A quick guide to social listening
If you haven’t been exercising your right to fast forward through commercials lately, you might have noticed a few IBM ads on TV about social analytics and how it will help ‘create a smarter planet’. Or you might have read Dell’s plans to expand their services offering with social listening for brands.
The adoption of social listening platforms has grown at a tremendous rate in the last three years, even though the technology has been around for a while. Dell didn’t unveil their famed listening command center until 2010. Why? Because it took early adopters like Dell, IBM and others to really understand how to use these platforms effectively and strategically.
When we started beta testing listening platforms back in 2006, our challenge was to cull out actionable information from a bunch of disparate data points. Key word mentions, share of voice and sentiment didn’t provide the level of granularity we needed to make actionable decisions. We knew that the human side could offer more insights than pure automation. Through trial and error, we developed a replicable process and approach to social listening that bridged technology and thought.
Today, brands have become much more sophisticated with social listening to drive engagement. A plethora of platforms are available to help with any number of the following programs:
If you are thinking about beginning a social listening program or recalibrating your current one, I offer a few tips to keep in mind.
Have a program goal in mind before you evaluate or adopt a platform.
Platforms have greatly improved their functionality and usability. However, they all have strengths, weaknesses and a breadth of offerings. Based on your goal(s), create a simple assessment tracker that allows you to look across and compare multiple platforms and evaluate them against your specific needs. I have included a sample below. Get your key questions answered along the way. Remember everything looks flashy and exciting in that first demo.
Don’t rely on data alone.
The output of social listening should be more qualitative than quantitative. Numbers give you a baseline, a cluster to investigate and a way to gauge if you are moving the proverbial needle. However, metrics in and of themselves are often interesting, but not always useful.
The real value lies in the interpretation of the results. Therefore assign a SME or partner to the project. Someone with deep knowledge and expertise on your products, services, target industries and audience personas will help make the leap from general observation à insight à opportunity.
Map out your approach.
I don’t know how many times I have heard, “Can I get a listening report?” Well, that could mean many things. Take the time upfront to figure out exactly what insights you’re looking for. Start by listing out your objectives for the program. It could be a simple list of questions you want answered so that you can:
Here is an example. Let’s say you want insights to drive your content marketing strategy for a particular product. Below are some key questions to ask:
Go beyond what is #trending now.
Mine content as far back as a year old. It may seem a little counterintuitive, but it is important to understand the development (or maturity level) of your topic areas so that your actions are relevant based on what your audience cares about. How has the social content on a particular topic or theme evolved over the course of the last year, compared to six months ago and compared to today? Have the conversations increased, stayed flat or dropped? This is where some of your metrics come in handy. Let’s look at an example below.
The goal of this particular project was to inform a content marketing roadmap in a specific industry. We wanted to create an effective content creation strategy relevant to specific points on the decision journey. We compared core topics by quarter over a year’s time. The numbers indicated greater traction for topics A and D, while B and C were emerging. By overlaying the context of the social conversation sample, we determined how they were talking in addition to how much. With aligned data points and context, we recommended that the content direction for A and D should be geared towards consideration and preference, while B and C would focus on promoting adoption and awareness. Below is a peek into what we found.
[Note: Some tools are limited in the amount of historical data they store so add this criteria to your evaluation checklist.]
Without question, social listening platforms are becoming business as usual. If you are currently struggling with your listening program ask yourself some key questions on your strategy and approach. If you are not currently listening, but know that you should have a plan in mind before you just dive in.
Have a question? I’m listening!
By now, everyone has seen this Infographic. Yes, it is complex and confusing and it should give you a headache.
The tools to manage and measure activity on a socially enabled web today are growing at substantial rate. Today, you can track and measure virtually any activity you would want to or deploy a tool to help you manage social campaigns of virtually any type. A tool or an app has been built to address almost anything you might want to do.
This explosion of social tool development, while innovative and necessary, does little to solve the bigger problems of social engagement, which essentially boil down to understanding why people act the way they act in a social brand encounter and then helping to facilitate the right engagement and then understanding in simple clear terms the value and outcome of that encounter. That’s the bad news. The good news is this will change.
