Friday, April 30, 2010

4 Ways to Rediscover My Social Media Groove

For the past 24 months I had been in a social media groove.

Consider readership for this blog. I started 2009 with an average of about 1,000 unique visits a month. By mid-year my monthly readership had doubled. By Thanksgiving, I was clocking in at nearly 3,000 uniques a month.

Plus, it was an engaged readership. Although most reader comments were in conflict with my views, I was fortunate to have a vocal and opinionated base.

Life was equally rosy in Twitterville. After switching over from micro-blogging deadbeat Plurk, I experienced a rapid rise in followers on Twitter, consistently expanding by 25 percent each month. I crossed the 800 mark by the end of 2009.

I recognize that in a business-to-business environment social media impact is more appropriately measured in quality of contacts rather than quantity. Yet, a healthy, engaged and growing network of followers confers credibility and validates expertise -- critical attributes for a consultant.

I marched into 2010 confident that my social influence would maintain its rise. The universe of participants in online communities continues to expand, affording rabid content creators like myself a broader audience.

So, imagine my dismay at a Google Analytics report that now reveals declining readership for this blog. And post topics that once garnered a dozen or more comments, eke out a reader response or two at best.

The land of Twitter is equally stagnant as my follower community has stalled at just over 800.

What is going on here? I have remained true to my thought leadership approach to content. I boldly step into controversial topics. I appropriately promote my views in social networks and online communities.

How do I rediscover my social media groove?

Here is what I have come up with:

1. Resist the temptation to jump the shark. This is no time for panic or desperation. I have to remain committed to the core mission, goals and editorial direction of my social media engagement.

The hit TV show Happy Days tried to offset its decline in viewership through outlandish story lines.

2. Be proactive in engaging the social media elite. I have to more dutifully read their posts, follow their tweets and track their social activities, identifying opportunities to question their views. This will expose my ideas and opinions to a broad and well defined audience.

3. Accelerate my publishing frequency through contributed content from clients, partners and colleagues. Based on my job responsibilities, I’m good for two blog posts a week and a half dozen or so tweets a day. My objective is to increase both by a third.

4. Cross promote my social media activities more aggressively. I’ve incorporated links in my Email signature line and on my business card. However, I rarely reference the blog during meetings and presentations, or at networking events.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Resignations and References

I have lived the misfortune of talented individuals resigning their position at Strategic Communications Group (Strategic). It is unavoidable and happens to nearly every organization.

The cause for resignation has varied. Perhaps it’s a new opportunity that better aligns with an individual’s professional goals. Or maybe there is a desire to make a life adjustment. And, in some instances, it’s merely that the person (or organization) has grown stale and change benefits all parties.

Regardless of the reason, I came to understand early in my tenure as a founder and CEO that the decision to resign employment from Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) should not be viewed as a personal affront. Everyone moves forward and the nature of my relationship with the former employee typically enters a new phase.

For instance, one long-standing executive at Strategic further sharpened her operational skills at a Web development company, and now provides consulting support to our company.

Another PR leader who worked at our firm now runs her own consultancy after a successful stint handling media relations for George Washington University. And a third has gone on to a management position at one of the most respected marketing firms in the region.

In most instances, I gladly serve as a professional reference for former Strategic staffers. (Note the emphasis on the word “most.”)

That’s because late Friday I received an unexpected Email from a former employee who I had not spoken with in more than a year. This person is in the final throes of the interviewing process and communicated that someone will be calling me that afternoon or Monday morning for a reference.

There was no personal call to re-establish the connection and explain what should be shared with this prospective employer. There has been no interest or investment in maintaining a relationship. Rather, just an expectation that because we worked together I have some sort of obligation to serve as a reference.

I politely declined.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Slate’s Risky Business

Glance around my office and it is apparent that I am a dot com junkie.

One shelf sports a framed cover of the August 21, 2001 farewell issue of the Industry Standard, the magazine that chronicled the rise of the Internet economy. Then there is the signed book jacket for The Internet Bubble, a bestseller authored by former Red Herring editor Anthony Perkins.

