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 FGS

Facebook Graph Search explained in 15 seconds. It’s really simple. Ready?

Think search your community/network instead of search the web.

That’s all it is.

If that doesn’t work for you, think about search in terms of degrees of separation. Remember David Armano’s influence ripples? Imagine search working the same way. It’s basically search coupled with social relevance.

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If that still doesn’t work for you, here’s Zuck:

ZuckAlso check out Christopher Penn’s insights here. (Relevant to marketing, digital and bizdev pros.)

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Looking for straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space? pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. (Go to smroi.net to sample a free chapter first, just to make sure it’s worth the money.)

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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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. 🙂

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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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I can’t lie, every time I see a list of top social media or digital “influencers” pop up in my stream, I cringe a little. Why? Because 99% of the time, Top 10/25/50/100 lists are nothing more than linkbait and bullshit. Here’s how it usually works:

Agency/consultancy XYZ feels that it isn’t getting enough attention anymore. Their white papers or “content” aren’t all that great this quarter, traffic and lead gen are down, so they need to think of something to do to salvage their waning relevance. The quickest way to do that is to spend an hour or two creating an ass-kissing list that awards some measure of recognition to a predetermined list of social media gurus. It’s easy enough to do. Most of these lists are essentially clones of each other. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The names are always the same and you know what they are. The process is as follows:

1. Google “Social Media, Influencer, Top, List.”

2. Cut and paste social media guru names from any of those lists. Make sure that you don’t include companies or organizations as it will defeat the purpose of the exercise. You’ll understand why in a minute.

3. Cut and paste the reason why they were selected by the person whose list you just ripped off, but change a few words so it isn’t technically plagiarism.

4. Come up with a really cool title.

5. Publish the list on your blog.

6. Ping every single social media guru on the list. Do this every hour until they respond and share your post with their entire network.

7. Remind them to do it again the next day and engage in small talk with them on Twitter and Facebook… err… Google Plus.

8. Enjoy free traffic to your blog for months.

Sometimes, gurus create lists like these themselves. It’s… well, you know. It’s done so much that I don’t even bother getting excited when I see a list of top influencers, top experts, top gurus, whatever, anymore. For the most part, they’re just copies of copies of copies. They provide zero insight into why these folks are experts or even valuable in their fields. They are the product of a lazy, cynical, unoriginal exercise in derivative self-promotion by proxy.

However…

Sometimes, someone takes the time to actually do it right. They take a careful look at an industry, research who does what and how, dig into their track records, weigh their actual influence rather than just their Klout score and the size of their network, and… well, sometimes, they put in the work.

This week, when I ran into BSMi’s 2012 Global Influencer Survey, I expected it to be another clone of top influencer/social media guru lists of Christmases past, but instead discovered a thorough, well-researched report that analyzes in detail what the top experts in three particular fields (social media, marketing and digital) have done this year, and explains why they are the best among us. This one really is different. When you browse through it, you’ll understand why. Clever way of presenting it too.

Just really great work all around from BSMi, as always. Click here or on the image below to check it out. (UK readers, click here.)

From now on, every time a “top” influencer list comes out, I want you to think about what you learned here today. 😉

Cheers,

Olivier

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PS: I also blog over at Tickr now, so go check out my posts there. (And take a few minutes to test-drive Tickr’s monitoring platform. Big stuff coming from these guys in the next few months, but shhhhh… I can’t talk about it yet.)

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And if you’re as tired of the bullshit as I am, pick up a copy of Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization. It was written to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. No bullshit. Just solid methodology and insights. It makes for a great desk reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Olivier

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

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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.

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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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May 2012 finally sound the death knell for all things “personal branding.”

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

You know what we used to call people with “personal brands” before the term was coined? Fakes. So here is a simple bit of advice for 2012: Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS. You don’t need it.

If you really want to brand something, focus on your business, on your blog, on your product. If your product is you, I hope your name is Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga, because otherwise you aren’t thinking clearly about this. A brand is ultimately an icon. Are you an icon? No. You aren’t. And if you ever become one, you won’t need to worry about building a personal brand.

Have I seen your face  pop up on billboard ads for Nike, Ford or Chanel? Are you on Wheaties boxes? Do you have your own action figure? Do designers call your agent asking if you would wear their clothes to award shows? No? Then you aren’t a product or a brand.

Let’s walk away from the professional navel-gazing industry for a minute recalibrate things just a tad. If what you’re after is improving your image and your odds of being successful in whatever your endeavor is, drop the personal branding nonsense and give these little tips some thought:

1. Talk less, do more. Let your work speak for itself. Michael Jordan didn’t spend all his time trying to build a strong personal brand. He practiced his craft. He trained. He worked his ass off to be the best basketball player he could be. It doesn’t mean you should stop blogging or granting interviews or making videos. It just means that the ratio of doing vs. talking should clearly favor the former over the latter.

