Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thrashing About for Social Media ROI

Last Friday I was reminded that even the most innovative and creative companies are thrashing about when it comes to obtaining measurable ROI from social media marketing programs.

At an event hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), Amber Harris of Discovery Communications and Brian Dresher of participated in a panel discussion about the state of social media adoption. Both had an interesting perspective to share.

As Discovery’s manager of digital communications, Harris is charged with the development and implementation of social media tactics across the company’s portfolio of media properties. She utilizes a mix of Web 2.0 platforms, yet in her comments she emphasized the value Discovery has received through micro-blogging and community building with Twitter. This value is predominantly brand-focused.

Dresher, who works as’s online marketing manager, shares Harris’ emphasis on brand building via social media. He defined their value benchmark as “ROIII.” The three Is representing investment, interaction and influence.

Harris and Dresher each work for organizations with top-down buy-in to the impact social media can potentially have across multiple segments of the business. Yet, when I queried them about the executive suite’s evaluation criteria for social media, they both quickly slipped back to a brand-oriented ROI.

“We do look more at buzz,” Harris acknowledged. “(Social media) is about exposing affinity for the brand.”

I have repeatedly argued in this blog that while brand awareness and positioning are essential for an organization to succeed, these benchmarks should merely serve as an added value outcome of social media marketing.

Aligning social media engagement with sales benchmarks related to lead generation, prospect cultivation and deal capture is paramount for an organization to realize the true impact of this emerging channel.

Is that possible for media companies like Discovery and that derive a significant portion of their revenue from advertising sales?

I believe so. Consider that corporate marketing decision-makers who own or greatly influence the ad spend are already well entrenched in online communities. They have formed groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as organized and self-identified in niche communities like the CMO Executive Network, Agency Scoop and

In no way do I propose a blatant pitch to prospective advertisers in their social media homes. Rather, Discovery and could more closely integrate social media marketing with revenue generation by:

1. Establishing a close bond between social media practitioners and sales reps to craft and distribute content specifically geared to a prospective account. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we have employed this methodology on behalf of British Telecom (BT) with great success.

2. Promoting through social networks special offers on remnant ad space, as well as thought leadership and best practices content.

3. Organizing in-person meet-ups at industry conferences and events to foster community, and to create an environment where sales reps and prospects can interact.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When a father tweets...

I’m speaking this evening at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC to a group of 100 or so federal government human resource professionals about the impact social media has on relationship building and recruitment.

The event is sponsored by Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client Monster and also features presentations from Tom Temin of Federal News Radio and Bob Jacobs, NASA's Deputy Assistant for the Office of Public Affairs.

I wanted to share my introductory remarks.

Experts tell you that when giving a speech it’s important to start out with a joke to break the ice; to help connect with the audience. Make it appropriate and, if possible, tie it to the theme of your presentation.

Well, I don’t have any jokes. But, I do have one heck of an anecdote for you.

I’m the proud parent of two beautiful and high spirited sons. I was recently invited by my four-year-old to come to his pre-school class for “what does your mom or dad do at work” day. I was going to be introduced by my son to his classmates -- a group of 15 pre-schoolers.

The first parent was lawyer. The second owned a restaurant. The third (the guy right before me) was a firefighter. Can you believe that? How could I compete?

My son rose and stood before the class. “My dad...,” he said in his most proud voice. “Tweets all day long.”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Frustration in the Darkness

The economic frost of the past 18 months has weighed heavily on the psyche of sales and business development representatives at professional services firms.

Although its use in prose is tired, it is certainly true that misery loves company. That’s why my dinner on Saturday night with one of the Washington, DC region’s most accomplished commercial real estate executives was so comforting.

“Q4 of last year was the worst business climate I have seen in the two decades I’ve been working in my industry,” he explained. “I got so desperate I started digging through old files in storage to identify contacts I could call. Made a lot of outreach. No responses. No deals.”

I can attest to that as I have just weathered the longest sales dry stretch in my career. Though Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) picked up additional assignments from a number of existing clients, we failed to win a single piece of new business for nearly six months.

It was not a case of falling short in PR agency reviews. In fact, we only elected to participate in a single formal evaluation. Rather, this desert of sales closes was attributable to the early adopter phase of corporate adoption of social media marketing, combined with the uncertainty created by the down economy.

I did move a handful of deals to the cusp of closing only to have them derailed for some unexplained reason.

Why unexplained? That’s because at the moment of decision my prospect went completely dark. No reply to voice messages. No Email response. There was simply no communication whatsoever.

While I realize telling someone “no” or “not now” isn’t pleasant, simply falling off the grid of communication with someone you’ve built a relationship with is unprofessional and intolerable. At the very least, the honest disclosure of the factors that influenced the no buy decision is incredibly valuable for any sales rep.