The lone decoration on the wall is a promotional poster for the documentary This movie shares the tale of a New York-based company called GovWorks that flamed out in 2001 after raising millions in venture capital.

Yes…the dot com era left a myriad of entrepreneurs, financiers and service providers wounded. At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we too danced with the pain having experienced significant staff layoffs and cutbacks as our client base cratered.

Yet, it was an incredibly exciting time to be working in technology. Plus, the Internet accomplishments realized a decade ago now contribute to the innovation of today’s new generation of entrepreneurs.

I was reminded of this fact yesterday when reading this wonderful article published by Slate magazine entitled “Risky Business: Web start-ups almost always fail. So why are these guys starting one?”

The opportunities, obstacles and market conditions in technology have certainly changed during the past decade. However, the entrepreneur’s desire to test, build and push for change remains constant.

Amen for that!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ning's Free Promise

Ning has me torn.

I was all set to pen a post with plaudits for Ning’s decision to discontinue its free service, demanding the social networks hosted on its platform move to one of the company’s premium offerings or relocate. Here was a Web 2.0 company that was finally getting hip to the realities of maintaining a financially viable organization.

About a year ago on this blog I pleaded with Facebook and Twitter to charge users for access to its service as a means of establishing multiple streams of revenue. I argued that an advertising supported model alone would not ensure the long-term economic viability of either of these companies.

Plus, it was important to disabuse consumers of the notion that they are entitled to free and unfettered access to nearly everything on the Web – information, infrastructure and other resources. Our capitalistic society is based on a simple concept: you pay for what you consume.

However, a well crafted and thoughtful post about Ning from Shel Holz got me thinking. My previously stated view about Web 2.0 and capitalism stands up in this situation except for one glaring factor – Ning made a promise of free to its users.

In fact, as Holz correctly points out, free access was at the very core of Ning’s value proposition.

Ning now has a big-time trust issue. Yes, the community managers who have to cough up a monthly fee or deal with the hassle of moving to another platform will certainly be bitter. They were the free-loaders and of limited value to Ning.

More worrisome is the trust gap that may now form between the company and its paying customers, its employees and its partners. Anyone who does business with Ning would be well served by maintaining a level of suspicion about the policies and decisions that come from the company’s management.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Tale of Four Marketers

The corporate marketers gathered yesterday at the Westin Hotel in Waltham, Massachusetts represented the biggest names in technology.

IBM…Motorola…Monster…Nuance, these executive-level communicators came to share the best practices, lessons learned and insight gleaned from devising programs that generate millions of dollars in revenue for their respective companies.

The panel discussion was organized by BtoB Magazine as part of the publication’s NetMarketing breakfast series. More than 100 attendees jockeyed for the best seats in the room as the lights dimmed and the PowerPoint decks fired up.

Nuance’s Lynne Esparo explained she is in a constant struggle with the Dragon. This is her company’s popular consumer product which often commands a majority of mindshare with Nuance’s key audiences. Yet, Nuance derives a fair share of its sales from other speech recognition products and technologies to enterprise and government customers.

“We are reinventing our dot com to better communicate our full array of offerings,” Esparo explained, referring to Nuance’s corporate Web site.

She offered a number of tips learned from this massive Web overhaul:

--Reflect a corporate personality
--Stick to concise copy
--Categorize content by user needs, rather than how you sell
--Guide visitors to social media in context based on the types of solutions that interest them
--Incorporate customer success stories whenever possible

Similarly, Belinda Hudman of Motorola is also plagued at times by brand confusion brought on by a more recognized set of consumer products. Hudman’s charge is to help identify sales opportunities for Motorola’s government, enterprise and telecom businesses, which collectively account for 60 percent of the company’s global revenue.

Hudman talked the audience through the array of communications tactics Motorola employs in what she referred to as her “interactive tool kit.”

Perhaps most innovative is the company’s construction of trade show specific micro-sites that feature content aggregated from multiple sources and social media channels. This approach creates a lead-oriented program that is well aligned with Motorola’s goals for attending the conference.

