Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Be Strategic When It Comes to Social Media Tactics

I was recently referred to a corporate communications executive who was interested in how to best integrate social media into his company’s mix of marketing and public relations activities.

It took me about 20 minutes to overview our sales-focused and lead generation oriented approach. I hit all of the hot issues: how we integrate our social media marketing programs with a client’s sales organization; ways to leverage existing thought leadership content; and the importance of aligning tactical activities with a search engine optimization (SEO) effort.

There was a moment of silence on the phone and then he said, “You know, we have just talked about setting up a Facebook fan page.”

OK…fair enough. A company has to start somewhere when it comes to the adoption of social media. In fact, we typically employ a pilot program methodology when engaging with a new client because it allows a company to ease into social media in a more measured and defined way.

However, even if easing into social media means a straight tactical approach (i.e. Facebook fan page, corporate Twitter account, etc.), it is imperative that a strategy and measurable benchmarks be put in place.

Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) recently revamped its Facebook fan page as part of a Web site refresh. We’ve defined two primary objectives for our presence on Facebook:

1. Use it as a platform for the ongoing promotion of our social media marketing successes on behalf of clients like Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom (BT), Monster, TANDBERG, BroadSoft, GovDelivery, among others. We’re laser-focused on existing clients and prospects with this objective.

2. Provide a more personal glimpse into Strategic’s culture and the professionals who work for the firm. This content is geared more towards prospective employees and 1099 partners.

Take a look at our Facebook presence and, if interested, sign on as a fan. You’ll receive updates on our client-related social media work.

And never shy from engaging in social media. Even if it is a tactical approach to start, just make sure you have outlined some type of strategy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Five Most Popular Posts in 2009

Exceptional professionals recognize that career development demands an intense commitment of time, creativity, energy and perseverance. The payoff must be visible -- in compensation, recognition and other reward.

This sure has defined my experience as an executive blogger for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). In 2009, I penned nearly 100 posts that attracted more than 15,000 readers who together accounted for almost 20,000 page views.

Great visibility and thought leadership promotion for the agency!

More important though is that my personal social media experience shapes the counsel and tactical execution services we provide to clients. You learn by doing…by experimenting…and through success and failure.

With this in mind, I conducted a comprehensive review of a 12-month Google Analytics report on this blog. What posts garnered the most interest? How should this shape my editorial in 2010? Should I adjust my keyword and tagging strategies?

All good questions I will be thinking about through the New Year.

Here’s my top five in 2009. Each of these posts scored high in readership, number of comments and tweets:

1. Three Phases of Social Media Maturation

2. Great SaaS Debate

(Written in January 2008, this post continues to pull in readers via Web search and from my colleague Chris Parente’s Work, Work and Wheels blog.

3. 3 Social Media Portals Revealed

4. Social Media and Enterprise Sales Acceleration

5. Are Hotties Destined to be High Performers?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Social Media Mission Gulf

Even in the same industry professional missions can be remarkably different.

Consider my 20 years as a public relations practitioner. I have penned my share of strategy documents. I have written press releases and pitched journalists. I’ve organized events and worked industry conferences.

However, my role representing technology and healthcare clients is completely foreign to someone in entertainment PR or crisis communications – and vice versa. We have comparable skill sets, and utilize the same tools and tactics. Yet, our jobs and experience in PR exist on unique plains.

This same mission gulf also exists in social media marketing. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we are typically retained by growth-oriented clients that have an interest in identifying leads, cultivating sales prospects, enhancing SEO and driving audience engagement.

For us, social media marketing is about helping companies find and grow new sources of revenue.

Rich Pesce’s social media mission is also tied to corporate revenue. However, his job at Sprint is to enhance the customer experience for the company’s wireless users, thereby increasing their loyalty to the company (and the resulting revenue).

“The customer experience with a wireless service is very personal,” Rich told me during a phone call last week. “Online conversations about Sprint are already happening. We use social media to join these conversations and demonstrate responsiveness to the customer.”

Pesce employs a mix of social media tactics to fulfill this loyalty mission. He participates in online communities, searches and engages on Twitter, and is proactive in connecting with bloggers.

