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Why I stopped blogging:

My last post here is dated February 25th. I wish I could say that was the last time I was genuinely interested enough to write and share something pertinent with you guys about brand management or marketing strategy or social business, but that isn’t true. If you scroll back through my posts for 2013 and the second half of 2012, you will probably notice that I was already kind of losing interest in blogging for the sake of blogging. Truth is, sometimes, even someone as outspoken as me just doesn’t have anything really all that pertinent to write about on a blog like this one, and though the discipline to carry on writing “content” day after day anyway is admirable in many ways, I found the exercise pretty much mired in futility.

A friend of mine in the industry told me about a year ago that I needed to publish something on this blog at least 3-5 times per week. He was pretty adamant about it, and I suppose he should know. He has 10x the readership and the twitter followers. He has published 10x more books than I have (I only have the one), he gets paid a shit-ton more than I do to spend half as much time on stage. He’s big time. Career-wise, he is in every way my better. I should listen to him. The thing is, I don’t think that post quantity or post frequency or even an editorial calendar’s consistency really matters. Traffic to this blog remains strong even if I don’t post a single thing for months. I have so many posts here that I could probably never publish anything again and my traffic would stay consistent for the next 3+ years. More importantly, I don’t really care about pulling traffic to my blog anymore. I used to. For ego, mostly. A 12,000 visitor day was like Christmas morning to me once. I felt important and validated. I look back on that now and ask myself what the fuck I was thinking.

Oh yeah… that’s another thing. I probably shouldn’t curse here. This is a business blog. Well, so much for that rule too. I live in the real world, and in that world, people say fuck. In fact, they get pretty creative about it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least it’s honest, and there’s a lot to be said for people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

I have always prided myself on publishing quality content. As much as I hate the term “content,” I will use it here to describe what you are reading right now, if only to make a point: I stopped doing that months ago. I did. I was just going through the motions. Writing a blog post just because I am supposed to fill space robs a blog like this one of its value. Even though I never intended to shift from publishing quality blog posts to publishing “content,” it’s where I was headed. I woke up one morning and sat at my desk and realized that I was turning into just another social media asshole who publishes shit just to have something to publish. Just to get traffic to a stupid website. Just to see his name mentioned a couple hundred times in a Twitter stream and feel important and validated. That’s not who I want to be and it sure as shit isn’t why I got into blogging. I didn’t like where things were going, and since I didn’t know what else to do, I backed off and worked on other things.

Why some of my “peers” might want to back off for a few months as well:

Top 10 Ways to Create Successful Content

Why Net Promoter Score Is The New ROI

5 Strategies to Better Engage With A social Media Audience

8 Ways Klout Is Revolutionizing Business

11 Reasons Why Google Glass is the Most Important Technology in Human History

Stop. Just stop. Shut the fuck up. Really.

You want to feel important, go do something important, something that actually matters:

Help a company solve a real problem. (Selling them a product doesn’t exactly qualify.)

Help curb domestic violence in your state by even 1/10 of a percent.

Help create a digital bipartisan policy innovation exchange. (Holy shit! Using social media to depolarize discussions about real issues and even crowdsource real solutions to real problems? Shut. Up!)

Develop social business systems and protocols aimed at boosting customer retention (loyalty is a process, not just a marketing buzzword).

Do something. But for fuck’s sake, stop filling empty space with “content.”  It’s gotten so bad, even I was getting sucked into it just to keep up with this shit:

The CMO is dead. 

Digital is Dead. 

Marketing is Dead.

Advertising is Dead.

Print is Dead.

Stop. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re all just writing the same shit over and over again, and most of it is utter nonsense. There’s no value to it. Most of it isn’t even accurate, let alone helpful to anyone. Hell, it isn’t even entertaining. If any of you wrote even one of those blog posts as an email and sent it to your boss, you would probably be fired shortly thereafter for being an incompetent dumbass. So what makes a digital editor or a social media “expert” think it belongs on a blog (or worse, on major pubs’ blogs like Forbes.com or HBR.com or Money.com)?

