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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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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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Translation: "don't drink the water"

If I were to start a social media blog today, I would call it simply “Stating The Obvious.” The types of topics we would cover would fall along the lines of:

1. “Social” is something you are, not something you do. If 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 outsource customer relationships to an agency. Can you outsource your presence at Thanksgiving dinner to an agency? Do you send your PR team to social events and parties when you have better things to do than attend? Social media isn’t any different. Why? Because it is “social media,” not “delegation media” or “pretend media”. 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 outsourced.

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. 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 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 want to 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 Sales. 41% 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. Nobody really cares what you have to say, and if they do, they don’t need to hear it all day long. Really. Just make great products, consistently create exceptional experiences for customers, and focus every bit of energy in making sure no customer of yours is ever disappointed, and you’ll be good to go. If your communications serve your marketing department more than they serve your customers, you are 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.”

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Chances are that you’ve already bought a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson), but what about your boss? Have your clients discovered it yet? Have you shared it with your employees and coworkers? (It makes a great gift, and it will make your organization stronger.)

Get yours here or here.

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If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding the intricacies of social media R.O.I., chances are that…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

I know. Coming from me, the guy who literally wrote the book on “Social Media R.O.I.” this might seem like a strange thing to say. But hear me out. It will all make sense in a few minutes.

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem is that the question can’t be answered as asked: Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. The social space is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

You’ve been asking the wrong question.

2. To get the right answer, ask the right question.

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

To ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. Here’s an example:

What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011?

That is a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media. Here are a few more:

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up equations mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used) x engagement

Huh?!

Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing. Their aim is to confuse and extract legal tender from unsuspecting clients, nothing more. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

In case you missed it earlier, don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure. Stop here. Take it all in. Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper and work it out.

Once you grasp this, try something bigger. If you want to measure the ROI of specific activities across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the relationship between the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes a detail. ROI is ROI, regardless of the channel or the technology or the platform.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model and determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, take your ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving these outcomes, and each particular type of activity within their scope, then add them all up. Can measuring all of that be complex? You bet. Does it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources.

If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

This is pretty key. Don’t just measure a bunch of crap after the fact to see if any metrics jumped during the last measurement period. Think about what you will want to measure ahead of time, what metrics you will be looking to influence. Think more along the lines of business-relevant metrics than social media metrics like “likes” and “follows,” which don’t really tell you a whole lot.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Repeat after me: Not all social media activity needs to drive ROI.

Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs. Don’t force them into that box.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” function or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors:

1. The manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective.

2. The degree to which specific social media activity helped drive that objective.

In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

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By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a simple framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs in partnership with digital agencies or all on their own. Check it out at www.smroi.net, or look for it at fine bookstores everywhere.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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Some things actually are black and white.

A conversation with a good friend in the agency world the other day (and particularly her horrified reaction to what I shared with her) prompted me to finally write this post. If your company is working with an agency on building or managing a social media program, you probably need to read this. And if you work for an agency that works with social media, you definitely need to read this.

Here’s the skinny: I work with agencies around the world, and more importantly, I have friends in a lot of places, both on the brand side and the agency side. Every chance we get, we talk shop. When someone does something cool, we talk about it. When someone does something not so cool, we talk about it too. And when we start noticing things that bother us, especially when those things touch on ethics, we most certainly talk about it. Over the last few months, one conversation has dominated all others, and it is this: The existence of two prevailing agency models when it comes to building and managing social media programs for clients. One is primarily client-focused and good, and the other… well, not so much. And yet, the latter seems to be gaining traction in the agency world, and that isn’t good.

Here is what these two models look like:

Model #1: The proper, working model.

In this model, the agency identifies the client’s business objectives and uses its capabilities to support them. Note that in this model, the agency doesn’t simply pitch a campaign or provide a cookie-cutter service. It identifies the client’s goals. It clarifies them, even, if not for themselves, for the client (as this is sometimes needed).

For example, if the client comes into a meeting and says “we need a social media program” or “we want 100,000 new Twitter followers by Christmas,” the agency doesn’t simply nod and set to work building a social media program or acquiring 100,000 new followers. What it does first is dig a little deeper: It finds out why the client wants a social media program or why 100,000 new twitter followers is a significant number for them. It finds out what the social media program is there to accomplish. Is it to attract new customers? Is it to capture more relevant data from existing customers? Is it to improve conversion rates or facilitate positive word-of-mouth? Is it to build the foundations of a consumer insights program? Is it merely to monitor brand mentions for a while, until the executive team has a better idea what they want to do?

Whatever the client’s ultimate goal (or series of goals) is, that becomes the basis for the program or campaign. That complex of end goals becomes the driving force behind the ideas, the mechanisms and the activities that will become the core of the pitch.

Why? Because a social media program that blends customer acquisition and increased buy-rate with facilitating WOM and activating hobbyist communities looks VERY different from a social media program whose objective is merely to “build and fill.” (The self-serving process by which an empty space is built only to be filled by a budget.)

What comes out of this type of model is a social media program that blends into a client’s overall business ecosystem. It deliberately supports its marketing efforts, its PR efforts, its customer service efforts, its sales efforts, and so on. Success is measured not only in social media metrics (net new likes/fans/subscribers/followers, net mentions, sentiment deltas and estimated advertising value) but in business-relevant metrics as well: Net new customers, Net growth in sales, increased buy-rates, net positive customer recommendations, improvements in loyalty metrics, increased market share, faster customer service ticket resolutions, improvements in PR crisis resolution, greater operational efficiency in x, etc.

In this model, the agency works with the client as an integrated partner, not just an outsourced service provider, and the results are concrete. In fact, the question of R.O.I. pretty much answers itself. It is never in question. Whether in a support role or a leadership role, the agency and the client act in tandem from start to finish.

This is the proper model for agency involvement in Social Media with a client. The ideal model, if you will.

Model #2 : The improper, unethical model.

In spite of the amazing breadth of potential for agencies in the social media space in terms of impact, revenues and success, many unfortunately choose to just cut corners and go for the fast, easy money. In this model, an agency knowingly sells what essentially amounts to bullshit to unsuspecting clients.

Let me give you two examples:

1. “We need to be in social media.”

Client comes to agency thinking they need a social media program. Their competitors all have one now, and after years of resisting, it looks like they are just going to have to get into that social media “business.” They don’t know much and they don’t know what they want, so they are relying on the agency to provide them with whatever help they need.

What the agency comes up with is a package that includes the development of an official Facebook page, several customized Twitter accounts, a YouTube channel, some internal training, and a content package to go along with it all. If the client has the funds, some campaigns will be thrown into the fray, maybe a contest or two.

Enter the “win an iPad 2 for liking our new Facebook page or following us on Twitter” discussions.

