the more value they generate for their business. (You can imagine the appeal of answering the “what is the ROI” question by explaining to a company that 10,000 net new fans per month x $136.38 = a $1,363,800 value. At a mere $75,000 per month, that’s a bargain, right?

All that is fine and good, except for one thing: Assigning an arbitrary (one might say “cookie-cutter”) value to Facebook fans in general, averaged out over the ENTIRE breadth of the business spectrum, is complete and utter BS.

To illustrate why that is, I give you the 5 basic rules of calculating the value of a Facebook fan:

Rule #1: A Facebook fan’s value is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition.

Many of my friends in the agency world still cling, for example, to the notion that estimated media value or EAV (estimated advertising value), somehow transmutes the cost of reaching x potential customers into the value of these potential customers once reached. Following a media equivalency philosophy, it can be deduced that if the cost of reaching 1,000,000 people is generally $x and you only paid $y, the “value” of your campaign is still $x.

A hypothetical social media agency-client discussion regarding EAV: “Using social media, we generated 1,000,000 impressions that we converted into followers last quarter. At $1.03 per impression/acquired fan, the total cost of the campaign was $1,030,000. The average cost of an impression through traditional media being $3.97, the estimated media value of your campaign was $3,970,000.”

Next thing you know, the client believes 2 things: The first, that the value of each Facebook ‘fan’ is either ($3.97 – $1.03) = $2.94 or simply $3.97 (depending on the agency). The second, that the ROI of the campaign is ($3,970,000 – $1,030,000) = $2,940,000.

So you see what has happened here: Through a common little industry sleight of hand, a cost A vs. cost B comparison has magically produced an arbitrary “value” for something that actually has no tangible value yet. In case you were particularly observant, you may also have noticed how easily some of the authors of the posts I linked to in the intro mixed up costand value. Ooops. So much for expert analysis.

A word about why cost and value cannot be substituted for one another when applied to fans, followers and customers: Cost may be intimately connected to value when you are buying the family car, but the same logic does not apply to customers as a) you don’t really buy them outright, b) they don’t depreciate the way a car does, and c) they tend to generate revenue over time, far in excess (you hope) of what it cost to earn their business.

Even with the cost of acquiring a fan now determined, why has the value of that fan not yet been ascertained? Rule #2 will answer that question.

Rule #2: A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits).

Illustrated, the value of a fan can be calculated thus:

 a)      Direct Value: If a Facebook fan spent $76 on your products and services last month, her value was $76 for that month. If a Facebook fan spent €5697 on your products or services last month, his value was €5697 for the month.

The value of a fan/transacting customer is based on the value of their transaction. It is NOT based on the cost of having acquired them.

Example:

– Cost of acquiring Rick Spazzyfoot as a Facebook fan: €4.08

– Amount Rick Spazzyfoot has spent on our products and services since becoming a fan five months ago: €879.52

Which of the above two € figures represents the value of that fan to the company?

(If you answered €4.08, you answered wrong. Try again.)

 b)     Indirect value: If a fan seems to be influencing other people in his or her network to become transacting customers (or increase their buy rate or yield), then you can factor that value in as well for those specific time-frames. Because measurement tools are not yet sophisticated enough to a) properly measure influence and b) accurately tie it to specific transactions, I wouldn’t agonize over this point a whole lot. As long as you understand the value of word-of-mouth, positive recommendations and the relative influence that community members exert on each other, you will hold some valuable insights into your business ecosystem. Don’t lose sleep trying to calculate them just yet. Too soon.

The point being this: Until a Facebook ‘fan’ has transacted with you (or influenced a transaction), the monetary value of that fan is precisely zero.

One could even say that if each fan cost you, say, an average of $1.03 to acquire, the value of a fan before he or she has been converted into a transacting customer is actually -$1.03.

