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You can actually do the work, or you can fake it and try to make an easy buck. It doesn’t matter what industry or profession you’re in. Athletes cheat. Accountant cut corners. Political consultants adjust poll numbers. Teachers hire surrogates to take their certifications for them. And yes, social media gurus make up magic equations that promise to measure everything from ROI to the value of a like.

We are surrounded by people who have chosen to make bullshit their vehicle of “success.”

Why? Because it’s easier than doing the work. Because it’s a faster path to revenue. Because for every executive or fan or client who sees bullshit or bad science for what they are, there are two or three who won’t know any better and will gladly pay for the next “big” thing.

Selling bullshit isn’t any different from selling anything else: at its core, it’s just a numbers game. You don’t have to sell to everyone. You won’t. You just have to sell to enough people who don’t know better and you will make a living. If you care more about positive cash flow than your reputation, about your next bonus or potential book deal than professional responsibility, about appearing to build value than actually providing any, then you can do pretty well selling complete crap.

Welcome to the world of gurus, of cult leaders, of chief tribe strategists.

About once or twice a year, I run into an example of social media bullshit that I find worthy of sharing with you on this blog. Sometimes, it’s a egregious money-making scheme whose sole intent is to prey on desperate, gullible, underemployed would-be “consultants” looking for an easy in to the “social media expert” space. Sometimes, it’s just bad science – a lousy equation or even a poorly conceived (insert acronym here) “calculator” whose authors didn’t really take the time to test and submit to any kind of legitimate peer review. Assumptions were made. Corners were cut. The whole thing was rushed.

I want to stress that not all social media gurus and self-professed digital experts are out to rip you off or sneak a sordid scheme past your bullshit detector. Many are just scam artists, but many are not. Sometimes, bad science just happens. Bad math, silly equations, erroneous reporting and made-up acronyms don’t get chucked into the FAIL pile because their author didn’t really know any better. Because they didn’t take the time to really put their own work to the test. They weren’t diligent with the proofing and peer review part of their experiment. Whether it’s laziness, incompetence, distraction, convenience or denial is for you to decide. All I know is that regardless of intent or reason, bad math is still bad math, and bad science is still bad science, and none of that ads net positive outcomes for those of us trying to make things work better in the social business space.

Today’s example illustrates how easily this sort of thing can happen. And before I get into the meat of it, let me just say that this post is in no way meant to be a bashing of Dan Zarrella. I’m sure he is very knowledgeable and supremely competent in a number of areas. I don’t know Dan. We’ve never worked on a project together. I have no idea who he is or what he does other than that he works for HubSpot. So what I am sharing here today isn’t meant as an attack on his character or competence or on whatever HubSpot is selling with this VOAL “model.” I just want to show you how easily business measurement nonsense can become “legitimized” by leveraging and combining personal brands, trusted publishing channels, market confusion, and the absence of a legitimate academic peer review process in the publishing of mathematical and measurement models anymore.

So before some of you jump on me for criticizing your best bud, stop. Breathe. Get some perspective. I’m not trying to hurt Dan or Hubspot. I am doing what someone around them should have done before this equation was published. This isn’t me bitching or making noise because I like the attention. This is me explaining something important and making sure that unsuspecting executives and decision-makers don’t fall for the latest flavor of bad social business measurement “science.” We’re never going to get out of this vicious cycle of “hey look at me, I invented a whole new social media equation” bullshit unless we have these kinds of discussions. We need to have them, even when they aren’t pleasant.

This industry is in desperate need of a serious dose of reality.  And if that sometimes comes with a swift kick to the balls, then sorry but that’s just what needs to happen.

An overview of the VOAL Equation:

This week, Dan Zarrella published a piece in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “How To Calculate The Value of a Like.” In it, he attempts to loosely equate the value of a like (VOAL) to ROI, then offers the following equation to calculate this so-called “value”:

The beauty of an equation like this is that virtually no one is going to take the time to try and make sense of it. Most marketing execs looking for a simple and easy way to calculate the ROI of their activities in digital channels will simply assume that the person behind the mathematical model is qualified and smart and competent. In fact, this was one of the argument provided by Dan on twitter yesterday when I questioned the equation.

