Monday, December 27, 2010

Bravo for a Longer View of Social

Recessions reward near-term thinking. 

How can we identify more leads...and fast?  What will it take to close this deal today?  Are sales trending up this quarter?

The funding of hard-to-measure investments in brand promotion and public relations are typically relegated to the low-priority list.  It's understandable as many companies are simply in a struggle for financial viability.  Yet, this stings ad and PR executives who war for budget, even during prosperous times.

That's why the advertising industry has sought to educate the C-suite about the positive impact ad investments have on the long-term growth and health of the organization.  Consider this research report from 1991 touting the success of companies that advertise during recessions.  Although now two decades in the can, many of the points raised remain true today.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have experienced a comparable level of day-to-day thinking when it comes to the funding of social media marketing campaigns.  Part of this can be attributed to the early adopter stage of social media, yet the hesitancy to bless annual social campaigns is also symptom of trying economic times.

And then along comes NeuStar, a long-standing client that has moved aggressively this past year to integrate social media marketing into its mix of external communications activities.  The company's Mobile's Next Big Thing blog has emerged as a must-read for advertisers, technology providers and marketers that have an interest in mobile barcodes.

Most recently, NeuStar introduced a socially-oriented news and thought leadership site called  It's editorial includes an example of content curation at its finest.

Perhaps most impressive is NeuStar's longer view thinking when defining the goals and success benchmarks of the campaign.  Yes...the company has an agenda and it is very much tied to sales. 

However, there is recognition by NeuStar's marketers that the most prudent path to follow to met its revenue objective will take a bit of time.  They planned and then budgeted accordingly.

Full disclosure:  Strategic works with NeuStar on social media campaign.  We helped define a strategy and tactical plan, and now support the execution of the program.               

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Valuable Story from Social Analytics

High value tools such as StatPress and Google Analytics bring an important level of measurability to executive blogging programs.

How do visitors find the blog?  What words do they type into search engines?  What sites link to the blog? Which posts garner strong readership? 

Each December, I take a few hours to assess the impact and relevance of the "Strategic Guy" blog, and reflect on its editorial mission.

Now in its third year, this blog continues to serve as a core part of Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) thought leadership promotional program.  It attracts a wide and diverse set of readers, and its content is republished by a number of influential content sites, including Social Media Today, The Customer Collective and Gooruze.

Here are a couple of statistics from the past 12 months of blogging:

--10,326 unique visitors
--Average of 1.32 page views per visitor
--23 percent of readers arrived from LinkedIn, 22 percent came direct and 20 percent from Google
--The most frequently used search term by visitors is "Marc Hausman"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Talking Social with Marriott's SVP of Global PR

There are a handful of well respected, global companies that receive constant praise for their enterprise-wide adoption of social media.

Online retailer Zappos is one example.  Computer maker and IT services shop Dell is another.

The reason for this adulation became quite clear to me on Monday after a group of us at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) spent 90 minutes with Gordon Lambourne, Senior Vice President, Global Public Relations at Marriott International.  Gordon visited with our team at as part of our ongoing professional development and guest speaker series. 

Gordon Lambourne, Marriott's SVP of Global PR
The process of infusing social media into an organization's global operations is complex and full of risk. Consider the following about Marriott:

-150,000 employees worldwide
-3,500 hotels under management
-18 distinct property brands, including high-end offerings such Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott to extended stay business products like ExecuStay
-Rapid international expansion into emerging markets in southeast Asia, Africa and eastern Europe

According to Gordon, Marriott is following a disciplined and structured path to empower its employees to actively engage in social media.  Corporate guidelines are in development and will eventually be rolled out through the company's four global operation centers.

I suspect there are some social media consultants who would chide Marriott for this rather bureaucratic approach to social media adoption.

However, I'm going to applaud Gordon and Marriott for this cautious approach.  The company simply has too much invested in its brand and reputation to allow for social participation by its employees without well defined guidelines.

Plus, Marriott's embrace of social media starts at the very top.  The company's CEO publishes a blog called Marriott on the Move that he personally develops content for and partially measures success by how the blog spurs online reservations.

Gordon summed up Marriott's global view of social media well by explaining, "With social media it is obvious that the more you try to control it, the less you can.  It just may take us awhile to get there."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Social Responsibility Top of Mind

I take an interest in the pastimes and personal pursuits that are important to Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) clients.  It's smart business. 

For instance, I attended the University of Maryland, yet I also follow SEC college football and the Virginia Tech Hokies.  I've become a connoisseur of European beers.  And a fan of a couple of Indie rock bands.

Last night, I gathered up the family to attend the Hope for Henry Foundation's annual fundraiser.  One of Strategic's clients is a founder of the organization which does a wonderful job providing children with life-threatening illnesses with carefully chosen gifts and specially designed programs to entertain and promote comfort, care and recovery.

Photo Source: Hope for Henry Foundation
My initial participation and support of the Hope for Henry Foundation was commercially-motivated.  Yet, last night served as a reminder that business always takes a back seat to caring about others.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Social Content Gathers Audience and Spurs Discussion

In new business and client presentations when the issue of creation and publishing of social media content arises I often chime in with my "thought leaders have to have thoughts" line.

This zinger typically draws a chuckle.  Yet, I then emphasize a critical point about the foundation for success in social media marketing:  to attract an engaged audience or readership an organization must embrace the responsibility of articulating an opinion, even if there will be those in the market who disagree.

I first wrote about this topic nearly three years ago in a blog post that defined the 3Es of social media content creation -- educate, engage and entertain.  Today, I am more deeply committed to this social media content responsibility having participated in nearly 50 corporate, sales-oriented social campaigns.

Consider the GovCloudTalk program Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) works on in partnership with EMC.  Tim Harder, one of EMC's private cloud subject matter experts, recently published an interesting post raising questions about Amazon's decision to remove WikiLeaks from its cloud platform.

EMC's Tim Harder
Did Harder employ the journalistic best practices demanded by editors in newsrooms across the country in crafting this post?  No...yet he didn't have to.

Social media is all about well presented, informed opinions that gather an audience and stimulate discussion.  And that's exactly what Harder accomplished.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Death Spiral of Commoditization

For a professional services firm, a death spiral characterized by dwindling profits and ultimate irrelevance begins once a perception takes hold in the customer community that your offering has become a commodity.

Consider the market for the provision of rather mundane technical services, such as help desk support and software upgrades.  There is a reason that business has migrated to countries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe as part of the global outsourcing trend. 

