Social Marketing Wisdom From a True Practitioner

Stand Out Social Marketing starts a little slow, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with truly actionable insight that can help your whole company become more social.

Stand Out Social Marketing coverThis new book comes from Mike Lewis, who is head of marketing at Awareness Networks, a personal friend and one of the nicest guys I know. Stand Out builds on the premise that a great online presence is a function of distinctive content delivered through multiple channels with the assumption that interactions with constituents are part of the process. The book’s initial focus on social listening tactics is somewhat incongruous in that context, but it gets rolling as Lewis moves along.

There have been plenty of books about social media marketing written by people (like me) who don’t do much of it. What makes Stand Out such a stand out is that Lewis not only brings years of field experience to the topic but also insight gleaned from hundreds of customer experiences.

This book is worth its cover price for chapter 4 alone. In it, Lewis sets out practical guidelines for getting the most out of social media interactions based upon real data from real campaigns. Lewis has the benefit of being able to tap into the knowledge that huge brands like Major League Baseball have gained from analyzing millions of customer reactions, and some of the insights are fascinating. For example:

–People post more content to social channels on Friday than any other day of the week, but Thursdays have significantly higher interaction rates.

–Nearly 100% of interactions around content posted to Facebook and Twitter occurs during the first 10 days, but only 34% of interactions around YouTube and WordPress content happens during that time. This means that content posted to these channels should be created differently depending on when people are most likely to discover it.

–Content published to three or more social channels generates about 30% more engagement than content posted to a single social channel.

This is what I call really actionable information. It will immediately change some of your tactics – and for the better.

In addition to  statistics like these, Lewis offers practical advice buttressed by concrete examples. For example, “Content should be focused on the needs of your prospects and customers – not on you, your company or your product.” While experienced social marketers may think this advice is obvious, it’s stunning how few marketers think this way.

Stand Out also has several excellent case studies from both B2C and B2B businesses that dramatize the advantages of engaging in conversation rather than spewing messages. An accompanying website provides bonus information that builds on many of the points raised in the book.

A metrics section near the end introduces some new measurement tactics that were unfamiliar to me but which provide a solid foundation for understanding reach and effectiveness. It goes well beyond fans or followers to include factors like SEO effectiveness, interactions, activity and even customer service. These are useful ideas to internalize in making a comprehensive ROI evaluation.

It’s hard to think of a social media marketing angle that hasn’t already been covered by some other text. Mike Lewis manages to find one.

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Sensible Talk About Social Media Measurement

Measure What Matters by Katie PaineThe Internet is the most measurable medium ever invented, but the perception that returns on online social interactions can’t be quantified stubbornly persists. Those who still harbor this misconception should do themselves a favor and pick up Measure What Matters, a guide to digital ROI that puts common sense ahead of the current fan/follower frenzy.

I’ll admit my biases up front. I’ve known author Katie Paine since her days as a PR pro in the 1980s and am an unabashed fan. For the past five years I have worked with her closely as a member of the Society for New Communications Research, which awarded her its “Fellow of the Year” distinction in November. I am also quoted on the back cover of the book, although I did not get a chance to read the full volume until recently.

Like many former publicists, Paine has smoothly migrated her relationship-building skills into the social world, but unlike most of her peers she has chosen to specialize in numbers. That’s a good thing for the rest of us because social media marketing, like PR, has always been challenged by the lack of reliable success metrics.

Katie PainePaine (left) believes that anything is measurable if you know where to look, and in this book she offers plenty of ideas. Measure What Matters isn’t about social media as much as it is about the importance of relationships and the need to understand how they equate to success. This is an important point because many of the tools Paine recommends work well in any medium.

In fact, one of her favorite measurement tools – the Grunig Relationship Survey – was invented in the days before blogs and Twitter, but is every bit as useful today as it was a decade ago. Even conventional research tools like mail surveys and focus groups still have their place, Paine argues, despite the fact that many people consider them to be passé. The point isn’t for organizations to argue about tools but to figure out the best ways to measure success. If that means counting mentions of a brand in newspaper headlines, so be it.