For sport, we could dig into the equation itself. We could look at all of its components and determine whether they can be thrown into a bucket together, and through the alchemy of selective math, be twisted and bent into a legitimate measure of the value of a like. here’s how it breaks down:

L (Total Likes): The total number of audience members connected to your social media account. On Facebook, these are Likes of your page, and on Twitter, these are followers.

UpM (Unlikes-per-Month): The average number of fans who “unlike” your social network account each month. On Facebook, this is an “unlike,” and on Twitter, this is an “unfollow.”

LpD (Links-per-Day): The average number of times you’re posting links, and potentially converting links driven from your social media account. On Facebook, this is the number of posts you’re making, per day, that lead to a page on your website. On Twitter, this is the number of times, per day, you’re Tweeting these kinds of links.

C (Average Clicks): The average number of clicks on the links to your site you’re posting on your social media accounts.

CR (Conversion Rate): The average conversion rate of your website, from visit to sale or visit to lead. This can be an overall average, but for increased accuracy, use the conversion rate measured from traffic coming from the social network you’re calculating.

ACV (Average Conversion Value): The average value of each “conversion.” In this context, a “conversion” is the action you’ve used to measure CR for. It could be average sale price or average lead value. For increased accuracy, use the average conversion value of traffic coming from the specific social network.

If you went through the process of actually making sense of the equation, you would realize fairly quickly that because the ACV is a subjective value that can be pretty much anything you want it to be, the math can be bent to deliver any kind of “value” you want it to. You might also notice that for whatever reason, “unlikes” are measured monthly but likes are measured along an indeterminate timeline. You might also be driven to ask yourself why LpD (links per day) even needs to be part of this equation or why it is multiplied by 30 (days per month) when the clicks and likes are not.

Let me pause here. The point is that, already, the logic behind equation is already a mess.

What is wrong with this VOAL “model” (first sweep):

1. Its bits and pieces don’t make a whole lot of sense.  We have “total likes” up against “average clicks.” If we have total likes, why not also have total clicks? As an aside, what does one even have to do with the other? (Which brings me to item number 2…)

2. The relationship between the bits and pieces doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why are we multiplying net likes by links per day x30, then again by clicks divided by likes, then again by the conversion rate, and then again by (an admittedly subjective) conversion value? That’s a lot of multiplication. A x B x C x D  = LV? Really? That’s the model?

3. The cost of any of these activities is not taken into account anywhere. Tip: It’s hard to calculate the value of anything without factoring the cost somewhere in the equation. That’s a problem.

4. C = Average Clicks. Okay. Per day? Per month? Per day x 30? What am I even plugging into the equation? Not clear.

5. In what currency is the “value” of a like measured? Is this value a monthly value? An average value? An average monthly value? Is it even a $ value? Not clear. (Again.) What about offline transactions? What about transactions that can’t be measured by a last-click-attribution model? Are they divorced from the “value” of a like?

6. I see no metric for shares or comments. Another major oversight given the importance of sharing and commenting in regards to attention and propensity to click on a link or consider a purchase.

What else is wrong with this VOAL “model” (second pass, caffeinated this time):

For what little time we just wasted on this pointless exercise, we haven’t even touched on the more relevant aspects of why this equation fails to deliver a mathematical solution to the question of like value. Seven of them in particular:

1. A Facebook fan’s value (now called a like) is not the same as the cost of that fan’s acquisition. I bring this up because measuring the value of a like without taking into account the cost of that like makes the process null and void.

Also, give some thought to the difference between page likes (fans) and update/content (likes). What likes are we measuring again? Oh wait… here it is:

L (Total Likes): The total number of audience members connected to your social media account. On Facebook, these are Likes of your page, and on Twitter, these are followers.

So… the equation doesn’t measure those daily “little” likes. The ones that are attached to content and updates. To measure that kind of engagement on a Facebook page, the equation instead looks at clicks on posted links. But for some reason, it looks at average clicks, not net clicks.

????…

(Why? Your guess is as good as mine.)

No details on whether those are average daily clicks or average monthly clicks either. Could they be average hourly clicks x 24 x 30 x 12? No idea.

2. Since “likes” really stand for fans of a page, let’s talk about that: A Facebook fan’s value is relative to his or her purchasing habits (and/or influence on others’ purchasing habits). A like/fan is worth absolutely $0 unless that individual actually purchases something. Let’s start there.