That’s right: A significant portion of your Facebook fans might actually put you in the negative. Something to think about when someone asks you to calculate the “value” of your “community,” especially if you purchased rather than earned a significant portion of your fans and followers (it happens more than you realize).

Rule #3: Each Facebook fan’s value is unique.

Every fan brings his or her unique individual value to the table. One fan may spend an average of €89 per month with your company. Another fan might spend an average of $3.79 per month with your company. Another yet may spend an average of ₤1,295 per month with your company. Is it reasonable to ignore this simple fact and instead assign them an arbitrary “value” based on an equation thought up by some guy you read about on the interwebs?

Three points:

1. The lifestyles, needs, tastes, budgets, purchasing habits, cultural differences, online engagement patterns and degree of emotional investment in your brand of each ‘fan’ may be completely different. These, compounded, lead to a wide range of behaviors in your fans. These behaviors dictate their value to you as a company.

2.  Many of your fans may only do business with you only on occasion. Because of this, you have to factor in the possibility that a significant percentage of your fans’ value may fluctuate in terms of activity rather than spend. How many of your fans are not regular customers? How many do business with you each day vs. each month? How many do business with you once a quarter vs. once every three years? Are you figuring your on/off customer-fans into your value equation?

 3. Lastly, we come to the final type of Facebook fan: The one that doesn’t fall into the transacting customer category.  They might remain “fans” without ever converting into customers. Do you know what percentage of your fans right now falls into this non-transacting category? Do you really think that their value is $3.97 or $139.73 or whatever amount an agency, guru or consulting firm arbitrarily assigned to them? No. They clicked a button and left. Their value, until proven otherwise, is zero.

 With this kind of fan/customer diversity within your company ecosystem, you come to realize that arbitrary values like “the value of a Facebook fan is $x” can’t be applied to the real world.

Rule #4: A Facebook fan’s value is likely to be elastic.

Because the value of a Facebook fan is a result of specific purchasing habits (and impact on others’ purchasing habits), a fan’s value is likely to be elastic over time. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it simply means “flexible.” As in: the value of a Facebook fan will change. It will fluctuate. It will not always be the same from measurement period to measurement period.

Let me illustrate: A Facebook fan might spend $76 on your products and services one month and $36 the following month. This means that her “value” was $76 one month and $36 the following month. If next month, she spends $290, $290 will become her “value” for that month.

Because transaction behaviors change, the value of a fan is also likely to change.

You can average this out over time (the fan’s value might average out to $97/month over the course of a year, for example), or just total her value per month, quarter, or year, depending on your reporting requirements. That is entirely up to you.

Example 1: “Based on her transactions, the value of Jane Jones, a fan since 2007, was $2,398.91 in 2010. Thanks to our fan engagement (digital customer development) program, Jane’s value increased to $2,911.02 in 2011.”

Example 2: Chris Pringle’s average monthly value in Q2 of 2011 was $290.76. His average monthly value in Q3 of 2012 was $476.21. He is one of 17,636 fans we managed to shift from a basic package to a premium package via our Facebook campaign.”

Note: In order to figure this stuff out, you are going to have to either get creative with the way your CRM solution interacts with your Facebook analytics suite or wait until Social CRM solutions get a little more robust. Some are getting close.

Examples of exceptions (where fan value may be somewhat inelastic):

 – You are a bank and a fan’s only transaction with you is a fixed monthly payment.

– You are a cable company and a fan’s only transaction with you is a monthly cable bill.

– You are a publisher and a fan’s only transaction with you is an annual magazine subscription.

– Your fans don’t transact with you. They clicked a button and left. If their value was $0 a month ago, it is still $0 this month.

If your business charges for a monthly service that tends to not fluctuate a whole lot, chances are that the value of each of your fans will remain rather constant. This compared to a Starbucks, a Target or an H&M.

Rule #5: A Facebook fan’s value varies from brand to brand and from product to product.

