More and more brands are truly embracing social media as an important component of their overall marketing and communications strategy. That’s the good news. However, unfortunately too many companies are focusing on the wrong metrics when it comes to gauging the success and business value of social media initiatives. Sure, it’s great to have hundred of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. But where’s the benefit if fans and followers aren’t engaged with the brand?
Companies must do what they can to inspire engagement and action from their fans – focusing on fan acquisition is simply not sufficient. One hundred engaged fans who can relate to a brand and share it’s core values are more valuable than one thousand passive fans. They’re more likely act in favor of a brand – speaking not only with their wallets, but also through recommendations to friends and family members.
Consumers are looking for companies to be more human-centric, and to show interest in the communities they already participate in. Companies that are currently doing a great job of this include Starbucks, Zappos, Converse and Lululemon. They realize that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are not broadcast mechanisms. Instead, they leverage available tools to build genuine relationships with their fans.
How are the relationships built? By providing a fair exchange of value. Companies must offer something meaningful to fans and followers, perhaps product, service or cause related, that generates goodwill and entices the community to spread word-of-mouth.
It’s not about numbers, it’s about relationships. Genuine relationships that will enable a community to grow and prosper.
Building an online community for your company and brand isn’t rocket science. That being said, there are some simple steps you can take that will facilitate growth and foster engagement with your burgeoning band of advocates (otherwise known as community members).
The five key points from my previous post:
Participate where the conversations are happening
Be timely with your responses
Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
Be careful what you say
Don’t ignore negative comments
Five more I’d like to add:
1. Give new members a warm welcome
It’s important to make new people feel welcome in your community, to set the stage for engagement – particularly when a community is young and growing. If possible, take the time to send a personalized welcome message to new members. Imagine how a new member will feel, receiving a message from a community host or moderator that is uniquely customized and tailored.
If you see a new member contributing to the first time, give that person some recognition. Thank them for their contribution, and try to elicit further discussion or comments if possible – perhaps that member has more to say. Showing a little gratitude will go a long way!
2. Study your community
Yes, study your community! Do your homework! Learn the make-up of your of your community – read member profiles and gain a better sense of just who has joined, and the different types of interests your members have. The more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to interact and converse with your community.
3. Monitor community activity and health
Be sure to stay tuned in to your community, from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Track key data that is most relevant, whether related to new member joins, commenting activity, voting activity or another metric that you value, and develop reports as deemed appropriate. Keep an eye out for trends! If your community had higher or lower levels of participation that expected during a specific period, dig in and find out why.
4. Communicate with your members
It’s important to keep members appraised of activity in the community. A regular email, if you’re hosting the community on an internal platform, can go a long way. If you’re using Facebook, Twitter or another network, make use of status updates. Just don’t overdo it, however – you’ll need to find the communication mix that is right for your brand.
5. Keep members engaged
Provide community members with incentives for contributing. At Genius Crowds, a product innovation community I used to moderate, we provided community member with gift cards related to different types of community activity – such as posting product ideas, commenting and voting. There’s plenty more you can do. For example, if a new hot topic is posted in the community, send a personal email to members who might be interested, to let them know (this is where your homework on knowing member interests will come in handy!).
We are going through some amazing, transformative times in the business world. I don’t think it’s a stretch to use those words. Digital technology and social media are providing unprecedented opportunities for companies to truly engage and build relationships with stakeholder groups, on a very direct, personalized and humanized one to one level. It’s scaled caring, to the point where companies and brands can create relationships with thousands of customers – and it’s what people are increasingly looking for in the brands they do business with.
Unfortunately, many companies do not yet fully realize or understand this. I have had a number of conversations with peers who work in marketing, communications and advertising – with companies and agencies. Many of them believe that the value and benefits associated with social media, particularly as presented by well-known social media bloggers and authors, are just hype – stating that they are far removed from present realities within the companies they work for or do business with.
