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You know how legitimate social business case studies are sometimes hard to come by? Well, Tickr (client) is looking to remedy that with a little contest for the next two months. And the deal only gets sweeter from here. In their own words:

The rules are simple: You sign up, we grant you access to Command Center for a little while, and you submit a cool little case study by March 15, 2013. Whoever comes up with the best case study in each of three categories listed below will win a year’s free access to Command Center, bragging rights, and maybe even a little extra swag. 

The three categories of entries are:

    • For-profit
    • Non-profit
    • Journalism

The case study doesn’t have to be centered on Command Center, but it has to show how you used Command Center to do something. (Read more about that here.)

What’s in it for you?

  1. Free Beta: You get to beta-test the pro version of Command Center for free. (Usually, the free trial version is a throttled-down version. Not this time. You get to use the real thing.)
  2. Case Study Support: Tickr will help you build your case study. I’ve agreed to help out as much as possible, so if you need help with formatting, measurement, process, strategy, etc., it’s likely that I will be assisting you in some way. If you’ve ever wanted to work with me on something, it won’t be exactly like that, but it’ll be close. I only have so many available hours in my day, but I’ll do what I can to help.
  3. Eyeballs, Eyeballs, Eyeballs: If you want to draw a lot of attention to a project, cause or campaign that you’re working on, this contest will be a good way to do that. Solid case studies collected as a result of this contest (whether they win anything or not) will get a lot of mileage out of this.
  4. Street Cred: Impress the world with your social business savvy. Whether you are looking to impress your boss, your peers, your rivals or recruiters is up to you. Just give us your best, show us something real and valuable and clever, and you will be amazed how much you and your project will get out of the process.

Agencies, brands, small organization, big organization, journalism students, consultants, newbies, veterans: all are welcome. The more varied the contestants the better. You can create a completely new project/case study specifically for this contest or you can incorporate the contest into something you are already working on. It’s 100% up to you.

To read a little more about the contest, click here.

To register for the contest, click here.

Note: Once you register, Tickr will send you all the info you need to get started. No strings attached and no obligations. If half-way through the process, you decide you don’t want to submit a case study, no one will hold that against you. The folks at Tickr will do whatever they can to make sure you get all the support you need though, so I hope everyone will complete the process.

My advice: Simple is good. Simple is easy. Simple often wins. This doesn’t have to be a huge time-suck unless you want it to be. It is something you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. The case study submission process amounts to filling out a submission form at the end of the contest. You can do more if you want (videos, presentations, white-papers, etc.), but you don’t have to. The contest is supposed to be really easy. The idea is to make your job easier, not harder. Keep that in mind.

Okay, that’s it. Pass it on, have fun, and let me know what you think of the new Command Center. (Here’s a 1-minute tour, by the way.)

This is going to be pretty cool. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with.

Cheers,

Olivier

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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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The danger of content-centric strategies in Social Business:

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

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

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

And this (edited for brevity):

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

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

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

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

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

Publishing content and creative might be seen as a conversation starter, but it is not in any way, shape or form a dialog. It is a monologue through and through. And there is the rub.

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

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

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

The problem with a unilateral functional view of SM channels

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

Logical, right?

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

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

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

Social Business favors multi-functional adoption across the org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more things to think about:

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

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

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

Cheers,

Olivier

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For more in-depth insights into how to properly build a social media program for your company, department or organization, pick up a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que / Pearson), the definitive business guide to social media program management.

(Click here for a sample chapter.)

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If, like me, you are watching Google+ fever spread across the twitternets with a mixture of bemused fascination and eye-rolling annoyance, read on.

If, however, you have jumped heart and soul onto the Google+ bandwagon, gorged yourself on its koolaid with such gusto that your sweat now tastes Googlicious, and think Google+ would make a fine spouse were you able to marry a digital platform… read on.

Based on some of the questions I have been asked repeatedly these last few weeks, here are 8+ things you probably should know about Google+:

1. Will Google+ change the world or the internet?

No. Google+ will not change the world. Or the internet. But if it scales, it might help Google buy a lot of really big yachts, really fast private jets, small countries whose names end with “-Stan,” and install a few hundred thousand solid gold toilets in its offices and server farms around the world.

2. Will Google+ kill Facebook?

No one really knows. I suppose it could, but the odds are not in Google+ killing anything anytime soon. If it does, it will be to some degree related to Facebook’s inability to compete both as a social network and as viable revenue model and not because Google+ is particularly awesome or groundbreaking.

Pros:

_ Facebook needs to stop antagonizing people (privacy concerns are still a major Achilles’ heel for Facebook, for starters). Love = loyalty. No love = well, you know.