If a fan/customer’s value can fluctuate from month to month and that value can vary wildly from individual to individual within the same brand or product umbrella, imagine how much it can vary from brand to brand, and from product to product.

Compare, for example, the average value of a fan/customer for Coca Colaand the average value of a fan/customer for BMW. (Hypothetically of course, since I don’t have access to either company’s sales or CRM data.) What you may find is that a fan’s annual value for Coca Cola might average,say, $1,620 per year, while a fan’s annual value for BMW might average $42,000. Why? Because the products are entirely different. One costs less than $3 per unit and requires no maintenance. The other can cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit and requires maintenance, repairs, not to mention the occasional upgrade.

Moreover, a single strong recommendation from a fan can yield an enormous return for BMW, while a single recommendation from a fan will yield a comparatively smaller return for Coca Cola.

You can see how the notion that the “value” of a Facebook fan can be calculated absent the context of purchasing habits, brand affiliations, fluctuations in buying power, market forces and shifts in interests and even value perceptions is bunk. Unless of course you find yourself being asked to transform cost into value. Less work. Easier to sell.

So why does this happen?  Tune in next week for Part 2 of this post, in which we will talk about why so many “social media gurus,” digital agencies and “industry analysts” still seem to be having trouble with something that should be pretty simple.

I hope this helped. From now on, if anyone seems confused about the topic of fan/follower/subscriber “value,” point them to this post.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

If you haven’t already, check out Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Lots of vital advice in there for anyone working with social media in a business environment. Makes a great gift to employees, bosses, contractors and clients too. You can even read a free chapter here: smroi.net

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I was scheduled to participate in a panel on Social Media and ROI at the #sxswi conference this week. My schedule being what it is, I couldn’t be in two places at once and had to make the painful decision last week of cancelling my trip to Austin altogether. As much as I was looking forward to finally making it to Sx and being on this panel, priorities are priorities. Muchas gracias to the panel’s organizers for having invited me to participate. In spite of what I am about to say here, I am very grateful to them.

Anyway. After days of reading tweet after tweet about how wonderful and fun SxSWi was, how much of a blast everyone was having, seeing pictures of some of my favorite people meeting up and smiling big for the camera, it was with a heavy heart that I logged into Tweetdeck for the #sxsmroi session Monday afternoon, in the hopes of at least being there from a distance. My expectations:  A great discussion, a professional discussion, an intelligent discussion about ROI and Social Media. After all, it’s 2012, right? This should be a mature topic. I released the book last year, the various presentations I put together on the subject have made their way around the globe, my blog posts have been read and read again, shared, retweeted and whatnot. ROI when it comes to social media is devastatingly simple to understand. Right?

I guess not. What I found myself confronted with instead of the intelligent session I expected was… a complete disaster.  I knew we were in trouble when I started seeing eager tweets about ROI being tied to “Return on Efficiency” less than 3 minutes from its start.

Let me give you a taste of some of the brilliant “insights” retweeted from this unfortunate session:

What’s the ROI of NOT engaging in SM? 

Asking if there is ROI for Social Media is like asking if there is an ROI of the telephone or a pencil.

If social is done well it builds trust. if done really well, it is true trust. then 2-way convo: speed and reach. 

There is an answer for CFO – if social has done well, it builds trust.

Seems like the new question is “What’s the ROI on coming up with a formula for ROI?

That’s right: The same nonsense social media “gurus” were selling on their blogs and all up and down the social media “speaking circuit” back in 2008, when social media started being integrated into business models.

So… 2008 goes by.

2009 goes by.

2010 goes by.

2011 goes by.

We are now in 2012. How is it that the same bullshit is still being spewed as “insight” on a #sxswi panel on ROI? How does this happen?

I know I couldn’t be there so I bear some of the responsibility, but I have to ask: Where are the professionals? Surely, we can find 5 people for a panel on Social Media and ROI who know what the hell they are talking about, right? I don’t even mean “experts.” I mean just normal professionals with a fair fluency on the subject, who can speak intelligently about what it is, how it is calculated, and even offer concrete examples to illustrate how companies are determining the ROI of key activities and channels on a specific timeline.

