Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blogging on Cisco's Social Media Blog

I haven't been here in a while and just want to give a quick update. For the past few months, I've been focusing on blogging on the Cisco Social Media blog and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I'm not shutting down this blog site but I hope you'll join me on the Cisco Social Media blog for now.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Social Vendor Support Matters for Businesses

In my last blog post, I talked about the challenge of customer support and services in social media. Now I’d like to share my perspectives on why this is such a big deal to (large) companies.

The fundamental difference between how a consumer is using social media and how a company is using it is careabouts. In this context, “careabouts” means that in most cases, an individual will not be overly concerned about things, such as timing of a post or an update, tracking or metrics, to name just a few. However, in the business world, expectations are different. Why is that?

Accountability: The “mother of all” – that’s what everything comes back to. Unlike an individual who uses social media for his or her own pleasure and entertainment, the social media team at work is held accountable for the success of social participation. This changes the rules of engagement on several fronts:

Timeliness: In addition to day-to-day activities, social media is used for launches, events and other programs that have a start date and an end date. Social media is a piece of the overall puzzle and as such, it needs to fit tightly and neatly into the puzzle. Often times, companies use social media to drive to a particular destination or create a desired action….by a certain date and time. If a vendor's application or tool is unreliable, therefore, putting timelines at risk, chances are companies will shy away from using it – especially for business-critical activities. In addition, tight turnaround times and last-minute changes are common in the business world and if the development or support team (if the vendor even has a support team) is not ready for a fast-paced, changing enterprise environment, they may run into some challenges. But if they help a business through these times, people will remember that. These challenges related to timeliness are more significant for corporations than for individuals.

Changing Skill Requirements: Social media managers and often times subject matter experts (SMEs) are now asked to do things that are not necessarily their forte. Creating social media assets, managing the backend of an application or listening platform, or executing social media buys are just a few examples. These are new things that require new skills and time to master. If you're a vendor, offering support during this process is important and your investment now can pay off later. Let’s take a simple example: self-service social ads. If people don’t know what they’re doing and are just randomly clicking on the options to get to the next page, they may end up with a campaign that will be sub-optimal to say the least. They may walk away with the conclusion that social ads on site X don’t work. When in reality, these ads may be effective for others who know what they’re doing. So some investment in training on site X’s part can help shape social managers’ and SMEs’ opinions of and comfort level with site X’s social ads. It may not even need to be anything elaborate - depending on the focus of the vendor, maybe just a step-by-step tutorial video or a 30-minute walk through could do the trick.

Enterprise-Grade Service Levels: Externally, companies’ goal is to provide a user-friendly experience and great quality of service to their customers and influencers regardless of where they are. To achieve this, they need to have the right tools, infrastructure and other resources in place. What’s right is determined by the intercept of their objectives and available tools and resources. To guarantee that they can deliver the level of service and quality they wish to, they will look for those social media applications, tools and resources that will bring them (closest) to the desired service levels.

The same concept applies internally too. If a tool is too cumbersome to use or if it’s too unreliable, therefore, decreasing SMEs or social media managers’ productivity, businesses will think twice about investing in it....especially if support is hard to get.

All I am trying to illustrate is that a business model that includes support and services (in a way that’s scalable by the way) can make a big difference for a (large) corporation because of the objectives we, corporations, need to meet and/or because of the challenges we face. As a vendor, please put yourself in our shoes to understand our careabouts and motivations. Even though we use social media to interact with our customers, partners and influencers, our social presence is tied to our business objectives which will set the tone for our conversations about expectations. So when we ask you about the level of support you provide and the type of metrics we can track through your application or tool, what we're really saying is this: we're accountable for the success of our social media efforts and we need to make sure we can meet our business objectives with your tool, application or whatever it is that you offer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (Perspectives on Altimeter's Social Budgets Report)

Yes, YOU may get your lunch for free but somewhere along the food chain somebody is paying for that lunch. And that’s true for social media too. You may not see it, but somebody is footing the bill either by paying cold hard cash or by investing time and resources. Earlier today, Altimeter released its latest report on “How Corporations Should Prioritize Social Business Budgets”. If you haven't read it yet, I’ve inserted the report below for your reading pleasure. If I were to sum up this report in one sentence, it would be “corporations must budget spending based on their maturity level”: novice, intermediate and advanced. 

