Sunday, March 28, 2010

Social Media’s Role as the Great Energizer

Is social media marketing a replacement for traditional communications tactics?

It’s a question I often receive during a new business presentation. That’s because the return on investment for a social media initiative is typically more measurable and comprehensive than advertising, direct marketing, event promotion and public relations.

While many consultants focus on the community-building, awareness creation and brand positioning of social media, I view that as merely the natural outcome of participation in online communities and social networks. It’s almost an unintended consequence.

Rather, social media emerges as a true driver of the business when its success benchmarks are closely entwined with the objectives of the sales team – lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture.

For corporate executives measured on the top-line revenue growth and profitability of the organization (and that is most everyone), the lure of social media can be compelling.

Which brings me back to the question: has social media made other channels of communication obsolete?

Absolutely not. While there may be a business case to shift budget and spend to social, and more Web and digitally-oriented programs, I never suggest that a company jettison its commitment to traditional forms of marketing promotion.

In fact, social media can often serve as an energizer of these tactics by helping an organization realize additional benefit and return from ad campaigns, trade show participation and direct mail.

Let’s look at a recent example.

Earlier this month, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) participated in the Satellite 2010 conference in Washington, DC. We’ve been a regular at this annual fete for international satellite companies for nearly a decade, typically walking the show floor to chat up clients and prospects.

This year I presented a challenge to my colleague Jeff Majka who leads Strategic’s marketing and business development efforts: on a tight budget and timeline, how do you best develop tactical social media activities for a specific event and align them with measurable goals in lead generation and prospect relationship building?

His solution included us playing the role of a journalist and market influencer. We developed and published content specifically for the conference in partnership with companies we identified as prospective clients. The effort was low-cost, quickly implemented, measurable, and executed with both marketing and sales resources.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Waffling Publishers Strike Up a Spirited Discussion at Strategic

In a room full of vibrant personalities and the somewhat self-absorbed, Sonya Gavankar McKay commanded our attention.

For starters, she’s stunning in appearance. Yet, the physical appeal of this one-time contestant in the Miss America Pageant pales in comparison to her intellect, engaging sense of humor and razor-sharp knowledge of the travails of the newspaper industry.

Sonya paid a visit today to Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) to host a lunch discussion as part of our professional development program. Her topic: can newspapers and broadcast news media survive in a Web 2.0 world?

Her qualifications to lead this analysis and debate are pristine, including:

--Host of educational programming for The Freedom Forum and Newseum in Washington, DC.

--Host of “Close-Up,” a weekly public affairs program on C-SPAN that features conversations between high school students and Washington, DC’s most recognized journalists and politicians.

--Reporting and editing experience at CNN, ABC, and the Home and Garden Network.

Sonya was quick to acknowledge that the “big media” business model dependent upon mainstream brand advertising continues to erode in both significance and profitability.

“When the platform changes, you’ll see changes in the business model,” she said.

By platform Sonya was referring to the how consumers access news. She envisions a future in which content is pushed by the publisher to a user’s GPS-enabled Web device with advertising served up based on location.

Yet, one of my colleagues countered this location-driven view of publishing’s future lacks the relevance delivered by Web search. When a user queries Bing or Google for restaurants it’s typically because they are hungry.

Regardless of the specifics of the yet to be determined publishing model, what is clear to me is that the money will be made by the organization that owns the entry point to the Internet. It has been Google, but that’s now shifting to social networks such as Facebook.

CNN US head Jon Klein recently told an audience at the Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2010 Media Summit, “The competition I’m really afraid of are social networking sites…the people you’re friends with on Facebook or the people you follow on Twitter are trusted sources of information…we want (CNN) to be the must trusted name in news. We don’t want the 1,000 people you follow in Twitter to be the most trusted sources for you.”

The issue of credibility and influence on executive decision-making is a topic that we’ll continue to study and evaluate. It is at the very core of how Strategic represents the interests of its clients.

Sonya summed up the discussion when she explained, “(Publishers) have to put their foot down and make a decision about the business model. Stop waffling.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When Satellite Goes Mainstream

Of all of the meetings I lined up at the Satellite 2010 conference this week perhaps the one I looked forward to most was my sit down with Toni Lee Rudnicki, iDirect’s Chief Marketing Officer.

My firm – Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) -- had found great success working for Toni Lee at a prior company where she also served as the executive marketing leader. She is well qualified in strategy and tactics, and has the remarkable ability of building a strong sense of team spirit among employees and external consultants.

Soon after joining satellite broadband infrastructure vendor iDirect, the company was sold to Singapore Technologies Engineering in a $165M transaction. Admittedly, I thought iDirect’s freedom to execute entrepreneurially would be consumed by this global conglomerate.

It was quite clear during my catch-up with Toni Lee that my assumption was quite inaccurate.