Just 5 or 6 people. That’s all.

No? Too hard? Really?

What happens if I get hit by a car tomorrow? Nobody can handle this topic? I don’t buy that. Where are the professionals? Sound off. Please, for the love of puppies, raise your hands and step forward. This crap needs to stop. Now. Today. And I can’t be the one carrying this flag. (Unless by some miracle, my book finally starts making its way to every single desk in Corporate America, which would be fine too. #NotHappening)

Back to more of the session’s brilliant “insights” on ROI and Social media. Brace yourselves for the worst because it is coming:

Social doesn’t always need to be quantified. Its not a spreadsheet metric only – trust, relationships, advocacy. 

Social extends beyond traditional ROI and you can’t quantify it on a spreadsheet.

You can’t put love and trust into a chart. Why? Because love and trust defies logical reasoning.

Because we lied and told people digital was measurable.

How do you put trust and love into a spreadsheet? silence 

Measuring digital is different because we’re the first generation doing it. 

We’re getting so granular with SM and trying to label it with a quantifiable ROI, that we’re missing the overall impact of it.

You don’t measure activity, you measure results. 

The minute we standardize in #smroi, we will fail.

Innovation is miles ahead of where we are in terms of measuring ROI.

Don’t spend all of your money trying to measure social ROI.

There’s no ROI for measuring ROI – it’s just too difficult

Just because I can measure something doesn’t mean I should.

That was what was being retweeted from a #sxswi panel on ROI. Maybe it should have been called “beating around the bush of #smROI for the fourth year in a row.”

It isn’t surprising then that about twenty minutes into the session, a lot of the back-channel chatter started looking a lot like this:

Did I really just hear someone at #sxsmroi say a lot of data when trying to quantify social ROI is unnecessary? …On to another session…

This panel could benefit by examples of ROI measurement. Some people in this room probably have to report that. #SxSMROI

I am shocked that the #SocialMediaROI panel at #SXSW isn’t giving people the real “How To Measure SM ROI” they came for. #sxsmroi

Have to wonder who the #sxsmroi panel is talking to. Definitely not business owners or people who sign the checks.

I think I’m glad I’m not at #sxsmroi because it’s not a ROI panel. Maybe call it SM Value or SM Efficiency panel, but it’s not a ROI panel.

Sorry #sxsmroi panel, you can’t send people out of the room w message that social isn’t measurable. It is and it’s critical

Disappointing panel at #SXSMROI same song & dance we’ve been hearing for years.

People walking out. You really think they were going to magically tell you how to measure SM ROI? #sxsmroi

In a nutshell.

In case you think that my having been there would have made a difference, think again. I wouldn’t have endured 45 minutes of that. Though I have never walked off during a panel at any conference anywhere, be assured that I would have pulled off my mic and walked out of this one. I would much rather meet up with people outside the session and answer their ROI questions directly (my purpose for attending events like this) than endure almost an hour of complete and utter bullshit that has no place at a conference the scale of #sxswi.

No offense to the couple of pros who were on the panel and whose comments were either not retweeted at all or simply not mentioned in this post. A few solitary bits of general, elementary ROI wisdom did find their way through the barrage of bullshit, but not nearly enough and certainly not driven by either adequate vigor or accompanied by concrete examples. So understand that I am not taking a blowtorch to the entire panel but rather to the balance of its outcome.

Here’s what really disappoints me: A full complement of professionals (with or without me) shouldn’t be that difficult to come up with right?  There shouldn’t have been a single dumbass comment retweeted from this session. Not one. So I ask again: Where are the professionals?

I am appalled.