“Every time I see someone discussing Sprint I look for ways to make a difference,” he explains. “At the very least I listen and respond. Yet, I also serve as a conduit to our customer care organization.”

While Rich and I both reside in this Web 2.0-powered world, our expectations of social media and benchmarks for success are radically different. Quite a mission gulf, eh?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Give Me 5 When Evaluating Social Media Consultants

Years ago when Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) had just found its footing I decided to invest in a new, start-of-the-art telephony system for the office. It was time to graduate from the two-line cordless purchased at Walmart to call forwarding, remote access voice mail and multi-person conference calls.

This was during the hustle of the late 1990s so we needed to move quickly. A vendor was selected from…well…I don’t recall how. A contract was signed with no reference check. I handed over a deposit of $2,500 to initiate work. And then…nothing. In fact, I never heard from the vendor again as their phone line was (ironically) soon disconnected.

Yes, I was swindled out of some money by a con and I was certainly upset. Yet, I came to realize in time that I was to blame for shirking the basic responsibilities of being a customer – do your due diligence.

The due diligence issue became top of mind this year as I read the steady stream of blog posts about what a company should look for when evaluating a prospective social media consultant. Here are links to a few:

Top 25 Ways to Tell if Your Social Media Expert is a Carpetbagger

Social Media Consultant or Snake Oil Salesman?

What to Look For in a Social Media Consultant

All of this ranting about philosophies, expertise and tactics makes the vendor selection process for social media a whole lot more complex than it needs to be. You can always count on consultants to muck things up in an attempt to justify their importance.

Here are eight simple words to say to anyone who comes a calling with the promise of social media: “Please show me your five most recent campaigns.”

See…it’s not rocket science. In fact, in his meandering article about the pros and cons of social media, BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker lands at the same conclusion -- only hire consultants who have actually done work in the area they are consulting in.

Oh yeah, here are Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) five most recent campaigns. They happen to be for Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint and Monster.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Journalism Slides Closer to Its New Reality

The pounding, headache inducing drumbeat of Tiger’s tales of infidelity pushed a number of potentially market changing stories to the back page.

Here is one headline from the December 3rd issue of the New York Times that escaped my attention: Some Dallas Editors will Report to Ad Sales.

Whoa…I suspect a fair number of journalists view the idea of taking direction from and being accountable to sales reps as a harbinger of the apocalypse.

It’s understandable. Many newsrooms have historically been shielded from the economic realities of publishing, with the editor and writer occupants rallied around a shared commitment to a higher calling.

The downsizing of journalism during the past two years has landed like a sledgehammer -- producing anger, denials and despair. It’s something I wrote about in November in my well read and critically received “Open Letter to the Unemployed Journalist."

So, I have to ask: Is a closer integration between the newsroom and the advertising sales department a good thing?

At the Dallas Morning News, it is only the sports and entertainment writers who will be affected by this new structure. Plus, editor Bob Mong told the New York Times that they have been instructed to “fight back” if they are told to do anything unethical.

My take is that this is the reality of future news gathering and reporting. Let’s get over the anger and accept that the publishing business model will continue to evolve for newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and online news operations to survive.

The question I pose above is irrelevant. There is simply no room left for a pristine and uncomplicated separation of editorial and advertising operations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bitten by Boorish Behavior

Our reality entertainment fueled and social media infused culture had made competition for the spotlight considerably more intense. Pop artist Andy Warhol most likely never imagined the depth of desperation some would regress to achieve their fleeting 15 minutes of fame.

Consider parents Richard and Mayumi Heene who tricked the nation into believing their six-year-old son was in harm’s way trapped inside a renegade balloon.

And then there is the tale of social and political impostors Tareq and Michaele Salahi who crashed a White House state dinner as part of a play for a reality television program.

Although a disturbing trend, I assumed this boorish behavior was the domain of rogue individuals seeking unearned attention. That was until I stumbled across this story of a semi-professional basketball team tricking its community into buying game tickets.

Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen acknowledged in his blog that their promotion of an appearance by Hall of Fame player Michael Jordan “didn’t go like any of us had hoped.”