Here are my (personal) perspectives on some of the key findings in this report.

“All corporations will gear up on Staff to Manage social business, yet investment in Training and Education will be low.” The double-edged sword. The difficult, yet necessary, trade-off decision practitioners need to make. If budgets (and resources might I add) were infinite (or much larger), training and education would be higher on the priority list to receive more funding. I think today many practicing companies (at least on the Intermediate and Advanced levels) already have some level of internal training in place. The question for them is really about providing the next level of training as their social practitioners have moved beyond “Training 101”. Their questions have become more elaborate and detailed. How can practitioners bridge this gap while waiting for the wallets to open up? On page 8, Altimeter mentions external resources to tap into so I’ll skip those. Complement those suggestions with internal informal learning programs such as 1) company-wide best practices sharing by advanced internal practitioners, 2) inter-company best practices sharing and collaboration, and 3) company-wide best practices sharing by your trusted vendors and agencies.

“Corporations will fail to leverage the social graph and continue to rely on traditional advertising and marketing tactics.” I just want to point you to some of my earlier posts on this topic, need I say more?

3 Social Media Practices That Make Me Itch
Quick Tips to Plan Your Social Media Engagement: 4P Framework
Social Media Engagement: Integrating It Into Your Business

What this means is social business is just business. Social media is not one person’s job and it’s not just another series of platforms to push your marketing messages to.

“Advanced buyers will seek specialized expertise from Boutique Agencies.” The only thing I would add here is “Boutique Agencies (or Social Vendors) that can scale. This is a big thing for large organizations. Why? Because it's just like dating: you like somebody, you will want to spend time with them. If we like you and have had a good experience with you, we will tell others within the company about you and at some point, chances are they will want to work with you too. So if you’re not ready to scale or if you have taken on too much, please be honest with us. Let us know. We’d rather work with you on a later project than have a (series of) bad experience(s) with you... We talk to each other. We ask each other for recommendations. We share the good stuff…and the bad stuff. That’s how WOM/social media works internally.

As promised, here is the report. Enjoy, it’s a good read.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Feeling the Love: Narrowing the Gap between Social Media Tools and B2Bs' Needs

My goal with this post is to share some gaps between existing tools and client wishes besides the ones you most often hear about - metrics or influencer ranking.

To be honest, I created this blog post last September but went back and forth on whether or not to publish it. It's now January 2011 and I finally decided to go for it. I’m hoping that, if you are a social vendor, this post will help shed some light on what B2Bs care about and look for. And please know that I wrote this post with the utmost respect for the tool and application vendors out there. I sympathize with the position you, vendors, are in.

So why did I decide to publish this post after all? Because we, B2B marketers realize that we become more powerful when we partner with our vendors to help shape the industry. We want to make things work just as much as vendors do.

Although the disclaimer at the bottom of my blog page states that this blog represents my own thoughts as an individual and not as a Cisco employee, I would like to re-emphasize that point here. Furthermore, my observations are quite general and are from a large corporation’s perspective. This means two things: 1) not every point will be applicable to every tool or application vendor, and 2) small and medium businesses may have a different take on the below content (though I suspect that they will be able to relate to some of what I’m about to say).

So let’s dive in.