As for those of you who walked away from that panel thinking it was wonderful, that Social Media ROI is a myth, channel-optional or even elastic enough to mean Return on Engagement, Return on Efficiency or Return on Conversation, do yourselves a favor: Search for every post containing the term ROI (or R.O.I.) on this blog and start there. Once you start to get what #smROI actually is and isn’t, feel free to spend $10 or $15 on the #smROI book (link below). That’s all you need to get started. The rest will come naturally once you start applying what you’ve learned here to the real world.

*          *          *

Here it is. A whole book on how to make social media work from a business standpoint. ROI is covered, along with a lot of process elements that tie back to it. If your favorite social business “expert” doesn’t seem to get this stuff yet, don’t feel bad about sending them a copy. Knowledge is never a bad gift.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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When my parents found out that I was writing a series of books that take place during the first world war (side project), my father started digging around through the family “vault.” The vault, real or figurative, contains oodles of documents, archives, family trees, heirlooms, photographs and other artifacts that touch on the family’s history over the last five centuries or so. Fascinating stuff. Mysterious stuff. At any rate, he went digging and found a canvas wallet filled with letters which he knew dated back from World War I, which his father (the first Olivier Blanchard) fought in. He believed that the letters had been written by grandpa Olivier during his campaign in the Orient as a cavalry officer, and hoped they would provide me with terrific every-day life material for the books. As you can well imagine, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this stuff.

Earlier this month, taking advantage of a quick trip to Amsterdam, I took a quick detour through France to spend a few days with my parents. I hadn’t been there but ten minutes before my father handed me this treasure-trove of insights which no one had so much as read or touched since 1918.

So here I am, holding in my hands this thick wad of impeccably folded letters and postcards, tucked away in a canvas wallet that – although obviously of a different era, looked as new as if I had just purchased it last week at  H&M. The paper was thin and a little yellow, but not from age. Every word looked as crisp and rich as if the ink had just finished drying. I roughly counted the letters: Somewhere between 60 and 80 letters in all, spanning from a period between February to August of 1918. Every letter was dated, numbered, and organized in chronological order. I glimpsed the handwriting, which was decidedly French and very old school, but decipherable all the same. I knew immediately that I had struck gold, not just in terms of raw research for the project, but also in terms of getting a glimpse at the lives of family members I had not ever gotten to know.

It should be said that by the time I was old enough to know about World War I, my grandfather was already very old. Like many survivors of The Great War, he wasn’t much into talking about it – or talking about much of anything – and especially not with an 8-year old. He and his cousins died when I was in my teens, without ever having told me or anyone outside of their own generation the simple stories of their youth. They passed away, one by one, much of their furniture and private things finding their way to various descendants and godchildren scattered all across Europe. Much of it probably ended up in estate sales and antique swaps. What vague historical significance might have still lingered behind them died outright when they became the property of strangers.

This is how family histories die, by the way: Stories don’t get passed down, and so one day the priceless portrait of an ancestor goes from being a family’s oldest historical artifact to being that weird ugly painting of some random person that Uncle Jack always had up on his wall. Estate sales are full of them: Paintings of strangers. Every single one of these strangers hanging on a wall in a gallery or study or just sitting under a sheet in an old garde-meuble is someone’s ancestor, orphaned either by chance or neglect, and destined never to find its way home. Pocket watches, jewelry, hats, books, pens, tea sets, old papers… sold, thrown away, donated. Before you know it, nothing remains but gravestones and dates. Before long, these too are forgotten.

It didn’t occur to me how much of a tragedy this erosion of every family’s history was until years after my grandfather’s generation passed away, when I became a father. Some part of me started to look for a link to the past, to some sense of continuity and legacy I could pass down to my children. It isn’t about just understanding your blood line’s connection with historical events. I think that knowing where you come from, who your ancestors were, helps shape who you will become in your life. We all look for heroes in our ancestors, people with courage and character, people we hope to find a little of ourselves in. Knowing where you come from matters. If it didn’t, sites like ancestry.com wouldn’t be as popular as they are.

