Friday, June 25, 2010

Social Strategy…In a Sentence

The marketing and public relations communities have long yearned and pushed for a seat at the corporate board room citing the ability to think “strategically” about the direction of the business.

Yet, in many instances communications programs revert to what I commonly refer to as a “bag of tactics” with little consideration or regard for an overarching strategy and related measurable benchmarks.

I’ve found this tactical regression to be particularly true when it comes to the adoption of social media.

-How should we be using Twitter?
-What about our Facebook fan page?
-What are the new Web 2.0 tools?

Social media is merely another channel to engage stakeholders. It doesn’t replace traditional forms of communication (i.e. advertising, public relations, direct marketing, etc.), yet in a social environment your audience has already self-identified and organized into groups based on interest.

This makes the outcome of social media engagement significantly more measurable.

It also demands a strategy; one that is aligned with the key drivers of success in business – sales, profitability and valuation.

Here are three examples of new social media campaigns recently launched by Strategic:

1. Merchant Link’s Security Cents helps the company solidify a more credible position in the information security market, leveraging its participation at the HITEC industry conference.

2. Appian’s BetterGov is integrated with a sales and marketing initiative designed to more rapidly increase the company’s business in the federal government market.

3. The new version of British Telecom’s (BT) CSR Perspective promotes the company’s leadership in environmental sustainability, while creating a more intimate connection with executive level decision-makers.

There’s a cliché in the entertainment field that for a movie production to get funded a summary of the idea has to fit on the back of a business card.

It’s true for social media as well. Before hacking away at the tactics, develop a strategy that can be articulated in a single sentence.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Paranoia for Culture

I always enjoy quiet moments with colleagues during an informal lunch, prior to the start of a meeting or while on travel. It’s a great opportunity to momentarily put aside client requirements and stresses, and focus on what is important to them professionally.

Last week, I joined two co-workers at a new client kick-off meeting in Atlanta. We had about 20 minutes to chat before diving into the agenda and an interesting employee relations issue came up in which I described my mindset as one of “healthy paranoia.”

I wasn’t referring to a concern about a treasured employee leaving the firm or a 1099 consultant severing the relationship. And I certainly did not imply that I have some Orwellian desire to monitor the online activities of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) staff.

Rather, my healthy paranoia centers around the self-inflicted pressure I feel to bring into the agency interesting and challenging social media marketing assignments, while remaining true to Strategic’s two core principles: 1) great work for great clients; and 2) an unwavering commitment to work/life balance.

I’ve written in this blog about the flexible work environment we have embraced at Strategic. It empowers our team, and has helped create an environment defined by performance and accountability.

Yet, culture creation lingers in my mind as a concern. Sure, there is plenty of daily interaction via social and electronic channels. However, we simply don’t physically spend time with each other as often as your typical office environment.

Is this a problem?

It may very well be if you put credence in an article in the current issue of BusinessWeek entitled “The Importance of Connecting with Colleagues." Here is one particularly telling paragraph:

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh reveal that encountering a stranger on 10 occasions instead of five makes us find that individual more attractive, intelligent, warm, and honest. By extension, showing up in person to a meeting rather than dialing in may be more important than we realize. The same goes for attending optional gatherings, keeping your office door open, and communicating in person rather than over the phone.

I’m currently thinking about how Strategic can be more proactive in organizational culture building, without forfeiting the freedom and flexibility afforded by our work environment.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

3 Sure Fire Ways to Turn Sales Reps into Social Fanatics

The dysfunctional relationship that can exist between corporate sales and marketing departments has the potential of souring social media initiatives by adversely impacting the resources, time and attention required for success.

Marketing teams bemoan sales reps for their lack of timely follow-up with prospects, as well as for a perceived inability to think beyond the tactical needs of whatever deal they may be chasing at the moment. For their part, the sales group has been known to deride marketing for poor lead quality and for squirreling away budget on brand building activities with their nebulous return.

Social media steps into this clash with the power and potential to appease masters on both sides of the aisle. For sales, social can be tactically aligned with key benchmarks related to lead generation, cultivation of prospect relationships and deal capture.

And for marketing, participation in social networks and online communities elevates awareness, lends credibility and improves search engine optimization (SEO).

Yet, for social media to serve as a catalyst for sales and marketing harmony there must be executive level sponsorship, along with some adept internal promotion and outreach.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we are typically engaged by a client’s marketing organization so our focus has been on developing a set of best practices to convert even the most skeptical sales rep into a social fanatic.

1. Concisely document connections forged in social networks. We’ve found that marketing typically reports quantity and quality of blog readership, Twitter followers, and community contacts with the goal of measuring awareness and influence.

Take the next step and map how these connections align with the organization’s sales pipeline. You’ll be able to demonstrate to sales reps that their prospects are actively involved in and reachable through social channels.

2. Push social media content as dynamic sales collateral.
Sales executives will tell you there is little value in a prospect call that is merely “following up” on a prior meeting or discussion. It’s critical to connect with new information that is of value and supports the organization’s sales proposition.