1. The Differentiator. But from Whose Perspective?

The truth is there are a lot of tools and applications out there and there are overlaps. It’s natural and expected as this is still a new market. It will take some time for things to shake out. The challenge for us, marketers, is to really understand how your tools and applications are different from somebody else’s. And how that differentiating factor can bring us more value than your competition’s. Once we know that, the question becomes: “does this incremental value really that important to our business to make us switch or invest in your products?” I think this last point is key. Your product may have one more feature than your competition's, but does that one more feature really make a difference for us when we take all factors into consideration? This is a critical question especially when we already have (an) incumbent(s) in place.

2. What’s Your Price?

Companies realize that since this industry is still evolving, you may not be able to take advantage of economies of scale and need to price your offering in a certain way. This can become a challenge when we evaluate your offering. Not only are we comparing your products to another social media vendor’s products, but we also weigh them against traditional, and in some cases our own solutions. In addition, we look at the purchase price just as much as the on-going maintenance and support cost should the latter be required. Then we need to prioritize (because we have budget constraints too). If there is a way to pilot your product at a lower price and/or under different terms than those of your standard package, that could help. The goal of the pilot is to show success and help other people inside the company see that your tool or application works so they can feel more comfortable with it and consider it for future projects. If you’re running programs or providing tools that require a minimum amount of investment from us, then a pilot at a reduced cost becomes even more compelling to marketers.

3. Finding the Balance: The Right Offer

If I had to sum this up in one sentence, it would be “too much or too little”. Depending on the type of social media activity we’re looking to do, we look at an offering in its totality: the product itself and the support/service attached to it. Let’s look at the “too much” side first. Many social media solutions have different components and vendors like to bundle these components into one comprehensive solution set. Large corporations often have some of the components in place already and are only looking for a subset of the proposed solution. Maybe they’re just looking to augment their own solution with yours. Being able to break up your complete solution into smaller chunks, and price as well as implement it according to our needs could go a long way. For example, if you have a solution that takes advantage of your listening tool on the front end and your potential customer already has a listening tool in place, then understanding why your tool would be needed (if at all needed) and eliminating redundancies in the process could help address the “too much” challenge.

On the flip side, there are tools and applications on the market that offer "too little" either in terms of functionality or support/services. We, corporations, need to figure out how to integrate, and later, maintain or troubleshoot these tools or applications after we have put them in place. This is ok in the case of free tools or applications, but is less desired for products corporations pay for. When a solution only addresses a small portion of our (non-business critical) needs, we may not find it robust enough for business use or may not rank it high enough on our priority list to get funding.

4. Support and Services

This is a key consideration for B2Bs so I want to give this some more air time. Remember where we’re coming from: our goal is to provide our customers with the best user experience regardless of where they are so the quality of the product as well as support is important to us. When you talk to us, show us how you are going to support us. We are used to enterprise-grade products and services, and while we understand that you may be coming from the consumer side and may be under-resources, we need to know that you’re going to be there when we need you. We are used to having dedicated project managers and developers to help see our projects through and help with on-going maintenance as needed. We are used to quick turnaround times on routine updates or enhancements. Are you going to assign a long-term team to us? How responsive is this team going to be? Are you going to train us on your tool? How are you going to help us work through our pressing issues? Etc. These questions are just as important as how your product works.

5. Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility

Again, this depends on what you’re looking to sell. I discussed flexibility in terms of pricing and support so I’m going to focus on the physical solution. In general, flexibility falls in these categories:
• Compliance with corporate user and brand experience
• Custom…
….tools and applications
….features on standard applications
….data capture

Large organizations have strict rules about how to address brand identity, user flow and need to meet user experience requirements at all times to help preserve brand image. Some solutions could be as simple as updating your tool or application with brand-approved colors or using the company’s approved icons or other visuals in your tool or application….while keeping your price at a reasonable level.

Granularity is another area that is becoming increasingly important to B2B marketers. When the standard level of granularity is insufficient, we look to our vendors to help us develop custom tools or applications, custom features on standard applications or a custom data reporting system to help narrow the gap (assuming the price is right). Why? Because companies that have been doing social media for a few years now are looking to get to the next level. Our questions are getting deeper and our needs are increasing – either driven by customer wish lists or internal expectations.