Please, if you’re that kind of blogger/writer, back away from your computer and give some thought to what you’re about to write. Better yet, go find something relevant to write about. You’re making my brain hurt with this shit. Why are you even here? What are you doing? What value are you bringing to your industry? Stop. Go for a walk or a run or whatever, and think about what you should really be doing instead of throwing your very own personal turds at the same giant pile of turds everyone is already busy throwing their turds at. It’s big enough as it is. It’ll do just fine without your latest “contribution.”

An apology:

Even if my blog posts aren’t quite as awful as some, truth is that it’s been a while since I have contributed anything particularly intelligent or new or even special to our overall conversation. I woke up one morning and I realized I was just creating content, and it really turned me off from the whole thing. That break I just suggested, I took one. I’m not sure I’m really back yet, but I’m back today anyway, and I suppose that’s a start.

I don’t think I need to apologize for my physical absence since my last post on February 25. That was actually a good thing. What I do need to apologize for though, is my substantive absence since whenever the hell it was that I started posting “content” on this blog just to keep the wheels spinning. I let you guys down and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I got sidetracked. Burnout maybe? Caught in the momentum of a flawed trajectory… Maybe it was a bunch of little things. I’ll give it some thought and let you know if I ever figure it out.

What comes next for this blog:

Moving forward, The BrandBuilder Blog will have no set editorial calendar. Maybe I publish something every day for a week, and maybe I don’t publish anything at all for a month. It will all depend on whether I have something relevant to share or even the time to share it. If I have nothing intelligent or pertinent to say, I won’t waste your time pretending that I do. Believe it or not, I don’t have awesome advice to give every damn day of the week. Most days, I’m just like everyone else: busy, confused, and filled with far more questions than answers. I don’t need to pretend that I am an expert or a guru… and though I hope to become an expert at something someday, I sure as shit don’t ever want to be a guru. Robes aren’t a good look for me.

So anyway, stay tuned. I’ll be back with more. Thanks for your patience.

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If you haven’t yet, 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 to help you build, manage and properly measure your social media efforts against business objectives. (You can go to smroi.net and sample a free chapter.)

If English isn’t your first language, you can smROI is also available 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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Here’s the question that most companies still don’t ask themselves at the start of a project: what problem am I trying to solve?

Start with that, and you’re 80% of the way there. Blow it off, and you can be sure that you and your organization will waste a shit-ton of time and resources on something that won’t yield any concrete results.

For instance: discussions at planning & management meetings increasingly point towards three “projects” that seem increasingly inevitable – Your CMO wants to revamp the logo. Your CEO wants to get into social media. Your SVP Digital wants to redo the website.

Now what? Well, now begins the process of getting the projects approved. What questions will be asked? Well…

Why are we doing this?

How much will it cost?

Who will be in charge?

Who will do the work?

And that’s about it. That’s as far as it goes.

Why are we doing this? Because it’s been a while. Because it’s time. Because we need change. Because our competitors are doing it. Because it will improve our image.

How much will it cost? Somewhere between $x and $y.

Who will be in charge? Fill in the blanks.

Who will do the work? Fill in the blanks.

Except here’s the problem: companies have limited resources. When you think of resources in terms of money, talent, technology and man hours (and you should), you quickly come to realize that focusing a significant percentage of those resources on Project A rather than Projects B, C, and D means that you’ve just introduced an opportunity cost into your planning. In other words, choosing to monopolize these resources on Project A could limit your ability to really kick ass with Projects B, C and D.

If Project A is necessary or really smart, that’s probably a good thing. You’ve prioritized possible outcomes and you’ve decided that Project A has a high potential for ROI or impact on x, or whatever it is you’re after.

But of Project A isn’t necessary, what you’ve done is you’ve just taken essential resources away from essential projects… to feed a wasteful endeavor that won’t yield a whole lot of benefits to your company.

You know what question helps determine whether or not a project is worthwhile? This one: what problem am I trying to solve?

A practical overview: new logo.

We need a new logo. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If you can show that your old logo is hindering your sales, you might be on to something. Do your customers complain about it? Do your competitors’ customers make fun of it? Okay. Time to consider an upgrade. In your considerations, ask yourself this: will the new logo solve a real problem for consumers? Will it solve a real problem for us?