Enter the 5 tweets per day and 3 Facebook updates per day content packages.

In this model, nothing actually happens that directly impacts the business. Nothing is done to support a particular business objective or outcome. The model is simply this: To create billable social media “activity,” bill the client, and generate metrics that seem to indicate that the social media activity is a success. (We will come back to that in a minute.)

What the client ends up with is noise. Ask the client about his social media program, and he will proudly tell you how wonderful it is. Ask him what it is doing for his company, however, and the answers begin to sound less concrete. “Well, we’re attracting a lot of comments and likes. Like, 30 or 40 per week now.”

Yeah? That’s wonderful. But what is it doing for your business?

2. “We need 100,000 followers asap.”

Client comes to agency with an urgent need to grow its social media reach from 7,359 likes/fans or followers to 100,000 by Christmas. Why? Could be anything: Because the CEO said so. Because their closest competitor is there already and it’s embarrassing to be that far behind. Because the digital manager just came back from a conference during which a social media guru told them that 100,000 followers was a minimum benchmark for a brand.

What the agency comes up with is a simple package based on “the value of a fan” or “the value of a follower.” From this subjective metric, the agency quotes the client on a price: “We can get you your 100,000 followers before Christmas, but it will cost $x.” Negotiations ensue. A price is agreed upon.  The agency throws in a little hat trick: “If we get you to 120,000 followers by Christmas, how about a 5% bonus?”  The answer: No, but if you get us to 100,000 by December 1st, you’ll have your extra 5%.

This is a real situation, by the way. A real conversation.

From the client’s perspective, this is an awesome deal:

1. Internally, nothing is required except signing checks, signing off on activity, and keeping track of the agency’s progress. If the agency fails, no one is really to blame internally. The agency can be fired and replaced. But if they succeed, there will be enough glory to go around.

2. It would cost 5x more to reach potential customers in more traditional ways, even email. Social media really is cheaper!

3. We have a social media program! How cool is that?!

4. The client thinks it could have never gotten 100,000 followers on his own by Christmas. God bless that agency and its amazing social media savoir-faire!

From the agency’s perspective, this is an even better deal:

1. The client hasn’t figured out that social media activity is there to support business objectives. He is so focused on hitting that follower goal that nothing else really matters. All the agency will be goaled on is its ability to reach that number by Christmas December 1st. Nothing else matters. Not conversions, not positive WOM, not FRY, nothing. Just get those 100,000 followers.

2. The client is clueless about social media, and there is no reason to change that. The less they know, the more they rely on the agency to deal with their needs. This is very good for the agency, as we will see in a moment.

3. The agency, like an increasing number of its “competitors” around the world, has been recently and repeatedly pitched by companies out of China, India, South America and Eastern Europe that offer followers, fans, likes, clicks and other digital traffic à la carte. It can, like any other agency with the funding to do it, pay for all the new followers and fans it wants. You can buy all the positive mentions you want too.

Let me explain how this works: Money changes hands. Somewhere in a country where the client has no business presence, 25,000 people either create accounts or use existing ones via proxies and simply click “like” or “subscribe” or “follow.” These people will NEVER become customers, but to the client who doesn’t know, they have just become his 25,000 new followers on Twitter.

The only two details for the agency to worry about at that point are a) making sure to cover their tracks, and b) figure out the optimal markup.

This, boys and girls, is how it’s done, and we aren’t just talking about small fly-by-night outfits. Think bigger. Much bigger. And it doesn’t stop there.

4. The agency doesn’t need to have experienced professionals on their social media integration/management team anymore. Why waste money on that when you can just buy fans and followers?

Agencies opting for this model have two options:

A) Hire someone with an influential blog on Social media and put them on staff as a sort of social media mantle piece. These folks will be there to woo the client and help pitch them. They’ll charm them and do some internal trainings for them. They’ll create content for the agency blog, put a face to the agency’s social media capabilities, speak at events (always pitching the agency’s “case studies,” of course), and serve as a “thought leader” but will never actually work on building anything for clients.

B) Hire or promote someone with zero experience in social media integration and build them up as “experts” anyway. Any intern will do, but someone with a few years of experience in any “digital” field will look better. If you’ve ever wondered how some of these people you have never heard of become “experts” almost overnight, wonder no more.

Think about it: Why bother staffing up with expensive talent when you can just buy your followers and fans? The page builds can be outsourced to developers. The content can be outsourced to any number of content farms. The structure is already in place. If the agency is already working on a campaign, its content can be easily adapted to social media channels. (Add revenue line items here, here, and here.)

5. Once the followers have been purchased and the campaign or program seems to be gaining traction, start beating your own drum. Convince the client that their success could make a great case study, then build it up. In a few months, wouldn’t it be great to present at conferences around the world how “engagement” and “content” took Brand A from 7,000 followers to 100,000 in just a few months? Oh, the white papers. Oh the slide decks. Oh the positive press in Mashable and ZDnet. Oh the blog posts. Oh the awards.

Get on the phone with the PR team pronto.

Meanwhile, those 100,000 followers provide nothing for the business. Sure, it looks good when people check out the account’s profile page. It looks like the company and its agency are doing something right. The stats are easy to graph too. Empirical data, right? Is anyone ever going to go back and check where all of those “fans” came from?

Unfortunately, that number is a smoke screen. The vast majority of those followers will never become customers. They will never recommend the company (unless paid to do so). They’re paid extras, pretending to like your company, nothing more. Chances are, they had never heard of it before an email notification with a Paypal link told them to.

Meanwhile, the agency looks like a superstar. In the next few months, other brands will visit them and these words will fill their conference room time and time again:

“Can you do for us what you did for [Brand A]?”

The answer will always be yes.

6. Do not pass Go. Collect that 5% bonus for spending the client’s money faster than the original timetable called for.

In this type of model, KPIs (key performance indicators) will tend to focus on digital measurement only:

Net new follows.

Net new likes.

Net new subscribers.

Net new & volume of mentions.

Click-throughs.

EAV/EMV (Estimated Advertising/Media Value)

Reports will include fascinating graphs measuring “engagement” and “social equity.” Middle-managers will have exciting (albeit somewhat complicated) reports to present to their bosses that clearly indicate that the agency is kicking ass, doing its job, earning its pay. And yet, nothing concrete will come out of it. No actual new customers. No increases in loyalty. No preparedness for the next PR crisis. No improvements anywhere, except for all that “activity” in social media, except for all that noise.

I’ve been in the room when deals like this were discussed. I’ve had drinks with agency professionals who confirmed, disgusted, that it was becoming standard operating procedures at their firms. I’ve worked with clients who had no idea the extent to which they had been screwed by their own agencies in precisely this manner until they started digging under the surface of easy “social” metrics and “R.O.I. is not really applicable to social business” discussions.