If you follow any innovation curve in virtually any industry, things tend to get harder and more complex before they get simpler and easier. Why? Because, during the early phases of innovation, the processes and rules and infrastructure that will later support new inventions are getting built right along with what’s being invented. Solving any one problem on its own is the goal. Later, problems get grouped together and a new smarter solution addresses them all.
Take the Model T automobile for example. Building the car on a mass scale was one thing. Tough enough to be sure, but what about manufacturing and distributing replacement parts as those cars began to break down? Sourcing, distributing and stocking virtually every part on the car separately was likely a daunting, painful and expensive exercise at the outset, for the supplier and the consumer.
In the end, things improved. They had to for the fledgling automotive industry to remain viable. All the confusion, competing systems and supply chain gaps needed to be streamlined and refined and new smarter and more innovative solutions and options were layered on based on understanding and meeting customer needs.
Innovators moved from activity metrics (which parts are needed) to value metrics (when to make and distribute them so that inventories matched demand) as the industry evolved.
Making sure that the customer could get the parts they needed when they needed it AFTER they purchased the vehicle helped to ensure that that customer would buy another auto from that manufacturer rather than a competitor’s product.
Social Marketing today is going through the same innovation phase as the early auto industry (and every other one for that matter). It will get better. For the industry to survive and remain relevant to users, it has to! The focus will begin to move away from the tools and the activity to the experience and the value of the relationship we deliver.
As this innovation occurs over the next few years, look for consolidation to speed up and for tools become more expansive, robust…and simpler. Tomorrow’s Infographic will look drastically different than the one at the beginning of this post. It will be less about the tools available and more about content, relationship triggers and the decision journey. That’s what tomorrow’s tools will help to manage-relationships and decision journeys, not just data.
Remember, keep your eye on the prize of understanding what is driving your value metrics; what is moving your constituents through the decision process and what compels them to remain involved with your brand. The tools which help you manage your social marketing initiatives will get better, be more intuitive and easier to use, I guarantee it.
Knowing this, social marketing practitioners and their business peers need to start focusing hard on what makes good relationships work. You must now begin the process of blurring the lines between all of your brand experience channels and optimizing those channels for relevance and value.
Get ready, as the next few years will bring marketing innovation and opportunities you have never imagined were possible.
Why don’t fad diets work? Experts say that when dieting, people become fixated on what they eat, how often and the corresponding loss of weight. Once that weight goal has been achieved and the pants fit again, time to celebrate. No more hard-boiled eggs and plain boiled chicken breast. Whoo-hoo! Success! Let’s grab a burger and a beer, baby!
Five weeks later, the weight is back with a vengeance. Why is this? Simple. People place a short term focus on the tactics of the diet but totally ignore what is more important. That being a long term change in behavior. You see, it’s not just what you eat but how you approach the whole concept of health. It’s all tied together. You are tired. Don’t work out, you get stressed and you eat. That quick bag of Doritos as a lunch ain’t helpin’ things, neither is the diet soda for breakfast. Meals are things you get on the go. It is learned behavior that becomes engrained behavior.
Why is social marketing hard? Same reason as why dieting doesn’t work long term. It’s because, corporate teams have engrained behaviors which are focused on the short term. Campaigns and product launches. Beginning, middle and end; then onto whatever else is next.
Couple that mentality with a constant shuffle of teams and people through the endless re-orgs, attrition, upward and lateral movement of team members and focusing on anything long term becomes almost impossible…especially when we are measured and judged on the now.
Doesn’t losing five pounds by starving yourself this week sound better than losing 1 pound by taking the stairs instead of the elevator? More immediate gratification! Five pounds baby! One third of the way to my goal!
So how important is getting social marketing right? What impact will it have on the fundamental way we do business?
Social marketing is a disruptive model that will have far reaching ripple effects on corporate strategy that we cannot yet quantify. When Henry Ford refined and adopted the assembly line, when interstate highways were laid, when the light bulb became commercially available, the advent of the cellular telephone, the Internet, the growth in adoption of Twitter. These are all disruptive forces that no one fully understood or really appreciated at their outset. However, when taking the long view, you can begin to see how these things, well…changed everything.
Social marketing and ultimately, social business, which I define for purposes of this post as ‘collaborative engagement and dialogue which facilitate either common goals or common interests, done in ways that are transparent and communicated in languages, words and pictures we each understand and identify with’ are already beginning to change everything.