If your intent is to measure fans/likes to transaction dollars attributable to your Facebook page, no need for a complicated VOAL equation. Save yourself the trouble and just measure inbound traffic from Facebook against online sales $. It will only speak to a last-click attribution model (a pretty limited way to measure the impact of a channel on sales if you ask me) but at least it will be much easier to measure and far more accurate than a bullshit equation that makes no sense at all. Then just divide your online sales from Facebook links by the number of fans/likes on your page, and voila. Done. It’s still a crap way to measure the average “value” of your Facebook fans/likes, but at least your math won’t be wrong.

3. Determining the average value of a fan may be interesting as a baseline for other measurements, but give some thought to the fact that each Facebook fan’s value is unique. One fan may engage with your content in a measurable way 300x per month but never spend a penny on your products. Another may engage with your content only on occasion but spend $3K per month on your products. Averaging your fans “value” won’t only give you a false sense of the relationship between likes and transactions, it will also obscure genuine lead generation and customer relationship development opportunities in a space that begs to be social. What’s the value to your business of averaging out net lead generation values again? None. If this is what you spend your time on, you might as well stop wasting your time on social channels.

4. A Facebook fan’s value is also likely to be very elastic. Some customers just have erratic purchasing habits. They might spend $3K with you one month and not buy from you again for a year. Depending on the size of your community and your type of business, this elasticity’s effect on that equation will drive you nuts and won’t help you make sense of what is going on with your Facebook strategy.

5. There is little correlation between a Facebook like and an actual transaction in the real world. (Maybe I should have started with that.)

6. Likes can be bought and/or manufactured, and often are, rendering this kind of equation (even if it made any sense at all) completely worthless. If you have no idea how many fake followers/fans/likes you have and try to measure VOAL you’re basically screwed. Have fun with that.

7. Once again, what about offline transactions? (What about any and all transaction behaviors that don’t neatly fall into a last-click-attribution model, for that matter?) The equation seems to completely ignore the relationship between Facebook fans/likes and offline sales. For most businesses, that’s going to be a tough pill to swallow.

And since I haven’t yet mentioned proxy sales structures (distribution channels, like Ford dealerships vs Ford’s brand pages, or Best Buy vs. HP for instance), maybe this is a good time to bring them up, because this “model” doesn’t address that either. At all. If I ask my local VW dealer to measure his page’s likes against his monthly car sales using Zarrella’s VOAL & digital conversion model, somebody is going to walk out of that discussion with serious hypertension, and a social media manager somewhere is going to be out of a job.

(If you still need convincing, click here for a more in depth discussion.)

Bad Math in Action: Try the VOAL Equation for yourself.

If you can’t make heads or tails of Zarrella’s equation or my explanation, don’t worry. He has built a nice little website for you where you can just fill in the blanks and go see how it works for yourself. Here it is: www.valueofalike.com. Try it. I plugged in several of my clients’ numbers and according to the tool, the average value of their fans/likes seems to hover around $73,736.25.

Yes, you read that right: According to the site’s math, every additional 14 fans/likes I bring to their respective pages amounts to over $1,000,000.00 in value/potential revenue. (Over how long, nobody knows, though evidently, the average fan-customer spending $25/month with them has an lifespan of about 245 years.) My clients will be thrilled to hear all about that. Maybe I should start charging more for my services.

In the meantime, check your numbers against the math and see if you get more accurate results than I did. Maybe I did it wrong. I’ve been known to be wrong before, so it’s possible. Or maybe the calculator is off somehow. That’s possible too. Or am I just missing something? Was I supposed to move a decimal point over at some point?  I’ll try to do this using the long form of the equation later, just to see if I can make it work. Or maybe not. I don’t really care anymore. This whole thing is so stupid, pointless and overly complicated that it’s giving me a genuine headache.

We get it. It doesn’t work. Now what?

Let me share four final things with you and we can all get back to work:

1. If all you are looking to do is determine the average value of a fan/like in the context of a last-click attribution model (linking a transaction to the last link someone clicked on to get to your site before pressing “buy”), then just add up sales $ resulting from inbound traffic from Facebook and divide that by the number of fans/likes on your page. That will tell you the average value of a fan/like – which is to say it won’t really tell you a whole lot but at least you’ll be done in under a minute instead of spending ten minutes filling the blanks of Zarrella’s VOAL equation, and then another week trying to figure out why your numbers look so weird. Bonus: It will be just as useless, but it’ll be so quick that you’ll have more time to get back to doing real work.