Competitive advantage is achieved primarily through lower cost and in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Prague qualified human resources come cheap.

Prior to transitioning our focus to social media marketing four years ago, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) derived most of its revenue from public relations services.  I became desperate in my pursuit of a viable market differentiation as the practice of effective public relations is people driven.  The "my team is better than their team" argument is tough to sustain.  

Other PR shops made their play with claims of a unique and proprietary methodology.  Yet, it's also a challenge to credibly establish a branded process.

I ultimately landed on a business development offering to compliment our PR services that we referred to as Strategic's Network of Relationships.  It's impact was marginal at best. 

Like public relations, creative design and advertising services have begun the slip to commodity.  I've written about my experience with crowdsourcing and tagged it as a tenable option  for the production of marketing materials, logos, banner ads, etc.

Most recently, I stumbled across an online community of advertising professionals called AdRogues who are actively selling (or should I write "re-selling") creative concepts, designs and layouts produced for other clients and prospects.

Interested in developing a new print advertising campaign at a fraction of the budget as last year's spend?  Check out AdRogues to see what is available.

This community offers tremendous value to corporations and advertisers that desire a "good enough" creative product at a marginal budget.  Yet, for the creatives of the world I'm afraid AdRogues takes them a step further down the commodity path.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Flavors of Social Media Execution in a B2B Corporate Environment

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Foursquare, Digg, Reddit…I love them all.  Yet, their value has been overstated.

These social networks are merely another channel to address the market, in many ways comparable to traditional forms of communication such direct mail, trade shows and events.

Now consider Web 2.0 offerings like BeFunky, PixxMe, Go!animate and Apture.  While they’re certainly cool, they are merely tools designed to dress up staid content.

It is encouraging that the adoption of social media in corporate environments has marched on at an accelerating pace.  However, executive buy-in and budget commitment has been dampened by the curious fascination that social practitioners have with online communities and tools, rather than the strategies and applications necessary to produce a measurable ROI.

During the past four years, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has designed, executed and evaluated nearly 40 social media campaigns for the world’s largest, fastest growing and most successful technology companies.  Our clients have included global brands such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems, EMC, Sun Microsystems, British Telecom, NeuStar, Monster and BearingPoint, as well as emerging vendors like Merchant Link, Cimcor, ePok and govWin.

While the practice and influence of social media can be applied across the organization, our experience teaches us there are primarily three high-value viable applications of social in a B2B environment.

Social Media for Public Relations

It’s no secret there has been a sustained shift in influence from traditional sources of credibility like trade publishers, market research firms and conferences to the conversations and debate that define social networks.  However, interest from and coverage by journalists and analysts still delivers much-needed awareness and third-party validation.

Plus, bloggers and social media power users now flex their influence with daily commentary, staking claim to their place in the public relations landscape.

Participation in online communities can deliver a direct channel to these high-value influencers, helping PR professionals cultivate relationships, present story ideas and participate in the news gathering process.

The practice and importance of public relations remains constant.  Social now overshadows the phone and Email as the preferred means of communication.

Social Media for Corporate Positioning

Canvas corporate sites on the Web and it’s apparent that most marketing departments are getting hip to audience demand for a Facebook fan page, LinkedIn profile and Twitter feed.  In fact, in some instances a company’s presence in an online community can eclipse the relevance of its own corporate Web site. 

A defined strategy and appropriate benchmarks for success in areas such as market awareness and positioning are a must for an organization to experience a positive return from this corporate-driven social presence. 

Equally important, corporations have begun to recognize that a lack of participation in popular online communities can be damaging.  Key audiences such as customers, partners and investors may stand perplexed and, in some instances, question the viability of an organization that fails to sport a Facebook logo on its Web site.

Social Media for Sales

Referred to at Strategic as the “last mile,” the ability to appropriately tap into online communities for lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture delivers the most meaningful ROI in a B2B environment.

Consider that a social network is merely a collection of individuals who have organized around a shared theme or topic of interest.  Participants in this community also self-identify, sharing with other members information about their professional responsibilities and areas of interest.

Plus, everyone in a social environment leaves a digital footprint -- who they follow, the discussions they participate in and the comments they provide.  All of this intelligence informs the astute marketer about what this individual deems important.

By publishing thought leadership content that enhances the value of participation for community members, a corporation can attract a loyal and engaged following.  It’s then a matter of presenting opportunities for those followers to choose to strike up a more intimate conversation.

When integrated with a socially-trained sales team, these conversations can be assessed, vetted and evaluated for their business potential. 

The end result:  social media becomes a driver of high-value sales activity and opportunity.  The awareness, credibility and search engine optimization (SEO) resulting from participation in social networks becomes merely an unintended benefit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shades of Gray with Former Employees

It is well accepted in executive ranks that it is poor form to speak ill of a former employee.  This sin creates a negative work environment and leaves those around you pondering how they might be trashed should they elect to move on.

This guidance is easy to follow with high performers.  Yes, there are feelings of disappointment and loss, yet you are ultimately thankful for their contributions to the success of the organization.

The picture is less clear though when it comes to the mediocre and those who have been asked to move on.  While it's best to refrain from comments that could be perceived as a personal attack, there is risk in failing to acknowledge the shortcomings of a former staffer.

For starters, it potentially creates the impression that you are out of touch with the day-to-day pulse of the company.  Most workers recognize the weak links and can be frustrated by management's inability to act.
Granted, a termination clearly demonstrates that ineffective performance won't be tolerated.  But, what about a less than stellar employee who chooses to resign?  Should an executive refrain from acknowledging what everyone else already knows?

There is also the issue of lessons learned.  I've personally experienced this one. 

Years ago, a senior level staffer was unsuccessful managing client engagements.  This person moved on and perhaps the sole value they imparted on the organization was a collection of things not to do.

How do I share this failure to enhance our success today?  We're a small business...everyone knows who I'm referring to.

Corporate decision-making is defined by shades of gray.  It's easy to make a sweeping policy statement like "never bad mouth a former employee."  Yet, in practice, policy can be tough to follow. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Panel of Sports Media Celebs Discuss and Debate

The sports media elite came out last night for a panel discussion hosted by the University of Maryland's College of Journalism.  The topic of conversation:  do we have too much sports in our lives?

