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.