Perhaps that would be because Michael Jordan never confirmed his attendance at the event. He never even acknowledged the invitation.

The lesson here for organizations employing social media marketing is that the tenets of acceptable corporate citizenship always apply. Be honest and transparent. Respect your customers, employees, investors and vendors. And never sacrifice your reputation for a little bit of interest and fame.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Web 2.0 Tools to Manage the Info Froth

Regardless of the meetings, conference calls and industry events on my schedule for the day, I block out 30 minutes in the morning and then late afternoon for my daily information in-take.

I troll a myriad of social networks and online communities for updates from my connections. I dial-up my RSS reader to see what’s new with the 40+ blogs I monitor. And I scan the nearly 100 e-newsletters I receive to tune in to the reporting from trade journals, business press and niche vertical media.

With a dozen clients occupying nearly ever sector of the technology and telecommunications market, it’s imperative that I track what’s timely and relevant to ensure Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is proactive in its representation. Admittedly, the accelerating froth of news, trends and opinion can be all consuming.

This is why I get jazzed when I come across a Web 2.0 tool that has the potential to help me more quickly and efficiently digest, organize and share this ongoing flow of information.

Here are four relatively new services with potential. An introductory scan of their Web site got me intrigued enough to test each out.

1. Spokeo: a Web-based service that scours nearly 50 social networks to find information about your online contacts and connections. It’s a good resource for due diligence on customers and prospects, as well as gathering competitive intelligence.

2. Gist: free while still in its beta phase, this service allows a user to create a custom intelligence report on a business contact, prospect, customer or partner. Gist sorts through information about a contact from multiple sources – such as Outlook Email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – and then organizes everything into a single, Web-based document.

3. Favit: a Web-based service that allows a user to create streams of information from multiple social networks and online communities. It’s a good way to save time when it comes to sorting and reviewing updates from contacts in social networks.

4. Toobla: an easy way to organize content from across the Web (i.e. videos, sites, presentations, etc.) in a series of visual folders that can then be shared with online contacts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tech Start-Up Envy: Why Does the Capital Region Come Up Short?

Driptech, Scribd, SolarCity, Zynga, Fitbit…they are all interesting technology start-ups recently included on BusinessWeek’s list of the “Most Intriguing New Businesses.”

There’s a problem with the list though: not a single company based in the Washington, DC region made the cut.

How can that be? Where I call home has all of the ingredients to nurture a world class community of entrepreneurial technology companies.

For starters, the largest buyer of information technology products and services has centered most of its decision-making here. That’s right, the US federal government spends billions of dollars each year on a broad set of products, services and capabilities.

In fact, the federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) recently unveiled a Web-based IT dashboard that tracks a fair amount of this annual spend.

This strong government footprint has attracted a myriad of systems integrators that cater to the technical and innovation requirements of government agencies worldwide. Lockheed Martin is based in Bethesda, Maryland. SAIC recently relocated to McLean, Virginia. CSC moved last year to Falls Church, Virginia.

These government contractors – often referred to as “Beltway Bandits” – serve as a training ground for technical and management talent.

Moreover, they often develop interesting products and applications with potential to be spun out as distinct companies. Systems integrator Mantech did just that two years ago with the successful creation of information security vendor Netwitness.

The potential for robust technology transfer also resides in the Washington, DC region’s research institutions, including George Mason University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland, College Park. All have outstanding engineering and business programs.

And finally, there is a mile-high stack of smart, experienced money in this town. Venture capital firms like NEA, Novak Biddle and Valhalla Partners, as well as private equity shops like Carlyle Partners are all well versed in helping start-ups successfully grow and mature.

So, again…I ask…why is the Washington, DC region a tier two player when it comes to technology start-ups?

You can’t put us in the same sentence as Silicon Valley without snickering. And we fail to measure up to technology hot spots in Boston, Austin and New York City.

Perhaps it’s about ego and attitude.

Are we in the DC business community content with modest success rather than aspiring to create the next Apple or Google? Are we too comfortable and conservative because of the government presence?