The event was in honor of legendary Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich and was moderated by his son, talk show host Maury Povich.  Panelists included:

-Tony Kornheiser: ESPN's Pardon the Interruption and radio host on SportsTalk 980AM

-Christine Brennan:  USA Today sports columnist

-Daniel Snyder:  owner of the Washington Redskins

-Scott Van Pelt:  ESPN sports center anchor and radio host

-Kevin Blackistone:  ESPN's Around the Horn and sports columnist for AOL FanHouse

Here are a couple of interesting comments from the discussion and Q&A session that followed: (not presented below in chronological order)

ESPN's Scott Van Pelt makes a point as part of the panel discussion.
Snyder:  Media scrutiny is now over the top.  Everyone has the ability to be the media because of social channels.  It creates an environment in which statements and commentary can be irresponsible.  Everyone has to be first with the news, regardless of whether it's accurate.  It's like reporting doesn't necessarily need facts any longer.  (He was referring to recent criticism that the benching of Donovan McNabb during the Redskins/Lions game was racially motivated.)

Brennan:  There is no accountability in the blogosphere which creates a real challenge for journalists who are dependent upon credibility.

Kornheiser:  Newspapers are not dying...they are dead.  Diversification of media sources is the new reality.

Van Pelt:  All of us on the panel make our living talking about something we love (sports), even if it's flawed.  At times, we in the media feel like jackals feeding on a news story.  That is until the next story comes along. (He was referring to recent coverage of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.)

Blackistone:  Sports binds a community together by creating areas of common interest and discussion.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Losing Sight of the Need to Give

I am a long-standing member of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) and am active in the organization's National Capital Chapter.  I've made exceptional, executive-level contacts through my attendance at events and participation in chapter committees.

A few months back I received a call from a fellow ACG member inviting me to host an educational roundtable discussion on social media for the chapter.  I jumped at this opportunity because of the credibility my role as organizer would confer on Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), as well as the visibility this discussion would provide for the integration of social media into a company's external communications program.

Held this past Monday, the event came together well.  The panelists were top-drawer and attendance was right in line with expectations -- more than 30 top corporate and marketing executives.

My colleague and partner Chris Parente has a write-up of the event on his "Work, Wine and Wheels" blog.

Yet, for all of the eventual goodness that resulted from the event, the path that I followed to organize speakers, extend invitations and promote my role left the members of the chapter's organizing committee a bit salty at me.


I simply didn't comprehend (or want to comprehend) the purpose of the event, nor did I listen well enough to the organizing committee when they outlined their expectations.  To me, it was critical that attendance at the event be large enough to reflect the importance I personally place on social media.  To the committee, the priority was CEO or president-level attendees -- quality over quantity.

For this reason, there were a number of disagreements and uncomfortable moments when business contacts I had invited were denied registration because they failed to meet certain criteria.  It reflected poorly on me and on ACG National Capital, the organization I was suppose to be representing.

In the end, everything worked out well and the "Easing Into Social Media" roundtable was deemed a success.   However, my experience served as a healthy reminder that successful participation in trade groups, associations and social networks is more about give than take.

I lost sight of this and, as a result, I'm left with a couple of relationships I need to repair.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Four New Web 2.0 Offerings Worth a Review

In this fast-paced Web 2.0 world, innovative entrepreneurial start-ups are constantly bringing to market tools and applications to enhance a user's social media experience.

Each month, I block out a few hours to review a collection of these new offerings and assess how (or if) they are applicable to the social media marketing campaigns Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) manages for its clients.

Here are four sites I reviewed this evening that I encourage you to check out:

PixxMe:  airbrush your profile photos in social networks and online communities with this easy-to-use online tool to ensure you have just the right look and expression.

Formstack:  an easy-to-use, HTML-based Web form creator to gather information from visitors to a your corporate Web site, blog or other social-oriented site.  It's a perfect tool to create online surveys, event registrations or Webinar sign-ups.  There's a free version available, yet it has limited functionality.

SocialSmack: this relatively new online community is in beta, yet it holds tremendous value if you're interested in reviewing sentiment about consumer-oriented brands.  It's free to join and, once signed up, you too can talk smack (both positive and negative) about the products you use, restaurants you visit, etc.

Booshaka:  what news, topics or people have all of the buzz on Facebook?  This free online tool will give you a quick assessment of what is trending on the world's most popular social community.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Four Constants in Social Media Marketing

It has been a true pleasure working this past week with the lovely Hilary Hausman as she ramps up her social media marketing activities to support her position as a residential real estate professional specializing in the Bethesda, Maryland market.

You can now find Hilary on Twitter, as well as in the blogosphere at At Home in Bethesda

For the better part of the past four years my social media consulting work has been focused in the corporate market.  I've been fortunate enough to help develop and execute campaigns on behalf of prestigious and sophisticated brands like Microsoft, EMC, Cisco, NeuStar, Monster, British Telecom (BT), Sun Microsystems and BearingPoint.

Yet, there's a unique reward that comes from helping an entrepreneur incorporate social media into the promotion of a new venture.  This is especially true when you also happen to be married to the entrepreneur.

The foundation for social media success and a measurable ROI remain constant though, regardless of whether its a multi-national corporation or an individual real estate professional.

1.  Start with a strategy that is well aligned with overall goals.

2.  Integrate with the sales process from day one.

3.  Publish content that engages, educates and entertains.

4.  Merchandise that content across multiple social networks and online communities, tying everything to organic search engine optimization.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holding Off on the Design Firm Deathwatch

After carefully studying the business case for and value proposition of crowdsourcing for corporate design requirements, my initial reaction was this might be the end for creative services and graphics firms.

Six weeks later I'm now through an initial project with Chicago-based Crowdspring and pleased with the result.  The creative option we selected is professional, of the highest quality and right in step with the stated objectives of the project.

However, I am not quite ready to sign a death certificate for design shops.

That's because the crowdsourcing process has inherent flaws that limit its appropriateness for complex creative and design assignments, such as brand advertising campaigns and product packaging.

Here are a couple of observations:

1.  Make the creative brief as clear and concise as possible.  I've spent the better part of 15 years providing direction to creatives, so I felt confident in my ability to define our expectations for the assignment.

I missed the mark as nearly half of the submitted design options failed to follow the basic parameters of the project.  Was my brief unclear?  Or did a fair number of the creatives simply neglect to review it?

2.  Even with clarity in project direction, expect only a third of the proposed creative designs to be viable options.  For this reason, it's imperative that a high number of creatives sign on to participate in the project.  For our effort, we had 72 designs formally submitted for our review.

3.  Be prepared to provide feedback to submitted creative.  Sounds basic enough and it's important part of the crowdsourcing process as it leads to a more polished finished product.  It helps motivate the designers to deliver their best work. 