Remember the book Crossing the Chasm? The whole premise was around innovation and adoption of new ideas and process that allowed organizations, even big ones to become nimbler and allow their product and service evolutions to effectively go from early adopters to mainstream; which ultimately is the goal of every corporate entity, right? Organizations needed to adopt a process of change or fall into the chasm. IBM is a great example of one who made the crossing successfully. Zenith & Tower Records? Not so much. Ahhhhhhhhh, thud.
If your organization is still in command and control mode, if teams can’t or won’t be collaborative, if the silo walls of your organization are thick and without holes which allow for information, ideas and effort to pass through, you will never cross the chasm until a behavior change occurs-organizationally.
However, if you are attempting to evolve your business, over time, through new learned behaviors (which may be simply stringing a multitude of social initiatives or campaigns together to create the look and feel of what social marketing is really like) you are likely in either Step 2 or Step 3. See above chart.
Where ever you are, the important thing is getting through Step 2. Why is this? Well, social initiatives are based on relationships. Relationships are chaotic and ever changing. They are hard to plan around. They are not necessarily linear or fact driven. They are emotional and conversation driven. Try planning a traditional critical path around that. When you do, welcome to Step 2.
Everything you used to do doesn’t fit neatly into the new social model and that’s frustrating. The danger is giving up and going back to the old way of doing things (checking out).
However, when you learn to be truly collaborative with your peers, subject matter experts, customers and prospects that they aid in the planning and activities; outcomes and expectations magically align. The chaotic becomes more predictable. Welcome to Step 3, which is where you start thinking differently and acting differently and a new normal begins to grow.
Think about it. In any relationship, if you don’t approach the situation with mutual trust and respect, if you don’t listen and ask questions; if you don’t have a dialogue. Communication stops. Statements start. Trust evaporates. Usually, when that happens in any relationship, it ends badly. You are not being social. You are being obstinate.
Since social marketing is as new an idea as it is disruptive, we haven’t seen the full impact that these social ripple effects are having on organizations or industries. Therefore, few organizations, if any really, have moved into Step 4, but many are on their way! As more companies move across the chasm, this will force their competitors to follow suit. For everyone that makes the move, either by choice or by force, the new learned ‘social’ behaviors will eventually become engrained behaviors and that’s when social marketing becomes the norm and the power of social will be felt, understood and acknowledged.
Social is here to stay folks. That’s a fact. What the impact is, no one yet knows; only that it will be substantial. So where are you on crossing the social chasm? Is the cliff ahead of you or behind you?
Upon reflection, perhaps I shouldn’t have second guessed the significance of our encyclopedic announcement revealing the end of the publication’s iconic print set and the company’s pursuit of all things digital.
But I did.
True, everyone involved was passionate about our story. We believed in it. We prepared for it. Still, I worried (I’m a bit like Woody Allen that way). Will people care? Will they understand its significance and why it truly matters?
Turns out they did–beyond our wildest expectations. Breaking news from the front page of the most influential of newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Financial Times), the global news wires, and national and international news programs were liked, tweeted and commented on around the world. We were number one with a bullet on Google and Twitter. Stories popped up where least expected—on iPad apps, in elevator screens, even after an oh-so-fascinating conversation about Kathy Lee’s new hairdo on The Today Show. I knew we were part of the zeitgeist upon seeing us featured on the RidicuList segment of Anderson Cooper 360 and becoming the answer to a question on “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” I chuckled at the resulting banter:
“If you don’t understand why it’s a big deal that we’ll no longer be able to buy a whole shelf of leather-bound encyclopedias for more than a thousand dollars a set, go find your parents and ask them to ask their parents to find an Ouija board to commune with their grandparents, and they’ll tell you.”
While it’s true that this story was 244 years in the making, nostalgia for the iconic brand is only one reason why it has become one of the most talked about topics around the world. While I’m sure this list will grow as the news becomes a day eight, nine and 10 story (it’s like the Energizer bunny in that it keeps going and going), success secrets certainly would include:
· Be prepared—be very prepared. Telling a compelling story requires more than a press release. First and foremost, compelling messages must be developed that are accepted and internalized by anyone who communicates with customers, the media, analysts and influencers. Once in hand, these messages serve as the foundation for all of the assets developed to tell and share a story. Britannica did this quite well, as you can see from the videos, blogs, infographics and social assets leveraged for our announcement.
