Wondering Out Loud

Social media without strategy is the black hole of communications

Black Hole: A region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.

If  you are using social tools to communicate with your audience without the benefit of a strategy, you are the proud owner of your very own black hole. Everything you produce – blog post, tweet, podcast, Facebook update, YouTube video – every last scrap of content is being hurled into a void so dark and vast it will only be consumed by those who happen to trip over it. I’ve seen it before. A lot. It’s usually the result of misguided notion that any content is better than no content. Unfortunately, that same idea ignores the fact that no content is preferable to bad content.

Even today, the same marketing professionals who diligently plan every aspect of every campaign, taking care to make sure every detail is accounted for, don’t think twice about what is being posted to the company blog. Whether it’s a website, brochure, commercial or blog post, what you produce represents the company that provides your paycheck and treating any content as second class is doing that company a disservice.

If you’re serious about making social media part of your communications activities, make it part of your strategy development, treat the content as you do other deliverables and give social media equal standing when discussing your activities. If you do you’ll find your content living in the bright light of the Internet being consumed by people who sought it out and have a genuine interest in what your company has to say.

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The rebirth of written communication

In a Wall Street Journal piece, author Orson Scott Card puts forth the theory that, among the many benefits it has delivered to society, the Internet has turned the tide and made the work of historians easier. Now that may seem obvious once it is stated, but to those who’ve been in the business of preserving and analyzing history for the past several decades it is also a blessing.

Card opens his column recalling an exchange with his father-in-law, himself a historian:

My father-in-law is a historian, and about 20 years ago he mentioned his concern that cheap long-distance telephoning was going to make the work of future historians far harder.

“Letters are one of our best sources of information about the past, but these days nobody writes letters—they just call.”

“Yes, and I hate that,” I said. “Interrupting what I’m doing right now because this is the moment when it’s convenient for them to call.”

Little did we know that both of us were about to get our wish.

Having grown up in the era of written (in ink) communication – letters, thank you cards, party invitations, birthday cards, etc.  –  I have lamented the loss of the art. But I never considered the treasure trove of historical information that was bleeding away during the gap in time between the explosion of telephone communication and the advent of email.

Two of the most prolific letter writers in US history were John and Abigail Adams. Imagine how difficult a job David McCullough would have had writing his magnificent biography of Adams if not for the hundreds of quill-penned communications between the two. Think how much poorer we would be as a country if we did not have such as intimate insight to two people who were critical to the founding of the USofA.

What would we really know about either of them, their relationship, the inner most thoughts and ideas about what they were going through if John had had the ability to simply pick up a phone and give Abigail a call from Philadelphia or Paris?

I will still, from time to time, lament the loss of the ink-written letter, but having read Card’s wonderful column I will do so knowing that his father-in-law is now preserving and analyzing history by scouring electronic communications.

December 15, 2010 Posted by | Communications | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Caveat Emptor, if you’re using social media

A friend of a friend asked me if I knew anything about a particular social media organization. Now, considering one cannot swing a dead marketer without hitting an association, or society, or foundation, or professional organization that brings social media practitioners together I didn’t consider it unusual that I would not have heard of the one in question.

So, with name in hand I set off for the Google to do a little research. What I found was a website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, and YouTube video. Among other items – not generated by the organization – were blog posts (some +, some -), articles, and comments. All in all, I was able to find a fair amount of information, but not enough to help me draw any conclusions about the organization’s credibility, which is why I’m not revealing the name of the group). At one point, I thought I had struck on a blog post asserting the organization’s leader is an inept boob. Problem is, the writer offered no evidence to prove his contention.

In the world of Web 2.0, where anybody with a computer and internet access can publish/distribute whatever they wish, there is an additional burden on the consumer to do their due diligence. We’ve all heard stories of erroneous facts making their way onto Wikipedia pages, but that site is just a small part of the wwww and bad fact, half-truths, and outright lies are more likely to show up on personal blogs.

So let me distill what I learned. When doing internet research, it’s important to take everything you read, hear, or see with a really big grain of salt. After you’ve completed your research, and before you draw any conclusions, discuss it with someone you know and trust – and I’m not talking about someone you only know from Twitter. Finally, as with anything, unless you are certain of the sellers credibility and veracity, “Caveat Emptor” rules the day.