That’s exactly what social media content accomplishes. When effectively produced it engages, educates and entertains. Plus, no other marketing collateral or white paper can match the timeliness of a blog post, tweet or update.

3. Integrate social connections with your organization’s CRM and marketing automation software. The next frontier in social media marketing is the capture of every interaction in an online community with how the company tracks, scores and prioritizes sales leads. The top enterprise vendors such as Siebel, Salesforce, Eloqua and Hubspot have already taken steps to develop this integration.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stunner from Zappos

Features, functionality, speeds, feeds and, of course, price are all important considerations when a person makes a product or vendor selection.

Yet, most business transactions are ultimately conducted by two people. The personal connection is critical for commerce which is why social media can have such a profound and positive impact on an organization’s success. It makes the process of personal connectivity more scalable.

Zappos is a company I have long admired (and purchased product from) for their ability to align corporate culture with customer and employee satisfaction. I also stand in awe at how this culture has been effectively promoted via social networks.

A recent article in TechCrunch turned me on to an excerpt in Inc. Magazine from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s new book entitled “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.”

(Photo: Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO. Courtesy of

This is a fascinating read about the pressure on Hsieh induced by Zappos’ board of directors which ultimately led to the decision to sell the company to Amazon. Here a couple of paragraphs which have stuck with me:

As the economy deteriorated, the appraised value of our inventory began to fall, which meant that even if we hit our numbers, we might eventually find ourselves without enough cash to buy inventory.

These issues had nothing to do with the underlying performance of our business, but they increased tensions on our board of directors. Some board members had always viewed our company culture as a pet project — “Tony’s social experiments,” they called it.

I disagreed. I believe that getting the culture right is the most important thing a company can do. But the board took the conventional view — namely, that a business should focus on profitability first and then use the profits to do nice things for its employees.

I do agree with Zappos’ board that a business exists to generate profit and return for its shareholders.

However, I am truly stunned that they failed to recognize that the company’s success in a commoditized market was greatly influenced by its culture, as well as the articulation of that culture via social media.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Unproductive Fallacy

The case for unfettered employee access to social networks in the workplace is compelling.

Team collaboration...creativity and idea creation…office morale…all typically receive a spark from empowering staff to engage in online communities such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIin and Govloop.

Yet, a myriad of executives at commercial and government organizations hold tight to the mistaken notion that social media in the office is cancerous. For instance, a survey conducted last year by Robert Half Technology found that 55 percent of employers banned all access to social networking sites.

While legitimate security concerns related to data leaks, viruses and malware are often cited, right up there on the list of “why we block” is the rationale that social media breeds a lack of productivity.

This is simply not true. I have personally found that an organization that treats its employees like mature and experienced professionals is rewarded with a workforce committed to performance and success.

Several years ago Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) adopted a core principle to promote and support a healthy work/life balance for all employees. More than a work from home policy, we view the job as something you do, rather than a place you go. Our employees work where they want, when they want and how they want.

My role as CEO is to be clear and consistent on expectations, and then hold my colleagues accountable for performance.

We had some staffers flame out in this environment. One account executive chose to spend time on his own consulting endeavors. A sales rep simply stopped working all together. Both are no longer employed at Strategic.

Yet, by and large, this flexible work environment has been one of our wisest decisions as a company.

This same philosophy of treating adults like…well…adults applies equally to social media access in the workplace. Yes, there may be some who abuse the system by passing their time on trivial pursuits. The performance review process should weed them out.

Executives should demand the doors to social media be thrown open. Give them Facebook. Allow them to tweet. Embrace LinkedIn. Network on Govloop.

You’ll be rewarded with more than a thanks. You will also realize a measurable return in productivity, creativity and, ultimately, revenue and profit.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finding our Web Soul

I have Web site envy.

It’s not that I don’t like Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) corporate Web presence. The current version of our Web site does its job just fine because it:

-Showcases our social media marketing campaigns for global brands like Microsoft, Cisco, British Telecom (BT), Monster and BearingPoint, as well as emerging growth companies such as Cimcor, Merchant Link and Appian.

-Demonstrates our senior team’s social media and Web 2.0 participation.

-Highlights our unique business model which places a priority on work/life balance for all employees.

-Validates our leadership through traditional public relations coverage.

Yet, the site lacks creativity, as well as differentiation from the myriad of other public relations, social media and marketing communications consultancies out pitching for business.

We have no inspiration or soul and, as a result we have fallen into the “just good enough” trap.

Others in our industry have avoided that trap. Check out ad shop Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. There have been mixed reviews of its unique Web presence, yet it certainly reinforces the notion that the firm delivers innovative thinking.

Then there is PR powerhouse SHIFT Communications and digital design firm R2 Integrated. Each firm’s Web site serves as a marker of differentiation.

Yesterday, I met with a colleague who recently joined Strategic and posed this question: what should we do with the next version of our own corporate Web site to communicate soul and inspiration?

I’m giving her a few weeks to consider, ponder and evaluate. Stay tuned.