Yet, when there are more than 70 design options to review it can be overwhelming.  Plus, Crowdspring was quick to fire off a reminder note whenever a day passed without messaging provided to the creatives.

Ultimately, I do believe crowdsourcing will steal away a significant number of assignments that have historically been earmarked for creative shops.

When the stakes with a project are high because of budget invested and/or desired outcome, an ad agency, creative firm or graphic designer remains the way to go.  Crowdsourcing fails to deliver that all important face-to-face interaction and collaboration.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

High Value Adopters Gone Social

Should the still limited universe of corporate participants in online communities dampen the interest organizations have in adopting social media marketing in their external communications mix?

It's an issue that comes up in nearly every sales presentation I have given during the past 18 months.  And it's a fair one. 

Marketing leaders in business-to-business and public sector oriented companies continue to struggle with the appropriate resource investment for a channel that reaches a fraction of their targeted audience.

Even in vertical markets like government with significant adoption of social media by the customer and partner communities, the non-participants still far outnumber those engaged.  For instance, there are hundreds of thousands of buyers, yet only 35,000 have signed on to Govloop

There are a near equivalent number of prospective teaming partners, however govWin and the Federal Contractor Network combined offer access to only about 40,000 users.

My counsel to clients is two-fold:

1.  Social media should be considered another channel to reach key audiences, yet does not replace traditional communications activities such as advertising, event participation and sponsorship, public relations and direct marketing.

That being said, consistency in messaging, as well as a credible amount of cost efficiency can be gained through the appropriate re-purposing of promotional content for social networks.

2.  Social media participants tend to be early adopters, often vocal in their support of vendor solutions and influential in the buying interests of their peers.  This makes them of great value to organizations seeking a measurable ROI from their marketing communications activities. 

By ROI I'm referring to lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture, rather than merely brand positioning and awareness.

Ultimately, this is the reason why I believe the shift in influence from traditional sources of credibility (i.e. trade press, industry analysts, conferences, etc.) to social networks and online communities will continue to accelerate.  It's the most engaged and opinionated who have gotten social.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Williams, Sanchez and the Unbridled Fury of the Blogosphere

Did the unbridled fury of the blogosphere indirectly contribute to National Public Radio's Juan Williams firing?

You've most likely read about Williams' comments regarding the anxiety he experiences when traveling on the same airplane with Muslims.  It led to his quick ouster by National Public Radio for a "pattern of commentaries that violated the news organization's guidelines."  (Juan Williams photo credit:  Washington Times)

What I find curious is why such an intelligent and experienced journalist like Williams could make such a misstep in a public forum like an appearance on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor.  He had to have an inkling that his comments could be perceived as racist, right?

The same can be asked of now former CNN broadcaster Rick Sanchez who railed against Jon Stewart and the Jews who control media during an interview on Pete Dominick's Sirius XM show.  Racism, sexism, antisemitism and other incendiary comments rarely play well in news organizations beholden to top-line journalistic principles, as well as the PR crisis-shy demands of consumer advertisers.

Can these lapses in judgment by Williams and Sanchez be attributed to the competition for attention and influence from bloggers, tweeters and other social media powers users?  (Rick Sanchez photo credit:  Digital Journal.)

These new age, Web 2.0 content creators are free from the shackles of editorial ethics and peer review.  They can rip who they want, when they want and why they want for the sake of readership, and without fear of reprisal from the corporate boardroom.

It's even conceivable that Williams and Sanchez were of clear mind and knowingly stepped into a hail storm of controversy to enhance their respective profiles.  Williams made out just fine signing a two million dollar contract with Fox and Sanchez has a new book he's pushing.

I know...I know...I'm stretching a bit by throwing out unsupported theories.  Yet, that's the nature of the blogosphere.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

3 Cheers for Technical Innovation

The root of my love affair with technology is innovation and its positive impact on our personal and professional lives.

That's why it so encouraging that social media companies and online communities continue to invest resources to enhance the value they provide to users.  For instance, Facebook recently unveiled enhanced group functionality for better management of information sharing with friends.

And last month Twitter rolled out a revamped user interface to deliver to users an "easier, faster, and richer experience."

Innovation in the areas of platform development and related functionality is not limited to the broader horizontal social communities.  This week govWin - a 16,000 member social network for government contractors -- introduced an expanded version of its platform with added functionality and a portfolio of original content.

Through its parent company Deltek, govWin employs more than 40 full-time software, technical, editorial and marketing staffers who are charged with assessing, evaluating and enhancing the platform based on user feedback and market trends.

Innovation takes investment and must be a priority for companies in the technology markets.  The outcome benefits customers, investors, shareholders and employees, while ensuring we as a society remain ultra-competitive. 

(Full disclosure:  govWin is a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client.  My colleagues Shany Seawright and Matt Langan work closely with their marketing team on external communications activities, including public relations and social media marketing.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Social Web, Caribbean Style

We congregate where there are necessities like food.  Or spiritual revival.  Or entertainment.  Or commerce.

A common trait shared by these physical gathering points is social interaction, and the resulting access to information, insight and discourse.  Most experience a greater sense of personal fulfillment by participating in even the most mundane life experiences with others.

How does this translate to online behavior? 

This issue was top of mind as I strolled through Nassau in the Bahamas last week on vacation with my family.  Crowded on the sidewalk in front of office buildings, in alleys and on side streets were groups of young men toting computer laptops and smart phones.

None were interested in striking up a conversation about their social media participation.  However, I was able to glean two things from a few curt replies to my questions:

1) the masses were huddled around unprotected corporate or retail WiFi networks; and

2) while the free Internet access was a draw, the ability to text, instant message, surf the Web, etc. with friends is what kept the men there in the mid-day sun for extended lengths of time.

I've read with interest the debate about whether participation in online communities actually makes us less social.  I have yet to draw any firm conclusions on that topic, yet I did find my Bahamian experience last week telling.

For some, social media is best consumed socially.

Going online in Nassau, Bahamas.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Getting Social with Discovery

Each month Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) invites a corporate marketer, social media practitioner or industry influencer to visit our office to discuss best practices and lessons learned.  It's all part of our ongoing professional development program.

Earlier this week, we hosted Gayle Weiswasser, Vice President of Social Media at Discovery Communications.  A one-time practicing attorney, Gayle made the transition to public relations through a specialization in crisis communication, and then shifted her career again to focus on social media.  She helps manage an eight-person team at Discovery responsible for promotion of the broadcasters broad portfolio of programming.