· Relentlessly tell the story you want to tell. Time and time again, the influencers we spoke with wanted us to express sadness for the end of the print set. We wouldn’t go there, no matter how hard they tried. Rather, we were passionate about using this milestone to effectively communicate that Britannica today is a very different company—it’s digital, mobile and social—and its reach and relevancy today is undeniable. In fact, our announcement is something to celebrate.
· Make time for the influencers. Critical to our success was the strategy to arrange one-on-one briefings with the people that ultimately shape what we talk and tweet about. We were quite successful in lining up nonstop meetings on the days prior to our announcement, yet ultimately it was up to Britannica’s president, Jorge Cauz, to bring it home for us. And bring it home he did by knocking it out of the park every time.
· Then, make time for everyone else. Once the news broke, the requests for interviews were fast and furious. And, we were ready. We kept at it, in fact, until the wee hours of the night, for three straight days. And we delivered responses to questions such as, “How much does a complete set weigh?” like it was the first time they were asked (129 pounds—more than my colleague Pam weighs, incidentally).
· Don’t take yourself too seriously. News like this takes on a life of its own as reporters and bloggers look for new ways to tell the story. Embracing the process and having fun will keep the news engine running—even when you are running on empty.
What did you think of Britannica’s announcement? Who knows, we might be able to share your story.
It’s hard to believe that we still need to make the case for social. Perhaps since we live it and breathe it every day, we just assume that our clients and prospects are all on the same page.
Just this morning, a client put me on the spot and asked, “Why do you keep badgering me about our social marketing plan? Everything is working fine.”
I’m happy the client is happy, believe me. And, we continue to have a very successful traditional media program. But, I noted, are we reaching the people that matter the most to us when they are in their blue jeans?
That intrigued him. So I hit him with a quote from one of my favorite social gurus Brian Solis, “Social is the new normal. It is pervasive and transforming how people find and share information and how they connect and collaborate with one another.”
I assume he was impressed that I didn’t quote myself (or take credit for Brian’s perspective). I then shared some of the interesting insights from Nielsen’s State of the Media: The Social Media Report Q3 2011.
· Facebook isn’t just for Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters. A surprising 53% of adults follow specific brands online, while only 32% of them follow celebrities. What’s more, Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other U.S. website.
· Despite the lyrics from “Avenue Q,” the Internet is not just for porn. Social networks and blogs continue to dominate Americans’ time online, now accounting for nearly a quarter of total time spent on the Internet.
· Email is so passé. We now spend three times as much time on social media as on email.
· There may be an app for that, but the mobile Web is alive and well. In fact, the unique number of mobile Internet users in the U.S. is up 47% over last year, as is the audience to social networking sites (up 62%). Also interesting is that over twice as many people aged 55+ visit social networking sites on their wireless device.
· Because I said so. While we all want a thumbs up from Roger Ebert, personal reviews are more persuasive than endorsements from traditional media. 60% of social networkers are writing reviews and sharing them with friends. And, consumer-centric reviews and ratings are the preferred source for information about product/service value, price and quality.
· I’ll tumblr for you. Tumblr, which combines elements of blogging and Twitter by letting users post and customize everything from pictures and videos to links and quotes, has become the eighth largest site in the U.S. Social Networks and Blogs category. It’s also one of the most buzzed about topics—generating a whopping average of 21,280 messages and links per day to the site (personally, I prefer Posterous).
It’s certainly amazing that social media has gone from zero to hero in just a few short years. My client was impressed too and promised to share these insights with his executive team so we can move along the integration of social into next year’s marketing efforts.
Inquiring minds want to know: How do you influence the decision makers to go social?
A simplified approach to segmentation.
Our industry applies many labels to people based on known usage and behavioral patterns with social media. There are great thought leaders and researchers in this space comparing historical data to emerging trends. However, we find ourselves swimming in a big bowl of alphabet soup these days, and names are beginning to lose their meaning and impact.