But I digress. The letters: I started reading them. A few minutes into the process, I realized that they were not at all what I thought they were. They were not my grandfather’s letters to his family. They were the letters his father Edmond and mother Elise sent to him. They were letters from home. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed at first. I wanted to find out what it was like for a soldier, being shipped to the front, rotating between the relative safety of billets and the terror and carnage of the front lines. It was him I wanted to understand. It was through his eyes that I wanted to see the war. How could letters from his parents, safely tucked away in Paris, ever compete against that? Two letters into it, I realized how wrong I had been. As interesting as it would have been to read his side of the correspondence, discovering theirs was equally fascinating, if not more. Through their letters, I discovered a world that books and movies about the time period rarely shed a light on: How did the French live in 1918? How did parents deal with having a son fighting a war that was clearly the most devastating corpse factory in history? How did Parisians deal with the threat of defeat and occupation, with the privations of war, with the stress of having the Germans close enough to bomb them almost daily? What were their daily lives like?

I now had 6 months worth of letters promising to answer precisely these questions and more. Bonus: As I sifted through them, I soon realized that my great grandmother and great grandfather had entertained separate correspondences with my grandfather. There were two sets of letters bearing the same dates. I would get to experience the same events from two distinct points of view: A man’s and a woman’s. A father’s and a mother’s.

What did I discover? More than I could have hoped for. The price of things, for starters, as my grandfather never failed to bring up the price he paid for every item he sent to my grandfather in his monthly care-packages. The fact that Paris was experiencing terrifying artillery bombardments by day and air raids by night. I know where the bombs and shells fell, on what dates, at what time, what damage they caused and who was killed or injured. I know what the weather was like. I know what the press was telling and not telling the populace. I know who was ill, who was spending a few days in Versailles or Lion sur mer, who was forced out of Amiens because of the mandatory evacuations. I know whose son was killed or injured in such and such battle and on what date. I know who had a cold and who passed a kidney stone. I know the frequency with which people received and wrote letters, or just called them on the telephone. I discovered a million things that paint the clearest portrait of these young, dynamic, fascinating people I only knew as old, tired, white-haired seniors who played bridge with one another and talked of things I didn’t understand. But more to the point of this blog – which is most certainly not about my side projects or my family history – I learned something about the way people communicated with one another in 1918, and my reaction was essentially one of surprise, even shock: Facebook be damned. Even without what we know today as social media, without the benefit of the web and mobile devices, people seemed infinitely more connected to one another in 1918 – and with a war just a horizon away – than we are today with all of our real-time global communications tools. How could this be?

I could go on my parents’ Facebook wall on any given day and not know a fraction of the things people knew about each other’s days back then. I am not talking about people living down the street from one another either. The family was scattered all around France. The Blanchards, the Bassets, the Clogensons, the Guyons and other families which formed the complex web of cousins by blood and marriage were everywhere: Paris, Brest, Lille, Versailles, Amiens, Lyon and dozens of other cities and towns. Not only that but they were often in flux, spending a few days here, a few weeks there, visiting relatives, airing out houses, locking up apartments, taking the baths, getting away. The telephone was still a new invention. What we now know as “snail mail” was the only mature communications technology of the time. Judging by the fading ink every few lines, dipping your pen into an ink well to commit words to paper was still the norm. Letters had to be painstakingly hand-written, in legible handwriting, then taken to the post office. From there, they reached their destinations by foot, car, train, steam ship, bicycle and horseback. Steam ship schedules were widely known so people sending mail overseas were sure not to miss the narrow windows of opportunities during which their mail could be sent abroad. Miss the ship and your letter would take six rather than three weeks to reach the next continent.