One more thing. I don't want to go into much detail on metrics as it could be its own blog. Just very quickly, by a "custom data capture system", I don't mean the ability to customize the results page view. I'm talking about adding custom fields in your tool, pulling in custom fields from another tool or application and/or making it possible to export the collected information into another tool or application (other than excel).

What it comes down to is that we’re all still learning. We both, marketers and vendors, need to help each other. We need to figure this out. Together. As an industry. We'll get there...one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Issue of Scale: Without Human Cloning, Social Managers Need Other Methods

This blog post is most suited for larger organizations where scaling can quickly become an issue. If you’re sitting in your corporate social media group, your center of excellence or whatever you call it, I hear you. You are the only person or have a small team of people guiding and advising the rest of the company. How can you scale your services to meet your social media practitioners’ needs? While this list is not exhaustive, here are a few tips to help ease your concerns:

1) Know Who You Are And Who You Are Not
How far will you go? Where do you need to draw the line? Let’s face it, when you’re in an enablement role, you can’t be executing on everyone’s program. It’s just not possible. Have a clear charter AND communicate your roles and responsibilities, what you will and won’t do to your practitioners. Set clear expectations and be prepared to offer alternative solutions if you are not (avail)able to help. For example, identify and nurture a vendor list and point people to vendors that can help. The key here is not only to have a vendor list but also to share this vendor list and make it easily accessible to all social media practitioners inside the company. Teaching your practitioners about your vendors' capabilities in various online and offline settings can be very powerful.  

2) Extend Your Reach: Tap Into Your Internal Stars
In other words, clone yourself. Well, not exactly. But who says that it always has to be you that has to train or educate others in the company? If you’re a big corporation, chances are different departments are at different stages on their social media journey. Use your internal stars to your advantage. Identify who these people are, invite them to an online forum to share their wisdom with others in the company. Not only will this help you scale but it will also recognize people inside your company that do social media well. Putting them in the limelight and positioning them as experts in a certain area is a way of rewarding a job well done. Or, just connect individuals that have gone through a certain experience with people that are going through it right now.

3) Extend Your Reach: Share Your Knowledge Online
Got a Flip? Over time, you will discover repeat questions and might say “If I only had a tape recorder!”. Why not put together templates, frameworks and how to's for your teams to use and/or record short 2-minute video clips on various social media topics and questions you get on a regular basis? Publish them on your internal web site or community platform and drive people to these resources. In order to help ensure that you’re creating videos, templates and frameworks that are most valuable to your practitioners, think about the:
A) Recurring questions you get
B) Opportunities for improvement and gaps in your company’s social media practice
C) Potential challenges or opportunities you see emerging in social media (this is more of a proactive rather than a reactive approach)

You may come up with four pages of things you could do. Prioritize your ideas based on the impact and effort/resources it takes to make them happen. Ask for feedback if needed.

To learn some more tricks and tips, check out this SlideShare presentation:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

3 Social Media Practices That Make Me Itch

Last night I went to a fun get-together with other social media practitioners and of course, after talking about what we keep in the trunks of our cars and sharing pictures of some people’s cats – I even got to (virtually) meet a cat by the name of Tubby Johnson -, we landed on the topic of social media. The conversation started something like this: “You know what my least favorite word is these days?!”, and everyone in our small group offered his or her least favorite word describing social media or used in social media. I only offered one word at dinner but here are my top 3 least liked words, or better yet, practices. Not because I don’t like these words in general but because of how they are used in social media.

3. Isolation

Social media should not be done in a vacuum, it should serve a higher purpose and it should be an integral part of your other activities. It should be tied to and driven by your overall business objectives. If an activity does not support your objective, ask yourself if it really deserves the time and attention you’re giving to it. Probably not. Social media should also be integrated into your other marketing, PR, customer service, HR, etc tactics and not used as a standalone effort.