If the answer is yes, and you can identify these problems clearly, move forward.

What problems will the new logo aim to solve?

If the answer is no, or you can’t quantify the “problem,” consider what else you might be able to focus on this quarter or this year that will solve a real problem. (Like customer service, R&D, packaging, messaging, shopping experience, etc.)

A practical overview: new website.

We need a new website. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “It looks like it was designed in 1995, the UX is horrible, it uses flash, it’s horrendous on mobile devices, our customers complain about it all the time,” then you’re good to go. Dig deeper and move forward. What is it that your customers complain about? What can we improve in terms of user experience? What do we wish the site could do that it can’t in its present form (and why)? What kinds of functionality would we like to build into it (and why)?

What problems will a new website aim to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “It’s been two years since we redesigned it, and I want to rebuild it in Drupal,” then that meeting is adjourned. (No offense to Drupal. I just needed to throw something in there real quick.)

A practical overview: new social media strategy/program.

We need a social media strategy. 

Yeah? Why? What problem are we trying to solve?

If the answer falls along the lines of “we physically can’t continue to do business without it anymore,” then you’re on to something. Dig deeper. Your next conversation should include items like these:

47% of our customers prefer to engage CSRs through Twitter and Facebook than by calling a toll-free number now. We can also serve 5x more customers per hour via these channels than we can via traditional call centers, so we’ll even save money that way.

We’re losing traction in category and keyword searches because we have no fresh content for the Googlenets and the Bingwebs to index. If we had a blog and some social media properties, we could potentially double our web traffic and digital exposure.

We can’t really get into mobile commerce without it. It’s already costing us $23,000,000 per quarter, and we’re even losing customers and market share as a result. if we keep operating like this, we’ll be out of business in 5-7 years.

We’re spending $12,000,000 on outsourced digital marketing research every year that we could do ourselves if we just assigned two people to monitor the web using social media monitoring platforms.

Our PR department can’t anticipate, monitor, respond or manage PR crises without it. The cost to the company each year in lost revenue is $x, and our brand image is suffering more and more each year as a result.

40% of our net new customers leave us after 12 months. We think we can use social media to engage them, find out why they’re think of  leaving, and give them a reason to stay. Potential impact on the business: an additional $xM per year.

Social media can help drive word-of-mouth recommendations. We want to use social media as an in-network lead generation engine. The impact we expect: a) more leads. b) more qualified leads. c) a higher conversion rate (prospect to customer).

It will help us recruit better talent. Period.

It will amplify our advertising’s reach and make it stickier. Look at the numbers that Coca Cola, Pepsi, Ford and Old Spice have been getting against companies that only use traditional (paid) media.

If done properly, engagement = loyalty. Right now, only 23% of our customers consider themselves loyal. We want to bring that up to 60% over the next four years. Some of it will be offline, but we need an online piece as well.

69% less expenditures on each new product launch.

Etc.

All of these suggestions solve one or more of the following problems:

1. Not enough leads? Doing this will attract net new potential customers.

2. Not enough new customers? Doing this will convert net new prospects into net new customers.

3. Short term customer attrition? Doing this will develop net new customers into returning customers.

4. Long term customer attrition? Doing this will develop returning customers into loyal customers.

5. Budget cuts getting in the way? Doing this will cut costs while delivering equal or better outcomes.

6. Frozen budgets getting in the way? Doing this will keep costs level while delivering better outcomes.

7. Wasting money on outdated services you feel locked into? Doing this will help you free your operation from unnecessary burdens.

8. The chasm between you and your customers has been widening? Doing this will shrink it.

9. Feeling less relevant than you were 10 years ago? Doing this will help you find your way again.

10. Shrinking profitability is an increasing concern? See 1-9 (above), particularly 5 and 6.

11. Not reaching enough potential customers? Doing this fixes that. See 1 (above).

But if the answer to “what problem are we trying to solve with a social media program” is never asked (or worse, answered incorrectly,) then you will basically end up with an endless churning out of cheaply produced, keyword-optimized “content” that will vaguely boost web traffic and online mentions without ever yielding particularly helpful results. Say hello to crap metrics like “likes, Return on Influence, and all of the rest of the bullshit that still plagues the digital world and social business these days.