This is happening in your market right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or Paris, Atlanta or Brussels, San Francisco or Hong Kong. This model is gaining traction because it’s easy, it’s cheap, it generates revenue and accolades for agencies, and the clients don’t know enough to make a stink. (Not that making their disappointment public would be to their advantage anyway.)

Where your choices lead:

Fortunately, because the second model is now so widespread, it won’t remain a dirty little secret much longer. Before long, clients will start figuring it out, other witnesses to it will start talking about it, and the agencies they work(ed) for will be exposed. Careers will be tossed down the proverbial drain, and the higher the pay grade, the harder the fall. Don’t kid yourselves: It is as inevitable as the fall of Enron.

Take a step back and ask yourself: What will clients do when they find out? How many new clients will these agencies attract once the curtain falls away? Who will want to go work for that kind of organization? What kind of professional will they attract (and more importantly, retain)? What future can this sort of organization really hope for?

To use a cycling analogy, do you really want to be remembered as the guy who won the Tour de France only to be stripped of the honor for blood doping a year later?

Cheating to win sucks. Cheating to get paid or to get ahead sucks. And no one gets away with it. No one. Not anymore. What side of the ax do you want to be on when it finally falls? That’s your call.

The agencies who opt for real results, on the other hand, who truly want to be the best in the business, whose relationship with clients is not predatory or parasitic, will stand out and attract solid talent, the people with insights and ideas and the ability to win and help them grow. Their success in recruiting the best talent in the world and use it properly will get around. This will gradually score them bigger clients. Meanwhile, the idiots who ripped off their clients with purchased “success” will just vanish from the scene altogether.

I know this because Tyler knows this. And also because I also know that reputation is everything. People talk. People always talk. And they always remember too.

As I begin to transition from being just an independent consultant (where my impact is often far too limited for my taste) to joining a larger organization (where I will be able to do a lot more), I realize how difficult the next few months will be. Sorting through potential new ‘homes’ for me won’t be as easy as just agreeing on a figure anymore. Now I have this stuff to deal with too, and the big famous name on the door doesn’t mean what it used to back in the day. As sad as that is, it’s the sad reality of where the marketing world stands in 2011. The vetting process on my end will have to be more thorough than it ever has been, adding a whole new layer of scrutiny in my search for #thenextgig.

This should be interesting.

PS: If you are an agency that falls into the first category (the proper model), let’s talk. If you fall into the second, let’s not.

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If you haven’t already, learn how to properly build, manage and measure social media programs at your own pace. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization will help you avoid common pitfalls of  most bogus social media program pitches and help you develop your own business-focused framework instead. Think of it as a 300-page blueprint for anyone looking to build a proper social media program. Download a free chapter here and find out for yourself if it is worth the paper it is printed on. You can also check it out on amazon.com or pick it up at just about any bookstore.

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Filed under Opinion:

Social media training in the real world:

Much of what I do involves teaching executives how to use Social Media in their day to day business activities. I help Marketing managers integrate social channels into their departments’ activities, for example. I help PR departments develop around-the-clock monitoring practices and crisis response protocols. I help customer service managers develop real-time customer support capabilities and train their staff to be as comfortable in social media environments as they are on the phone or via email. I help COOs integrate social media across their business units and CMOs and CEOs make sense of it all. In essence, that part of what I do looks a lot like cross-training: I teach marketing, customer service, sales, advertising, and PR professionals how to incorporate social media into what they already do, and I help executives understand how social media fits into their professional ecosystems. From there, we build programs based on their needs, objectives, and capabilities.

On occasion, I also help social media professionals learn basic business management concepts so that they won’t waste their employers’ and clients’ time with disconnected “social media strategies” and pointless measurement methodologies. I help them understand how to build social media practices for customer service departments, for instance or teach them how to apply their skillset to a digital marketing role, but somewhere along the line, it is their responsibility to take that training beyond what little guidance I can provide. I am not a university: I am simply not equipped to teach someone how to become a customer service manager or a data analyst or a CMO.

What I also don’t do is teach “social media professionals” how to get better at “social media.” Why? Because any non-basic course on “professional” social media management taught outside of a specific business application context is essentially worthless. It is the social media equivalent of taking an “advanced” course in telephone conversations or email content management. It’s bollocks. You want to learn how to use Twitter better? Find some free tutorials and spend more time using Twitter. You want to learn how to be more fluent with tools like Spiral 16, Webtrends or Seesmic? Get friendly with their tech support teams, let them show you some new tricks, and spend a few hours every week using what you’ve learned until it’s become second nature. Want to learn how to be a better community manager? Talk to other community managers and learn what you can from their successes and setbacks, then try some of their tricks to see how they work for you.

Here’s another tip: Every time you learn something new, share it. Train other people in your organization so you won’t always have to do it all. Build knowledge all around you. In time, they’ll be the ones sharing new tips and tricks with you.

The reality of the business world in 2011 and going into 2012 is that there is no need for “social media professionals.” What businesses need are marketing professionals with a fluency in social media, customer service professionals who can operate in a social media environment, executives who understand how to leverage social media to assist and amplify their other activities, business analysts who know how to measure the effectiveness of their companies’ activities in social media. In other words, businesses need professionals who know how to blend “social” with existing business functions. What they don’t need is to try and figure out how 500,000 newly minted “social media professionals” somehow fit into their organizations.

What is the value of a social media “expert” who can’t translate that expertise into a skill or role a company can actually use?

Where things go wrong:

The notion that thousands of organizations out there are in need of “social media professionals” is a complete sham. Whatever you were doing before social media became a “thing,” that’s what your real skill is. Your profession. What you will be most likely to be hired to do. Your new social media skills, they’re just a fresh layer of value wrapped around that core skill. That’s it. You have 10 years of experience as a customer service rep and three years of using Twitter and Facebook? Guess what: You probably aren’t going to be hired as a Social Media Director by anybody, nor should you. You aren’t ready for that yet. But you could be hired as the customer service manager who will be asked to build and manage the company’s first social media customer service team. Go for that job, kick ass at it, and maybe a year from now you get asked to build on that success, and so forward goes your career. Not as a “social media professional” but as a professional who knows how to use social media.

That social media shortcut though, that magic door to a Chief Social Officer title without passing “Go,” it’s bullshit. It’s a marketing scam to lure you into signing up for webinars, certification programs and whatever else will pass for training these days.