April 5, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Politics meets NASCAR

UPDATE: A special thanks to Mike Keliher – of the one l variety – for pointing out my misspelling of Margaret Anderson Kelliher – of the two l variety. I shall not make the same mistake again.

Gubernatorial (dontcha just love that word) politics and NASCAR had a meet up on Reusse and Company on AM 1500 KSTP in the Twin Cities yesterday. I’m sure it’s happens all the time during campaign season, but Wednesday’s interview of Margaret Anderson Keliher – Speaker of the House in Minnesota and one of more than a dozen hoping to represent the DFL in November’s election – is one that made me stop what I was doing  so I could listen more closely. What struck me about the exchange came and went as fast as a lap at Daytona, but it got me thinking about how far politicians go to get all their talking points across.

If you’ve ever watched an interview with a NASCAR driver, they are magicians at working sponsor names into their answers. Jeff Gordon can’t go a sentence without mentioning his DuPont Chevrolet. Considering the mega bucks sponsors plop down for the privilege of having their logo speed along at over 100 mph, it makes sense to mention those names as often as possible. Keliher took a page from the NASCAR driver handbook and used the interview to inject all the necessary references to prove her Minnesota creds.

In no particular order she dropped in 4H, hockey, public schools, ice fishing and dairy princess in less than 30 seconds. A truly impressive performance. Now some will call me cynical for thinking Keliher was using well rehearsed talking points, but listen and you’ll hear her back track to clarify that her kids go to public school and, when asked when she last went ice fishing she deftly avoids answering the question. I am cynical, but I’m not drawing any conclusions…yet.

Here’s hoping her handlers haven’t told her she needs to sprinkle ice fishing and hockey references into every interview. If that’s the case, it will be a long campaign season.

February 4, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Public Relations | , , | 2 Comments

I must be nuts to do another seminar with Albert Maruggi

Last summer I got together with Albert Maruggi of Provident Partners to conduct a seminar about how to get started using social media tactics. We had tired of hearing all the reasons why one should and wanted to give some practical advice about how one can. It was so successful he and I have decided to give it another go.

On March 5, Albert and I will be hosting The New Media Mix: Traditional + Social. I posted on the same subject recently in this space and have been moderating a discussion along similar lines at the B2B Social Media group at LinkedIn.

At the core of the program is my contention that using social media tools is not only appropriate , but imperative for those engaged in complex sales. My quick definition of complex is:

  1. High dollar investment
  2. Product or service fills a critical need
  3. The sale marks the beginning of the customer vendor relationship, not the end.

If you sell a product or service that fits the profile, you need to be integrating social media with your traditional media for lead generation, sales cycle, and post sale marketing and communications activities. Bring your campaign plans and Albert and I will work with you to determine which social media tools are appropriate and how you can leverage them to improve campaign results.  

All the information you need can be found here.

We hope to see you on March 5.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Social Media | 1 Comment

Traditional + Social: The new media mix

On January 8th I posted an entry, A social media question worth pondering, that touched on the subject of traditional media v. social media. Rather than pitting one against the other, which others have done, I want to explore how the two can work together to achieve your marketing objectives.

A former boss of mine once said, “All advertising works.” I believed it then and I believe it now. When used properly, all advertising will do the job it’s intended to do. Too often, however, marketers get stuck in the rut of seeing every challenge as a nail and, therefore employ their favorite hammer to drive the nail home.

Case in point: a former business partner is so deeply wedded to the tactical trifecta of direct mail-telemarketing-email that they won’t consider doing anything else. Hammer and nail.

But the world has changed and most buyers ignore claims of “world-class”, “industry leading”, “best of breed”, and all the other marketing speak associated with high-priced products and services. Buyers have become more savvy and educated and, believe it or not, want to know they can trust their vendors to deliver what they say they can.

In 10 years of marketing enterprise software to the SME manufacturing space, I’ve seen buyer’s primary concern move from functional (how well does the software fit my needs) to credible (does the vendor understand my needs and my industry). The change was a natural evolution in an industry where the products – ERP for manufacturers – are perceived to have been commoditized. When all products are the same, buyers start differentiating on a different level.

