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.