Also, if you want to measure the ROI of your Facebook activity, you’ll have to work a little harder at it, but item 3 on this list ought to give you a few simple guidelines that will get you on the right track. What’s nice about it is that my example focuses mostly on linking offline (brick and mortar) transactions to channel activity, and that’s actually harder than linking digital activity to digital transactions. So have fun with it and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

2. Because Zarrella’s article was published via the Harvard Business Review’s blog, scores of people won’t think to question it. The fact that he works for Hubspot (a reputable company) makes the equation seem that much more legitimate. And because it looks complicated as hell, who is going to take the time to figure out if it actually works (or how)? Nobody.

In other words, the assumption of competence on the part of the author (a) the perceived complexity of the equation itself (b) and the assumption of an editorial review process on the side of the publisher (c) will combine to ease readers into assuming that the contents of that article are solid. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Too many assumptions, not enough fact-checking. Again.

Shame on HBR for not making sure that what they publish has been verified, by the way. It isn’t the first time something like this has slipped through their editorial review process (assuming there even is one). Remember this gem?

Tip: Next time someone tells you they’ve invented a metric, run. Seriously. Turn around and start hoofing it.

3. I spent a little time explaining to Dan on Twitter how to actually measure the value of channels as they relate to actual sales, so you might want to check that out. (Feel free to skip the initial petty bickering and scroll straight to the process I outline in the example.) There are two versions of that exchange for you to pick from:

Rick Stillwell’s capture (go say hello) and Paul Shapiro’s capture (both unfortunately miss a few of our wittier exchanges, but that’s okay. The process part of it is far more important.) That method can be replicated by small and mid-sized businesses with little to no access to social media management tools like Radian 6, by the way. It takes a little work, but it’s simple. And yes, simple works. if you need more details on it, I talk about it in Social Media ROI.

4. Dan and HubSpot: Let me extend the following invitation. If you are serious about building a channel and fan/follower measurement model that actually works online and offline and will bring value to organizations you work with, I will gladly help. I can show you how to do this and how not to do it too. Get in touch if you want to. Or don’t. Totally your call.

For everyone else, also check out this piece by Zachary Chastain on Thought Labs. He gets to the point a lot faster than I do, and with far less bite. And also Sean Golliher’s brilliant piece, which outlines further problems with Zarrella’s VOAL model.

And if you’ve noticed that my writing has been scarce here lately, it’s because I have been writing about digital command centers and real-time social business intelligence over on the Tickr blog. No worries, I’m still here, but I have to split my time between both blogs right now. New project with exciting developments coming very soon, so stay tuned. (And go check it out.)

Until next time, have a great day. 🙂

*          *          *

Not to take advantage of bad science to sell books, but since I go over real measurement methodology vs. bogus social media “measurement” in  Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization, it’s worth a mention. If you are tired of bullshit and just want straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space, pick up a copy. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. You can read a free chapter and decide for yourself if it’s worth the money (go to smroi.net).

And if English isn’t your first language, you can even get it in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.

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

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Let’s jump right in: With all this push for brands to “engage” in the social media space these past few years, the endless brouhaha of so-called Engagement strategies, bizarre measurement schemes like Return On Engagement and even the creation of new roles like Chief Engagement Officers and Engagement Strategists, you would think that engagement would be pretty high on every brand’s priority list by now.

More to the point, you would think that after 3 (and in many cases 4) years of building social media programs and managing online communities on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc., most companies would have this stuff kind of figured out.

We aren’t talking about really complicated stuff here. Being on Facebook isn’t exactly as demanding as conceptualizing then producing a great superbowl ad. There isn’t really a whole lot of complicated R&D involved. All you have to do is keep people interested and… engage them, whatever the hell that means. How hard is it to just listen to people and talk with them? That is what we’re talking about, right? Engagement? Listening, replying, being helpful and interesting? Being relevant? But mostly, it’s about having conversations with people? Helping them find stuff, do stuff, share stuff that matters to them and ultimately benefits both them and the brand? Isn’t engagement about fueling both interest and that precious exchange of attention that is the substance of social interactions?

