Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Feds and Social Media: Numbers Reveal Good…and Bad

Located just outside of Washington, DC, the Tower Club is one of those swank business networking venues that plays host to a myriad of corporate and government-focused events.

This morning was no exception as industry research shop Market Connections in partnership with TMP Government unveiled the latest edition of its “Federal Media and Marketing Study.”

Good news: the number of federal government workers who are actively engaged in social media and online communities continues to increase at an exciting pace.

Bad news: only 20 percent of the 2,303 survey respondents are allowed to access social sites from their government office, while nearly half were unclear if the government agency where they are employed has a social media policy.

OK…there is still quite a ways to go for social networks to emerge as the bedrock of professional insight and intelligence. Yet, when you look at the continued decline in traditional media readership and trade show attendance, it’s apparent there is an ongoing shift in influence.

Here are a few additional highlights from the study:

--52 percent of the respondents work for civilian agencies with the remaining 48 percent working in defense/intelligence.

--75 percent of the respondents are at least 45 years of age. (Yes…there is going to be a mass exodus of retiring federal workers in the next 5 to 10 years.)

--Most often cited federal government trade publications read are: Government Executive (51%), Federal Times (46%), Federal Computer Week (42%), Government Computer News (30%) and Defense News (26%).

--Web sites most often visited for news include: CNN.com (47%), GovExec.com (44%), MSNBC (36%), FoxNews.com (36%) and WashingtonPost.com (35%).

--Social networks most frequently visited are: Facebook (39%), YouTube (33%), LinkedIn (16%), MySpace (12%) and Twitter (11%).

--Two additional social networks – Govloop and GovTwit – were mentioned as influential in the federal market.

Full disclosure: Govloop's parent company is a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client. We also helped build the GovTwit community in partnership with our client BearingPoint.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Social Media Remains an Innovator’s Game

Dive into the trades on the topic of social media adoption and the read is confusingly mixed.

Surveys say it’s a priority for corporate marketers with spending expected to jump this year and beyond. Other research points to interest, yet a lack of investment in social media marketing programs because of unproven ROI.

I live in the trenches of social media adoption as I’m charged with selling comprehensive programs to senior corporate executives. Unlike the mixed message from industry surveys and pundit banter, my experience has been remarkably consistent.

One set of prospects are intrigued, yet have failed to engage in social networks in any organized and meaningful fashion because it is not consistent with their corporate culture. These “slow adopters” are comfortable resting on the sidelines until there is a more extensive portfolio of best practices and lessons learned.

A second group of organizations have followed a bag of tactics methodology to integrate social media into their communications program. There may be a Facebook fan page. A Twitter account may have been set up. Someone in the organization has a blog.

While this is certainly an initial step, these companies typically lack a defined strategy, an alignment with corporate goals and any type of measurable benchmarks for success.

Plus, it’s often a junior member of the corporate marketing team tagged with social media responsibilities. Their intentions are admirable, however they fall short on strategic credentials and decision-making authority.

There is little doubt that we are still very much in the early adopter phase of corporate use of social media marketing in a professional and disciplined manner. This immaturity is understandable because there are significant risks when an executive champions something new and unproven.

If a social media marketing program misses the mark or (equally distressing) is perceived internally to be a waste of resources, the executive sponsor tends to be in a world of corporate hurt. They may even find themselves ushered out of job and into the worst unemployment environment in three decades.

For most, the horror of social media failure is too great to confront.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have been fortunate to stumble across a group of corporate marketers who savior the opportunity to prove new ways of promotion. We’ve found this elite class at Microsoft, British Telecom (BT), BearingPoint, Monster, TANDBERG, Inmarsat and Avnet.

They cast aside the safe play for what they believe is the right thing to do to help their employer more successfully compete in the market.

Social media marketing remains an innovator’s game. The business case for adoption is compelling though because of the measurable tie to lead generation and other sales benchmarks. It will be a slow adoption curve, however I do anticipate more marketers will think it through, raise their handle and embrace what’s possible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fresh Perspective on the Performance Review

With the exception of parenting two high-spirited boys, I have found nothing more rewarding than my 15 years of entrepreneurial experience at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). For that reason, I encourage any professional when they are at an appropriate point in life to take the plunge and start their own venture.

When asked about lessons learned from Strategic’s formative days, I typically provide two suggestions:

1. Do not underestimate the time, intensity and passion required to get a business off the ground and maintain momentum during the initial three to five year period when the company is in its most precarious position; and

2. Never name the company after yourself.

I realize this second piece of advice is in conflict with the branding methodology of a myriad of successful professional services firms.

Plus, most entrepreneurs have a rather high opinion of themselves and their capability. It’s a required personality trait to be able to slog through the setbacks any venture is bound to experience.