Here are a few highlights from our discussion:

--Discovery's motivation for social participation is to establish deeper connections with its existing fans, thereby inspiring them to spread the word to friends and online contacts about quality programming.  The company also supplements the viewing experience by providing access to unique content via social networks and on its Web sites.

--Similar to the Travel Channel's "T" House social media initiative, Discovery has created a Facebook community for a select set of fans to participate in and support program development. 

--The broadcaster has also been entrepreneurial in its use of social media to support advertiser requirements.  For instance, they developed custom content in conjunction with the "Conception to Birth" program on Discovery Health that was sponsored by First Response.

--Discovery's management measures the ROI of its social media program primarily through audience engagement.  Interestingly, they also consider its impact based on the dollars invested compared with more traditional marketing activities.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cries of Collusion

There are certain words in business with negative connotations.

For instance, it's seldom a compliment when an executive is tagged as a micromanager.  Yet, in some environments an all consuming, hands on approach is an absolute must for success.   Consider the expectations of BP's leadership related to the clean-up of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Now let's consider collusion.  We know it's bad, right?  It limits competition and potentially creates an unfair advantage for certain parties. 

Recently, uber-blogger and soon-to-be AOL employee Michael Arrington busted in uninvited on a group of angel investors dining in Silicon Valley and accused them of conspiring to cheat entrepreneurs through unfair valuation and negotiation practices.  Other investors who were not in attendance at the dinner were quick to weigh in with their outrage.

While I recognize the illegality of collusion is certain situations, in this particular case I have no problem with investors coming together to share best practices, compare notes and set parameters.  Why?

For starters, there is a friendly coopetition that exists in the investor community.  Yes...they co-invest on deals and all maintain a shared interest in limiting valuations.  However, an investor is ultimately motivated by their own personal gain and will act accordingly.

Second, the angel community (as well as other sources of capital investment) is not geographically limited to the Valley.  While this dinner apparently included a set of the most profile angels in the region, it excluded well qualified investors in other technology hubs such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Austin and Washington, DC.

And finally, the decision to accept the terms of an investment ultimately resides with the entrepreneur.  They have choice with a myriad of funding options -- both private sector and government backed.

So, let's knock off the cries of collusion.  Investment terms and valuations are determined by the market, rather than a group of wealthy investors sharing a meal.

Friday, September 24, 2010

3 Ways to Benefit from Social Network Fragmentation

While Facebook continues to crow about its 500 million member social network, an interesting (and high impact) trend reshaping how we spend our time online has gone relatively overlooked.

That is until BusinessWeek's Douglas MacMillan weighed in with a must read article entitled "A Big Trend in Small Social Sites."

MacMillan profiles a number of niche, consumer-oriented social networks, including GoFISHn (for anglers), Dogster (for canine owners), Curse (for video gamers) and CafeMom ( guessed it, moms).  While their reach is relatively limited, these communities have generated interest among advertisers seeking to connect with their targeted and highly engaged participants.

A question MacMillan fails to address in his article is how this trend has influenced social media participation in a business-to-business environment.  Our experience at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has been that the adoption of niche communities by business professionals has been equally pronounced. 

Take the government space as an example.  Yes...there are groups on LinkedIn and Facebook comprised of federal and state/local workers.  Yet, to truly appreciate the breadth and depth of social participation you'd have to spend time on Govloop, govWin, Disgover, Govtwit and the Federal Contractor Network.

The rise of vertical-oriented social communities creates a myriad of promotional, thought leadership and sales oriented opportunities for solutions providers and vendors that understand how to appropriately engage in  a social environment.

Here are three straight-forward ways to get started:

1.  Be there.  Sounds simple, right?  Yet, Woody Allen was spot on when he said 80 percent of success in life is showing up.  Set up a comprehensive profile that defines who you are, why you are participating in the community and what you hope to accomplish (i.e. make connections).

2.  Share, Comment and Give Before You Take.  It's critical to bring value to the community by reading and commenting on discussions, sharing industry articles and content that's of interest, and offering counsel and support to other members.  Invest in relationships and you'll validate your membership and participation.

3.  Prioritize Community Members of Interest.  Not everyone is equal in business and this carries through in social networking.  Executive level participants, content creators and power users (i.e. those with large followings) have more influence.  Manage your time by making it a priority to engage with these participants.   

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A CEO's Take on the Jobless Recovery

Companies across the business continuum are dependent upon the talent, skill, commitment and creativity of employees to achieve competitive advantage.  That's a long-held belief in the executive suite, right?

Take this glowing assessment from drug company Merck's corporate responsibility Web site:

"Merck's ability to deliver on our strategy is dependent upon our employees — they are our single greatest asset. They are responsible for discovering, developing and manufacturing the innovative medicines and vaccines that treat and prevent disease, and helping to deliver those medicines to the people around the world who need them.  For this reason, the Company strives to ensure that we attract and retain the best talent, support our employees, and help create an environment that will enable them to fulfill their potential."
So, why is Merck firing 15 percent of its work force which represents15,000 employees? 

It's corporate statement explains the decision in the opaque language of corporate attorneys and spin-meisters.
“The goal of the restructuring is to create a flexible R.&D organization that cultivates scientific innovation, facilitates external collaboration and drives pipeline progress and a reliable, more fully utilized and cost-efficient worldwide manufacturing supply chain to support Merck’s broader product portfolio."
One could even view Merck as a microcosm of the job-less economic recovery that has the Washington, DC political institution on edge.  Corporate sales have recovered and coffers are flushed with cash.  So, why no jobs?

Here is one possibility:  there is limited job creation because top executives know most workers are average performers who provide more grief, aggravation and legal liability than they do value.

Employees are, in fact, not an organization's greatest asset.  The best performers are the asset and they comprise a small fraction of the total worker base.

The challenge top executives face is culling the landscape to identify the high potentials.  That takes time and there's currently no pressing business case to rush the process.  The result is lots of interviewing and evaluation, yet little in the way of hiring.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Creative Crowdsourcing with Crowdspring

The dynamic and near real-time requirements of today's socially-engaged world has shortened the shelf-life of the corporate Web site.

This presents quite a challenge for small businesses that are constrained by the reality of limited resources.  It's simply not economically feasible to retain a creative and graphics team on-site or on-call to ensure the corporate Web site remains fresh and relevant in its presentation.

Plus, its inappropriate for a Web 2.0/social media site -- such as an executive blog, Facebook fan page or LinkedIn profile -- to pull double duty as a company's online presentation. 