“Monitor, engage, and be transparent; these have always been the keys to success in the digital space.” – Dallas Lawrence

“Build it, and they will come” only works in the movies.  Social Media is a “build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay.” – Seth Godin

 Right? We know this, don’t we? Or is there some confusion still about what engagement actually is, how it works, what it looks like?

AdAge this week published this follow-up piece by Matthew Creamer in which data from a study released last month by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute identifies a gap between engagement theory and engagement execution, primarily on Facebook. Evidently, it is easier to strategize about engaging with customers than it is to actually… do it.

Here is the punchline: According to the study, less than 1% of fans of the biggest brands on Facebook actually engage with these brands online.

How can this be? Don’t these brands have qualified social media directors and SVPs? Don’t the world’s biggest brands have brilliant social media strategies, content strategies and engagement strategies? Don’t they work with digital agencies that specialize in this sort of thing?

You can’t throw a cat on Facebook without hitting some kind of webinar or certification program promising to teach you how to engage with customers via social media. There is a social media #conference somewhere in the world almost every day. Have you looked at how many presentations about engagement and Facebook have been uploaded to Slideshare recently? Have you seen the change in people’s resumes in the last year? Everyone has 5-10 years of social media management experience now. (Yeah… time sure flies when you’re having fun. Magic!)

Again, I have to ask: How hard is it to just listen to people and talk with them? The content piece should be pretty easy: Copy, creative, slap a little photo or video, edit, publish, done. Everything else that isn’t back-of-house (monitoring, measuring, analyzing, correlating activity to outcomes) essentially amounts to the most basic social skills available to human beings: Saying hello. Asking questions. Answering questions. Talking about what people might be interested in. Paying attention. Making people feel like they matter, because in the end, they do.

Only 1% fan engagement. That’s it. Actually… maybe less than that:

To get to these findings, the researchers used one of Facebook’s own metrics, People Talking About This, the awkwardly-named running count of likes, posts, comments, tags, shares and other ways a user of the social network can interact with branded pages. It was unveiled last fall as a way of giving advertisers a sharper look at at the level of activity on their pages.

Researchers for the institute looked at this metric as a proportion of overall fan growth of the top 200 brands on Facebook over a six-week period back in October and they found the percentage of People Talking About This to overall fans to be 1.3%. If you subtract new likes, which only requires a click and in the minds of the researchers are akin to TV ratings, and isolate for more engaged forms of interaction, you’re left within an even smaller number: 0.45%. That means less than half a percent of people who identify themselves as like a brand actually bother to create any content around it.

 Once the “click like for a chance to win a free iPad” campaign is over (or the agency you hired has just out and out purchased your fans from Chinese or Russian fan/follower mills) it’s more like 0.45%.

This begs the question: With Facebook inching towards a billion users worldwide and people spending an obscene amount of time there, billions of dollars of marketing spent to engage them on Facebook is only yielding 0.45% engagement? What the hell is going on?

My first reflex was to look for flaws in the study, and there may be ways of picking apart its findings. Fine. But then it occurred to me that I myself have very little engagement with my favorite brands on Facebook. Let’s go through the list: Apple, Sony, Starbucks, RayBan, G-Shock, Panerai, H&M, VW, BMW, Hyundai (don’t laugh), Nike, Delta Airlines, HBO, Ikea, Moleskine, Smalto, Brooks Brothers, Nestle, Menthos, Trader Joe’s, Pilot, Rudy Project, Specialized, Cervelo, Mizuno, Nutella… Okay, I’ll stop. You get the idea. When was the last time I interacted with any of them on Facebook? I can’t remember. How often am I completely blown off by that “brand” when I do bother to comment on their posts or share their content? Almost 100% of the time.

That sucks.

So I started asking around. Everyone I talked to responded in the same way. In fact, one of the human beings I regularly engage with on Facebook (when I am naturally not engaging with a brand) put it to me in as clear a manner as I could have hoped for. His name is Vincent Ammirato, and this is what he said:

I simply don’t interact with brands through social media. I interact with people. Not one of those top 10 passion brands does anything for me. So sure I’ll buy from them when, for example, I want to surprise the wife with a little blue box. But they aren’t my idols or friends. Their “news feeds” aren’t about issues that I care about. I could easily stop purchasing from any of them and be just fine.