Volume 2

Measure What Matters is essentially a revised and expanded version of Measuring Public Relationships, a self-published 2007 title that I reviewed here. This time Paine has a major publisher at her back and the benefit of many new tools to tackle, including Twitter and Facebook. When you scan the table of contents, however, you’ll see nary a mention of those social networks. Instead, the author focuses on identifying constituents, defining messages, selecting tools and reviewing and tracking results. The role of communicators in a democratized media world really hasn’t changed all that much. They still seek to communicate a message or favorable impression. While there are a whole lot more tools they can use to do that today, the noise level is also a whole lot higher.

The book is chock-full of gems, ranging from useful asides like the fact that 40% is a good response rate for an employee paper survey, to the exhaustive list of 27 different types of conversations in chapter 4. The “five phases of engagement” in chapter 5  walks readers through the process of understanding how relationships proceed from initial impression to purchase advocacy. That chapter also features an eight-step process for analyzing social media content that keys in on core issues like understanding how the message was received, how it was interpreted and who did the interpreting. PR veterans will recognize many of the same concepts here that they have been using for years. In some respects, the world hasn’t really changed all that much.

Chapter 11, which looks at crisis communications, imparts basic wisdom that I hadn’t even considered. For example, the definition of “surviving a crisis” is situational. Long after the initial damage has been swept away, the reputational fallout of a crisis may make the company vulnerable to a takeover or limit its ability to attract quality talent. Paine also astutely points out that good relationships with customers, analysts and other influencers may prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place, an outcome that is almost impossible to measure.

The final two chapters look at measurement tactics for nonprofits and educational institutions, two clients with which Paine has extensive experience.

Paine’s practical and time-tested advice is a welcome relief to a Klout-obsessed world that seems more taken with fans and followers than with business results. I highly recommend it.

 

Awareness E-Book Raises the Bar on Social Measurement

The question of how to measure social media performance, particularly in a marketing context, continues to be one of the industry’s hottest topics. Although many people are aware that traditional metrics like page views, visitors, followers and likes are poor indicators of success, the vast majority of marketers I speak to still focus on these overly simplistic criteria. These numbers may be of little value, but at least they’re understandable.

The more sophisticated practitioners are turning toward metrics that indicate engagement. Examples include comments, retweets, shares and subscriptions. Now Awareness Networks has contributed some important new thinking to this topic with a free e-book entitled “The Social Marketing Funnel: Driving Business Value with Social Marketing.” (Full disclosure: I am quoted in the book but did not contribute meaningfully to the methodology and received no compensation.)

Awareness outlines five priorities that companies should define in becoming a best-in-class social marketer:

  • Measure and Grow Social Reach
  • Monitor Social Conversations
  • Manage Social Content
  • Practice SEO
  • Measure and Analyze Social Activity

Not surprisingly, the company has tools that help in many of these areas, but that’s one reason its research is so useful: The recommendations are based upon the experiences of more than 100 customers.

The most successful of those are reporting direct correlations between social media marketing and sales, and they have certain practices in common. Most use at least three major social media channels, compared to less than two for the average company. They also have multiple presences within each channel, such as product-specific pages on Facebook. And they measure like crazy.

Nearly 80% of the companies Awareness surveyed use social media channels to identify and respond to customer service issues and two-thirds use them for prospecting. Remarkably, only 18% said they have “formal tracking process in place to manage processes and better understand success criteria.” In other words, a lot of social media is still being done with seat-of-the-pants justification.

That’s going to change as more sophisticated metrics emerge, however, and here’s where this report has particular value. It describes four measures of content effectiveness that take into account multi-channel activity: Content-to-Contact Ratio, Comments-to-Content Ratio, Comments-to-Profile Ratio and Content-to-Share Ratio. I won’t describe these metrics in detail – you can find that in the e-book – but each speaks directly to the value of engagement.

