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Posts Tagged ‘engagement’

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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This week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on #mmchat (episode 68). We talked about social media (social business) integration, which is a pretty crucial topic. Pushing content through social media channels and setting up monitoring practices is the easy part. Making it all work and flow across an organization is where the real difficulties arise.

For almost every company adopting social media, the biggest challenge is not a lack of great ideas or social media expertise, but rather a lack of change management planning and execution. (Theory, presentations and case studies are great, but making someone else’s stories actually work for a business, that’s where the rubber really meets the road – or doesn’t, for the most part.)

Here were the questions:

Q1: So our topic tonight is on Social Media Alignment in organizations, can you describe your view on what this means?

Q2: [In reference to social media] what are some of the negative consequences experienced by organizations that are not aligned?

Q3: How should organizations begin when it comes to aligning their social media efforts with the rest of the business? Who should lead this initiative and how?

Q4: Are there specific steps required to align social networking within organizations?

Q5: Once alignment is achieved, can it be easily scaled or are there suggestions you can male to facilitate this process?

Q6: Are there different challenges & solutions for trying to align around the world in global organizations?

Q7: How does a company know when they have succeeded in the alignment quest? What are some of the major signs and benefits?

Because of the short amount of time allotted to the chat and the limited 140-character format, my answers and ensuing discussion don’t get super in-depth, but that comes with an advantage: They are VERY accessible. Even if you are still unsure how to effectively plug social media into a company so it doesn’t end up being just a marketing add-on, you will understand the fundamental principles covered here.

To access the chat’s full transcript, click here.

For a far more in-depth look into how to actually plug social media into a business (large or small), grab yourself a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson).

It isn’t a “social media” book. It is a management book that focuses on social media for business. Big difference. If you aren’t sure that it is for you, download a free chapter here, then make up your mind.

Very special thanks to @thesocialcmo and @karimacatherine for hosting the #chat.

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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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The danger of content-centric strategies in Social Business:

Let me preface this short post with the catalyst behind it – this article by Sarah Shearman for Marketing.co.uk: “Content key to marketing in social media says P&G exec.” Let me throw a few bits and pieces of the article your way, and we’ll get started.

Content is the best currency in social media, according to Usama Al-Qassab, e-commerce marketing and digital innovation team leader at Procter & Gamble.

Speaking at a panel debate at the Social Media World Forum today (29 March) on the role of social media in traditional marketing strategy, Al-Qassab said: “There is a lot of talk about social commerce, but the average person is not yet there yet. On sites such as Facebook, the majority of people do not go there to purchase and still prefer their traditional online retailers. In order to monetise social media, it should not be seen in isolation and needs to be integrated into the wider marketing mix. But unless you have content, there is no point. The content you deliver and the investment behind that is key, much bigger than straight media dollars.”

And this (edited for brevity):

“To grab people’s attention in social media, you need to do something amazing and to do this, [what] you need is a function of how good your product is and how human you appear. The less good your product is and the less human you appear, the more spectacular, giving and generous the thing you do as an organisation needs to be.” – John Willshire, head of innovation at PHD

“There is so much content out there that is great and excellent, [but that] does not mean anyone will be able to even see it. The only way you can get people to see things and talk about things is by giving them a big push. Everything, whether it be business cards, letterheads, the website, the TV advertising, should all drive to one specific thing you want people to do. People don’t talk about things because they think they are great, they talk about them because they think they ought to, or because other people talk about them. Popular things get more popular, as a result of being in the public eye. It is about driving the content and hoping to get additional benefits, when people start getting involved.” – Nick Butcher, global head of social media and digital innovation at ZenithOptimedia.

First, let me begin by saying that I have absolutely no problem with what is now called creative/content, or even a proper focus on it. Content is important. It helps communicate to consumers the value and advantages of buying a product or service. It makes consumers discover, desire, crave, and develop a preference for a product. Now, more than ever, content is easy to share, which ads to its value and power. Content also pulls people to websites, which is pretty damn important if you are trying to keep consumers interested and/or primed to visit websites and click on buttons. For these reasons, content is at the core of all things digital marketing, and great content is worth its weight in gold. You will get absolutely no argument from me there. All of this is true.