Not to pick on this particular event that popped up in my feed yesterday (whose content actually seems pretty good if you reframe it as a social media-themed conference), but read this marketing copy and think about what it promises and how:

“If you are a social media professional wanting to take your skills to the next level, or an online marketer expanding your capabilities, this program is your chance to go beyond a typical introductory course and get advanced insights from true social media masters. This conference series is a unique opportunity to develop your own mastery of social media for Marketing and Communications, with an emphasis on engagement. Whether you are in charge of a department in a large organization, you are responsible for multiple clients within an agency, or you are an independent professional deepening your skills and knowledge, this special event series will help you advance your career and accomplish your goals in key areas of social media marketing.”

Again, the event might be great. At $199, it seems reasonably priced, and some of the speakers, although I have never heard of them, seem like they might have some interesting insights to share. I just can’t help but be a little curious about:

Take your skills to “the next level.”

Develop your own “mastery” of social media.

This special event series will help you advance your career and accomplish your goals.

This program is your chance.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head that whispers “bullshit!” every time I read copy like this. What it really is, is another “chance” to spend $200 on a conference and listen to presentations. Period. Not that there is anything wrong with that, conferences are great, but they are a far cry from anything close to a course or training program that will “take your skills to the next level” or help you “advance your career.”

I don’t blame any speakers and SMEs for being dragged into operations that don’t quite align promises with delivery. For the most part, they are knowledgeable professionals with great insights to share. They are driven by a desire to help their audience gain insights on certain aspects of social media that are relevant and actionable, and have no idea when they accept the invitation how or to whom the event will be marketed.

Generally speaking, the people who create and operate events which promise one thing but deliver another, on the other hand, know exactly what they are doing when they write or authorize their marketing copy. They see where the ethical lines are drawn as clearly as you and I. Not all but most knowingly choose to use certain keywords in order to create expectations not in line with the reality of what they are  delivering. In other words, they choose to deliberately prey on people’s aspirations, hopes and fears (the fear of not being qualified for a job, of missing out on some vital information or insight, of being left behind if they don’t constantly sign up for the next webinar, the next top secret newsletter, the next so-called training program) to make an easy buck. To call people who deliberately engage in deceptive practices predators would be too flattering. They aren’t predators at all. They are parasites: They don’t just hunt you down and kill you. They suck you dry, little by little, one event at a time, one webinar at a time, one newsletter or monthly community membership fee at a time.

Imagine hundreds of termites eating at the very foundations of the social media discipline they claim to be building, all the while charging you for the wood. Now you’re getting a glimpse of what is really going on right under everyone’s noses.

My beef isn’t with the quality of these events or what they charge, mind you. I take no issue with any of it. You want to put on a poorly produced event and charge $3,000 a head? Go for it. It’s your reputation. You want to put on a world class event and only charge $25? More power to you. No, my beef is first and foremost with the marketing. What I take issue with is always the same thing: The predatory sales pitch, the misleading copy, the deliberate formulation of unrealistic expectations to lure the gullible and the desperate (read: the underemployed).

It reminds me of TV evangelists asking the most desperate and poorest of their viewers to send them money in exchange for favors from God. “Send us $50 right now and you will see your investment multiplied tenfold! So sayeth the Lord!” Right. Says the guy with the Gold Rolex, the villa in Beverly Hills and the private petting zoo on his 500-acre estate. If only social media gurus sported TV preacher hair and dressed in 12-button gold lamé suits instead of baggy jeans and ratty T-shirts, the sham would be easier to spot.

My other beef is that when the objective is to make a quick buck, more of the organizers’ time is focused on marketing the event than it is on vetting its speakers and curating their content. As an event organizer, it is your responsibility to make sure that your speakers or trainers won’t deliver complete nonsense that will end up doing more harm than good if anyone actually tries to actually apply their advice. Things along the lines of Social Media ROI = (engagement x brand equity) ÷ brand mentions. And yet, how many times have we seen “experts” deliver complete nonsense at events that were supposed to help us learn something valuable?

An event organizer more focused on making money than creating an exceptional event for his audience probably has his mind on the wrong thing. It’s hard to read slimy marketing copy and not wonder what is really going on behind the scenes. That doesn’t help anyone.

A word about ethics, responsibility, and digital citizenship:

There are ethical lines all of us, every single day, decide not to cross. And I get it: Times are tough. As one of these very well fed social media termites had the nerve to tell me via email not long ago, “everyone has the right to make a buck.” Yeah. True. But you also have the right to have both your motives and practices questioned when you choose to make a dishonest buck. This goes way beyond the shady SEO schemes and non-disclosure of paid endorsements you run into on a weekly basis with many so-called A-list bloggers: It goes to the heart of being part of a community, of presenting yourself as a “thought leader,” as a guru or role model or shepherd, and then using that community to fill your pockets with little concern for the damage you cause its members.

It takes a remarkable absence of empathy to deliberately build trust in tens of thousands of people with the sole purpose of betraying that trust at the first opportunity to “make a buck.”

Speaking of that, here’s what “making a buck” under the pretense of helping people looks like in the real world:

The same thing happens in the social media “industry,” only it isn’t caught on CCTV.

If you’ve ever wondered why some of us who work in this community sometimes speak out against predatory or otherwise unethical practices, it’s because we see the scams for what they are, and we are just as outraged by that type of behavior as we are by what you saw taking place in that video.

Now I ask you: What would be the upside of keeping quiet about it? Of protecting the perpetrators, even?

To see it happening and do nothing shames us. It makes us either cowards or accomplices. It’s that simple.

Being part of a community means you give back to it. You contribute. You watch out for other people. You help them whenever you can. You protect them when you must. You make sure it is healthy and crime-free. What you don’t do is turn a blind eye when someone gets scammed. What you don’t do is glorify or help support people whose sole purpose for being in your community is to exploit it for their own gain, at everyone’s expense, and without a hint of remorse. What you don’t do is sell out your neighbors and your friends in exchange for a tiny slice of the pyramid scheme pie.

Repeat after me: The word “social” means something. It isn’t just a marketing buzzword. In that regard, it is just like authentic, transparent and honest. In the immortal words of Gordon Ramsay, “if you’re going to take the money, work for it.”

The biggest difference between the real world and the social media space is that in the social media space, it’s a lot harder to smell the bullshit.

In short, be careful what you register for. Tighten your vetting process. Approach every social media event with an eye for red flags. Ask yourself whether it is really worth your time and worth the fee. Ask yourself whether the event can truly deliver on what it advertises. Ask yourself what you really need to get out of it and whether or not you can reasonably expect that the event will not disappoint. And recalibrate your expectations if you must: In spite of shading marketing copy, some events, once reframed as conferences rather than training programs, can be well worth the price of admission. Whether or not you reward them with coin without first pointing out their shady practices is entirely your call.

But back to our original topic:

Social media’s educational fix: Focus on cross-training.