2. Be relevant, not just popular. I know Klout is all the rage these days, but nobody gives a shit. No, really. What was Steve Jobs’ Klout score again?

Go solve a problem. Go cure cancer. Go create jobs for people in your community. Go fight against modern day slavery or spousal abuse or childhood homelessness. Go help Nike or Microsoft or the small bakery across the street build or do something remarkable. I guarantee that the closer you get to doing something relevant, the farther your mind will be from the latest popularity metric.

3. Reputation is more important than image. With a little work, anyone can create an online persona that exudes success and brilliance. Anyone. Image is nothing more than marketing. Here’s something you need to know: The people who will actually be in a position to help you in life understand this. You won’t fool them with superficial image design. They don’t care about it and know how to see right through it. Be what you say you are. Build a reputation for yourself. See #1.

4. Speaking of image, find a good tailor. You want to look good in person? Take whatever money you were planning on throwing at personal branding seminars or webinars and spend it on a good tailor instead. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes to look put together. Believe it or not, most of the time, H&M and Target will do just fine. The trick is in getting whatever you buy altered to fit you properly. A good tailor can make a $75 sport coat look like you spent $750 on it, so spend the $25 extra bucks on the alteration. Nobody cares how much you spent on your clothes, but they might care that you have sense enough to know how to wear them like an civilized adult.

What you should have tailored: Pants, dress shirts, jackets. Always. No exception. For men, everything you need to know about this can be found in Esquire’s Big Black Book of Style (usually released twice per year – in the spring and fall).

5. Just be yourself. If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you. Remember that thing about authenticity and transparency earlier? The more you have of the first, the more you can get away with the second. If you’re an asshole, the solution is simple: either work on that, learn to be a funny asshole, or spend less time on Facebook. If you’re a kind, pleasant, remotely interesting person though, just be that and everything will be okay.

If you’ve ever interviewed applicants for a job or held open auditions, you know the drill: Some people walk into the room and show you only what they want you to see. Others walk into the room and show you something real about themselves. Guess who stands no chance at all of getting a callback. Fakes need not apply. Trust is far too important a thing to gamble away on personal branding schemes. The more honest about who you are around people, the  more they will respond to you. It’s that simple.

The worst thing you can do for your career (and your relationships) is to try and build a personal brand.  It will get in the way of real success, of real connections with people, of real opportunities. It will distract you and divert your focus away from work that matters. It will warp your sense of self worth. It will flip your values upside down until what you care about the most is what you should be caring about the least.

If you really want people to know your name and take notice, go build something. Make something good happen. Create. Invent. Help. Rescue. Solve. Improve. Apply yourself to any of those endeavors and in time, you will earn some measure of respect and even perhaps notoriety or fame. That’s how it works. Jules Verne is known for his stories. Steven Spielberg is known for his films. Richard Branson is known for his success in business. Author. Film maker. Entrepreneur. Compare that to “online personality” or “social media expert.”

So here is wishing “personal branding” safe journeys and a heartfelt farewell in 2012. Thanks for visiting. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?

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Oh, I almost forgot: Social Media ROI is now available in German! Check it out.

For the English-language Social Media ROI portal, click here. To buy it directly from Amazon, click here.

For the German edition of Social Media ROI, click here.

I’m kind of psyched about that.

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The problem with assumptions is that they always come with blind spots.

The friendlier and human a company is, the more potential for success it will have. This goes back to the theory that the company with the least amount of assholes wins. I think it goes without saying that unfriendly, emotionally disconnected, self-interested employees (and managers) always act as hurdles to internal collaboration, process improvement and the adoption of new ideas. They build walls. They create silos. They are agents of “no.”

Friendly companies are created by friendly employees and friendly management. Great customer experiences (whether they come in the form of great customer service or simply pleasant shopping adventures) begin with a culture of “we give a shit.” These customer-centric companies understand the need for fluid internal collaboration and the continuous improvement of process that affect, somewhere down the line, consumers’ perception of the brand.

But is that enough?

Consider the following two lists, and ask yourself which company you would rather buy your products from:

Company A:

  • It’s a great place to work.
  • I read an article about how cross-functional teams brainstorm to develop new products.
  • They offer trainees $5,000 to quit their first week. No one ever takes the money.
  • They have awesome customer service.
  • Returns are never a problem. They treat you so nicely.
  • I love shopping there.
  • Their CMO seems like a really cool guy on Twitter.

Company B:

  • I’ve heard it’s kind of a revolving door there.
  • Made in China, I think.
  • They have horrible customer service.
  • Have fun getting them to send you a replacement.
  • The lines at their stores are a pain.
  • I have no idea who their CMO is. He sure isn’t on Twitter.

Obviously, Company A probably has a market advantage, right?

Maybe. What if Company B makes much cooler products?

What if Company B’s products are equal in every way to Company A’s but at a much lower price?