Perhaps that is the case. Perhaps their realities are far different. If so, it is unfortunate, because their companies risk being left behind by competitors who embrace the social capabilities that digital enables – no matter which industry they operate in, no matter whether they are B2C or B2B.
Recently I sent a tweet to Gary Vaynerchuk, a well-known social media luminary and author of best-selling books Crush It! and The Thank You Economy, asking for his perspective on the issue. Gary was kind enough to record a video response, which he originally posted on garyvaynerchuk.com and I have re-posted here.
I have read both of Gary’s books, and I agree with Gary’s perspective. I think, in today’s day and age, it is necessary to have an entrepreneurial mindset – to be proactive, to search for new and emerging opportunities to engage with customers and grow business, and to be willing to take risks while doing so. Digital and social are evolving at breakneck speeds, it’s important to be mindful of new platforms which companies can leverage to build relationships with customers. Not all initiatives will be successful, but companies that employ a diverse, well-thought out range of engagement activities will uncover some that are “sticky” and favored by customers.
Having the right corporate culture, one that truly supports the new social paradigm, is also key. According to Jason Baker, Digital Strategist at Magnify Digital and Digicate, “The most important thing for any company is to focus on their culture and how their culture fits into telling their story in an authentic and genuine fashion. Anyone can know that you’re a social company. You can blabber on Twitter for as long as you want in 140 characters, but no one can truly connect with your business until you’ve identified your core values, personality, vision, purpose, and/ or cause. Ask the hard questions to extract those answers, then develop an integrated digital strategy that allows you to share those elements in a passionate, authentic, and genuine way.”
Collectively, we are all learning as we go – and sharing insights along the way. Age and experience in marketing and communications, while still important, are not the be all and end all. Look at the number of bright, young minds who are excelling in digital marketing – there are a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. Awesome!
That said, while lots of the talk is on social and digital, I don’t believe that traditional marketing is going away. Actually, I look forward to the day when traditional marketing and digital marketing just become known as “marketing”. I think there is a fantastic opportunity for companies to develop integrated campaigns across a variety of platforms, telling their brand story while engaging and building rapport with customers. Companies need to pick best platforms and engagement styles that are right for them.
It’s important to think strategically and realize that success in digital and social media will not happen overnight. At the same time, companies need to be nimble and fleet of foot, adopting a culture that enables engagement opportunities to be seized as they arise.
I would like to share an amazing example of customer service, and what can be accomplished when a business truly puts a customer – and not a brand, product or service – upfront and central in its core focus. This is also a great example of why businesses need to be listening to and participating amongst the conversations that are happening about them in social media.
Last month, Dutch airline KLM announced on Twitter that they would be restarting their Amsterdam to Miami route on March 27th. Following the announcement, a Dutch DJ and a filmmaker replied, both indicating that the flight was too late for a DJ festival that was starting in Miami a week earlier. They also mentioned that they could easily gather enough people for a full flight, should KLM wish to move up the launch date so they could attend the festival.
It’s safe to say that most airlines would likely have ignored this request – at most, the DJ and filmmaker would have received a polite reply on Twitter.
What did KLM do? They took the DJ and filmmaker up on their challenge! If the DJ and filmmaker could get enough people to book for the flight, KLM would restart the route to Miami a week earlier. Within five hours, 150 requests for the flight were collected.
On Twitter, KLM announced that they would be re-starting their Amsterdam to Miami route on March 27. A Dutch DJ and filmmaker then replied, mentioning that the flight was too late for a DJ festival in Miami starting a week earlier. They indicated to KLM that they could easily gather enough people for a full flight. KLM took up their challenge – and within five hours, the DJ and film maker collected 150 subscriptions for the flight.
Here is a video that tells the tale:
I really hope more companies follow KLM’s lead, truly focusing on and engaging with customers. You can bet that KLM won over a number of new customers and increased the loyalty of existing customers by changing the date. Sure, there’s no doubt it cost KLM a fair bit of money to make the change – but imagine what the longer term returns will be over the course of the life-cycles of customers who took the flight?