If “social media professionals” really want to advance their careers, here is my advice:

Learn the difference between a conference and a training program. (The former has a schedule of speakers. The latter has a discernible curriculum.)

Learn the difference between beginner training programs and advanced training programs. (The former touches on basic introductory concepts and teaches you how to use social media platforms and tools. The latter focuses on either becoming an expert platform/software operator, applying SM knowledge to specific business functions, and/or – for executives -operationalizing social media).

And here is the big one:

Take less social media strategy classes and more business management classes.

That is where the real value is. That’s what will make you employable.

Likewise, if business professionals want to advance their careers in an increasingly digital world, they probably need to learn how to properly integrate social media into their profession. This is the group that should attend social media conferences and events. Ironically, events like the one mentioned above should cater to these folks rather than “social media professionals” and online marketers.  There would be far more value in that, but since it would require a lot more work, the low hanging fruit tends to suffice. Too bad.

If you aren’t focusing on cross-training at this point (teaching social media operators how to apply their skills within the scope of a business function, or teaching a business professional how to incorporate social media into their business function), you are missing the mark.

Cheers.

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Brilliant and succinct analysis of the erosion of expertise in the media from Todd Gitlin, in an article he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Check it out:

But when news media go looking for experts, they don’t examine their records. Baseball announcers would be fired for not knowing the RBI records of designated hitters. But editors don’t think it’s their business to vet their experts. They’re not enamored of expertise, they’re enamored of the aura of expertise. They embrace their experts all the way over the cliff.

With a news cycle running at full steam 24 hours a day and a push on the web to create and distribute content rather than substance, the walls come down. Or rather, the foundations crumble. We need viewers, we need visitors, we need clicks and likes have replaced we need to be the best in the business, the most knowledgeable, the most trustworthy.  That’s what content and content farms are there to do: The objective isn’t to answer questions, educate or even drive purchasing behaviors. It is simply to attract eyeballs. As many as possible, as often as possible. More eyeballs = more advertising revenue, and more advertising revenue is the end-game. If one channel isn’t enough, create a new one. Each new channel is like an empty bucket that needs to filled with… content. When SEO-friendly filler won’t do, sensational headlines and constant “news alerts” will pull eyeballs.

Opinions are now simply a product, which means that opinions have become mere content: Here is opinion A. Here is opinion B. Let’s throw a few soundbites back and forth at each other and move on to the next thing. Sell someone as an expert (or accept their claim regardless of whether or not they actually are) in order to fill a segment, and you have instant expert content. Now you have your 3 minute interview, your 3-paragraph blog post, your bite-sized YouTube video. More content means more views. More views means more advertising revenue, more chances to push more content and thus yet more advertising, more opportunities to sell webinars and white papers and $250 monthly subscriptions to the newsletter. Not enough experts to fill up 24/7/365 worth of news and content across 300+ channels? No worries: Just make some up. Anyone with an opinion that can be conveniently packaged as option A or option B will qualify as an expert for the purposes of a segment, of a presentation, of a consulting gig. And it isn’t like you will run out of people begging for their 15 minutes of fame anytime soon. The “personal brands.” The gurus. The overnight experts. They’re lining up around the block. You know why? Because they’re in demand and they know it.

Here is Mr. Gitlin again:

Some years ago, I wrote about the example of Edward Yardeni, formerly the chief economist of Deutsche Bank, who anticipated a world depression as the likely outcome of Y2K, yet remains on many a go-to list for economic commentary.  That he was badly mistaken did not impair his place on the media quotemeister list. Just this month, for example, he shows up not only in the FT but also Bloomberg, USA Today, and a San Francisco Chronicle blog—though one is thankful that he appears mainly to state the obvious.

Any of the following statements sound familiar?

Quora is going to redefine the social web.

Google Buzz is a game-changer.

Google Wave is here to stay.

Google+ will kill Facebook.

We’re one of the world’s first full service social media agency.

We’ll handle all of your social media feeds.

The value of a Facebook fan is $1.93

Social Media ROI = (brand equity x engagement) ÷ online mentions.

Content is king.

Blog post after blog post, presentation after presentation, prediction after prediction, are you really seeing valid expertise and insight, or simply an endless stream of content?

If you think that make-believe “experts” will eventually go away all on their own, keep dreaming. Why would they? We have created a market for them, built demand for their BS, given them an ever-growing platform, and held them accountable for absolutely nothing. How many social media-themed conferences are there now, each with dozens of tracks and breakout sessions? Among them, how many have really turned out to be either thinly disguised sales pitches or vague rehashes of basic concepts you already knew 3 years ago?

How many “experts” are still publishing books, selling bogus ROI calculators and make-believe “case studies,” how many are being increasingly quoted by self-professed “news” sites – where they guest-blog for free without much of an editorial review process? Is that really the business ecosystem you want to be building and supporting? Smoke and mirrors and BS by the pound, when real ideas and legitimate expertise are so sorely needed all around us? Really? In the crux of a recession, when companies need real help, when people need real solutions, when entire economies are in serious need of real direction, we want to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator? This is what we want to reward?

The dog that gets the strongest is the one you feed. One will protect and strengthen you. The other one will lead you astray and eat you in your sleep. Make sure you’re feeding the right one.

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Sources

Image: The Emperor’s New Sales ©2011 Olivier Blanchard

Quoted: Expertise, Dogma and the Journalism of Crackpot Ideas, by Todd Gitlin [published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 31, 2011]

Image:

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If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding the intricacies of social media R.O.I., chances are…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

I know. Coming from me, the guy who literally wrote the book on “Social Media R.O.I.” this might seem like a strange thing to say. But hear me out. It will all make sense in a few minutes.

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem, however, is that the question cannot be answered as asked. Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. It is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

2. To get the right answer, ask the right question.

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

In fact, to ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. For example: What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011? That’s a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media.

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up “formulae” mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used)

Huh?!

Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

Don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure.

If you want to measure this across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes incidental.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model to determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, put together an amalgam of ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving it, and each particular type of activity within its scope. Can measuring all of that be complex? Yes. Can it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources. If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss in this domain. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Not all social media activity needs drive ROI: Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors: the manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective, and the degree to which specific social media activity helped drive it. In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

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By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a handy framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs. Check it out at www.smroi.net.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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Digital articles of faith

Most disciplines, at some point in the course of their development, fall prey to their very own articles of faith. This is true of all things man is passionate about, from spirituality to war, from politics to mathematics, from geostrategy to literature and art: All develop different schools of thought, many of which eventually evolve into rivals.  Hence we invariably arrive at Catholics vs. protestants, liberals vs. conservatives, nationalists vs. federalists, Macs vs. PCs, Pepsis vs. Cokes, Xbox360s vs. Nintendo wiis vs. Playstations 3, etc. Social media, if indeed we can call it a discipline (perhaps digital social communications is a better term for it, since “social media” describes the pipes, not the activities themselves) is no different: Some believe that the DSC discipline is purely about content (the “content is king” crowd). Others believe that the DSC discipline is a (digital) marketing function, while others still, view it as a PR function. And on and on and on.