Mail, the telegraph and the telephone: Those were your choices. And yet the connectivity between these people, separated by significant distances without the benefit of social and mobile communications, is to me nothing short of amazing. It puts today’s connectivity between us to shame. I’m not kidding. We’re amateurs compared to these folks who could have never even imagined a thing like Twitter, let alone the internet. They knew everything about one another: where they were, who they were with, what they talked about, what the weather was like there, what they ate and drank, what they were wearing… every last detail. Not with just five or six people in their immediate circles but dozens.

As entertaining as it is to read about gothas blowing up Captain Machin-chose’s pied-à-terre on the Rue de Rivoli and my great-uncle Maurice’s daily dance with whooping cough in March of 1918, seeing how efficient the information network between relatives and social circles was, in spite of the obvious absence of technology, is one of the most fascinating aspects of this discovery process.

My conclusion: We have forgotten more about the nature of social connectivity in the last 96 years than we have learned from every blog post written about Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, blogs, Tumblr, Quora and Pinterest combined (yes, including Mashable). Those of you who still think that all of this is about followers and fans, about platforms, about messaging and content, good luck with that. You’re fishing in the wrong pond with the wrong lure. There is something infinitely more human, simple and honest about what makes this connectivity work, about what feeds it (and how to ultimately tap it properly) than the channels, the technologies, the tools and even the vaunted strategies everyone and their brother is trying to sell you.

Don’t look to engagement and conversations to give meaning to any of it. Don’t look to content either. These things matter, sure, but they are not the core, the pivot, the heart of what makes this all work. There is something else, and until you have figured out what it is, your social media and social business “strategies,” no matter how much money and science you throw at them, will never work the way you want them to.

So take a giant step back. Stop listening to the incessant social media echo chamber for a few days. You owe it to yourself (and perhaps your clients) to get your eye back on the ball when it comes to this. You have been led astray a million times, one millionth of a degree at a time. While you thought you were still on the right track, you were already off course. “Content is king,” engagement strategy, Return on Influence, they are little more than gloss on broken compasses, buzzwords whose meaning, if they ever held any, have now eroded into parodies of legitimate insight. As for the self-important messengers of this so-called social media “thought leadership” movement, these hot air selling imbeciles peddling their pathetic blend of make-believe authenticity and “engagement strategy” day after day after day, blog post after tweet after webinar, all I see there now is the final act in a opera of uninspired parroting whose every note brings them closer to its inexorable denouement. We know where this is headed. We all know it. And not even their Klout scores will save them when the house lights come back on.

Something became painfully clear to me while I was reading these letters and saw the timeless nature of human connectivity so clearly manifested in them. I won’t tell you what it is. It wouldn’t do any good. You have to go look for it yourselves, in your own way, or you will never completely get it. But what I can tell you is this: Until then, learn to tell the difference between self-serving nitwits who have merely memorized the choreography and lyrics of the daily social media sales pitch, and people who understand how all the pieces actually fit. Stop spending time with the former and start filling your ranks with the latter. It will start to pay off right away.

None of this is trivial.

Cheers,

Olivier

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CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Since I am bouncing around Europe this week, (come say hi at #tsc12 if you can), now is a good time to republish this list from a few months ago. It is still as relevant today as it was then:

1. “Social” is something you are, not something you doIf your company culture doesn’t focus on building relationships with your customers, then chances are that you won’t use social media to do it either. The “media” doesn’t dictate how social a company is or isn’t. It simply enhances its ability to be a social business – if in fact it is – or illustrates the extent to which it isn’t.

2. You cannot effectively outsource customer relationships to an agency. Research and intelligence, sure: that can be outsourced. Creative? That too. Implementing technologies and helping you with strategy? You bet. Marketing, PR and advertising? Of course. But the relationship part: Shaking hands, being there when customers ask your for help, participating in conversations, making them feel at home when they do business with you, none of these can be effectively outsourced. Not unless your agency partner embeds a team with you for a few months and you are both committed to a long term program, anyway.