Am I just venting? Yes…maybe a little. Yet, I suspect most sales and business development execs reading this post are nodding their head in sympathetic recognition.

Oh, my cold spell is over as Strategic has picked up several new client assignments just this month. Please look for the posting of press releases on our corporate Web site in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Small Biz Find Social Media to be the Great Equalizer

As business and trade media transition their reports from “what social media is” to here is how companies are effectively using it, an inaccurate picture of the state of adoption has emerged.

The casual reader might conclude it is primarily global organizations with its deep pockets and gang of marketers that derive measurable ROI from social media. Consider Adweek’s recent article, “Does Social Sell?” that dives into campaigns from industry titans Pepsi, Dell and H&R Block.

Even Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) is guilty of big brand-itis when it comes to promotion of its social media marketing competencies and track record. Our case studies tout work for Microsoft, Monster, British Telecom (BT) and Sun Microsystems with nary a whisper about our equally successful efforts for more growth-oriented clients like BroadSoft, Epok and Senforce Technologies.

It’s understandable as more broadly recognized brands turn heads, command attention from influencers and, ultimately, confer tremendous credibility on the practice of social media as a proven marketing discipline.

Yet, our fetish and fascination with big company adoption of social media might be scaring off more modest-sized organizations. A recent survey presents a cloudy view.

The optimist perceives the doubling of social media use by small businesses from 12 to 24 percent as a sign of frothy growth. The pessimist argues that it’s only 1 in 4 companies that are tapping into this channel. What about the other 75 percent?

Anecdotally, I have spoken with a number of C-level executives at companies well qualified to engage strategically in social media who have put it off due to their “limited resources.” To this, I’ve attempted to point out that mega-business is no more sophisticated or destined for success in social networks.

Here’s why:

1. Social media is a great equalizer. Years ago I visited with an ad sales representative from the Wall Street Journal who explained their clients advertise in the newspaper because they can. Of course, what this implied was that they can afford to, which communicated leadership and financial strength.

Participation in social networks and online communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Govloop and Twitter is open to all. Success is a function of strategy, thought leadership and time investment, rather than a hearty financial outlay.

2. The financial burden of experimentation and failure is modest. I broached this idea last September in a blog post that explored how Strategic has transitioned through multiple lead generation tactics in a single social media campaign.

3. Business outcome is predicated on a one-to-one relationship. Set aside issues related to branding, perception, credibility and confidence, and, inherently, a transaction comes down to two people reaching mutual accord.

The cultivation of personal relationships in an online environment is at the core of social media marketing. And, in many instances, a small and still emerging venture is just as likely to establish a relationship with the buyer as a global organization.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Want to Thrive in Today's Market? Get Hip to Sales

Whether done on one’s own accord or nudged by the economic recession, working for your self can be incredibly empowering. You are the executive decision-maker, and the hard work, focus and intensity put into the venture directly contributes to your professional and personal standing.

That’s why about 30 percent of the US job market comprises what is commonly referred to as freelance nation. They are 40 million strong, working as independent contractors, part-time hires or self-employed consultants.

Yet, there are a myriad of challenges and obstacles in running the business of you. For starters, there are the administrative and clerical requirements that are both tedious and time-consuming.

More daunting is the absolute requirement to consistently and aggressively be selling and promoting one’s capabilities and service offerings. In many organizations, sales is often tagged as a necessary evil that is subservient to the armies of strategists, lawyers, accountants, marketers and client service types a company bank rolls.

However, it’s when a professional ventures out on their own that they realize how vital sales truly is and the skill set required to be successful in that endeavor.

Consider the plight of all of those once employed journalists who are now plying their trade as freelance writers. Magazines, periodicals and online journals have slashed their fees resulting in freelancers struggling to earn a livable wage.

I have no sympathy for these down-on-their-luck scribes as they are violating the number one rule of sales: sell to customers who have money. And trust me, the publishing industry does not present much in the way of opportunity for any provider.

So, where to turn? Last November I argued that content development for corporate social media marketing programs presents a real and exciting professional opportunity for the well-trained journalist.

Yes…pursuing work in the social media field demands an evolution in thinking by these freelance writers. They’ll need to fall in line with the tenets of corporate messaging and marketing promotion.

Flexibility though is another hallmark of a successful member of freelance nation.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

TechCrunch Shows Its Mettle In Crisis Response

Influence and authority tends to breed corruption in the weak-minded.

Consider disgraced politicians who horded ill-gotten cash in a downstairs freezer or attempted to auction off a US senate seat. Or a NBA referee who pandered to organized crime and sports gambling interests to supplement his annual income.