So, what’s new at iDirect?

This past January the company announced its own acquisition of network management software vendor Parallel Limited. Parallel’s SatManage solution is delivered via a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model and provides iDirect with a high value piece of intellectual property.

“The hardware and infrastructure that comprises the network continues to become more of a commodity,” Toni Lee said. “The addition of SatManage to our portfolio is part of our strategy to differentiate iDirect from other vendors.”

Toni Lee also explained that iDirect has focused its marketing and messaging at business decision-makers (rather than a technical audience) with the goal of making satellite and its applications more mainstream.

She cited the federal government market as an industry where the company has gotten considerable cut-through. “US federal is now nearly 33 percent of our total revenue,” she said.

Much of this government business has been driven by the introduction of new solutions such as a portable backpack-based “Manpack” VSAT system. It allows military personnel on the ground to have communications access anytime and in any location.

This post was first published in Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) "What's New at Satellite 2010" blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spending Time with MPEG-4’s Champion

There is a saying among industry insiders and private equity investors that when it comes to disruptive technologies you are never wrong…just early.

I suspect this cliché lacks humor to David Price and the folks at Harmonic. That’s because they have invested millions of dollars, countless hours and much emotion championing the adoption of MPEG-4 by broadcasters, multi-media developers and other content delivery providers.

The economic conditions of the past 18 months sure haven’t helped Harmonic’s cause. Simply put, Price and company have been perhaps the loudest voice for change to a next generation technology during the worse economic recession since the Great Depression.

Yet, despite this grind Price was remarkably upbeat when we sat down for 30 minutes at the Satellite 2010 conference.

He was still buzzing about a well attended panel he moderated that explored the business case for an infrastructure upgrade to MPEG-4. This panel wasn’t a collection of desperate vendors making a plea for budget. Rather, it featured profile technical decision-makers in the broadcast space from CBS Broadcasting, HBO and start-up FreeHD Canada.

Price’s commitment to MPEG-4, including his volunteer role with the MPEG Industry Forum, is not solely altruistic. Harmonic has its business interests aligned with MPEG-4 adoption through its Electro 8000 product line, introduced last year at the IBC Conference.

The product’s feature set certainly is impressive, from enabling MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 content distribution from a single platform to built in audio leveling – a real must-have for broadcasters.

Is this the year MPEG-4 moves from “nice to have” to must have upgrade?

Price sure thinks so. “People get fired for being too aggressive, yet also for being too conservative,” he says. “Harmonic had an excellent quarter during Q4 2009 when it came to MPEG-4. We’re seeing customers wanting to buy.”

This post was first published in Strategic Communications Group's (Strategic) "What's New at Satellite 2010" blog.

Hughes' Bardo Sees Growth in Broadband, Reliability

Like most engineering driven industries the Satellite 2010 conference brings out its share of techies and geeks. Walking the exhibit hall floor of this international show is an interesting experience as PhDs jockey for a glimpse of the latest modulator, dish de-icer or VSAT terminal.

Yet, peel back the geek factor and you find an interesting collection of characters who are quite adept at presenting a compelling business case for an organization to invest in satellite telecommunications and related technologies.

Hughes Network Systems’ Tony Bardo is certainly one of those characters. Hughes is often perceived as a company exceptional in engineering yet suspect in marketing. However, Bardo is making his best effort to drum up excitement for the company by pointing to several areas where Hughes is poised for growth.

The first is in the government space where Hughes has been in-market for about a year with its Inter-government Crisis Network (IGCN). IGCN is a satellite-based emergency communications system that can serve as a reliable and secure back-up to the terrestrial networks law enforcement, fire and rescue, and other first responders typically rely on during times of crisis.

Recent calamities in Haiti and Chile, as well as the Katrina induced evacuation of New Orleans demonstrated the severe impact natural disasters can have on terrestrial networks.

Bardo explains, “During Katrina, the telecom circuits were submerged and many towers toppled. Only satellite communications worked. We are way past due for satellite to be used on a broad basis as part of a government agency’s network strategy.”

Bardo’s second area of excitement about Hughes is in the provision of satellite-based broadband connectivity to rural businesses and consumers in the United States.

Bardo’s view is that the FCC’s recently announced plan to geographically expand broadband Internet access via a massive build-up of network infrastructure is somewhat unnecessary. That’s because this high-bandwidth access is already available via Hughes’ Spaceway offering.

Plus, the company announced its intention in June 2009 to launch a new, high throughput satellite called Jupiter in 2012.

After speaking with Bardo for about 20 minutes, I wondered why many government and enterprise customers, policy-makers, market influencers and, at some level, consumers are unaware of Hughes’ IGCN and Spaceway offerings. Perhaps the company needs more characters like Bardo.