This is where the marriage of traditional and social media happens. Traditional media whether print, direct mail, email, etc. is where you make the claims. Social media gives you a forum for substantiating them.

In the old days, SoftBrands claimed to have expertise in the food and beverage manufacturing space. To substantiate the claim we used customer testimonials and this webcast as proof points (I’m the cute one on the right). If you don’t want to watch both videos – and I don’t know why you wouldn’t – I’ll give you the key points.

The testimonial is pretty standard fare until the COO says the final decision was based on…”The people”. Other software packages could do the job, but the people SoftBrands brought to the table gave the customer more confidence. The webcast is a break from tradition in that we don’t talk features and functionality of the software, rather we spend the time talking about the issues SME food and beverage manufacturers face everyday. By showcasing the subject matter experts within SoftBrands viewers concluded that the products developed by people with deep industry knowledge would fit their needs. The event generated almost 50 qualified sales leads. The video was directly responsible for one new customer who, after seeing what their competitor was doing with the software, eliminated all competition from the sales cycle.

Traditional media, fact sheets, brochures, print ads, whitepapers, and so on are still important – and will continue to be so – but they can only carry you so far in today’s buying environment. More than ever, but not as much as it will be, the most important marketing tools are the voices of your people and your customers. They are the ones who prove your claims of being “world-class”, “industry leading” and “best off breed.” It’s the real people behind your products and services that your prospects need to connect with, so put them out there now and let the connecting begin.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Information isn’t power anymore

Leigh Anne Reynolds of The B2B Lead Blog posted yesterday about tearing down the gates in front of her marketing content and watching the clickthroughs rise. David Meerman Scott has been advocating the practice for a long time, but many of us – marketers – have been slow to adopt it because it goes against conventional wisdom and, frankly, everything we’ve ever learned about lead generation.

It wasn’t very long ago that visitors to websites were happy to provide contact information in exchange for a whitepaper, or a fact sheet, or a brochure. They wanted information about your products and services and where better to go then the company website? But that was when information was power and that time is long gone.

Before moveable type made it possible to print books in large quantities, education was for the elites. All that changed when books became available to the lower classes. Similarly,before the explosion of the Internet, you owned your collateral and were free to distribute it to whomever you wished. But the Web has become a supercharged information distribution system and much, if not most of the information you once owned is now accessible to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

Information isn’t power if everyone has the information.

There is another element to this and that is the two-sided coin of value. Side one is the value you place on your content. Side two is the value your customers and prospects place on your content. Would you be surprised to find out the two values rarely match?

Let’s face it, we are all proud of the work we do. And because is it we who spend the hours creating the whitepapers, podcasts, videos, brochures, etc, it’s not unusual that we would be less than objective when deciding whether the material should be gated. Unfortunately, we are not the final arbiters. That role goes to the marketplace, and when the marketplace has dozens of information resource to choose from the value of the materials decreases to almost nil.

Here’s the ugly truth: the internet has rendered our marketing materials powerless and valueless.

Here’s the new challenge: make sure the your targets are going to your website to view your content and give those targets a new reason to give you their contact information.

Difficult? Yes.

Impossible? No.

Critical? Absolutely.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , | Leave a comment

A social media question worth pondering

Earlier this week I met with a representative of an ad agency in Minneapolis. His work is primarily in the world of consumer packaged goods. We were discussing the agency’s exploration of social media and  whether it made business sense for them to go that direction. Why it would even be a question was a mystery until he commented that using SM tactics seemed a natural fit in the B2B space (where I’ve been for the better part of a decade), but not so in B2C.

In the past 12 months I’ve sat on panels dedicated to discussing the value of using social tactics in B2B and the starting point has always been that B2C is the natural.

Talk about your grass-is-always-greener moments.  

Having had the opportunity to give it more thought, I can see where new-found friend is coming from. The products he markets are ones you come across everyday at your local supermarket. If he can prove that a facebook fan will drive sales of butter he has a shot at getting the customer to take a look at it.

This is not to say I don’t think SM and B2C don’t mix. On the contrary, I think it they can live together quite nicely. However, in B2B the sales cycles are much different.