Before companies even realized the potential of DSC and social media, this new frontier in communications was already being fought over, flag in hand, by various groups wishing to lay claim to the lion’s share of its ownership, and thus define it for the business world by their own unique standards.

If to name a thing is to own a thing, then to define it certainly drives the flag of ownership deeper into the ground for those who manage to get there first, which perhaps helps explain the fervor with which various schools of thought have been battling for philosophical supremacy in this newly discovered digital world.

The thing is, this race for ownership of social media and its intrinsic value – through the minting of its principal function(s) – is complete bullshit. From a business perspective, no specific function or department owns social media: Not marketing, not PR, not customer service, not digital. Just like the telephone and email – which both also differ from paid mass media in that they allow senders and recipients to communicate with one another – social media plugs into any and every business function with equal ease: Social media belongs on every desk, at every workstation, with an equal measure of risk, opportunity, and perhaps more importantly individual professional responsibility.

From marketing to HR, from digital advertising to billing, social media finds its uses defined by whomever logs on to any of its platforms at any given time. Whether they are doing research, sharing news, linking to a special promotion, live-tweeting a bank robbery from the inside, letting someone know they are running late for an appointment, posting videos of a crime as it is committed, asking for restaurant recommendations, having a religious or political debate, checking into one’s favorite coffee shop, posting photos of their new grandchild, breaking up with a boyfriend, connecting with academics and celebrities, following events you couldn’t attend or recruiting your dream team’s final missing piece, the medium is as pliable as it is versatile: It serves any and all purposes, not just the ones flag-bearers with something to sell would like you to draw your attention to.

The Tyranny of content

Is content really king? The answer depends on whether or not you make a living selling, editing, or monetizing content. Professional bloggers, for example, use “content” to generate revenue: A short but carefully crafted blog post with just the right title, coupled to a solid mailing list and a little SEO savvy, will attract readers. In the short term, more readers = more chances someone will click on an ad or affiliate link. In the long term, more visitors and more clicks = higher valuation for potential advertisers = more potential revenue per click. Is it any surprise then, that so many bloggers-turned-social media experts spend so much time pushing the supremacy of content?

As for media outlets whose entire revenue model is based upon a similar model (advertising), what used to be news has now become mere content as well. Why? Because easily digestible, easily shared content with catchy titles attracts views. Views = revenue. Clicks = revenue. The real product being sold is the advertising. “Content,” which used to be news, valuable insights, art, entertainment, even, is now simply the pull, the bait to the proverbial switch. If you have noticed a progressive weakening in the quality of articles on the web in the past year, it is because much of it has become mere “content:” Filler with which to plug the empty spaces between ads, stuff to make you look, but not think, just interesting enough in the first two seconds to make you click on a link, but not enough to grab you once you are there.

An increasing number of media outlets couldn’t care whether or not their articles are interesting, well written or worthy of their long history of quality, relevance and importance. It’s just the web, after all. Journalists are being replaced by bloggers, many of whom aren’t paid anyway. The web, for many such organizations, isn’t about quality. It is a parallel world in which news and insights have been replaced by mere content: The fast food version of a porterhouse steak. Cheap (and often free) crap people will consume with a breadth and velocity not compatible with quality. More and faster keep the wheels turning. Keeping the public interested by an everlasting churn of quickly produced, quickly published bits of content means more opportunities for traffic, unique visitors, time on site and clickthroughs. Capture those eyeballs as fast and as wide as possible. Grow those numbers as quickly as possible. Yipee! Get me more of that link bait/content.

Yes, for that world, content is king.

From tyranny to federation: Curing operational myopia in the social media world

And you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Ethically, it’s fine. Advertisers are happy, content producers and curators are happy, media outlets are happy, and the wheels keep right on turning, at least in the short term. But aside from the social mechanisms of new digital platforms – the shares, likes, retweets and digs that allow people to spread information through their networks – what the hell does any of this really have to do with being social?

Does setting up a discussion group on LinkedIn about a piece of content really stem from a desire to learn something from “the community”? Has Quora really been used to foster dialog by the content producers who used the platform to spread their product’s reach a little further? Or is it all still just another eyeball-capture play? In other words, has “social” simply become a new battlefront for the same old mass marketing it promised to transcend?

I ask this not to indict proponents of the “content is king” philosophy, but to remind you of three things:

  1. Motives drive interest. Not everyone who works with social media is motivated by the same impulses, outcomes and interests. Just like gamers and multi-level marketers don’t view or use the web in the same way, content professionals don’t view or use social media the same was customer service professionals. So take a step back. See the field from beyond their very focused (dare I say specialized) scope. Learn to discern biases so they don’t end up becoming your own.
  2. “Social” means different things to different people. The definition of the term as it applies to online uses (especially once operationalized) transcends the definition of the term as it relates to our lives offline – the definition we have known and understood for centuries. In the same way that a real world friend is not the same as someone you accept as a “friend” on Facebook, being social in the real world is not the same thing as a company being “social” on the twitternets. The familiarity of certain words, now used in a completely different context, can lead us down paths of false assumptions (and sometimes even impossible expectations). If you never assume that your definition of what it is to be “social” is the same definition used by a politician, a celebrity, a blogger, or a major consumer brand, you will be okay. If you make that assumption, get used to being disappointed.
  3. What works works. Social or not, “content” does plug giant holes between advertising banners on a computer screen. It attracts visitors and gives them something to share across their social networks. It is the fodder that motivates “likes” and “shares” and “tweets” and “digs” and “+1’s”. Opinions about what “social” should be or shouldn’t be are irrelevant. There is what works and what doesn’t work.

And since with different objectives come different tactics and activities, allowing for a pragmatic (rather than a philosophical) interpretation of what constitutes good social or bad social activities on the interwebs will give you an edge on the “either/or” crowd. Do what works. If all of it is 100% social and human, great. If it is 99% marketing and only 1% human or social, that’s great too. As long as it yields the right results, nobody really cares.

Do Huffpo and the AP really “engage” with their Twitter followers? No. Does that make their feed on Twitter any less relevant, any less effective, any less valuable? No. Ideally, you want to be as human and social as possible in these new channels. Of course you do. But not everything that happens within social channels needs to be about “engagement” and “conversations.” Broadcasting and messaging work well also. Every company is different. Every community is different. The ratio of push to pull, of monologue to dialogue, of sales to genuine human interactions has to be established by each company, by each Twitter account and Facebook page based on its own needs and circumstances.