Clearly, social CRM has become part of KLM’s DNA. Rather than just focusing on traditional advertising, they leveraged social media to engage with their customers – and they made a difference, providing true value. Bravo! Way to go!
It goes without saying that the disaster in Japan is an absolutely profound tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many thousands more adversely impacted, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Let’s hope that the current nuclear situation is brought under control, and that radiation effects are kept to an absolute minimum.
Social media and digital technology have played a central role in the disaster on a number of levels – and no doubt have resulted in improved response and provision of aid to Japan. Here are three key positive impacts of social media.
1. Increased awareness of disaster realities
We used to just watch disaster coverage on television, hear about disasters on the radio, and read about them in newspapers. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, we witness travesties on a completely different level. Instead of seeing the after-effects devastation of a tsunami, we can actually watch a tsunami role in – from the personal perspective of whomever is holding the camera.
Through social media, people impacted by a disaster can share the realities of their situation, providing detailed personal accounts. The stories about Japan were passed around, they were shared, and we all grieved. On March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake, 177 million tweets were sent – well above the daily average of 140 million – and a significant number of new Twitter accounts were created
2. Improved disaster response
Social media has become pivotal in augmenting governmental and aid organization disaster response efforts. Facebook, Twitter, wikis and other tools facilitate collaboration and response to disasters on a truly global scale. Volunteer communities can mobilize quickly, regardless of geographical location, to provide varying types of expertise.
Moreover, mobile technology and applications such as Ushahidi allow disaster information to be crowdsourced and mapped – enabling ground level concerns and issues to be identified in a more immediate manner and responded to accordingly.
3. Enhanced fundraising
Social media facilitates fundraising through quick mobilization, ease of campaign set-up, and broad reach through massive social networks. Shortly after the Japan disaster struck, people at SXSW Interactive already began to mobilize a fundraising effort – SWSW4Japan. A website was created within a day, and over $100,000 was raised.
Worldwide, scores of local fundraising events were set up and promoted through social media.
With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.
Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).
1. Participate where the conversations are happening
This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality). Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.
2. Be timely with your responses
Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.
3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services. Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskateers.com. Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!
4. Be careful what you say
Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.
5. Don’t ignore negative comments
In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them. Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.
There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!
By all accounts, The Art of Marketing Conference held in Toronto on March 7th was a smashing success – as speakers provided the audience with cutting edge thoughts and insights on key marketing issues. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, however thanks the willingness of a number of audience members to share what they were learning through Twitter, I did get a flavor of what was being discussed.
Here are the top 50 takeaways I was able to glean from the Twitter stream!
As alluded to in my earlier post on Social Media Week, one of the hot-button topics that ensconced a number of presentations and discussions throughout the week was measurement and metrics. It seems that there is a fair bit of uncertainty, and correspondingly a lot of debate, on how to correlate social media activities with bottom line business results – and provide informed, proper analysis to senior management.
It’s no secret that there is a lot of gray area when it comes to measurement. Historically, for traditional marketing, marketers have focused on metrics such as brand awareness, brand perception and brand loyalty. While important, the accuracy and value of some of these metrics may not be as high as some perceive – particularly in the digital age, when start-ups can rise from relative obscurity rather quickly.
Engaged consumers now, more than ever, hold the true key to brand success. A company can benefit by building genuine relationships, leveraging social media, with key, well-connected consumers – brand advocates. As a result, traditional measures are evolving, and a variety of new tools and metrics – measuring, amongst other things, influence and sentiment – have been introduced.
Digital and social media are very measurable, perhaps more so than traditional media. But how meaningful are the measures for senior business managers who might still be entrenched in old paradigms? What can marketing and communications professionals do to effectively communicate the results of social media activities?