2. Campaigns

Until we come up with a better term, I’m going to stick with this. As practitioners, we need to stop talking about social campaigns and start talking about social presence or engagement or something along those lines. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the word “campaign” as it stands. What makes me raise my eyebrows is when all people do is use social for their campaigns, programs or events. When considering adding a social component to your campaign, ask yourself how you’re going to keep the momentum going when your campaign or event is over. If you can keep things going way, way, way past your program, using social media as part of your campaign makes sense. Always think long term about social.

If you don’t have a plan for consistent long-term engagement, setting up and driving people to a new social media account is not the best strategy. So what can you do if you want to engage in social media but can only commit a limited amount of time after your campaign? Start small.

1) Partner up with other groups and tap into their existing platforms and activities
2) Go where the conversations are: identify “guest” platforms to participate on (“fish where the fish are”)
3) If you’re a larger company, consider creating an umbrella account to which several teams can contribute (make sure you have an editorial calendar in place to help keep things fresh)

1. Amplification

Sigh. My absolute favorite term…not! Amplification of your marketing messages is ok. Amplification only is not ok. Social media is about conversations, it’s a series of platforms that allows you to interact with your customers and your customers to interact with each other. So put that front and center. Don’t constantly talk at your customers, they will tune you out. After all, nobody likes to be constantly shouted at or sold to. Find the right balance. And remember, when sharing information with your customers, be informative and interesting, offer value to your audience and finish with a clear call to action. Craft your updates by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes instead of pushing out messages from YOUR perspective. Think about why your audience should care.

What’s the bottom line? As shiny and sexy as it may seem, social media is not a shiny object. It is an extension of your marketing, PR and other activities that may include bright shiny objects along the way but the real essence of this type of effort lies in continuous and authentic conversations. Social media needs to be a series of on-going activities and interactions that support your business objectives and are integrated into your other daily efforts.

What is your least favorite word, term or practice in social media?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nuggets from Altimeter’s Corporate Social Strategists Report

Earlier today, Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) published a report on the Career Path of the Corporate Social Media Strategist.

Instead of summarizing his findings, in this blog post, I want to highlight some statistics and observations that really stood out to me. I think we suspected these things all along but seeing them in writing confirms our assumptions (or at least my assumptions). I’m excited to see some data we can use to help build a case or prove a point. The following quotes come directly from the report:

• We found that 41% of survey respondents said they were “reacting” to requests – rather than getting ahead of them. Yet the pressure is only mounting…
• Nearly 60% of surveyed Social Strategists classified their organizational model as “Hub and Spoke” or “Multiple Hub and Spoke”…
• Unsatisfied, they expressed a desire for more effective ROI measurements – 48% of Social Strategists have made measurement a primary objective for their 2011 program…
• In our recent count, there are 145 brand monitoring firms, 125 community platforms, thousands of social media agencies, and of out-of-work professionals who turn to social media careers.
• In the next few years, expect groups that first shunned social media to seek direct involvement – or run their own programs to regain power.
• We heard from one Social Strategist that the number of internal demands will increase “from 4 to 5 times more requests this year from last.”… At the same time, external demands will increase as social media becomes mainstream and customers learn to voice their complaints publicly.
• Some Strategists said that success would mean being out of a job in the coming years. One Strategist said: “In five years, this role doesn't exist. The role will be subsumed into every part of the company.”

And last but not least, I love this quote:

“There’s a significant parallel between ERP programs of the late 90s and today’s social business programs – both require deployment across the entire enterprise. However, ERP rollouts were well funded and staffed, with dedicated project management teams and often, an army of embedded consultants. While social business programs likewise touch every business unit, the difference in resources and headcount is stark.”

Although this report focuses on the career path of social strategists; as a practitioner, I’d just like to emphasize again that in addition to your social media managers, long-term and continuous engagement from your content, or subject matter, experts is critical.