A few years ago we attempted a major undertaking to cut through the clutter and simplify segmentation as part of a Center of Excellence initiative for a major technology company. The project included:
· Deep analysis of the current approach to community member segmentation
· Evaluation of membership segmentation methodologies in external communities
· Examination of published research on the psycho social factors that motivate and drive individuals to affiliate with and become active within communities, social networks and brands
· Review of more than 140 information sources including articles, e-books, videos, presentations and conducted one-on-one interviews
We found that 4 main segments bubbled up to top of the lengthy list: Creators, Critics, Connectors and Collectors, because their main activities and behaviors were consistent across the Engagement Continuum:
Next, we developed scenarios to tell us how, where and when to engage these segments throughout the different stages of the product lifecycle.
Say you are in the pre-release phase of a new product. You will need Creators and Critics for user acceptance testing, prioritization of fixes and enhancements, feedback on use case scenarios and the creation of product reviews. On the other hand, in pre-launch buzz mode, you would need to rely on Connectors to amplify awareness and spread positive word-of-mouth.
The same can be said for the community lifecycle. You wouldn’t identify and recruit Collectors until there was enough rich content for them to consume and organize. You need to start with Creators and Critics. Sensing a pattern here?
The point is that you must identify and activate the appropriate segment based on what you want to achieve through social engagement. But, keep things simple. It may be that Joiners, Contributors and Spectators make sense and work for you. Does anyone have a different approach they would like to share?
It’s Year 3 of our annual research on the State of Online Branded Communities – and we’re in the home stretch. So I thought this would be a good time to press pause and see where we are so far.
A little background first. What distinguishes our study is its focus on the member experience. We want to understand firsthand how effectively brands are creating meaningful experiences for their members and how best practice adoption affects that experience. To that end, we’ve joined and evaluated about 200 communities so far and are on track to do more than 250. Those cut across 15 industries and about 90 brands. That’s nearly double the number of communities we looked at for our inaugural study in 2009.
As we join each community, we’re looking for which of 30+ key best practices are being applied there. And finally, how are brands integrating these community assets with their mass social media assets? Is there ANY integration? Is there common branding? Is it easy to navigate back and forth between properties? The idea here is to see how cross property consistency enhances member experience.
With the disclaimer that it’s not fully baked yet, here are a couple of early observations from the 2011 study:
Ø More content-centric engagement. While there’s still a whole lot of ‘push’ going on, there are signs of more content-related best practice adoption. Things like content aggregation, social bookmarking, tagging, customization and sharing. Interesting indicators that some industries are taking a more sophisticated approach to content curation and that should make for a more meaningful experience for members.
Ø Can I get that (community) to-go? The answer is a resounding maybe. Brands are offering a variety of ways to extend the member experience to consumers on the go. Some strictly optimize for mobile devices; others offer cool apps that give mobile members unique ways to engage. And surprisingly, some miss the mobile boat completely – even some categories that live and breathe POP!
Ø Hands-on management. Last year, we saw that more than half the communities had no visible or active community manager. This year, brands appear to be more willing to humanize the experience and make a more personal connection with their members. The P&C Insurance industry is a great example, posting a major bump up from 33% to 71% having a community manager!
Ø Clean up on Aisle 2. Brands are making a concerted effort to sunset communities that have run their course. Not all communities are meant to stick for the long term. In those cases, it’s great to see brands managing that process and the relationship with members rather than let them lie fallow.
Those are just a few early snippets from this year’s body of work. The full report will be released in the fall. We’ll keep you posted here for dates of preview webinars. Or just click here and fill in the form. In the message box, write: Send report’ and /or ‘webinar dates” and we’ll get the information out to you when it’s available.
I’ve always loved the phrase “Grandmother Research.” It’s a casual approach to gathering input about a topic of interest. The person conducting the survey asks everyone they know about the topic and then forms a point of view that reflects common wisdom. Not very scientific, but probably a good indicator of opinion trends among people you know and trust.
My personal Grandmother Research today is around the topic of social marketing and its adoption among major corporations. I’ve formed an opinion based upon experience in the marketplace and numerous conversations with other practitioners of the art. The common wisdom among this group is this: the sophistication of social marketing is rapidly evolving as the market becomes less experimental and more strategic and integrated in their approach.