Because… we need to be on Facebook so we can engage with people and have conversations.

Because… we have to have a social media strategy.

Because… “content is king.”

Because… our competitors are doing it.

Because… our agency told us we should be in social media.

Because… something about owned, paid and earned media.

Because… we need followers and likes.

Because… we don’t know, but we’ll eventually figure it out.

Okay. Good luck with that.

The reason why snake oil, incompetence and irrelevant metrics are still so prevalent in the social business space is because they fill the gap created by the absence of proper questions and answers at the start. Starting with: what problem am I trying to solve?

Which is to say: what is the purpose of doing this in the first place?

New product feature? What problem am I trying to solve?

New packaging? What problem am I trying to solve?

New logo? What problem am I trying to solve?

New branding strategy? What problem am I trying to solve?

New campaign? What problem am I trying to solve?

New Facebook page? What problem am I trying to solve?

New blog? What problem am I trying to solve?

New hire? What problem am I trying to solve?

Don’t just go through the motions of doing something or going somewhere just because the rest of the herd is shuffling that way. I know it might make you the annoying guy in the room to be the one who asks the question (so… do so judiciously), but the question MUST be asked by someone. And more importantly, it must be answered. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting resources and a chunk of your potential for real success.

Cheers,

Olivier

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

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

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

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

The skinny:

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

1. A half day social media management workshop.

2. A very large party following the workshop.

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

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

For the full program, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

Ready? Here we go:

1. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A metaphor lost in a hyperbole.

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

I am not kidding. A monkey could do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

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

Cheers,

Olivier.

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“They were worried that I would get bogged down in wanting to do things, not just create strategy.”

David Polinchock / @lbbinc

One of the topics covered during the #LikeMinds Summit this past weekend was precisely this: The chasm between strategy and execution, especially as businesses struggle to understand how to leverage, integrate and operationalize Social Communications (what you do with social media platforms) in the coming 6-24 months.

Unfortunately, because the C-suite tends to look to itself when it comes to “strategic masterminding,” the focus too often shifts from execution at the customer level (the most important thing a business should be focusing on on) to… being the guy who came up with the game-changing strategy that will secure more funding and increase influence within the organization.

When this happens, strategy becomes a product, and that’s bad. Strategy isn’t a product. Strategy exists mostly in support of execution.

Any idiot with a powerpoint deck can deliver a “Social” strategy:

“We’ll create a facebook fan page, a twitter account, a LinkedIn Group, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Flickr account too! We’ll convert all of our customers who participate in social networking into fans and followers, and we’ll engage them with content at regular intervals throughout the day. We’ll embed hyperlinks into our tweets and facebook updates so we can pull them to our website to increase traffic there. We’ll get lots of extra clicks. We’ll gain mindshare by being there with them on their favorite social platforms. When they talk to us, we’ll respond. We’ll monitor sentiment and mentions. Our social media strategy will be a success.”

Um… yeah, except… no.

Sometimes, companies focus so much on developing and implementing strategies that they forget to focus on what’s important: Focusing on the customers. That’s priority numero uno. As a consumer, I don’t give two shakes what a company’s latest strategy is. I really don’t care. You want to gain 4% market share in the next quarter? You want to dominate the tablet PC market? Okay. Great. What’s that to me? All I want is for you to improve my life. How are you planning on doing that? How does your strategy actually make anything happen on the ground? Have you thought about what happens when your theories actually touch the real world?

The gap between high level strategy and ground-level execution can usually be summed up this way: Do you understand the tactics and ground level dynamics enough to ensure that your strategy will turn into something more than just an inspiring powerpoint presentation? Yes = small or no gap. No = huge gap.