_ Facebook’s functionality is still very limited. It doesn’t really plug into productivity and collaboration tools, and this is a problem as users (consumers) increasingly look for seamless integration of word processors, email, video conferencing, VOIP, calendars, mobility, spreadsheets with their social platforms.  The simplicity of Facebook’s design and the limited amount of customizability that helped it compete against MySpace (and win) may also bring about its own undoing now that digital platforms have matured.

_ Facebook lives in a fairly closed and limited search ecosystem. What this means is that its advertising revenue model is also rather limited compared to what Google is trying to build. Facebook has kind of backed itself in a corner with its model while Google has a lot of breathing room. That gives Google an enormous strategic advantage. (It does not, however, mean it will succeed in doing anything with it.)

_ Speaking of search, it is a lot easier for Google to build and scale a social network than it is for Facebook to build and scale a search engine. And moving forward, you kind of need both to win. (Or at least a model that incorporates rich, real-time consumer data and massive reach.)

_ Facebook is the biggest fish in the pond because it is pretty much the only fish in the pond. It’s the default winner. That isn’t a good long term survival strategy. After all, what is the cost of jumping ship? $0. These platforms are free. Social equity can be both moved and rebuilt pretty easily. Can Facebook stand up to a better, cooler alternative?

So basically, Facebook needs to adapt very quickly in order to stay relevant. Size alone won’t carry its dominance forever.

Cons:

_ Facebook is huge. HUGE. As a social platform, Google+ has an enormous challenge in scaling to size. It has to do it, and it has to do it fast unless it wants to become the Yahoo of social networks. Without scale, Google+ is just a nice little productivity interface, and the only company it will be competing against is Microsoft, not Facebook.

_ Google+ isn’t sexy. Sorry Google+, but you kind of look like crap. Remember that you aren’t just after middle-aged computer nerds, bloggers, social media “gurus” and… well, yeah, what I said: computer nerds. The rest of the world has to want to use you too.

_ Google+ isn’t compelling enough for most people outside of the nerdy middle to want to bother with it yet. Facebook may be annoying, but it’s familiar, everyone is already there, and the effort of having to leave it and start over isn’t being driven by excitement or necessity. (It has to be one or the other in order to enjoy any kind of velocity.) What’s missing in Google+ right now is a compelling reason for people to want to make the effort (and take the risk) of making the switch. For most people around the world, it is missing the compelling “why.” (“It’s new” won’t ever be enough. After 5 months, when the tech bloggers get bored of talking about it and move on to the next Quora or Empire Avenue or Spotify, what will drive an accelerated adoption?)

_ Google Wave and Google Buzz were going to revolutionize the interwebs too. Ooops. Sure, Google does search VERY well, but that doesn’t mean it will do anything else well, even in the pursuit of taking search to the next level.

_ Google and Plus will have to deal with the same privacy concerns Facebook did. Perhaps more so. You don’t have to be the most trustworthy company to win. You just need to be less shady and risky than everyone else. If Google finds itself at the center of enough privacy concern discussions, Facebook might come out the lesser of the two evils. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is a pretty important element when dealing with an adoption campaign. If Facebook begins to feel threatened, expect this topic to magically surface at regular intervals.

In other words, it could go either way. Facebook and Google+ have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.

3. Is Google+ really the “Blue Ocean” product some tech writers claim it is?

No. Google+ is simply Google building a better data acquisition mousetrap and advertising delivery pipeline. It is Google’s natural evolution. Let’s quickly look at that in more detail.

Data acquisition: Seeing the majority of search queries isn’t enough. Google also wants to be able to see what Facebook sees, what Twitter sees, what Foursquare sees. Not only that, but it wants to own that data. It wants to be able to understand and profile consumers better based not only on their searches and the content of their emails, but also on the types of conversations they have, on the content they share, who they share it with, where they hang out, etc. This paints a far more granular (see “complete”) model for consumer tastes and behaviors, which allows Google to better target them with ads.

And yes, selling ads is how Google makes a chunk of its money.

Advertising pipeline: In the same light, Google has looked at how much time people spend on Facebook and did the math. If they can build a platform that will attract as many eyeballs as Facebook and for as many minutes (even hours) per day, it will be able to sell a lot more ads.

This isn’t “Blue Ocean.” It’s just the evolution of an existing model.

And yes, if it pulls it off, Google will pretty much own the web.

If.

Everything else you hear about how awesome and cool and functional Google+ is, is basically window dressing. If you want to get to the heart of what Google+ is really about, this is it: Data, eyeballs, behavioral modeling, better targeting, ownership of advertising revenue on the web.

4. What about Microsoft?

Google+ seems to me a bigger threat to Microsoft than to Facebook right now. Think about how Google has gone after Microsoft Office and Outlook. Think about what Chrome is doing to Explorer. Now bring the Google+ interface into the mix and see how Google’s productivity tools offer a compelling, very well integrated alternative to Microsoft’s aging core products. If you have been paying attention these last few years, you have probably watched as Google has been systematically working to erode Microsoft’s market share, one product at a time. Now Google+ promises to give collaboration and productivity a forward boost. What is Microsoft’s answer?