That's due to audience expectations.  For instance, when a visitor arrives at this blog or connects with me on Twitter there is an understanding that its content will have a thought leadership orientation -- best practices, lessons learned, trend evaluation, etc.

In comparison, visitors to Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) corporate site recognize that its dedicated to our competencies, track record and executive staff.  The site's mission is to support the sales cycle by validating our credentials and leadership.

This past week I stepped into the world of crowdsourcing.  After evaluating a couple of options, I selected Crowdspring out of Chicago as the creative community to tackle a redesign of Strategic's corporate site.

Crowdspring offers an easy-to-follow process to engage its stable of freelance creative designers, as well as a guarantee of quality in the final delivered product.  In fact, I've already received notice from nearly two dozen designers who are taking on the assignment.

Yes...the price for creative design and layout is dramatically less than what a traditional design shop charges.  However, equally intriguing is the possibilities that come with tapping a collection of qualified and experienced minds for counsel and ideas.

You can view the public portion of our Crowdspring creative brief here.  I'll keep you posted on how this project comes together. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Clients and Culture

There is a marketing agency principal I know who brags to prospects that he missed the birth of his second child to handle a client requirement.  He uses that anecdote to illustrate the commitment of his firm.

Over the years, I've been asked in three competitive review situations whether I mirror that level of client intensity.   To this I always agree that my competitor is committed...or, in my opinion, should be.

In our new business presentations, one of the initial topics we address are the principles that guide client representation and business decision-making at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic):

1.  Great work for great clients.

2.  An unwavering belief in work/life balance for our professional staff.

These principles are obviously related, and the second is reflected in our ultra-flexible work environment and management of team resources based on a 40 hour work week.

While I do translate for a prospect why these business principles produce a better outcome and ROI for their social media marketing campaigns, it is an unconventional approach to invest time in the sales process talking about us.  So, why do it?

Every (and I mean every) client/agency relationship has its share of stresses.  PR consultancies, ad shops, marketing providers or other professional services firms that state its clients are always a true pleasure to work for are either delusional, full of s**t or both.

There are going to be disagreements in strategy and execution, breakdowns in communication that impact the work product and misaligned expectations.  In many ways an effective professional relationship is comparable to a successful marriage.  It takes compromise, mutual understanding and (in some instances) forgiveness.

That's why I talk about what is important to us in a client engagement at the initial meeting.  Yes...we're passionate about the clients we represent and appreciative of the opportunities they afford us to deliver great work.

Yet, we never shirk from standing true to our core beliefs.  And we recognize that we're not an appropriate fit for every client.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Overwhelmed by Mis-Information

A few years back I was invited by the University of Maryland to attend a discussion about the future of sports journalism.  The panel was comprised of a collection of well respected media personalities, broadcasters and reporters, including ESPN's Scott Van Pelt -- a fellow Terrapin graduate.

It came time for Q&A and I asked Van Pelt if the pressure of producing and publishing content in Internet time had led to a decline in the accuracy of news reporting.  Specifically, I referenced ESPN's faulty report on football star Terrell Owens' attempted suicide

Understandably, Van Pelt defended his employer citing a police report as the source material for ESPN's reporting of this breaking news.

It wasn't the time or place to dive deeper into this issue, yet I would have made the point that perhaps someone from ESPN should have contacted Owens or the Dallas Cowboys (the team he played for at the time) for confirmation.  That's reporting, right?

A couple of recent developments brought this interaction with Van Pelt to mind:

1.  Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise's month long suspension for knowingly sharing misinformation via Twitter to prove how inaccurate news spreads like a plague on the Internet.

2.  A good friend and former client self-publishing on Pitch Engine to combat a damaging profile in the Washington Business Journal.

3.  My colleague and partner Chris Parente tackling a client-related public relations issue created by near negligent reporting by the USA Today.

I am an ardent believer that there has been a shift in influence from traditional sources of information and credibility (i.e. news media, industry analyst firms and conferences) to the content and discussions in social networks and online communities. 

It's why Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has reinvented its business during the past three years, transitioning from a public relations consultancy to a provider of social media marketing services.

Yet, I recognize the importance the business, sports, news and trade press have in shaping discussion and debate.  Personally, I'd be lost without the insight and analysis from BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Computerworld, Informationweek and the Washington Post.

This is why the precipitous decline in the quality and accuracy of news reporting is so disconcerting.  It will accelerate the importance of social networks which is beneficial for Strategic. 

However, I worry that the lack of credible, editor-reviewed content will leave us all overwhelmed by misinformation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Clear ROI from theTravel Channel's "T House"

I am often asked by prospective clients about the best practices related to the adoption of social media.

How do we effectively use Twitter? What should we doing on Facebook? Should our CEO blog?

My response is typically the same: step one is to define a set of goals and success benchmarks that align with the organization's priorities.

I realize this counsel is rather "Marketing 101." Yet, the early adopter stage of social media has led many organizations to employ a bag of tactics approach as a means of testing social's effectiveness.

Ironically, this strictly tactical implementation methodology tends to stunt its effectiveness and ROI.

This isn't the case over at the Travel Channel. This week, Patrick Lafferty -- the media company's one-time Chief Marketing Officer -- visited Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) as part of our professional development series.

While Lafferty shared examples of how the Travel Channel has tapped social networks for buzz, to promote its brand and cultivate relationships with viewers, I was awestruck by a more pedestrian (yet high value) application of social media.

As you might suspect, entertainment houses and broadcasters like the Travel Channel invest considerable time and budget in the development and production of content. It's the foundation of their advertising-driven economic model.

A resource consuming step in the content development process is the testing and evaluation of programming prior to broadcast. For this reason, the Travel Channel has been historically select in when and how it recruited focus groups to test content.

Could social media be employed to extend the impact and influence of content testing, while reducing overall costs?

You betcha.

Lafferty outlined an innovative social program called "The T House" in which the Travel Channel recruited 400 passionate viewers to join an exclusive online community.

With the prestige of participation as their only compensation, these viewers provide ongoing feedback, advice and suggestions that help shape the development of new programming at the Travel Channel.

The T House hasn't completely replaced traditional focus groups and other testing programs. However, it has allowed the Travel Channel to improve programming through viewer feedback at more points in the development process, while slicing costs.

Now that's social media with a mission and ROI!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Questioning the Prominence of B2B Search

Have business-to-business marketers assigned too much stock in search?

Admittedly, I realize that questioning the value of prominent placement on Google, Bing or Yahoo search results may produce snickers of disbelief. Scholars of search will point to the flush of AdWords cash in Google's coffers, as well as the near CSI-like dissection of the key words and tags to enhance organic search engine optimization.