That changes the equation a bit, doesn’t it? Now, Company B might become far more competitive (and successful) in spite of all of the negatives listed above.

Now let me throw in a twist: What if, against all logic, Company B’s process actually requires an antisocial environment in order to produce cooler products? What if it requires a quasi-tyrannical leadership and hermetically-sealed silos in order to be successful? What if becoming a “social business” actually ended up hurting it?

Under Steve and Walt, Apple and Disney weren’t exactly examples of what a “social business” should be, and yet they became, in spite of many of the things that the social business model preaches, enormous successes. They changed technology. They changed entertainment. They changed culture. They changed the world for the better.

How can this be?

Would Apple and Disney have been better off with a stable of bloggers and community managers on their payroll? Twitter accounts? Facebook pages? Youtube channels? Foursquare promotions? Would they have been better off if Steve and Walt had been avid proponents of “social business” ideals, flat organizations and cowdsource-driven product design? Really?

I want you to think about that for a minute, before you go back to reading blog post after blog post about the coming “social business” revolution and all the good it will bring to the world. It just isn’t that simple. Becoming a social business doesn’t necessarily help a businesses create more value for anyone or become better at what it does.

Becoming a more social company is not the same as becoming a better company.

I am not at all suggesting that companies are better off ignoring the social space. I wouldn’t dream of ever advising a company to stay off Twitter and Facebook. It would be irresponsible of me to drive a wedge between an organization and the amazing potential that social media has in store for them. BUT, it would be equally irresponsible of me to suggest that trying to become a “social business” is always going to be  in their best interest.

If you are a CEO, ask yourself why you really want your business to become “more social.” Is it because you really love your customers? Is it because you are looking for better, faster, cheaper ways to gather consumer insights? Is it because becoming “more social” allows you to increase your reach into social channels? Is it because industry experts told you it’s the thing to do this year? Why are you really focusing on this?

Here’s a better idea for you: Focus on building a better company, not just a more social one. Identify key areas of potential improvement and make those your focus. If social media can help you in this endeavor, then by all means find out how and do it:

Use social technologies to improve your customer service and reduce purchasing barriers.

Use social networks to help more people discover your great products or recommend wonderful employees.

Use social platforms to give your customers a reason to be loyal and act as good will ambassadors for you everywhere they go.

Improve internal collaboration and organizational efficiency.

Infuse your product management groups with insights and ideas from followers and fans.

Use social monitoring tools to identify new opportunities and spot potential threats.

The sky is the limit when it comes to how social media can help you become a better company.

But “being more social” doesn’t, in and of itself, amount to a whole lot. What does that even mean in a business context? Paying someone to hang out on Twitter all day and push out links to marketing content? Write formulaic blog posts to hopefully attract visitors to your website? Hire an agency to manage a Facebook page for you so you appear to be “more social?” Hire a ghost blogger to pretend that your CEO is committed to the social web? What’s the point of any of that? Why waste so much time and energy on pointless bullshit that isn’t benefiting anyone?

Now consider these two questions:

1. Will adopting a “social business” model really help patent-driven, data security conscious companies like Michelin, 3M and Pfizer become more competitive, more successful, and better at what they do?

2. Would adopting a “social business” model have helped Apple and Disney accomplish what they did? Or might it have gotten in the way by creating too much of a distraction or altering internal focus? Might an effort to become more “social” instead of generating brilliant products have worked against Apple and Disney?

Before you answer, consider this: The value of social media adoption and social process integration comes in degrees. Because every company is unique, every company will become more or less “social” based on its needs, capabilities and the dynamics of their internal cultures. Each of them will decide to what extent, and in the service of the improvement of what function, “social” will become part of its process. And guess what: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So again…

Question: Should Michelin, 3M and Pfizer, Disney and Apple become more “social?”

Answer: Only to the extent to which they and their customers will benefit from it. That could be a little, a lot, or not at all.

There’s a why question hidden in that Q&A, and a how question as well. You need to help companies answer both if you really want to help them.

Recap.

1. The “social business” ideal doesn’t apply to every business. That’s the problem with ideals: Ideally, they’re great. In reality, the world is messy. Things don’t always work the way we wish they would. “The road to hell,” as they say, “is paved with good intentions.” The road to epic screw-ups is as well. Proceed with clear purpose, and caution will mostly take care of itself.

2. Beware the salesmen of utopia. Selling ideals is one thing. Adapting them to your company’s needs is another entirely. Good consultants should be able to successfully put their advice into practice, not just suggest unrealistic goals and then watch you fumble at an impossible play.

3. If you focus less on “being social” and more on becoming a better company, you will be much better off by the end of the coming fiscal year. If social platforms can help you become that better company, great! Get working on it. If not, don’t sweat it. Focus on what matters, not on the flavor of the moment, no matter how many consultants and tech bloggers come to you carrying buckets of freshly brewed Koolaid.

Now stop reading blogs and go kick ass. Cheers.

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