Here are a few key points that come to mind:
Educate. As the social media champion in an organization, be proactive and take the initiative to educate peers on emerging measurement methodologies and metrics – particularly with regards to influence and sentiment.
Set specific and realistic targets for social media activities. Where possible, quantify and correlate them to key business objectives. Emphasize the importance of the results (again, educate!).
Speak the language of business. Over the last year or so, some social media pundits have re-defined ROI as “Return on Influence”. While influence is important to evaluate, remember that business parlance for ROI is “Return on Investment”.
Having some sort of gauge for success is critical, enabling refinement of efforts based on key learning. Equally as critical, it’s important for company peers and cohorts to learn and understand the business value of social media activities.
The strong and immediate backlash to today’s tweet by fashion designer Kenneth Cole, attempting to leverage conversations about the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt to promote the brand’s new spring collection, serves as another example of the power of social media – and how brands *must* participate in a sensitive and sensible manner.
It goes without saying that the was completely insensitive and ill-advised. If you missed it, here is the tweet, which Kenneth Cole himself has taken responsibility for:
“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo-KC”
A couple of hours later the tweet was deleted, an apologetic one was sent, and the following apology was posted on Kenneth Cole’s Facebook fan page:
“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”– Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer”
Will this fiasco have a negative impact on the Kenneth Cole brand? I doubt it. Overall the brand has a very solid reputation, and Kenneth Cole is a known philanthropist – on both corporate and personal fronts. Further, the apologetic response was open, very human in tone, and immediate. Kenneth Cole made a dumb mistake and admitted it.
That said, it’s important to remember – in a world connected by social media, news of a brand’s missteps can reach an awful lot of ears very, very quickly, with potentially damaging consequences. People who represent a company, whether through social media or otherwise, must do so in a responsible and ethical manner – at all levels.
As I write this, I am fresh off of a much-needed vacation in the Rockies. It was great to spend a couple of days with my family, and at the same time, have some “digital down-time”. I did not check-in to a single campground using Foursquare, so sadly I am not on the road to becoming the major of a campground anytime soon! Nor did I access Twitter or Facebook multiple times a day. In fact, I even went a couple of days without checking e-mail. *Gasp!*
In reducing my digital intake, my vacation allowed for some time to reflect on the digital and social media madness that seems to have encapsulated my life – both the positive and the negative aspects.
There’s no doubt that my life has changed as a result of social media. Thanks in particular to Twitter, I have formed a variety of new friendships, with great people whom I otherwise likely would never have connected with. From a learning standpoint, my RSS feed is jam packed with amazing articles that are abundantly rich in information about the changing business landscape. It seems that innovation, particularly in terms of new products and services, and changing business practices, is now happening at breakneck speeds. Mass collaboration, conversations and connectivity are changing everything. I have an open mind, and am excited about the future. I sense that, as a result, my career will evolve in a manner I never thought possible a few years ago.
At the same time, I wonder what the true costs of our increased connectivity are? More and more often, we seem to hear about people needing to go through a “digital detox”. A few years ago, people debated whether they should bring Blackberries with them on vacation, devices that made them accessible to employers and clients 24/7. Now, look at the plethora of ways in which people are connected to the Internet – there are more channels that need to be disconnected. With cars (see the MyFord Touch) and appliances becoming Internet enabled, will it even be possible to escape digital life in the future, short of going on a back-country adventure into the middle of nowhere?
I wonder if a new profession is going to evolve? Digital Life Manager? Digital Therapist?
I still think I need to work on balancing my online connectivity with time I need to spend off-line. This last week reminded me of that.
However, using a human lifespan analogy and starting from when the Internet truly became accessible to the public, the Internet is really only just emerging from it’s teenage years. What kind of ingenuity and collaboration are we going to see over the next decade? What businesses will arise?
Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride. But don’t forget, it’s OK to step out and take a breather along the way. Sanity is a good thing.