Unlike consumer products, most B2B sales are more complex and carry more risk – professional and personal – for the buyer. For this, and other reasons it is critical that the buyer believes the supplier is credible and trustworthy. Social media tactics are exceptionally well suited to do just that. But social tactics alone will not accomplish the goal. In fact, they are but one piece of a much larger marketing communications puzzle that one must build.

Don’t make the mistake of throwing traditional media out the window in favor of social media. Those who have are finding they regret the move and are scrambling to reassemble a media mix that will achieve their goals.

The new media mix – traditional + social – is an area that deserves deeper exploration and I plan to do exactly that in the coming weeks.

January 8, 2010 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media | , , | 3 Comments

Blogging in a regulated industry

Every time I participate in, or attend an event where social media is the topic there is always one – sometimes more – person in the audience representing a company from a highly regulated industry. Most often they are from the financial sector – banking, investments, etc. – and they all have the same question: How can we blog when everything we say needs to be run through an extensive approval process?

It’s a great question. To understand the significance of the question, one need only listen to the disclaimers at the end of any commercial inviting you to invest your money with a particular money manager: Actual results may vary, you could lose some or all of your money, and my personal favorite…you could lose more than you invested. Regardless of the industry there are ways to leverage the power of the web and here is one of my favorites.

In its simplest form there are two sides to the social media coin – join a conversation and start a conversation. For my purpose we’ll look at the second one.

There are two primary ways to start a conversation. The first is to react to an event that is happening in the industry now – President Obama’s jobs summit last week provided a golden opportunity for investment advisors to weigh in with their analysis of the event. When one works in a highly regulated industry there is a certain amount of risk that comes with reacting in real-time, but professionals in these industries can still start conversations with little or no risk to themselves or their companies by creating a calendar of conversations. All it takes is some planning and buy-in from your internal subject matter experts (SMEs).

The first step is to meet with your team and crate a list of issues that are relevant to your audience and that your SMEs can discuss credibly. The next step is to put those issues into an editorial calendar then create content to that calendar. Using this strategy for content creation gives enough time for all the appropriate parties to review and approve the content. Once approved, distribute as normal. Whether to a blog or a LinkedIn discussion page – I prefer both – you have joined the world of social media contributors and have done it with the blessing of your internal regulatory professionals. 

If you’d like to inject some digital steroids into the process take a look at the ed. cals. of the industry publications you are courting and design yours to mirror theirs –  minus a few months. If you can write credibly today about a subject one of the pubs will be covering a few months down the road, you can begin building a case for why your SMEs should be tapped for interviews when the article is being written. It’s a great way to build media relations and, if your offer of supplying expert analysis is rejected, you still have your own content to point your audience to.

I’ll tackle other issue in a later post – reacting as events happen. It can be problematic for any organization, but it can also be done by any.

December 10, 2009 Posted by | Communications, Public Relations, Social Media | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Media, Smocial Media

Ever shot yourself in the foot? I’m not talking about using a firearm to do the deed, I’m talking about using your mouth. If you’ve ever stood in front of an executive and spent precious time explaining why they needed be involved in social media you have.  

Let’s face it, there are still too many in the marketing field who belive social media will replace movable type as the most significant invention of all time and that we who use its power to benefit our businesses are turning digital water into digital wine. To those who fit this description I have simple message: Get over yourself.

What we’re doing with these blogs and podcasts and videos and social media press releases is taking advantage of a lot of work that was done by those who created the miracle that is the Internet. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. But when you stand up in front of Mr. and Ms. CwhateverO and begin to pontificate on the beauty of Web 2.0 and the wonders that flow from it, you deserve to be met with glassy stares because they didn’t invite you in to talk about blogging and podcasting and Twitter and the next shiny object. No, they invited you to tell them how you are going to differentiate their company from its competitors. They want strategy not tactics. And social media is not, repeat not a strategy.

All the elements that make up social media are simply ways of distributing your message – whatever that happens to be. Granted they are very powerful means of distribution, but let’s not lose site of what they are at the core. When we do is when we are in danger of taking to the top of the mount and preaching the glories of social media.

Keep it simple, talk strategy. Remember, it’s not about you it’s about them.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Communications, Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media | , , , , | 1 Comment

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