For many companies with diverse and fragmented customer bases there is no mistaking the importance of Web search to drive prospect interest.

However, the value proposition of search sharply declines for purveyors of high-end solutions for corporate and government buyers. That's because the vendor community knows exactly who their prospective customers are, and the importance of proactive outreach and relationship building in the sales process.

Moreover, there has been a sustained shift in entry to the Web from search engines to social networks, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. This is why Google has tagged Facebook as a significant competitive threat.

A good friend and long-standing client pointed me to a BtoB Magazine article about a recent survey entitled "The Impact of Social Media on Search." The nearly 500 marketers queried reported their most important goals for social media marketing as the following:

-Building brand awareness (81%)
-Increasing traffic to a Web site (77%)
-Generating leads (67%)
-Providing deeper engagement with customers (66%)
-Improving search results (57%)

This clearly supports my contention about search for enterprise solutions vendors. It's important, yet not as high on the priority list as many believe.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rocky Road for Today's CMO

Life sure isn't easy for today's chief marketing officer (CMO).

Let's start with customer expectations. According to a new report from Accenture entitled "Onward and Up: How Marketers Are Refocusing the Front Office for Growth," surveyed CMOs have grown increasingly frustrated with the rapidly escalating demands customers have for product quality, value and customer service.

Then there's the requirement on CMOs to deliver greater impact across the organization with flat and, in some instances, declining resources. Eight out of ten marketers queried by Accenture expect little, no or a decrease in budget.

Accenture managing director Dave Rich told Brandweek magazine:

"Marketers must meet today's challenges with laser-focused precision that is guided by insights from robust customer analytics capabilities that inform decisions about who they should target through what channels and with which messages. Investing in these capabilities will enable marketers to move to a much more focused approach that will increase effectiveness, support more streamlined programs and free up cash that can be reinvested smartly to help fuel growth."

I'm not sure what that exactly means, yet it definitely sounds challenging.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Managing the 3Cs of Social Participation

In a professional environment, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the three "Cs" of social media engagement -- contacts, content and connections.

There are blogs to read. Tweets to follow. LinkedIn updates to evaluate. Trends, chats and discussions to monitor. And, of course, you still have to find time to perform the responsibilities of your job.

Dawn Foster recently penned an excellent post for WebWorkerDaily that presents a series of best practices she employs to manage this information overload.

Personally, I rely on a number of Web 2.0 tools to help bring structure to the social chaos. For instance, I've been a long time user of Google Reader and Social Mention.

This weekend I spent a few hours exploring a couple of other applications that I'm now trying out:

1. NutShellMail from Constant Contact consolidates the updates from your social networks and delivers them to your Email inbox in a single message.

2. Lazyfeed helps you monitor channels of content on the Web by topic to identify content to blog about, tweet, share with others, etc.

3. Sprouter is an online community of entrepreneurs organized by topic, event and activity.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Sad (But True) Social Media Parody

Most consultants are quite adept at two things: 1) identifying a problem (or opportunity) as so daunting that the appropriate remedy demands a consultant; and 2) defining their work product in such complex industry jargon that the client is left uncomfortably convinced they've received good return for the money.

This consultant double-talk is prevalent across the full array of pushers of hourly services -- from accountants, lawyers and business process experts to human resource advisors, branding gurus and public relations professionals. They speak of value in their guidance with limited, if any, tie to the true drivers of success in business -- sales, profits and valuation.

It was with much enthusiasm that Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) embarked three years ago on a shift in its focus from public relations to social media marketing. We have been able to align our service offerings with benchmarks that clients can more accurately measure.

There remains value from the increased awareness, visibility and credibility that is the natural outcome of social participation. Yet, the true test of our performance resides in how we've helped a client more quickly identify sales opportunities and/or speed them through the pipeline.

You'd think all social media consultants would trumpet the sales orientation of their work. sure hasn't played out that way. In fact, most still cling to the nebulous creation of community and conversation as their holy grail.

This week I came across a Web site that parodies social media consultant talk. Take a look and hit the refresh button on your browser a couple of times.

This site would be more entertaining if it weren't such an accurate depiction of the cons who sport social media consultant on their business card.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Getting Narrow with Social

Cultivating a broad, engaged and far reaching community of relationships through online channels is an important credibility mark for any social participant.

Facebook friends...LinkedIn connections...Twitter followers and their readers and their comments...these measurements help quantify influence and provide a consistent methodology for the ROI evaluation process.

Yet, community and influence should be viewed merely as an unintended outcome of social media participation. For a social media marketing campaign to truly deliver a high-value and meaningful return it must be aligned with and accountable to the drivers of corporate success -- lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture.

For the better part of three years I have referred to this tactical application of social media as micro-targeting. The engaged community provides an umbrella of credibility that allows a company to more quickly and successfully connect with and influence a set of carefully selected stakeholders.

A meeting last week with an insightful prospective client has me rethinking my social terminology. She compared the use of social media for sales micro-targeting to her company's account-based marketing methodology called narowcasting.

What do you think? Micro-targeting or narrowcasting - which term is the more attractive designation?

In the meantime, here are three current examples of how Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is helping its clients get narrow through social media:

1. A soon to launch social campaign for a management consultancy will seek to identify sales opportunities in a specific US geography that has experienced a recent in-flow of prospective buyers.

2. Through a well defined content strategy, an enterprise software company will focus much of its social media program on cultivating more intimate relationships with a handful of executive level decision-makers.

3. An information security provider successfully recruited the chief security officer of a major global brand to serve as a guest blogger for their well read and respected social media portal. Our client has yet to provide services to this brand, yet social has served as the platform to initiate discussions.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In the Carr Family

In Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) ultra-flexible environment we view work as something you do, not a place you go. 

From home…at the local coffee shop…at the park…each of my colleagues selects the environment best suited to their taste.  My responsibility is to be clear on goals and expectations, and then demand accountability in results.

Of course, there are times in business when you do need a place to go.  Our client teams meet in-person to brainstorm strategy and creative tactics, we host professional development and team networking events, and, on occasion, a client will come to us for a get together.

Strategic maintains its primary location in downtown Silver Spring, about 20 minutes outside of Washington, DC.  The office is easily accessible by both car and public transportation.

However, those who live and work in the Washington, DC area are quite familiar with the insufferable traffic that is a plaque on commerce in this region.  For this reason, Strategic opened a modest second location in Tysons Corner, Virginia about five years ago.  The location is on the other side of the Capital Beltway with the intent of limiting time on the road between meetings.