(Note: Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has employed a similar approach in its own marketing. Here is one example: What’s New at Satellite 2010.)

From his presentation it was apparent that IBM’s Drew Clarke is all about mission-focus. For him, that means more rapidly identifying quality sales leads for the company’s Cognos business line.

“If you can improve your sales funnel from acceptable to best in class, you’ll realize a 7X return on revenue,” he explained.

(Photo: IBM's Drew Clarke speaks with Eric Glazer of Cambridge Healthtech Associates)

Clarke shared with the audience the four types of nurture programs Cognos runs with the help of tools like Eloqua and Salesforce:

--Multi-touch programs
--Follow-up campaigns to live events
--Ongoing communications tactics
--Reactive follow-up to prospect response

While Clarke’s best practices focused on the numbers, Monster’s Janet Swaysland reminded the event attendees that effective marketing is also dependent upon relationship building. (Disclosure: Monster is a Strategic client.)

“People trust people more than they trust companies,” she said.

Swaysland shared some guidance on how Monster crafts more intimate connections with its core audiences:

--Monitor the conversation in social networks to determine the customers’ agenda. Too often, she explained, companies focus solely on their messaging.

(Photo: Monster's Janet Swaysland answers a question from an attendee.)

--Prioritize audiences based on their influence, recognizing that when it comes to making a buy decision not everyone is equal.
--Engage in the conversation with content that adds value and builds a relationship through personalized interaction.

(Photo: After the event, moderator Chris Hosford of BtoB Magazine chats with Forrester's Tracy Sullivan.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Social Media Sales Integration Takes Shape

There has been a constant in every new client Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has signed in the 15 years that I have been hawking public relations and (now) social media marketing services -- the formation of a trust-based relationship.

In any enterprise sales environment, nothing replaces the impact of an experienced, knowledgeable and articulate sales executive who is able to build rapport with a prospect. Speeds, feeds, features, support and pricing all shape the process. Yet, people buy from people and trust is what makes a deal come together.

That's not to say that productivity tools like customer relationship management (CRM), sales force automation (SFA), marketing automation and E-mail marketing software aren't valuable. On the contrary, they bring efficiency and productivity to a sales organization by helping reps answer a critical question each morning, "Who are the most important prospects for me to connect with today?"

Marketing and sales automation applications are data junkies. Every interaction with a prospect -- in-person meetings, phone calls, Emails, white paper downloads, etc. - is captured. This record serves as the guide, providing intelligence to the sales executive so decisions can be made about how to best invest their time.

What about social media? Shouldn't the interactions an organization has with its customers and prospects in online communities and networks be detailed in an automation system?

You betcha...and that appears to be the direction the sales and marketing software vendors are moving. Consider ExactTarget's recent acquisition of Twitter management tool CoTweet. Or how providers like Responsys and StrongMail have unveiled new functionality for integrating E-mail with Facebook and Twitter, as well as mobile marketing campaigns.

And then there is marketing automation leader Eloqua with its technical team dedicated to engineering integration between its software system and a myriad of social environments.

Like the very adoption of social media marketing by organizations, this alignment of sales and marketing automation packages with social media engagement is at the early adopter stage.

Yet, it's taking shape and this paints a bright future for marketers and public relations professionals committed to delivering a more measurable and sustainable return on investment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Economics of the Unpaid Internship

The Labor Department has launched a scare campaign to goad for-profit employers into compensating their interns. Yet, this “pay them or else” message may backfire, driving companies like Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) to simply kill their long-standing internship programs.

In recent articles in the New York Times and Time Magazine the US Labor Department has clearly articulated its dour view of the unpaid internship.

Nancy Leppink, the acting director of Labor’s wage and hour division told the Times’ Steven Greenhouse, “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

This government view has been applauded by the defenders of student rights. Robert French -- a faculty member of Auburn University, blogger at Infopinions and creator of student PR network PR OpenMic – weighed in with his kudos:

We're happy to see national coverage of this scandal. PR agencies and all others, take notice. It is very unlikely that your unpaid internships are legal. Give these students the respectful treatment they deserve.