In short, the “content is king” crowd has as much of a right to be there as the “customer is king” crowd, or the “engaging in real time is king” crowd, or the “listening is king” crowd. They all just need to understand that there is no king. There is no throne. There is no universal supremacy or hierarchy of purpose in the social space. Content, like engagement, are just two of many pieces on the chessboard. Two small kings in a federation of interwoven kingdoms, none of which can be effective without the other.

The social media salesmen

Every time I run into a so-called social media “expert” whose narrative seeks to counter this simple fact, every time I run into anyone bent on pushing a single element of digital social communications over the others, I know I am dealing with someone with something to sell.

“Content is king” usually comes from a crowd that makes money from content. “Measurement is king” usually comes from a crowd that makes money from measurement. “Engagement and conversations are king” usually comes from… “engagement experts” and “conversation strategists.” (Don’t laugh, these are real terms now.)

Look for the 360° approach. Look for analysis. Look for the professionals who will first audit your business for weaknesses, strengths, risks and opportunities. Look for people who can custom-build a social media integration program for your organization. Look for professionals who understand PR as well as customer service, and IT as well as HR. Look for people who can negotiate internal politics and drive buy-in, not just pontificate about how social business ought to work and how your company ought to change with the times. Look for people who understand that even antisocial company cultures can find a place in the world of social media without faking “being social,” and know how to make that work. Look for people who see the whole field.

Everyone else – the “social media marketing” and “social media content” salesmen – they aren’t selling anything new. Just the same old trinkets that have always been around since long before the internet. Creative has been repackaged as “content.” Editors have been replaced by “content strategists.” Web has been replaced by “social media.” Same stuff, simply repackaged to fit into a new demand pipeline.

Same old pig, new lipstick. Everyone has something to sell. Remember that next time someone tries to sell you on the notion that their little corner of social or digital rules the others.

(To be continued…)

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Between the video and this link, you will have all the information you need. (Oh, and please excuse the outtakes. After 120+ takes, I decided to leave a few of the “distracting” moments in there. It was either that or losing my sanity. Cheers.)

The skinny:

June 30 is Social Media Day. Events celebrating this most auspicious date are taking place around the world. One of the biggest (I am told it is the second biggest, after NYC) takes place in Antwerp, Belgium. This year’s edition is a two-part event:

1. A half day social media management workshop.

2. A very large party following the workshop.

You can register for the workshop, the party, or both.

To make things interesting, the workshop is broken down into 5x 45-minute sessions, each separated by a 15 minute break. Session 1 is an executive briefing on strategy and integration. Session 2 will focus on Social Media and the new Marketing mix. We will talk about amplifying reach and stickiness, and blending social media with other marketing activities. Session 3 will focus on digital reputation management, real-time crisis management, and monitoring with purpose. Session 4 will focus on measurement. In this session, we will cover financial aspects of performance measurement for social media (ROI) as well as non-financial metrics, and then bring the two together. Session 5 will be an open forum. That’s right, a whole hour of live Q&A. So bring your questions, because I don’t do this very often.

For the full program, click here.

To skip the info and register right away, click here.

Man, these prices are RIDICULOUSY low.  I have no idea how they managed that.

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Today’s article was prompted by The Now Revolution co-author Jay Baer’s blog post entitled The 6 Step Process for Measuring Social Media. Consider the following 5 sections a complement to the social media measurement discussion in the business world. Bookmark it, pass it on, and feel free to ask questions in the comment area if something isn’t clear.

Let me explain, for anyone who is still confused about it, how to properly think about the integration of social media measurement into business measurement. This applies to the way social media measurement is applied to every business activity social media touches,  from short-term product awareness campaigns to long term customer retention programs.

To make things simple, I will make use of a few diagrams to illustrate key concepts everyone who touches social media in the business world absolutely needs to understand.

Ready? Here we go:

1. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes.

The above image shows the relationship between an activity and the measurable impact of that activity on social media channels. The ripples represent every type of outcome – or effect – produced by that activity, which can be measured by observing, then quantifying certain key behaviors on social media channels. A few examples:

  • Retweets
  • Likes
  • Follows
  • Shares
  • Comments
  • Mentions
  • Sentiment

When social media “experts” and digital agencies that provide social media services talk about social media measurement, this is what they are talking about.

So far so good. The trick is to not stop there.

2. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes beyond social media channels

Now that we have looked at basic “social media measurement,” let us look at it side-by-side with business measurement – that is to say, with metrics that existed long before social media ever came on the scene. A few examples:

  • Net new customers
  • Changes in buy rate
  • Loyalty metrics
  • Word of mouth
  • New product sales
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Increased operational efficiency
  • New online orders
  • Traffic to brick & mortar stores
  • R.O.I. (you knew it was coming.)

In other words, the types of metrics that indicate to a business unit or executive team whether or not the activities they have funded and are currently managing are having an effect on the business. These types of metrics are represented in the above diagram by the black ripples.

To some extent, you can also include a sub-category of metrics not directly related to business measurement but that also exist outside of the realm of social media measurement. These types of metrics typically relate to other types of marketing & communications media such as print, TV, radio and even the traditional web. A few examples:

  • Impressions
  • Unique visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • Cost Per Impression (CPI)

These types of metrics, for the sake of this post – which aims to clarify the difference between social media measurement and social media measurement within the broader context of business measurement – would also be represented by some of the black ripples in the above diagram.

3. Understanding that “measuring social media” is a terribly limited digital play.

 If you remember only one thing from this article, let it be this: Only measuring “social media” metrics, as if in a vacuum, leads absolutely nowhere. Sure, if your objective is to build a “personal brand,” boost your “influence” rankings in order to score more goodies from buzz marketing firms that do “blogger outreach,” then those social media metrics are everything. Chasing those followers, collecting likes and retweets, meeting that 500 comments quota of comments on Quora every day, and religiously checking your Klout score and Twittergrader ranking every twenty minutes is your life.

But if you are a business, that is to say, a company with employees, products, payroll, a receptionist and a parking lot, the role that social media measurement plays in your universe is not exactly the same as that of a semi-professional blogger trying to tweak their SEO and game blogger outreach programs. These two universes are completely different. Their objectives are completely different. Their relationships with measurement are completely different.

Understanding this is critical. Bloggers with no real business management experience tend to have a very difficult time bridging the strategic gap between their limited digital endeavors and the operational needs and wants of organizations whose KPIs are not rooted in Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of social media “experts” and “gurus” – being first and foremost bloggers with experience in navigating affiliate marketing programs, and a commensurate focus on SEO and social media “influence” gaming models in support of their “personal brand” – tend to see the world through that specific prism. The problem however is this: Their focus on social media measurement may be spot on when advising other would-be bloggers, but it is completely off target when advising business clients whose business models are not entirely based on selling advertising on a website and scoring goodies from advertisers in exchange for positive reviews and buzz.