On the ground, in the real world, what does your grand strategy do to make me want to spend more time recommending you to my friends? Spend more time wishing I could fill my garage with more of your stuff? What’s your strategy to make my experiences with your brand outclass and outshine my experiences with every other company? What’s your strategy to be awesome?

Don’t just look at strategy from the top down and the inside out. Also look at it from the outside in. How does it play in terms of influencing customer perceptions and behavior? How does it differentiate you or increase preference?

Let me illustrate the difference between tactically-agnostic strategy and tactically-savvy strategy:

What could you do TODAY that would change the way customers feel about you?

a) Give them a 10% off rebate that may take 30-60 business days to process. (We’ll worry about eroding margins and loyalty later.)

b) Knock their socks off with incredible customer service. (Smiles are free and being helpful makes customers come back.)

– or another choice –

a) Try to nickle-and-dime a guest with a $10 bottle of water in their hotel room (hey, going after that incremental revenue looks genius on Excel. Let’s charge extra for everything! We’ll make billions off premium pillow mints.)

b) Slap a note on the bottle that says “It’s water. Of course it’s free.” (The repeat business, loyalty and recommendations are worth more than the odd begrudged transaction.)

Which hotel chain is more likely to get repeat business and earn recommendations?

Which of these options do you think a disconnected top-down strategy might have generated? a) or b)?

Strangely, few companies have an “awesomeness” strategy. They have growth strategies, sales strategies, reach strategies, campaign strategies, pull strategies… all of which include a lot of content creation, content distribution and push/pull schemes created and directed from the top echelons. Great stuff, don’t get me wrong. But also lots of wasted energy working its way down to customers through less than fluid “channels.” Lots of energy wasted encountering friction and resistance on their way to the customers. Encountering snags and problems.  That’s the execution gap. That’s the part of implementation that too much emphasis on strategy, coupled with an operational chasm between the “strategists” and the “doers” creates.

So, your company isn’t short on strategy. You have dozens if not hundreds of powerpoint presentations to prove it. The quarterly deluge of strategic plans and “bullet points” and budget proposals to prove it. Social Media-related or otherwise. How’s that been working out for you?

Social Media – as it relates to Brand Management, PR, Marketing, Business Development, Community Management, recruiting, internal collaboration, product innovation and crisis management – isn’t about developing the winning strategy. There’s no “win” in developing or delivering a strategy.  Any strategy. Ever. Anywhere. I mean, yes, you’re smart. We get it. Thank you. That’s wonderful. But now what?

The reality here, the nugget, is this: The emphasis on top-down strategy is completely wrong for Social Media and Social Communications. The way to truly make Social Media and Social Communications WORK for business requires a focus on enablement, not strategy. Strategies don’t generate revenue. Strategies don’t win market share. Strategies don’t make customers loyal. Strategies are bullets on a slide, ink on paper, words across a conference table. They’re essentially worthless until you can use them to move a needle.

The disproportionate investment in strategy vs. implementation and execution is at the heart of why “Social” works for so few companies right now.

1. What are we trying to improve? (What should we be trying to improve?) <– Start with customer experience. Always.

2. What will it take to make that happen?

3. Does Social fit in?

4. If so, how?

5. What can Social help us improve?

6. What will it take to make that happen?

That’s it. Those those 6 questions. Start there. Stop talking about it. Move towards something your customers will be able to grasp, enjoy, value and convey.

Next time someone wants to sell you on a strategy, tell them to come back when they can show you exactly how they plan to implement it. Always make the strategist responsible for the execution. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, and things will get done a lot faster.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: The upcoming Red Chair double-workshop in Portland, Oregon (PDX) on March 11 and March 12 focuses on precisely that: How to actually put all of this into action. How to make it work. One session is designed for enterprise space management and executives, and the other for account management and Social Media for small business. It would be lovely of you to help spread the word, even if you can’t attend this time around. 🙂 For registration and information, click here.

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From Seth’s blog:

I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Whenever a business cycle starts to falter, the media start wringing their hands. Then big businesses do, freelancers, entrepreneurs and soon everyone is keening.

People and organizations that have no real financial stress start to pull back, “because it’s prudent.” Now is not the time, they say. They cut budgets and put off investments. It’s almost as if everyone is just waiting for an excuse to do less.