3. A blog is just a blog. It isn’t a magical trust and influence publishing converter for the web. Publishing propaganda or marketing content is just that, regardless of the publishing platform. Just because you publish marketing content on a blog doesn’t mean it magically morphs into something “authentic” that “engaged customers” will spread through “word of mouth.”

4. Marketing on social media channels isn’t “social.” It is just marketing on social media channels. Just as publishing marketing content on a blog doesn’t make marketing content any less manufactured and biased, publishing content on social media channels isn’t “social.” Every time I hear a company proudly state that they have a social media program when in fact, all they have is a marketing program that uses social media channels, I feel sorry for its stakeholders and customers. This is one of two things: Delusion or spin. And by “spin,” I mean a lie. If you are a professional in this space, either build a real social media/business program – one that is actually social – or get out of the way because those of us on a mission to do it right are coming in hot.

5. Transparency isn’t just a word. If you don’t intend to practice it, don’t preach it. Transparency isn’t a flag you get to wave around only when it is convenient. Disclosure also shouldn’t be something your legal department needs to brief you about. You already know what’s right. And by “right,” I don’t just mean “ethical” or what you can get away with. I mean “right.” Do that. Treat your customers with respect and treat your program on foundations of integrity and professional pride.

6. Change management, not social media tools and platforms, is at the crux of social media program development. Because social is something you are, not something you do, most organizations cannot succeed in the social space by changing what they do and not who they are. A Director of Social Media can only do so much. “Social” speaks at least as much to your company’s DNA as it does to its business practices. If you don’t really care about your customers, social media won’t magically transform you into someone who does. You have to wantto become this type of individual, and for your organization as a whole to follow suit, in order for the socialization of your business to be successful.

7. People are more important than technology. Hire people who care about other people. If you hire and promote assholes, your company will be full of assholes. It doesn’t matter how much Twitter and Facebook you add to your company’s communications or how many awesome monitoring dashboards you buy if you are a company of assholes.  Guess what: An asshole on social media is still an asshole. Start with your people, not your tools. They are what makes social either work or fail.

8. Social media should not be managed by Marketing anymore than your phones should be managed by Sales41% of social media directors are marketing professionals while only 1% are customer service professionals. Would you care to guess as to why it is that only 1% of social media programs seem to be yielding actual results (and I mean business measurables, not just web measurables)  while the rest are just making noise and turning anecdotal BS into “case studies?” (See item 9 for further insights into this.)

9. Shut up and listen. Everywhere I look, I see companies spending a good deal of their time (and budgets) focusing on producing content, blog posts, social media press releases, tweets, updates, events, and looking to “content strategy” to make sure it all fits smoothly together. That’s nice. Too bad they don’t spend at least as much time thinking about their listening strategy. Maybe they would actually get somewhere if they did. Listen to your customers. Listen to your competitors’ customers. Everything companies need to know is passing them by because they are too busy talking. Shut up, already. Use social technologies to learn how to better serve your customers and become a better company, and you’ll be good to go. Pertinent data can be turned into valuable insights. Valuable insights can be used to make better business decisions (strategic and tactical, short term and long term). That’s the real value. Pushing content all day long and measuring likes and impressions won’t get you very far. Remember: If your communications serve your marketing department more than they serve your customers or your business on the whole, you are probably doing it wrong.

10. Any consultant, “thought leader,” agency or partner who doesn’t tell you these things isn’t fit to be consulted on the subject. Do big promises, miracle cures and fairy tales sound like reality to you? “If you buy X, your business will suddenly grow and improve?” Really? Does “we have the best secret formula” sound legitimate to you? It doesn’t matter where your new “advisors” have worked, who they have worked with or how many people follow them on Twitter.  Of course they are all going to have great stories to tell. It’s called “marketing.” Ever heard of it?

Or maybe I would call that blog “The Emperor’s New Clothes: Alive and well in 2011 2012.”

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CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

– #smROI is now available in English, German, Korean and Japanese.

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