The solution to brands struggling to establish a meaningful, valuable connection through social media channels (Facebook or otherwise) is contained entirely in this reply. Any SVP, Global Digital Engagement Strategery can reverse-engineer this short reply into a model for success in the space. It won’t take five minutes. You won’t even need to waste your time working with $20,000/hr social media experts. It’s all right there.

Simple problem, simple fix:

 1. Own your relationships.

I have said it a hundred hundred zillion times: You cannot effectively outsource relationships. Of all the things brands can outsource to digital agencies and analytics firms, the one thing that cannot be effectively outsourced is the relationship they have with their customers. Social media are not the same as other forms of media. You can send a spokesperson or PR professional to hang out with journalists in your place and no one will find that weird or disingenuous. You cannot ask an agency AE to pretend to be you at a pig roast that you were invited to by your customers. Two different contexts entirely. Expectations of engagement in Social Media fall into the pig roast category. Your agency can hold your hand and stand with you, but you’re going to have to show up to the party yourself or people simply will stop inviting you.

Outsource everything else if you must, but own your relationships. No one can do this for you.

2. Engagement and Marketing aren’t the same thing.

Engagement on social media channels is not just a marketing communications function. Every single brand who has treated it as if it were is now finding out that treating engagement like marketing is yielding – yes, you guessed it: 0.45% actual engagement. Why? Because there is no natural impulse in human beings to interact with marketing day after day after day. As Vincent aptly puts it: I interact with people.

Do you see people hanging out at Starbucks with their favorite coupons? Do you think that changes because you repackaged your marketing to be “social” and pushed it out to Facebook?

Here’s something I need you to think about, uninterrupted, for maybe 90 seconds: Marketing on Facebook is fine. It’s great. But don’t confuse marketing with engagement. The two can go hand in hand when managed properly, but they are not the same thing. We all know that you have a marketing strategy in place for Facebook, but do you actually have an engagement strategy? 0.45% actual engagement means you thought you did but really didn’t. Back to the drawing board.

3. Stop thinking that content is the heart and soul of the attention economy.

In spite of what has been drilled into our collective brains by people who make a living creating content, content is not king.

“By creating compelling content, you can become a celebrity.” Paul Gillin

“Think like a publisher, not a marketer.” David Meerman Scott

No. First, the objective is not to become a celebrity. If becoming a celebrity is your objective, maybe managing a business or a Social Media/Business program for a brand isn’t for you. So cut the personal branding shit. It was already old 4 years ago.

Second, don’t think like a publisher. Or a Marketer, even. Think like a human being. Brands have been focusing on filling their Facebook properties with content and marketing for the last 4 years. What’s the result? 0.45% actual engagement. Think about it for a minute: Do you really think that the answer to the problem is more content or marketing? More publishing, even?

Reminder:

I simply don’t interact with brands through social media. I interact with people.

You aren’t going to out-content your competitors. You aren’t going to create “viral campaigns” every other week. And let’s be honest: You can’t compete against the endless flood of funny memes that drive most of the shares on Facebook unless you fire your entire marketing department and hire weird, slightly insane, socially irreverent interns whose jet fuel is a blend of pop-culure infused sarcasm and… Oh wait… their CVs would never make it past your HR department. They don’t have the requisite social media management experience. Never mind.

An easier way to fix the problem is simply to focus on the missing piece: How human is your brand, really?

4. Stop hiding your humans.

If I don’t know the name and face of the person managing your Facebook page, I am not going to interact with that page on a daily basis. Or maybe ever.

This may be the most important bit of insight I am sharing here today.

Let me illustrate my point: I know that Ford’s Social Media guy is Scott Monty. I know what Scott Monty looks like. Whenever I see his smiling, blue-eyed, bow-tie wearing profile picture in my stream, I look at what he is sharing. A picture of his sandwich? That looks delicious. I’m going to click on that. A picture of him at the Detroit auto show? Cool. I’m going to click on that too. An article about the Ford Mustang winning an award somewhere? Clicked. Read. Commented. Engaged.

The same content published/posted by a faceless account with the Ford logo as its avatar/identity? Ignored.

I have no idea who handles Nutella’s Facebook page. VW? Levi’s? Sony? BMW? Trader Joe’s? H&M? Not a  clue. The result: Zero interaction. Why? Because people come to Facebook to interact with people, not brands or marketing or content or logos. It’s FACEbook. Give people some face, already. You actually need humans to humanize your brand. You can’t engage from behind a digital billboard with faceless account managers who never see the light of day.