The latest fish snagged in the corruption net is a relatively unassuming intern at blog publishing powerhouse TechCrunch. It was a classic payola scheme: gift me up and I’ll write a favorable post about whatever it is your company is hawking.

When exposed, TechCrunch publisher Michael Arrington had to move rapidly to preserve the integrity and credibility of his operation. And that’s exactly what he did.

TechCrunch’s response provides wonderful lessons in how to respond to a crisis with conviction:

1. Publicly disclose the transgression…and quickly.

2. Accept full responsibility. Unfortunately, it took gun toting athlete Gilbert Arenas awhile to figure this one out.

3. Explain how the situation will be remedied. At TechCrunch, Arrington yanked down every post authored by the disgraced intern, regardless of whether there was evidence the editorial process had been compromised.

4. Put in place systems and processes to guard against future incidents.

Mistakes happen. People understand that. It’s how an organization rises to deal with errors in judgment that can leave as lasting an impression.

Good show, TechCrunch. Well handled.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Web 2.0 Tools for Social Media Personalization

A hallmark of business education in this country is the study of best practices in corporate strategy and execution. An organization needs them both to fully achieve its mission.

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of developing a strategy to personalize social media participation and interaction to maximize business benefit. Let’s now get tactical with three free, easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools that can help you execute on a social media personalization plan.

BeFunky: I wrote about this tool nearly two years ago and its functionality continues to impress. You can easily “cartoonize” photos to create a more interesting and unique visual presentation of your online personality.

(Image: Strategic Guy as a business super hero compliments of BeFunky.)

Go!animate: This is another wonderfully user friendly tool you can use to create animated story boards and cartoons. Adds the all important entertainment quality to your social media content activities.

YourFonts: Turn your own handwriting into a unique font to incorporate in blog posts, comments or merely your own personal online signature.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Personalize Social Media for Business Impact

It’s no secret that success in business is about relationships – with customers, prospects, partners, employees and investors. An emotional connection with these audiences breeds loyalty and tolerance, creating an environment in which an organization can rise above obstacles and thrive.

This is one of the reasons why social media has such a profound and positive affect on the prospects of a business. It extends the real world relationship building process to an online environment, allowing for scalability and cost efficiencies.

And like traditional avenues of relationship building – such as power lunches, industry events and networking sessions – the sharing of appropriate personal information helps foster connections in social networks.

Here are a few best practices we have employed at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) to inject the right amount of personality into online business networking:

1. Be authentic about your passions. My colleague Chris Parente’s “Work, Wine and Wheels” blog is a wonderful example. He seamlessly weaves his enthusiasm for fine dining, wine and everything BMW with his knowledge of technology and telecom trends to create an enjoyable and unique read.

2. Spend time observing and listening, not merely telling. By following the tweets, Facebook updates and group affiliations of key contacts you’re often able to construct a profile of their interests and hobbies. Are they passionate about their alma mater’s football team? Are they all about family and children? Where do they vacation?

This insight can prove valuable as you seek to cultivate a personal connection, rather than merely being tagged a vendor interested in hawking a product or service.

3. Steer clear of the big three: sex, religion and politics. These issues are simply too combustible and present an unacceptable risk to a positive relationship-building process.

Consider the flack college football star Tim Tebow has experienced for appearing in a television ad for a conservative, pro-life organization. Branding and sports marketing experts are now actively debating how much (not if) Tebow has sullied his prospects for future sponsorships.

I posed the Tebow question to my own social network and received a set of fervent responses:

“Tebow is very religious, has spent time on missions and likely would be picky about the products he ultimately endorses. Conversely, even before Tebow's decision to appear in this ad, only certain companies would have sought out Tebow because of his image. For instance, I wouldn't have expected the makers of Axe products to seek out Tebow.”

Paul Rubin

“What courage! How refreshing: He does not care about the $, rather he is standing up for what he thinks is right. It's admirable…I just watched some pro choicer on TV describing the ad as "hatred," and "not appropriate for the spirit of fair play as symbolized by the Super Bowl. Even though no one has seen the ad outside of Focus on the Family, this commentator has in his ignorance concluded it hatred.”

Neil Lyons

“Seriously, is it possible that a pro can cheat on his wife a thousand times (even if it is due to sex addiction) and only jeopardize a few of his endorsements, but someone cannot be pro-life in public without jeopardizing future endorsements? In December, Time magazine wrote: ‘Woods, who earns more than $100 million annually in endorsements, could actually become more valuable after this mess.’

Sarah Clark-Lynn

Like I said, sex…religion…and politics…simply too combustible.