But here is where experienced marketing executives around the world – including pretty brilliant guys like John, Nick and Usama – fall into a common trap: Mistaking social media channels for marketing channels.

The problem is simple: Marketing professionals see the marketing opportunity in these powerful new channels – as well they should. Their reflex is to do what they know, which is to adapt their marketing thinking to the social space: shift some of their communications, strategies,creative and content to the Facebooks, Twitters and Youtubes of the moment. It’s their job after all. It’s what they know. “Push” has always worked everywhere else, therefore it will work in the social space as well. (And in spite of what social media purists claim, “push” does work quite well on social channels. Ask Dell and Old Spice, for starters.) The problem, however, is that digital social channels are not solely marketing channels. In fact, they are mostly not marketing channels. They are social channels (hence the nomenclature). As such, they favor dialog rather than monologue. Publishing content and creative might be seen as a conversation starter, but it is not in any way, shape or form a dialog. It is a monologue through and through. And there is the rub.

At the root of the confusion between social marketing and social business are two distinct operational world views:

The easiest way to illustrate the problem is – as always – with a silly picture of old white dudes in suits sitting around a table.

Below is the functional view of social media channels as perceived (and expressed) by marketing professionals like John, Nick, Usama and thousands upon thousands of others around the world, including the majority of CMOs:

The problem with a unilateral functional view of SM channels

This begins a chain reaction of tactical thinking in which “content” – whose importance to the marketing function (on and off the web) is without question – becomes the core component of marketing-driven social media programs: If “content is king” for marketing on and off the web, then content must also be king for marketing in social media channels.

Logical, right?

If you have ever wondered why “content” was such a recurring theme and point of focus in the social space – when it clearly doesn’t need to be, this is why. What you are looking at in the above image, and what you are hearing from John, Nick, Usama and their peers isn’t representative of either social business or a social media program for business. What it illustrates is limited to social media marketing: The traditional marketing function adapted and applied to social media channels. This world view reflects a belief that social media management is primarily a marketing function.

This view point is of course a little too limited to work super well in a social medium, where people value non-marketing interactions at least as much (if not a lot more) than marketing-related ones.

Since social media channels and the social space are not inherently marketing-focused channels, the correct approach for a business looking to see both short and long term results, is one that is NOT primarily marketing-centric, and therefore NOT primarily content-centric. Here is what that more integrated social business model looks like:

Social Business favors multi-functional adoption across the org

The above image reflects the nature of social business. This multi-functional approach to social media, marked by the adoption of social channels by all functions and departments across an organization, stands a much better chance of yielding results in a space that is not inherently marketing-focused (and can be, at times, openly hostile to overtly marketing-focused exploitation by companies that haven’t yet thought things through).

This model does not focus on “content” as the key component of its social media program “strategy.” Instead, the model focuses on creating new types of value for consumers and stakeholders:

1. Pragmatically this is done to gain a competitive advantage, or – because the more value an organization creates for its customers, the more win becomes associated with its reputation.

2. From the consumer side, as long as the organization driving such a program seems to be genuinely interested in improving the lives or the experience of people it comes in contact with, as long as it seems to want to foster a relationship with them that isn’t automated, that is as truly human and genuine as an old fashioned handshake or a kiss on the cheek or a warm and honest hello, this business socialization activity won’t come across as one-sided and self-serving. This is important.

Sometimes, the best marketing isn’t marketing at all. It grows out of the personal connections that happen between the impression and the purchase, the thousand little personal interactions that happen between the purchase and the coffee shop, and the bonds consumers form with human beings around them. These human beings can be fellow customers of Brand x or employees or Brand x, or perhaps future customers of Brand x. For the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on employees of Brand x.

Thus, having your marketing department push content all day long via Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and Youtube channels basically amounts to executing a simple social media marketing strategy. It doesn’t build anything. It doesn’t stick either. It’s just marketing spend at a lower cost and with a higher content velocity. Not bad, but that won’t get you very far in the social space.