You want to know who else is doing it right on Facebook? Mashable. How do I interact with Mashable’s content? Through Pete Cashmore. Same feed. The difference: Peter Cashmore is a human being. With a face and a name I know. With a pretty unique voice too, which I appreciate for its human quality.When Mashable’s content comes to me through him, I pay attention and interact with it. It’s that simple. Who else does this pretty well? Edelman Digital (Armano, Brito, Rubel). Dell (Binhammer). CNN. MSNBC. (Probably Fox News too.) At one time, Comcast (Eliason). Seesmic (Lemeur, for starters). Learn from them.

It bears repeating: If your customers don’t know who your social media “person” (the person they are interacting with) is, if they don’t know his or her name, if they don’t know what they look like, if they can’t see a face on that profile photo, they simply are not going to interact with that account, no matter how many iPads you promise to give away.

Going back to item number 1 on this list: if you outsource your account management, you have no chance of accomplishing this. None. Zero. 0.45% actual engagement is what you can continue to expect moving forward. No amount of marketing spend will change that. 0.45% Engagement is right on par with the level of engagement people have with a wall. If that’s all your Facebook account is – a wall – then don’t be surprised that nobody gives a shit. Invest in a human.

5. Either give a shit or don’t, but you need to decide.

Nobody minds that you are there to sell stuff. It’s understood. Hell, we want to be sold to. Have you seen what people willingly pay for an iPhone or a latte at Starbucks? Our cash is yours if you give us a good reason to part with it. We wouldn’t be clicking that like button if we didn’t acknowledge that we accept that you have something to sell. It’s what that initial handshake is for.

But if all you do is push PR content and marketing offers down our throats all day and don’t actually give a shit about who we are, what we do, what matters to us outside of the next transaction, you’re wasting your time measuring engagement. Just turn your Facebook presence into a store and stop wasting your time pretending to be “social.” You might actually increase conversions going that route. In fact, if that’s what you really want to do, stop wasting time creating boring content nobody cares about and just give us 20% off coupons. If all you are going to do is use Facebook as a marketing channel, you might as well save yourself the trouble and just cut to the chase.

Just remember that being “social” (meaning being genuinely interested in the engagement piece as a relationship-building process) can’t be faked. Don’t even try. It’s insulting and ultimately works against you in the social space. Either commit to it 100% or don’t even try. Nobody just half-cares about their customers or friends. Either be in or out. Either give a shit or don’t.

I can pretty-much guarantee though that if you show that you do truly care every single day, it will pay off in spades: Positive recommendations, customer retention, customer loyalty, more frequent engagement, deeper engagement, increased mindshare, increased wallet share… If you want these things, you can have them. It’s up to you to make it happen.

6. Be helpful.

Do something helpful for someone every day and you’ll have engagement. Publish boring marketing content to fill empty spaces because you probably ought to and you will be hanging out with crickets. Who does your content strategy serve again? Your marketing department or your fans? Real question. What’s the most helpful thing you’ve done on Facebook today? This week? This month? In the last year?

Yeah… That’s what I thought. You can do better than that.

7. Have a purpose.

A strategy without a purpose is kind of like an essay without a topic. Why are you on Facebook again? What’s the value of that to you? What’s the value of that to people you want to engage with there? Give that some thought. The clearer your purpose, the higher the degree of engagement. It’s that simple. 0.45% actual engagement screams “pointless” to me. Like content for the sake of content. Like marketing spend for the sake of not losing your budget next year. Like being on Facebook because… “everyone else is, so we thought we should be there too. We’re still figuring out what we want to do though.”

8. Don’t buy fans, followers, likes and subscribers. Ever.

And don’t encourage your CMO, Social Media Directors and agencies to do so by rewarding them for meeting fan acquisition quotas. We have talked about this. The profit margins on fake fans aren’t rocket science for providers of said “fans”. The horrible mess it causes for brands who end up with tens of thousands of fake followers and fans is terribly costly and in most cases irreversible from a measurement standpoint. These people will never buy from you. They will never recommend you to their friends. They will never contribute in any way to the success of your brand. The only two things they will actually do is guarantee zero engagement and screw up your conversion metrics for the next ten years. Don’t do it. Don’t allow yourself to step into that giant pile of digital marketing poop.