As businesses spread their wings across increasing numbers of social communities, they need to get a better handle on what’s working and what isn’t. The cost of maintaining an effective presence is only going to go up as the market gets crowded, and it won’t be acceptable for only one in five companies to have meaningful measurements in place.

As I have noted elsewhere, our current obsession with counting fans and followers is an artifact of old media thinking. Online marketing provides much richer options for understanding how people interact with our content. Awareness’ e-book is an important attempt to try to nudge marketers toward realizing the potential of the information they gather.

Awareness Social Funnel

 

Guide to Choosing Social Media Tools

I’ve recently worked with several companies that were trying to bring some order to their social media activities. I’ve found that most have the same problem: They’ve dabbled in blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages but after several months they lack traffic, followers and fans. They’re frustrated and confused. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap and easy way to build their brand and bring in sales?

Social media is cheap but it isn’t easy. With millions of bloggers and Facebook pages online, building visibility is a challenge that demands time. More importantly, it demands a strategy, and that’s where businesses usually don’t go far enough.

There’s nothing wrong with diving in and using the tools. In fact, I encourage experimentation. But before you invest significant time in social media, you need a plan. Here’s the four-stage process I walk then through.

Define the Objective – Social media tools are only tools. Without an underlying strategy, they have about as much benefit as a plumber’s wrench has to fixing a hole in the wall. Most business objectives demand a mix of online and offline tools, and social media may have little or no value. Start with the objective and work backwards.

Common business objectives range from building thought leadership to generating leads, cutting customer service costs and recruiting quality employees. Each demands different strategies and tools. If you start with the objective, the rest of the process is easier.

Identify Metrics – Here I steal shamelessly from measurement queen Katie Paine, who believes that any goal can be measured. In many cases, relevant metrics have nothing to do with the Internet. They can include yardsticks such as

  • Positive mentions in mainstream media outlets
  • Quantity of new job applicants;
  • Speaking invitations;
  • Reduction in help desk calls;
  • Improvements in Net Promoter Scores; and, of course
  • Increased sales.

Note that many of these examples have nothing to do with Web analytics. Friends, followers and fans have little value if they don’t achieve the business goal.

Don’t go overboard on metrics. Choose three or four that are meaningful to your goal and define standards of success, like a doubling of Facebook fans in a six-month period. Then revisit your progress every three months and adjust (or choose new metrics).

Define Tactics – How are you going to use online and offline channels to reach your goals? Consider all the options. For example, thought leadership may be enhanced by blogging and tweeting, but an equally effective strategy may be growing the quantity of speaking engagements or starting a local professional group. Consider location. The Internet provides a great way to increase international exposure but it may be of little help in growing visibility within your local geography. That goal may be better addressed by increasing activity in local trade associations or advertising on radio. Tactics are enabled by tools, so you need these plans in place before you start blogging or tweeting

Choose Tools – This is where many companies start their social media journey, but it really is where they should end it. Different tools are good for different purposes. for example, Twitter is an excellent news delivery vehicle while Facebook is better for creating a feedback loop. My book, Secrets Of Social Media Marketing, has a more complete selection grid. Also, many businesses are now learning how to use multiple tools in concert to magnify their impact.

Your tools may have nothing to do with the Internet. For example, starting a local chapter of a professional trade association or submitting speaking proposals to conference organizers can be a great way to network or build visibility. You can also combine off-line and online tactics, such as promoting an upcoming speech through the media while seeking interviews with prominent bloggers.

This is the basic framework I use for discussion, and I find that the structured approach helps focus my clients. When you really think about your business goals, it’s surprising to discover how many of the tactics come down to good old-fashioned person-to-person relationships. Online tools can certainly help there, but sometimes a phone call or a lunch meeting is worth 1,000 tweets.