Strategic does not and will not provide monetary compensation to interns when they first join our organization. This decision has nothing to due with respect; or wringing profit off the backs of uncompensated workers; or an attempt to make today’s student adhere some dated, fraternity-esq requirement of “paying your dues.”

Rather, it is about the economics of hiring and our ability to deliver value to a client. When Strategic makes an offer of employment we are projecting future results based on a track record of performance.

Plus, the experience a prospective hire has gained in other professional environments establishes a level of comfort that this person will represent our firm well when interacting with clients, while serving as a positive contributor to our culture.

When dealing with a student who, in many instances, has little (if any) relevant industry experience the hiring criteria becomes trust-based. And, in my opinion, the opportunity to gain a meaningful portfolio of work becomes fair and acceptable compensation.

Of course, Strategic quickly steps up and pays an intern once they’ve proven themselves and desires to stay on with the firm. This typically happens in three months.

In fact, one of our outstanding full-time employees rose to his current position through our internship program. Plus, we’ve had a number of other interns advance to profile positions at communications consultancies, PR firms and corporate marketing departments.

In no way am I defending organizations that view their internship program as akin to slave labor. It’s the responsibility of the company (and the intern) to ensure that the scope of activities is comprised primarily of meaningful, portfolio building assignments.

Yet, take notice…if the Labor Department makes good on its promise then I assure you we’ll be intern-less at Strategic. And that’s a lose-lose for everyone.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Four Social Media Tools Worth Trying Out

They land on my radar in a couple of different ways.

It starts with my daily reading. Technology blogs like TechCrunch, Mashable and Engadget introduce, overview and report on a myriad of Web 2.0 services and tools designed to enhance the effectiveness of the social media marketer.

I’m also now fortunate to have them pushed to me as well. As this blog as grown in readership and prominence, I have made it onto a few public relations lists. I typically receive an Email or two a week from a publicist asking me to test out the latest app or tool from their client.

Every month I carve out 90 minutes to do just that. My evaluation criteria are fairly simple:

-Is the tool easy to use?
-Is its functionality unique?
-Does it potentially enhance or improve the success of a social media marketing program?

So, here are a few Web 2.0 offerings I received this weekend that I believe are worthy of mention.

Twiangulate: It’s an effective tool for gathering intelligence and insight about a person’s Twitter following. Do you share any connections? If so, how many? And who? Who does a person follow that may be of interest?

Klout: Measures the influence of a Twitter user based on 25 parameters. It’s a fast service and works well as a quick assessment tool. However, I’ve found the information delivered by Twinfluence to be more comprehensive and meaningful.

Swix: It’s like Google Analytics for a social media marketing campaign. Although still in beta, this dashboard is a good stab at trying to bring measurable meaning to social media activities. Pricing ranges from $9 to $99 a month based on number of users.

Social Mention: This free service also borrows from Google in its positioning – it’s like Google Alerts for social media. Set up alerts for any name, word or phrase and it will push mentions to you by Email.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Confusion Reigns in the World of Early Adoption

The analysts at Forrester Research recently conducted a survey of corporate marketers to assess their views about which type of consultancy is most qualified to take ownership of the brand in this digital age. Is it traditional ad shops? How about interactive marketing firms? Or maybe public relations practitioners?

The results of this comprehensive query are right in step with my experiences speaking with prospective clients: it is simply too early to tell.

The integration of social media and digital into the marketing communications mix remains at the early adopter phase as companies test, measure and evaluate different approaches (and resources). For that reason, Forrester’s finding is completely expected:

Most interactive marketers don't trust their traditional agencies with digital work and yet most don't believe their interactive agencies are ready to lead yet either.

Give this time to play out…for best industry best practices to solidify…and expectations to take shape. I believe in the next 18 to 24 months we’ll see a clearer understanding of how organizations can tap the expertise of advertising, marketing, digital, social media and PR professionals to achieve their objectives.