9. If nobody cares about your product, your digital content won’t magically fix that.

This one is kind of self-explanatory. Talk is cheap. Focus on creating real value. If people love your products, they will share that with each other. The SEO magic behind your content is irrelevant if nobody cares about your product. You can publish stuff all day long on Facebook and no one will care.

10. Don’t just think about vertical engagement. Think about lateral engagement.

If your engagement strategy involves responding to every query and mention yourself, you’re missing the point. (Though if only ten people say hi to you every day, you ought to be able to manage that.) A vibrant, healthy community doesn’t depend on the brand’s community manager to drive conversations. The fans should be handling 80% of the comments. They should be talking to each other more than they talk to your brand’s representative. That’s what supports scale in the social space. Think about how you can make that happen. You can’t have significant engagement or drive long-term momentum in the social space without a mechanism in place to support that conversation engine. The platform + content equation alone won’t do it.

This stuff really isn’t that hard. It’s as simple as walking into a crowded room and making friends, then coming back the next day and meeting their friends, and doing it again the next day. If you just listen to them today, you’ll know what to talk to them about tomorrow. Once they start sharing stuff with you, you’ll know what they want you to share with them. Relationship-building 101.  Pretty much everything else you need to know is right here.

It has been all along.

Realistically, you are never going to see 100% engagement. Not even 50%. Shoot for 20% though. The 80/20 rule: 80% of your fans won’t comment. They’ll just watch and listen quietly. But 20% of them should naturally comment, share and participate. That’s what you want.

1% is embarrassing. Find a way to fix that.

*          *          *

If the Brandbuilder blog isn’t enough, Social Media ROI provides a simple, carry-everywhere real-world 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. Do yourself a favor and check it out at www.smroi.net. Now available at fine bookstores everywhere. Also available in German, Japanese and Korean.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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

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The next date on your calendar, especially if you are in Europe next week, should be this:

May 26: Brussels, Belgium. IAB ‘Think Digital’ Conference.

Among the speakers: Rohit Bahrgava, Eric Phu, Ciarán Norris, Alex West, Kevin Slavin, and… this guy named Olivier Blanchard that you may or may not have heard about.

What will we all cover on May 26? Many of the types of strategies and methodologies that brands and their agencies still need a lot of help with. Here is a short list:

– New paradigms of vertical and lateral marketing: brand evangelism and media-aided word of mouth.

– Understanding how to properly blend and leverage owned, bought, and earned media (again, great for brand managers and agencies that understand bought and owned, but don’t fully grasp the earned piece yet). Very important stuff.

– TV & Digital: The next 5 years. Opportunities, methods, technologies, principles and revenue models for brands and agencies.

– Chinese markets and digital: What is going on behind the Great Firewall, and what that means to you.

– The psychology of happiness as it relates to customer acquisition and retention (deeper impact through social recommendations, and stronger loyalty resulting in accelerated growth).

– The new culture of consumer-brand engagement, and what this means to micro and macro brands.

– Don’t just throw money at it: Converting followers and fans into real returns (ROI) for brands and their agencies. (Outlining the social business process model, and answering the why and the how.)

Think of it as a one-day MBA on digital brand, program and campaign management from some of the brightest professionals on the planet, and part 1 of  2 such events between now and July in Europe (Likeminds: Paris [Update: Canceled by the organizers] and Social Media Day/Red Chair: Antwerp – coming up in late June, right after the Cannes Lions). Social Media Day Antwerp will combine a 1/2 day Red Chair-style series of workshops on Social Media strategy and integration (including a full hour of open Q&A for attendees) and a pretty solid DJ party afterwards to celebrate the global event.

If you can’t be in Brussels on the 26th, definitely share this link with your boss, peers, clients, agencies… or send one of your staffers so they can take notes for you. The sooner companies learn and get comfortable with these concepts and processes, the faster marketing and digital budgets can start yielding solid results for everyone (brand and agencies). Wouldn’t that be superfly?

>> IAB Think Digital Conference – Main Site, Program & ScheduleRegister<< (The most important part.)

See you there.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Social Media ROI yet (every manager, executive and agency strategist should have this thing on their desk by now), check out what people who have read it have to say about it.

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