This post was originally published on Strategic's What's New at Satellite 2010 blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quiet Press Room Betrays Exhibit Hall Buzz

It is day one of the Satellite 2010 conference at the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center located just outside of Washington, DC. The conference facility sites within a planned development called National Harbor that is situated on the shores of the Potomac River.

This is my maiden visit to this facility, so I purposely parked a few blocks away to check out the development’s amenities. It is a nice collection of chain restaurants and high-rise condos, all hyping their “glorious river front views.”

The conference center is sparkling new with amble exhibit hall space, meeting rooms and dining areas. Walking through registration there was also a notable buzz among attendees as scores jockeyed for position to enter the Exhibit Hall at its 11 AM opening.

The press room is a different story. Understandably quiet and tucked away on one of the upper floors, the conference organizers are kind enough to offer free Wi-FI access. I have sequestered away for the morning with my laptop preparing for a set of interviews and meetings.

What I do find surprising (and potentially disturbing) is the unexplained lack of vendor press kits and related materials in the room. Only four companies bothered to make available background information and copies of press releases – Skyterra, Eutelsat, ViaSat and Thales.

Why? A couple of theories among the journalists clicking away on computers and smart phones:

1. There are fewer journalists who attend, so it’s easier for exhibitors to simply provide background, as requested.

2. This is the first year the conference is located at this facility, so many of the PR representatives couldn’t locate the press room.

3. The role of journalists and, in my case, bloggers in reporting the news from the conference has been devalued. Why communicate with these influencers when customers, prospects and partners can be reached directly through social networks?

I’m off to my first meeting of the day. It is with a former client and long-standing relationship who now runs marketing for iDirect.

This post was originally published on Strategic's "What's New at Satellite 2010" blog.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Social Media Takes to the Field

During the past three decades football has eclipsed all other sports as the passion of the American fan.

It’s a game that idolizes glamour positions such as quarterback, wide receiver and running back. These players typically dominate the headlines and bask in the accolades that come with victories.

Yet, for all of their royalty these darlings of the gridiron would fail to produce a championship without the efforts of the men on the line. These hulking masses repeatedly slam into each other with the goal of gaining a mere yard or two of advantage.

Yes, the football divas stand as stars. However, championships are won with blocking and tackling.

The same can be said about business. C-suite executives, strategists, subject matter experts and industry thought leaders often command the attention of journalists, analysts and other influencers.

Consider the reporting of corporate adoption of social media marketing. Scan the headlines of influential trade magazines like Brandweek, BtoB, PR Week and Advertising Age and one gets the impression that social media is the domain of corporate communications and marketing departments.

Yet, like in professional football, headlines and recognition can be misleading as to who contributes the most to corporate success. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we’ve established a rather unique niche of building social media campaigns for field sales and marketing organizations.

It’s in the field that we have found social media marketing to be most accountable in areas critical to a company’s growth – lead generation, cultivation of sales prospects, deal capture and search engine optimization (SEO). Corporate sets the plan and establishes the guidelines, but it is the field that moves the business forward one deal at a time.

Let’s explore a couple of examples.

Monster: Discretion in Data Sales

Best known for, the online site for job seekers, the company also has a productive business selling proprietary job market data and trends to educational institutions and government agencies.

For example, economic development offices in local municipalities need to know what kind of training is required to get unemployed workers back on the payroll.

The company’s “Unleash the Monster” social media marketing campaign allows the field sales team to directly engage with targeted customers and prospects in a thought leadership environment. By providing helpful information to federal, state/local and educational audiences, Monster builds community while more rapidly pushing opportunities through the sales pipeline.

British Telecom (BT): Doing Well by Doing Good

In the US, the BT Americas field sales and marketing division sells telephony and data communications to Global 2000 companies. Connectivity is a commodity that prospects typically think about only when they need more, such as when expanding facilities.

The company wanted to boost awareness with executive level decision-makers, so when a prospect needed to add telecom capacity they would consider BT. If not exclusively, then at least in addition to market leading vendors like AT&T and Verizon.

Using social media as its channel, BT leveraged its strong commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to cultivate relationships with like-minded companies on its prospect list. BT’s CSR Perspective campaign has elevated the company’s standing with top level prospects, while enhancing its overall positioning and brand awareness in the US.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All In at Satellite 2010

I counsel clients that when you elect to go to a conference or industry event you make as strong an appearance as possible. That’s how you derive the most meaningful return for your time and reinforce a leadership position.

Next week I am attending the Satellite 2010 conference at the Gaylord National Convention Center just outside of Washington, DC. This is the premier international trade event in a market that is relevant in both enterprise and government sectors.

While it’s not appropriate for Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) to exhibit, a colleague and I will be live-tweeting and blogging from the event as official members of the press.

The conference presents a wonderful opportunity for us to extend relationships with clients, connect with prospects, deepen our market expertise and demonstrate the impact of social media marketing.