Here are five emerging topics that we find interesting and encouraging:
At ComBlu, we’re excited about this new level of discussion. In fact, much of it coincides with the current work that we’re doing. Part of my Grandmother Research indicates that our growth will come in these very areas. To handle this, we’re always looking for smart people and feel blessed to have just added one such professional, Dawn Lacallade, to the ComBlu team.
As an expert in community strategy, advocate activation, social engagement and social media, Dawn brings added firepower to ComBlu. Her forte is building healthy, thriving on-line communities and integrating social media into the marketing mix.
Before joining ComBlu, Dawn was head of Social Media and Community at Solar Winds, a Network Management Software Company. In that role, she was instrumental in embedding community experience throughout the product lifecycle from innovation to support. Prior to Solar Winds, Dawn held several community positions at Dell, including Manager-Dell Ideastorm and Manager–Dell Community Forums, where she led the evolution from the focus on support forums to a broader integrated community strategy.
As a recognized thought leader in the on-line community space, Dawn is a frequent speaker at industry conferences including Community 2.0 conferences (3 times), WOMMA Summit, Microsoft High Tech Summit, Google Product Management Leadership Summit, Social Media Breakfast, e-Business Conference and guest speaker on multiple webinars. Dawn is one of the founding members of the Community Roundtable and a member of the Social Media Breakfast and the Social Media Club.
Dawn is great; I even think my grandmother will like her!
But not from the usual Vegas reasons: staying up late, losing money and drinking too much. I did none of those during the three day WOMMA 2009 Summit in sin city. My excuse is too much information and so many great conversations with little down time to process. So now, I’m in the air heading home with a little time to reflect.
Summit 2009 content was heavily focused on case studies, social marketing techniques and measurement. In fact, WOMMA debuted it’s newly published “Measurement and Metrics Guidebook”, a collaboration of some of the best thinkers in social metrics. Check out ComBlu’s chapter by Jennifer Voisard on cost deflection. I moderated a session on “Community: An Important Driver of WOM” with panelists Dawn Lacallade , chief community strategist at Solar Winds and Bill Johnston chief community officer at Forum One.
And, Steve Hershberger helped lead the live “Socializing Media” podcast which featured a conversation with some of the best thinkers in word-of-mouth. In between hallway chat and keeping up with crucial projects, I attended a half dozen sessions. Here’s some of my favorite take aways.
Measurment Keynote. WOMMA’s chair of the Measurement Council, Walter Carl, PhD, presented highlights of the above cited tome of best practices in measurement. One interesting factoid was the impact of word of mouth marketing (WOM) on revenue vs. traditional marketing communications channels. Turns out the latter does a much better job of generating short term customer acquisition and revenue generation, while WOM yields higher customer lifetime value through longer, deeper customer relationships and a significantly higher referral rate for new customers. (1.7 per traditional channels vs. 3.8 for WOM).
Anatomy of Buzz Revisted. Author Emanual Rosen gave an address on what not-for-profits can teach commercial enterprises about generating buzz. Core to his examples is the concept that human beings want to share what they create. If you give them an opportunity to co-create with you and other stakeholders, they will spread their interpretation of the activity. I think this basic tenet of self-expression as an engagement model has been forgotten in the gold rush of social media and the bright shiny object syndrome.
The View, only with academics. Keller Fay principal, Brad Fay deftly led a panel of academics who all study various aspects of engagement, influencer identification, measurement, etc. You’re thinking this was deadly, right? They were great. Here’s the line-up.
Socializing Customer Service. Sue Sunday, Microsoft, Ed Billmaier, The Scotts Company and Marie Shubin The Gallo Winery, talked customer support. These were from wildly different industries: software, wine and fertilizer yet offered a common thread: the use of customer service professionals to become the voice of the company in social platforms. The rationale: many companies that start listening programs or solicit comments through online forums and communities often get quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conversations. The solutions: repurpose customer service representatives from call centers or email support. Not only will they be able to handle a larger volume of customer support episodes through the online platform, but they typically can offer marketing three magic things: human resources who already have deep product knowledge and are steeped in the legal, privacy and compliance imperatives of their organizations.
Cognitive Science. Another potentially deadly topic that turned out to be the absolutely best presentation I heard. This one was lead by Steve Knox of P&G’s Tremor Group. He laid out how human’s think and a process for disrupting normal perceptions that serves to get people’s attention. Using this disruption model or combining two unrelated schemas can lead to the magic that we all seek: cutting through the clutter and getting consumers to notice, buy and tell others. This is highly over simplified, and definitely worth digging deeper. Who knew 45 minutes about schemas could mesmerize!