However, you learn rather quickly that for any company to achieve its potential the founder and owner must set their ego aside. I won’t go as far as to imply that a corporate head works for the employees. Rather, the mission is to find a balance between your needs, the goals of the organization and the professional desires of your colleagues.

This week I am sitting down one-on-one with each member of Strategic’s senior team to discuss the accomplishments and challenges of 2009, share my thoughts on their performance, and chart out the intersection between their professional objectives and our corporate goals.

I love speaking with prospects, strategizing with clients and Strategic’s agency-wide creative brainstorming sessions. Yet, this personal interaction – the so called annual performance review -- is most important component of my job.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Coming of Social Middleware

Here is a geeky admission: I often yearn for the golden age of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

It was the mid-1990s and the specter of Y2K has just begun to loom. Corporations with their unwieldy and outdated computer networks and data centers were faced with a difficult choice – either hire an integration company to troll through and update millions of lines of software code to ensure Y2K compliance, or buy and implement sparkling new, state-of-the art software to more efficiently run the business.

Either way it was going to cost millions of dollars.

Understandably, a majority of organizations chose to modernize their systems, and ERP vendors like SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards, Peoplesoft and Baan reaped the reward.

The grand days of ERP also spawned a renaissance for middleware vendors like webMethods, TIBCO and SAGA Software (a former Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client). There was a requirement to connect a company’s fancy new ERP with legacy databases and other information sources. Middleware gave these disparate systems the ability to communicate.

Alas, the passing of Y2K, and the natural maturation and consolidation of the ERP market led to vendors like SAP and Oracle offering more comprehensive, integrated solutions. Although still relevant, the go-go days of middleware appeared to exist only in fond memories.

That was until Strategic client Kristin Bockius suggested I check out an Austin, Texas based start-up called SocialWare. They look to be putting the cool back into middleware by allowing a company to more efficiently connect their enterprise systems with Web 2.0 platforms and online communities, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

There is clearly a need for this more secure integration that will allow companies to comfortably green light their employees’ engagement in social networks. And I love SocialWare’s use of the “middleware” term as it defines their value proposition.

Is SocialWare’s technology platform mature and proven? Will the company be able to execute?

These questions are unanswered, yet I’m certainly keeping my eyes on the gang in Austin that is pushing social middleware.

Full disclosure: Strategic client Kristin Bockius' brother is a member of SocialWare's management team.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

That’s One Naïve Social Media Valley Gal

I am no prude when it comes to topics for this blog.

I’ve scolded out-of-work journalists for clinging to the sad notion that the good old days of well compensated employment would return. I wondered if social networks are inherently racist. And I have acknowledged my belief that physical appearance plays a meaningful role in a person’s corporate success.

I walked into each of these topics well aware that my opinions would elicit a response from the blogosphere – both positive and negative. Sure enough, retweets were made, comments arrived, and a primarily productive and healthy debate ensued.

Felicia Day sure doesn’t share this self-awareness when it comes to stoking a controversial fire. One of Vanity Fair’s “America’s Tweethearts," Day was shocked and outraged at the condescending portrayal of her and the other social media valley gals profiled in the magazine’s article about how Web 2.0 platforms like Twitter are used to shape popular opinion.

Day writes:

“But what really ENRAGED me what (sic) the general tone, which artfully made intelligent, articulate women sound vapid and superficial.”

Spare me the horror, Felicia.

What direction did you think the article was going to take when you arrived at the photoshoot to learn all that you’d be wearing is a rain coat and stilettos? Did you actually believe Vanity Fair planned to portray a group of dolled up babes as insightful, cutting-edge social entrepreneurs?

The truth is that your mental warning sign should have started buzzing the moment the Vanity Fair photographer asked you to disrobe.

In the end, this article turned out exactly as Vanity Fair promised. Drop the naivety.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

PR Firms Poised to Flounder and Fail

In early 2000 the NASDAQ was sneaking up on 5,000 and a myriad of VC-fueled entrepreneurs boldly proclaimed the Internet had changed everything.

The traditional rules of business no longer applied. That was until the crash…er…market correction in March changed all of that talk.

Fast forward a half dozen years and comparable babble about a forever rising residential real estate market peppered articles in many of the major business periodicals. Nay-sayers were summarily dismissed as dinosaurs who simply didn’t get it. Those rules of business were once again obsolete.

The credit freeze and cratered home prices of the past 18 months have again silenced the bulls.

The laws that guide the markets have proven to be constant. They allow for highs and lows, they turn fast-risers into decliners and they sweep away those who fail to innovate. The cycle time may differ, yet the story always plays out the same.