We initially subscribed to the traditional lease an office on our own approach and for about a year suffered through a small and expensive space that showed poorly.

When that short-term lease expired, we got hip to the benefits of the executive suite model and signed on with Carr Workplaces’ facility on Greensboro Drive in Tysons Corner.  It’s now been nearly four years of mostly bliss as part of the Carr family.  (Photo: lobby of Carr Workplaces' office in Tysons Corner, Virginia.)

Now, in no way is this post meant to be a love letter to Carr.  In fact, our due diligence of executive suite companies found that all offer exceptional space in convenient locations at comparable cost.

Yet, for Strategic, there have been three reasons why our relationship with Carr has been so productive:

1.  The office is professionally run and has allowed us to host clients, partners and prospective hires, always making a favorable impression.

2.  Carr is invested in the region’s business community and maintains active affiliations with the American Small Business Coalition, McLean Chamber of Commerce, Center City Consortium, among other groups.  When appropriate, we have the ability to tap into their network of relationships to support our agenda.

3.  We have built a personal relationship with our points of contact at Carr.  I’m sure the company’s executive management is competent, yet I wouldn’t know any of them if we shared an elevator.  Truth is, I don’t need to.  That’s because our requirements are met by the Carr personnel we interact with on a daily basis.  And that interaction is always positive.

(Photo: Kimberly Hossler and Annie Draper who run Carr Workplaces' Tysons Corner office.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Validation in Forrester’s Social Media Report…Well...Kind Of

I have given hundreds of new business presentations in the 15 years since founding Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). Some have gone great…a few have bombed, yet, all in all, I’d say in most instances my delivery was on target.

When I was purveyor of public relations services I had a couple of canned phrases I’d call on to illustrate the value of the awareness and credibility conferred by coverage from the media and analyst communities.

“People do business with companies they know and trust,” I’d say. “Public relations builds that know and trust.”

A fair statement and one that also applies to other brand oriented communications programs, such as advertising and event sponsorships. Yet, the return on investment from these types of expenditures is fuzzy at best.

Yes…there is value. But the financial return on that value is difficult to quantify.

It’s for this reason that Strategic has made such a dramatic pivot to re-position itself as a social media marketing consultancy implementing sales-oriented programs for technology and healthcare organizations.

By aligning our work with success benchmarks related to revenue drivers – lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture – we have proven it is possible for a company to derive a measurable return from its external communications efforts.

Admittedly, Strategic’s brand of sales-oriented social media is very much at the early adopter phase. I have never once received a request for proposal for a package of services consistent with what we do well. For us, sales and marketing remains an education of what’s possible with social.

So, you can imagine how jazzed I was when Forrester Research began touting its new research report that explores the ROI of social media marketing. Finally, this would be much needed validation to my contention to marketers that social can be so much more than setting up a corporate blog or Twitter feed, or merely listening to the online conversation.

Were my hopes in Forrester’s report smashed on the rocks?

Well…no. Senior analyst Augie Ray does discuss how marketers can “draw a straight line between investments in social media marketing and financial results.”

However, he affords as much of the discussion to the intangible benefits delivered via social networks – retweets, Facebook fans, site visits, positive ratings, etc.

“They can’t be counted on an income statement, but that doesn’t mean they are valueless,” Ray writes. “Instead, these are leading indicators that the brand is doing something to create value that can lead to financial results in the future.”

Ugghh! Forrester’s Ray makes an unfortunate return to the “let’s hope we one day benefit from this” value proposition of most traditional channels of communication.

Marketers should demand a sales-related ROI from their social media budget. Awareness, positioning, credibility and thought leadership should be viewed as merely the unintended outcome of participating in online communities.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It's All in the Positioning

At times, what comes across as a subtle nuance in corporate positioning makes all of the difference.

That was my take-away from a sit down earlier this month at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, DC with Paul Billingham, European Sales Director at Concept Searching.

I’ve done a fair amount of work in the enterprise search market on behalf of clients like Convera and Intelligenx (formerly i411).  So, I was intrigued about Concept Searching and how its software platform might be different.

Billingham was quick to correct me.

“We are an intelligence engine that makes the Sharepoint search experience more relevant and meaningful,” he said.  “Our product is called conceptClassifer and its unique differentiator is what we refer to as fuzzy phrase match.”

Billingham explained that a search in Sharepoint for documents about artificial sweetener using Microsoft’s FAST engine might not uncover content about glucose.  That’s where conceptClassifer steps in.  It identifies relevant concepts in a document set to enhance the search experience.

Is this search technology or an intelligence engine?  The latter positioning earns Concept Searching a high value place at Microsoft’s partner conference.   

Regardless, Concept Searching is another example of an innovative company improving the user experience in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Lesson in Patience and Perseverance

Just prior to the turn of the century business-to-business net markets were all the rage.  Also called online exchanges, these dot com darlings proselytized a shift in how buyers and sellers in industrial markets would conduct commerce.

They loaded up on venture capital at frothy valuations and, in the case of Verticalnet, an online exchange even ventured into the public markets.

Then it all came crashing down soon after the market correction in March 2000.  Some net markets attempted to reposition as enabling technology companies, yet most burned their funding and quietly shuttered.

Bill Angrick’s Liquidity Services has quite a different story.  It begins the same with the company’s creation in 1999 with about $100,000 in capital from its founders. 

Yet, Liquidity Services sidestepped the fall.  Today, the company maintains a healthy standing on NASDAQ, sports 30 consecutive quarters of profitability, has nearly $400M in annual revenue, and manages a cash balance of $68M with no debt.

“Although there is a lot of romance in business-to-customer models, B2B (business-to-business) is the grunt work of the economy,” Angrick told a gathering of executives at an Association for Corporate Growth networking event last Friday.  “We have found online auctions conducted through our Web site an effective way to price niche goods.” (Photo courtesy of ExecutiveBiz.)

Angrick presented four reasons why Liquidity Services as been perhaps the most successful net market to be spawned during the dot com era:

1.  Founders maintained ownership of the company and did not sell out to venture capitalists too early.  Liquidity Services did raise $20M in equity funding from ABS Capital Partners in 2004, yet soon filed an S1 registration with the SEC.

2.  Demonstrated patience and perseverance in the execution of the business plan.

3.  Positioned the company as a services business, rather than a technology provider.  This helped keep everyone at Liquidity Services focused on delivering value to buyers and sellers.

4.  Get to cash flow break even, if that means sacrificing top line revenue growth.