In fact, they are.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren’t right or the water is too cold or we’ve got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year’s Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn’t already running my own business, today is the day I’d start one.

Yep. Investing in your business during uncertain times isn’t so much a question of courage as it is business savvy. When would you rather spend money to stand out and gain market share: When your competitors are gunning for you full bore, or when they’re cowering in their holes, waiting to see if the sky will fall? This type of crisis is giving smart companies the perfect opportunity to bound ahead and plant the seeds of their next growth spurt. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but definitely within the next 6-12 months.

You have two choices: a) Cower and hide, or b) grab the bull by the horns, take a leadership position and go win some new business. Financial crises aside, if you had a valuable product a month ago, you still have a valuable product today. Don’t let fear paralyze your business. Use your competitors’ hesitation over the next few weeks and months to your advantage. Strategy 101.

Have a great Monday! 😉

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You would think that we wouldn’t need to bring this up anymore, but I have noticed recently that some folks still have a little trouble separating Vision from Strategy, and Strategy from Tactics. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s go over the differences between the three, this time courtesy of the very bright Christopher S. Penn:

Vision: If you don’t know why you’re in business, if you don’t know why you get up in the morning every day, you don’t have vision. You don’t have a reason, you can’t answer the question of why.

When the alarm rings at 4:55 AM every weekday, I get up and go to the Student Loan Network with the overarching reason of going to help someone get an education. I believe in education. I believe that education on the whole makes things better, makes society better, and in true enlightened self interest, makes my world better. Smarter people around me means better conversation, better ideas, better friends. Smarter coworkers and colleagues means higher paid colleagues and my share of the tax burden decreases proportionally the smarter and more talented everyone else is.

If you can’t answer why your company exists (besides make money), then you have no vision.

Strategy: Strategy is knowing the destination. Knowing where you want to go, knowing what the goal is. Strategy is having defined, achievable goals that are in alignment with your vision.

If my vision is to help someone get a better education, my strategy is to develop trusted relationships with that someone so that we mutually benefit. I vend products and services that I believe in, that will legitimately help my customer achieve a better education, and I am compensated in return. If I say I want to build one million trusted relationships with customers to help them afford an education, that’s a strategy. That’s where I’m going.

If you can’t answer where your company is going, then you have no strategy.

Tactics: Knowing how to get there, how to get to our destination, how to achieve on a turn by turn basis the mission of getting the van to the end point. I need a map.

If my strategy is to build one million trusted relationships with customers, then I need allies. I need to develop relationships with influencers and force multipliers who can help me share things like the Financial Aid Podcast. I need tools like Blue Sky Factory’s Publicaster email service, I need techniques like search engine optimization, I need great products and services that are worth talking about so that others are so inspired that they want to talk about them without my goading them to.

If you can’t answer how your company is going to actually get to the destination, then you have no tactics.

Let’s review:

Vision: Why are we even getting in the van?
Strategy: Where are we going?
Tactics: How are we going to get there?

Finally, a couple of key mistakes I’ve seen especially in social media.

“It’s all about the community!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Put more people in the van!” So what? Now you have a van full of people. Do you know why they are there at all? Do you know where you’re going? Or are you just in a van with a bunch of people hoping someone else drives ahead of you and you can tag along?

“It’s all about driving traffic to our shiny 2.0 widgety trendsetting flexible scalable social media hub!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Drive the van faster!” So what? You’re driving the van really fast. Do you have any idea where the van is actually going? Drive the van faster is both useless and dangerous, especially if faster means into a telephone pole.

“It’s all about being remarkable!” Wrong. You’ve got a nice van. A really nice van. A tricked out van. So what? The product is not the marketing. Yes, absolutely, taking a road trip in a nice luxury limo will be a lot more pleasant than taking a road trip in a beaten up Yugo. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you have no map, and you don’t know why, all you have is a nice van, and while it’s remarkable, you’re still not going anywhere.

Remember: why? where? how? and you’ll know vision, strategy, and tactics.

Simplicity at its best.

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