Moving beyond “social media marketing” – A short list of business functions in social media that do not require content to create value and yield results:

We have seen how Marketing, advertising and PR all tend to focus on content in and out of social channels and why. (And again, there is nothing wrong with that.) Now, let us briefly look at a few other functions that can find a profitable home in the social space that require zero content creation, publication or curation.

  • Digital Customer Service
  • Business Intelligence
  • Digital market research
  • Consumer Insights Management
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Digital keyword and sentiment monitoring
  • Digital campaign or program measurement
  • Digital crisis management
  • Community management
  • Digital technical support
  • Digital concierge services

There are more, but you get the idea. None of these are particularly “content” driven functions, are they. Yet… “content” is supposed to be at the core of social media programs, right?

An emphasis on “content” in social media and social communications is simply code for “we think of social media primarily as a marketing channel.” It clearly needs to be treated as far more than that.

Organizations whose executives come to believe that “content” is key or central to social media success, equity or potential are making a grave mistake: Content doesn’t in fact drive engagement, traction or success in social media. “Content” drives marketing and responses to marketing in social media. As important as that is, we all have to be realistic about the limits of this kind of approach.

Realistically, content doesn’t drive customer service, crisis management, reputation management or market research in social media, nor does it drive conversations about customer service, crisis management, reputation, market research or even shopping experiences about a brand in social media. Since these and other key business function are principal building blocks of every successful social media program (for business), you see how an emphasis on content can hobble an organization’s social media program right from the start if its importance is mistakenly overstated.

Content’s relation to old vs. new forms of media:

Old media was 100% about messaging and distribution. Marketing was a monologue, primarily because the media used by marketing didn’t give consumers a voice. Viewers didn’t talk back to brands through their TV. Listeners didn’t talk back to brands through their radio. Billboards, print ads, posters, point of sale displays, coupons and even Web 1.0 websites functioned the same way: You created the message and pushed it out. The channels were basically one-way pipelines with marketers at one end and consumers at the other, the latter being the receiving end.

Social media channels are very different. Dialog rules in the social space. Marketing is at best suspect, and tolerated only if it doesn’t come across as exploitation of the channel by a company. Moreover, marketing in social media is permission-based: Too much marketing, or the wrong kind, and social media denizens will disengage from an offending brand. The wrong approach in these social channels can even do more harm than good for a company that forgets to treat consumers like individual human beings.

Though occasional monologues and messaging can find their place in the social space within a healthy mix of engagement activity, an operational emphasis on any kind of marketing monologue doesn’t work. Put simply, companies need to stop shoving “content” through social media channels like sh*t through a goose for ten seconds, take a step back, and start placing as much – if not more – emphasis on listening to consumers in order to then respond to them and begin a process of socialization. That is at the core of true engagement, and the fuel that will drive companies’ loyalty engines in the social space. The recent emphasis on content creation and publishing isn’t helping companies engage better. Instead, it is creating a wedge between brands and consumers. A wall of noise, even. It has become terribly counterproductive.

Two more things to think about:

1. Engagement and buzz are not the same thing. Pushing content through social media channels to generate buzz is perfectly fine and it can work very well. But don’t kid yourselves: Generating buzz around content or a campaign isn’t engagement. Not by a long shot. So next time someone tries to tell you that content and engagement go hand in hand, ask them to explain the difference between engagement and buzz. Chances are that they have the two mixed up. (Beware: That kind of confusion can send organizations down the wrong road fast.)

2. Saying hello or thank you doesn’t qualify as content. By the same token, having a conversation with someone is not content creation or curation. Responding to customer service requests via twitter is not content either. In fact, the more your communications resemble a conversation or dialogue, the less your communications qualify as “content.” The flip side of this is that the more focused an organization is on content when it comes to its social media presence, the more anti-social it will appear to be.

Strike for a balance. Always. The social space is far too complex and filled with opportunities to put all of your operational eggs in one basket – even the one tagged “content.”

Cheers,

Olivier

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