Here’s the irony though: Microsoft’s R&D people are 5-10 years ahead of everyone else in their ideation and prototyping, but the company still refuses to bring its coolest product ideas to market. Google and Apple are where they are today in great part because Microsoft chose to pass on projects it figured it could always get back to someday. Its weakness has never been technical. It also hasn’t been due to a lack of imagination or access to talent. It is purely cultural. If Microsoft is going to be a contender in anything except gaming (XBox) five years from now, the aging giant needs to change its approach to product development, product diversification, and it needs to work faster. And for that, it has to step away from itself and realize that not fully understanding who you are as a brand, as a company – in other words, having a static vision of yourself – kind of gets in the way of being a market leader. I am rooting for Microsoft, but something has to change. Microsoft simply has to start thinking bigger. In a way, Microsoft has to unMicrosoft itself in order to move forward.

5. What about Twitter?

What about Twitter? It is still evolving and growing. Unless Google builds a solid substitute for Twitter that plugs into its little universe and it all scales really well, Twitter will be fine for a little while longer.

6. What about Amazon?

Amazon has a history of partnering with Google (1)(2)(3) and it makes a lot of cash. Amazon is fine with or without Google+, but yeah, if Google+ scales, Amazon won’t be hurting for chewing gum money.

7. What about LinkedIn?

If Facebook didn’t kill LinkedIn, chances are that Google+ won’t either, even if it becomes the Goliath of the interwebs.

8. What else should we know?

For starters, you should know how to get started with Google+. Whether Google+ is the next big thing or the next big flop, these handy videos by Chris Brogan will help you get started with the new platform and find out for yourself what the big deal is about. And if that isn’t enough, check out Mashable’s complete (and very handy) guide. If you love Google+, great. If you don’t like it, great. The world spins on either way.

Beyond that, I caution you against drinking anyone’s koolaid. Shiny object syndrome is a major source of noise on the web these days. Tech bloggers make a good living creating content on their blogs with the purpose of attracting as much traffic as possible in order to make as much advertising revenue as possible (and catch the eye of larger media outlets like Mashable, CNN, etc.) So every tech story they can get their hands on has the potential of earning them stacks of cash. The incentive then isn’t to truly analyze or report (or even wait and see), but to sensationalize every new platform release, from Quora to Google Buzz. There is nothing wrong with it, but just be aware of how the web “thought leadership” and content curation bubbles work. A lot of noise doesn’t mean a whole lot except a feeding frenzy of web traffic and incremental revenue. Right now, Google+ is the big story. A while ago, Google Wave was too. Don’t fall for the link-bait.

No one can predict the success of a digital platform. No one. Google+ could be the coolest thing in the world and yet never go anywhere.

Apps moving the the cloud is nothing new. SaaS (Software as a Service) is nothing new. Digital social networking platforms are nothing new. Integration of productivity and collaboration tools is nothing new. Will Google+ do it better? Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll see. maybe all Google+ will manage to do is inspire another company to build something that blows everyone out of the water and truly revolutionizes the web and computing. Google+ may simply be a milestone in a fast and long technical evolution. A footnote. A catalyst. No matter what happens, Google+ will be replaced by something else eventually. Maybe in 6 months, maybe in 6 years, but this is inevitable. So stay adaptable and flexible, and don’t get too attached.

If you want to leave Facebook and put all of your eggs in the Google+ basket, that’s fine. No one says you can’t try out Google+ and stay on Facebook as well. There is no need to take sides. You can own a Mac and a PC too without tearing a hole into the space-time continuum. You can like tea and coffee, paper and plastic, surf and turf, Lady Gaga and Mozart. Don’t make Google+ (or any social or digital platform) into a religion. Do you think the first people who tasted Pizza stopped eating spaghetti? Did headlines in the newspapers read “Pizza: The Spaghetti killer?” Did people wear buttons on their lapels at social events reading “I’ve switched to Pizza?” A little perspective goes a long way.

If you want to wait 3 or 6 or 12 months before jumping into the Google+ universe, nothing says you can’t. There’s no rush. Ease into it at your own pace. In the meantime, people will still be able to reach you by email, through Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even by sending you good old hand-written postcards – you know, with stamps.

I hope this helped. Cheers.

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And if you haven’t picked it up yet, “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Programs in your Organization” (the quintessential social media operational guide for executives and business managers) is now available worldwide in both print and e-format at fine book sellers everywhere. Read some reviews, sample a free chapter at smroi.net, or if you just want to order it from Amazon, click here.

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

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

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

Ready? Here we go:

1. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A metaphor lost in a hyperbole.

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

I am not kidding. A monkey could do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps.

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

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

Cheers,

Olivier.

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