Here is how you can stay tuned in to the action on the show floor, which vendors are making news and the views of the satellite industry’s thought leaders:

Blog: What’s New at Satellite 2010

Twitter feeds: SpaceTwits, StrategicGuy

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Millennials Fuel a Social Media Future

In the workplace, every generation swears to their superiority over the current crop.

For instance, twenty somethings have gotten an unkind professional rap about their work ethic, motivation and sense of entitlement. It may be a well deserved stereotype, yet I simply don’t have enough experience managing the “Millennial Generation” to cast such a sweeping conclusion.

What I do know is that when it comes to social media this current incarnation of young professionals thinks differently from those who have a bit more mileage on the resume. I’ve had to learn social media through rapid-fire engagement, and then retrofit it to a set of practices and processes ingrained over two decades.

In comparison, my more youthful colleagues spent their formative educational years online, in social networks, and battling it out in Xbox and Playstation virtual realities. This social media comfort has translated well into the current marketing landscape defined by the ongoing shift of influence from traditional sources of credibility to online communities.

I’ve included below an anecdote shared with me this past week by one of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) hotshot Gen Y workers. It leads me to a few conclusions:

1. Corporate social media marketing has two equally important components: 1) proactive engagement in social networks and online communities to cultivate sales opportunities and influence near real-time Web search; and 2) monitoring of these same communities to rapidly snuff out customer angst to preserve revenue and brand loyalty.

2. This social media savvy lot are the soon-to-be entrepreneurs, corporate fast-risers, business decision-makers, investors and market influencers. Every week I come across executive leaders who have tagged the social network movement as just another dot com-ish phase. In time, this thinking will prove to be foolish and false.

Hey Marc,
Sunday night after putting my daughter to sleep I went to play my Playstation 3 and I got the strange error code of 8001050f and noticed that the clock had been reset to December 31, 1999 on the system. As you can imagine I was pretty upset since I use video games as a primary source of entertainment when it’s too late to do anything else.

You may be wondering why I am telling you this story, well what happened next is what I think you will find interesting. After trying everything in my power to fix the problem I gave up and hit the internet for answers. I typed my error code into Google pressed enter and yielded only a few complaints of this error with no fixes to be found. I decided to call Sony to see if they could help me out and was told that there was an unusually high volume of calls at the time and there would be a wait.

After about 30 minutes of holding for a representative I decided to try Google again and to my surprise there were now thousands of complaints all of a sudden across all kinds of social media channels, so much that I couldn’t even access the Playstation forum about the problem due to what seemed to be traffic overload.

In a short time later bloggers started writing about the error and Sony put out a statement via Twitter and their blog letting people know they were working on it. Perhaps what was more interesting is the fact that Sony read peoples tweets/blogs/posts about the problem and was able to narrow down the issue based on user generated information to get the problem solved in 24 hours.

While I was upset that I had to go a day without my Playstation I was also very impressed with Sony’s quick response via social media and their use of the information they gathered from different communities.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Social Media, Thought Leadership and the “Know It All” Syndrome

It is well understood that social media is an effective channel for thought leadership. Yet, any expression of opinion carries the risk of adverse market reaction.

Here is an example. It had been less than 24 hours since I published my post about a Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) event on social media when I received some rather interesting feedback.

Two separate business contacts each sent me a tweet from Evan Weisel, NVTC social media committee lead and principal of PR shop Welz & Weisel, with a note saying, “I think he’s talking about you.”

Just read a blog from a competitor that thinks he is a know it all...I really don't like know it alls...I'm just saying. 9:34 PM Feb 28th via web

OK…before I dive into this there are a couple of important points to disclose. For starters, I do not know if Evan is specifically referring to me, however considering my somewhat critical post about the discussion at the NVTC event it is a possibility.

Second, Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) does compete with Evan’s shop. I’ve never met the guy, yet I have worked with a number of his employees in the past and think highly of them. I am confident they do fine work for their clients.

As for his (possible) personal criticism of me for expressing my opinion in this blog, I’m comfortable with it. In fact, it’s part of the compelling value of engaging in social networks – near real-time feedback on views, beliefs and ideas.

I often joke in new business presentations that thought leaders have to have thoughts. It’s true. Social media content that engages, educates and entertains demands a clear and well articulated opinion.

There will be those who disagree. They’ll share their views through comments. They will counter with their own posts. And they will possibly refer to you as a “know it all.”

UPDATE: Message from Evan via Twitter explaining that I was not the person he was referring to in his tweet.

evanweisel: Hey @strategicguy - why do they assume I was talking about you? I was not. But thanks for calling or emailing me direct.

@evanweisel Thanks for the tweet. Great to hear I'm not the "know it all" (smile). Used it to make a point about social media engagement.