In other words, when social media “experts” keep telling you how to “properly” measure social media – as if your measurement software didn’t already do this for you automatically – consider this an indication that they have absolutely nothing else to talk about when it comes to social media integration into your business. Their understanding of social media activity and measurement is entirely founded on their own experience as a blogger, and not – unfortunately – on the experience of the business managers they aim to advise, whose objectives and targets have little to do with how many fans and followers and likes they manage to collect from month to month.

One of my biggest areas of frustration for the last few years – and one of the principal reasons why social media has been so poorly integrated into the business world until now – has been the ease with which bloggers with little to no business management experience have hijacked the social media “thought leadership” world. Many of them would not be qualified to run an IT department for the average medium-sized business, much less help direct the strategy of a digital marketing department, customer loyalty program or business development group. Their understanding of the most basic, rudimentary business principles (like R.O.I.) is as painfully lacking as their dangerous lack of practical operational experience – in change management, for example – without which social media theory cannot be aptly put into practice. Yet here we are, or rather here companies are – many of which are listed in the Fortune 500, listening to bad advice from the most inexperienced business “strategists” on the planet, and trying to apply it – in vain – to their businesses.

If you are still wondering why your social media program is not bearing fruit, or if you are still confused by social media measurement, this is the reason why.

A metaphor lost in a hyperbole.

The tragic irony of the general state of confusion created by this army of so-called experts is that in spite of everything, social media measurement is not complicated. If you can type a password into a box, navigate a multiple-choice questionnaire and use your mouse to click on a “generate report” button, you too can measure social media. All you need is the right piece of measurement software, an internet connection and a pulse. You don’t even need to know how to send a tweet to do it.

I am not kidding. A monkey could do this.

The sooner business managers, company executives and agency principals stop listening to social media douchebags, the faster social media will be integrated (smoothly and effectively) into everyone’s business models. Don’t limit yourself to measuring social media. Stop listening to business advice from bloggers with no business experience. And don’t buy into the notion that because social media is new and digital, it is complicated. Social media is easy. Social media measurement – by itself – is easy. It takes work and diligence and clear vision, but all in all, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out.

4. Once you get rid of the monkey noises, you make room for the simplicity of the (social) business measurement model.

The above diagram illustrates both the measurable social media outcomes (in orange) and the measurable business outcomes (in black), based on an activity (the solid orange ball). We have covered this earlier in this article. By now, you should understand two key principles:

1. Measuring only social media outcomes (or measuring them separately from business outcomes) won’t get you very far. It’s what you do your first month. Then what?

2. Only by establishing a relationship between social media metrics and business metrics will you be able to gauge both the impact and value (including but not limited to R.O.I.) of social media on your campaigns, programs and overall business.

How you connect social media outcomes/metrics to business outcomes/metrics is covered elsewhere on this blog and of course in the Social Media ROI book, but if this diagram doesn’t confuse you, try to conceptualize the relationship between social media outcomes with business outcomes by observing the intersect points between the orange ripples and black ripples. (See above diagram.) Your investigation of the correlation between the two will always begin there.

5. One final tip: Turning your integrated measurement model into a social media tactical plan.

These diagrams only serve to illustrate how you should think about social media measurement in conjunction with business measurement. That’s it. But if you take a step back and look at the interaction between social media outcomes (measurable behaviors in social media channels resulting from a specific activity or event) and measurable business outcomes (measurable behaviors resulting from a series of activities and events), you can start to work your way backwards from outcome to activity, which is to say from measurable behavior to behavioral trigger.

By looking at the impact that certain activities (triggers) affect consumer behaviors (mentions, retweets, purchasing habits, word-of-mouth, etc.) you can begin to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Integrated measurement of both social media and business metrics in this context – as a tactical real-time diagnostic tool – is far more valuable to an organization than a measurement practice that solely focuses on reporting changes in followers, shares and likes. This illustrates the difference in value between a truly integrated measurement model and a “social media measurement” model. One produces important insights while the other merely reports the obvious.

I hope that helps.

*          *          *

Three quick little announcements in case you are hungry for more:

One – If you haven’t read “Social Media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization” yet, you will find 300 pages of insights with which to complement this article. It won’t answer all of your questions, but it will answer many of them. If anything, the book is a pretty solid reference guide for anyone responsible for a social media program or campaign. It also makes a great gift to your boss if you want him or her to finally understand how this social media stuff works for companies.

You can sample a free chapter and find out where to buy the book by checking out www.smroi.net.

Two – If you, your agency or your client plan on attending the Cannes Lions from June 19-25 and want to participate in a small but informative 2-hour session about social media integration, measurement, strategy, etc. let me know. I just found out that I will be in Cannes during the festivals, so we can set something up – either a private session, or a small informal discussion with no more than 6-7 people. First come, first served.

You can send me an email, a note via LinkedIn, a Twitter DM, or a facebook message if you want to find out more. (The right hand side of the screen should provide you with my contact information.)

Three – If the book isn’t enough and you can’t make it to Cannes later this month, you can sign up for a half day of workshops in Antwerp (Belgium) on 30 June. (Right after the Lions.) The 5 one-hour sessions will begin with an executive briefing on social media strategy and integration, followed by a best practices session on building a social media-ready marketing program, followed by a PR-friendly session on digital brand management, digital reputation management and real-time crisis management, followed by a session on social media and business measurement (half R.O.I., half not R.O.I.). We will cap off the afternoon with a full hour of open Q&A. As much as like rushing through questions in 5-10 minutes at the end of a presentation, wouldn’t it be nice to devote an entire hour to an audience’s questions? Of course it would. We’re going to give it a try. Find out more program details here. Think of it as a mini Red Chair.

The cool thing about this structure is that you are free to attend the sessions that are of interest to you, and go check your emails or make a few phone if one or two of the sessions aren’t as important. The price is the same whether you attend one or all five, and we will have a 15 minute break between each one.

The afternoon of workshops is part of Social Media Day Antwerp (the Belgian arm of Mashable’s global Social Media Day event), and I can’t help but notice that the price of tickets is ridiculously low for what is being offered. The early bird pricing is… well, nuts. Anyone can afford to come, which is a rare thing these days. (Big props to the organizers for making the event so accessible.)

The event is divided into 2 parts: The workshop in the afternoon, and the big Belgian style party in the evening. You can register for one or both (do both).

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

My advice: Sign up while there are still seats available, and before #smdaybe organizers realize they forgot to add a zero at the end of the ticket prices. 😀

Cheers,

Olivier.

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