I’ll provide more learning about some of these sessions in upcoming posts. ComBlu also previewed our research report, “The State of Online Branded Communities” which we’ll also dive into in the weeks ahead. Now that I’ve gotten these ideas out of my head, the seat is going back and I’m snoozing the rest of the way home.
So here’s the thing: I talk to tons of people every day. Some want to chat about community strategy; others want my grandmother’s recipe for strawberry mess. (It’s yummy) Community and cooking are equal passions of mine so people ask me about both…a lot. In either case, I never stop to consider: am I answering this question as a business professional or as a consumer. I just draw on the appropriate expertise and give my best advice and counsel. If I was having these conversations in a community, I’d gravitate towards places that congregate around community best practices or haul my virtual self to a foodie hot spot. Again, I’m the same person in either place. The only thing that changes is the topic and location.
So, I’m confused when I hear folks in the b-to-b world proclaim that social marketing doesn’t “work” in their industry, marketplace or environment. Huh? People don’t stop having conversations, seeking and making recommendations and taking the advice of known subject matter experts because they are in a b-to-b “place”. As a matter of fact, isn’t this the very essence of thought leadership, the core of b-to-b marketing? Business-to-business is not just selling auto parts to government motors. We live in a service economy where businesses sell high value services to other businesses. These businesses differentiate themselves through their human and intellectual capital and their collective thought leadership. The old-school thought leadership model was a three legged stool: conferences, publishing in third party journals and research/white papers.
Several factors have impacted this model: shrinking news holes, time starved people who can not ‘commit’ to the dense white paper you just published, dwindling conference attendance and younger decision makers who prefer newer, more social channels. This diagram shows how the thought leadership approach is changing.
Lead generation has always been and always will be a social activity. Think back to the old user groups in the tech industry that morphed into online forums and now are full blown online collaboration networks. Social media competence is a must for today’s thought leader. When was the last time you were at a conference that did not give out the conference twitter address or where the real action happened through tweet-ups? GE recently sought internal social media users to serve as mentors to others in the company. They teach each other how to set up a Linkedin account, upload video and comment on blog posts. The goal is to get people comfortable with social tools.
Today thought leaders need to think like a publisher. Content needs to be both smart and approachable. The voice should not be stiff, formal or corporate. Those days are gone. Remember, people are people whether they are reading an eBook or a recipe. Channels are a mix of traditional and new; some are even self-created. Smart b-to-b marketers have their own YouTube channel, LinkedIn groups, and Slideshare accounts. Content spreads virally through content syndication and aggregation. Giving customers and prospects tools to make this easy is a great way to deepen a relationship. Your people need to learn how to tag and re-tag content as well as create link juice. Many organizations have already figured out blogging, podcasts and webcasts, but have not figured out how to syndicate their content or grow their audience.
If done right, communities can be an ongoing research engine for thought leadership. You can use them to recruit people for surveys, gain invaluable insights and feedback that can be packaged for syndication across a variety of channels. You can use blogs and tweets for trend spotting. Many industry analysts signal what they’re working on through Twitter; ditto for reporters, trade groups, government bodies and academics. You can learn a lot about emerging trends and package your intellectual capital to leverage promising platforms.
This barely scratches the surface of how b-to-b enterprises can embrace social marketing and freshen their approach to thought leadership. If you’re interested, I have a deck on Slideshare that explores this a little more. Or, maybe you just want that recipe for strawberry mess. Here you go:
1 pint whipping cream
1 quart fresh strawberries
2 TBS. sugar
½ cup mini marshmallows
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Remove green stems from strawberries and slice thinly. Add the 2 TBS sugar and ½ cup lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Whip cream until stiff (Don’t do too long or it’ll turn into butter!) Fold in the strawberry mixture and the marshmallows.
Fold into a freezer-safe container. My grandmother always used the metal tray of her ice cube trays, minus the metal cube divider. But, you can use a bread pan or a smallish plastic storage container.
Freeze until solid. Take out of freezer at least 3 hours before serving. Scoop out like ice cream and go, “yum”.
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