At times I wonder when industries in peril knew their fall had begun. Was there some “oh no” moment when silver haired executives recognized their world had forever changed?

Personally, my moment arrived in early 2008 after a series of conversations with clients and prospects about their priorities. Soon thereafter Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) began its transformation from a public relations consultancy to a provider of social media marketing – services that now account for nearly 80 percent of our annual revenue.

Yes…it was more of a hunch at the time. However, the signs and symptoms are now more apparent.

The laws of business and market maturation have landed on the desks of PR agency executives worldwide. It’s January 2010 and I now believe the era of public relations agency relevance has begun its decline.

Oh sure, there will still be PR shops in the future. Yet, their numbers and size will dwindle, and those that remain will shift their focus to digital and social media services.

Let’s explore why.

Lacking a Six Figure Punch

It’s important to understand how public relations consultancies have historically presented their business case to clients. First, they’re adept at providing strategic counsel on messaging and positioning because of extensive experience in multiple segments of the markets.

A related source of value is the positive impact a public relations firm can deliver with its guidance during times of corporate stress. This is particularly true in functions like crisis communications and mergers/acquisitions, when a company may have millions of dollars in jeopardy.

And finally, PR shops offer extensive tactical execution capabilities with a primary focus on media relations to generate editorial coverage. Visit an agency’s Web site and you’re bound to find claims of intimate journalist contacts and the resulting links to stories the firm has placed on behalf of its clients.

Although these areas of value will maintain their importance, clients are now appropriately questioning where to turn for this work and how much to pay. Moreover, the shift in influence from traditional sources of credibility like journalists, industry analysts and trade conferences to social networks shows no sign of abatement. There are simply fewer targets to pitch.

Even post recession, PR agencies will flounder when attempting to justify their six figure budget requirements.

The Changed PR Agency Landscape

In the next three years the PR agency landscape will be further pockmarked by consolidation, reductions in size and numerous shut downs. Who will remain?

For starters, public relations freelancers with expertise in high demand skills such as investor relations or crisis communications will shimmy up the ladder of importance. Services once outsourced by clients to boutique firms will now be earmarked to teams of independent consultants who can deliver a comparable work product at a reduced cost.

The global firms will remain, yet will evolve into providers of a more comprehensive set of communications services that encompass advertising, marketing, social media, Web, interactive and traditional PR. This metamorphosis is already taking shape as clients have become enamored with the ability to outsource a broader set of requirements to a single vendor.

So, where does all of this leave mid-size and small PR firms? They are on a slow burn to insolvency unless they shift direction.

And that is just what we have done at Strategic. We’ve focused in core markets, specialized in a service offering with a more measurable ROI and reinvented our staffing methodology.

The laws of business always win in the end. It’s time to innovate…or die.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Avoid the Clash with Social Media Content

The historically contentious relationship that exists between journalists and public relations professionals results from a clash of agendas.

PR executives, representing their client or company, measure success by the quality of the editorial coverage they generate, as well as its positive tone. In comparison, editors and reporters are evaluated on the accurate and balanced presentation of news and trends, and the resulting readership and reputation.

The media relations practitioner understands that to be truly effective their interests must be subservient to the journalist’s needs and (ultimately) the media outlet’s readers or viewers. Rather than a “here is why we are so great” pitch, an outreach focused on timely and critical issues tends to resonate.

It’s well understood that this same prioritization applies to social media. Promotional content in the form of blog posts, tweets, podcasts or video that is perceived by the audience as spam is quickly discarded.

However, content that engages, educates and entertains often scores significant readership and attention because of its thought leadership.

Do these editorial principles also apply to how content is organized in a social media portal?

Predictably, the answer is “yes.” In fact, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has refined its thinking in this area based on the continued maturation and lessons learned from the social media marketing programs we’re implementing for clients.

Take our ongoing effort for Monster Government Solutions. This campaign met its initial benchmarks due to the publishing of a portfolio of exceptional and timely content, and the close integration with the client’s sales organization.

The program serves as a dynamic sales tool that helps Monster’s representatives cultivate relationships with key prospects and customers.

An area of only modest accomplishment though has been readership. It’s OK…not great. So, we asked why and make it a priority to improve based on reader feedback and a close evaluation of traffic analytics.

What we’ve concluded is that the content hierarchy and structure of the portal needs updating. Our original effort organized content in a way consistent with Monster’s sales team – by vertical market.

We assumed readers would self-identify accordingly and gravitate to posts that covered trends in their specific industry. As it turned out, visitors to the portal were more inclined to seek out information that addressed a specific need or challenge they faced on the job.

Our experience serves as a good lesson in how to best organize content in a social media portal for reader consumption. It’s critical to constantly evaluate how your readers desire to engage and then prioritize their agenda.