social media ‘skunkworks’: under resourcing engagement.

Posted in outsource social media with tags , , , , on September 15, 2010 by monozygote43

In an ideal world, no company should rush to outsource control over their activity in social media.  The social media revolution is just beginning and this new communication medium is arguably the most powerful public communication medium of all time.

There are simply too many questions with strategic implications not to want to keep accountability and responsibility for social media strategy and tactics within the company community.

Having said that, many companies will struggle to fund the cost (including overheads and the costs of employment) for a permanent internal social media or community manager.  Some will have no option but to buy in strategic facilitation or insight from external consultants, agencies or contractors.

After the strategic compass is set, companies will also need to set up a presence across multiple applications and generate content for the insatiable appetite of hungry followers and fans.  Again, many companies will need to buy in the expertise of designers and programmers who can customize and integrate social media applications and web sites.

But what about engagement itself?  The whole point of entering social media is to execute strategy…monitor, analyze and respond to customer needs and execute the marketing plan.  The end goal is to engage with consistent standards and create trust and brand advocacy in the online community…right?

Even if an internal full time professional is within financial reach, there is a difference between bringing a savvy social media or community manager on board to develop strategy, coordinate internal communities and oversee the standards of engagement…and having the time left over to conduct the ongoing work of engagement at an acceptable standard.

One person may not be able to carry that load effectively.

Many companies seem to be short changing the engagement process after having spent lavishly on planning and set up.  It’s like building a mansion and then cutting corners on maintenance and gardening.  It’s a bad look from the street.

Many companies are basically creating social media departments as a ‘one person band’ with some remote part time workers conducting the work of engagement.  The inevitable cost of that decision is the absence of acceptable engagement standards…the reduction of engagement scope, or the failure to reach acceptable standards in dealing with the online community.

Under resourcing online engagement is the ‘skunkworks’ decision.  Hire someone and make them responsible, but don’t ask with too much veracity whether they can pull off the engagement objectives with the resources they have available.  Put them somewhere where their pain won’t be too audible.  It’s the social media strategy you have when you don’t have a social media strategy.

Some current company practices for monitoring and response online would fall below standard in an Indian telephone call center, let alone in the new public spaces of the social media.  Consumers in social media are rewarding companies that respond in real time.  There are plenty of Fortune 500 companies with 24 hours or even days between postings or tweets.  Many will only respond to those community members posting on their branded social media accounts or at their web sites.  That’s the ‘castle’ engagement mentality which is a hangover from the days before web 2.0 where the digital ether contained only web sites and static ‘bill boards’ or ‘grave stones’.

Don’t believe me?  Pick a fortune 500 company and search negative comments mentioning that company’s brands and products (whether directed to the company’s accounts or not) in Twitter and Facebook.  Try Hewlett Packard or Western Digital Corporation.  Go to their brand accounts in Twitter and cross check to how many of those consumers with problems or issues were ever approached by the brand.  Some large companies aren’t even responding to negative comments in the comments sections and discussion forums of their own web sites and FB walls.  The reason…many don’t have the available time to monitor and respond at an acceptable standard and they have missed the point about engagement as the real focus of social media.

Outsourced providers like ‘We Engage’ are focused solely on performing the work of engagement to a defined standard.  An engagement specialist will achieve far better utilization of human resource and better overhead absorption for the cost of management and expensive technical platforms, than a company that has low or fluctuating levels of engagement work and high fixed costs and overheads.

This is true of smaller organizations with low or intermittent engagement requirements and larger organizations with large peaks and troughs in engagement work.  Outsourced providers like Bill James at  ‘We Engage’ have all the pieces in one line up including creative, marketing, public relations, set up and strategy focused engagement.  Outsourcing can lift engagement standards and increase the scope of engagement.  That’s a tangible ROI.  The ‘We Engage’ model is to reward who have long term engagement contracts with affordable set up and easy access to creative, marketing, technical and public relations advice and support at prices that are way below traditional agency or consultant costs.  That’s another major cost saving against the internal engagement model.

Social Media: The Consumer is Dead. Long Live the Network.

Posted in social media with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by monozygote43

The consumer is dead.  Individual consumers have joined millions of private networks, and by doing so have metamorphosed to become something new.  The private network is more now than the sum of its consumers.  The consumer, like the tadpole, has found its path to new sophistication as a higher order of consciousness and being as the private network.  The migration to existence as a network is in full swing in the digital ether.  The consumer protoplasm at the base of our socio-economic system is restructuring and enabling itself.  The process has only begun.  What will we become?

Why are we changing?  Technological advances in the speed of data transfer and the capacity for data storage reached a critical mass where network communication online was viable.  The choice between network communication in real time and consumer communication at the whim of the owners of broadcast, print, wire and cable infrastructure is a no brainer.  The private digital network offers more power, influence and freedom.  It’s a better life for a former single celled organism.

Marshall McCluhan wrote in 1964 that the electric light was a perfect example of a new medium devoid of content.  A new bright space in the former darkness. The digital social medium is the newest bright space in a former darkness, and now as before, the medium is the message.  Everybody it seems is on a path to take up  residence in the digital ether.

Don’t be confused by the shabby condos and hotel rooms you have to live in when you arrive in digital.  Twitter and Facebook aren’t the message.  The space in which they can exist is the message.  Like all migration, better accomodation will be built down the line.  140 characters is the equivalent of living in a hotel sock drawer with duct tape over your mouth.  However, its a place to set up while we work out how to network from our own URL’s.  Why are we living in the the digital ether in borrowed accomodation by the way?  Curious behavior when the digital ether is an infinite space and we can all have our own URL’s. I think it may be time for the networks to build their own social applications so they can engage from their own URL’s. They couldn’t do worse in the design of functionality, that’s for sure.  Why are we allowing a couple of companies with the imaginations of trailer park sites, to monopolize and dictate the terms of network social relations anyway?

Time for the social application to come home to the private networks?  Time for a non profit owned and open sourced application to bring the social functionality and the revenues home to the private networks?  Mmmmmm.  That sounds good to me.

Through this metamorphosis, the aggregation of consumers into private networks has resulted in the network, and therefore the consumer within it, acquiring volition.  It may be the volition of an infant at this time, but it is volition all the same.

Private networks may now receive and distribute information without dependence on the pathways of traditional media networks.  Private networks may now create private content without dependence on traditional media networks for reward or distribution.  Private networks may now influence, amplify and accelerate opinions and preferences without dependence on the pathways or owners of traditional media networks.

In fact, as we have seen many times recently with events like the problems with the Apple iPhone 4 antenna and the subsequent censorship of Apple’s Facebook wall, there is rarely a day which passes now without the machinations of social media making news in the traditional media networks.  Black as white. Up as down. Effect as cause. The consumer as newsmaker and distributor.

The owners of broadcast and print media must now compete with private networks for content, distribution and market share.

Our socio-political wiring diagram is in a state of magnificent flux.  It may or may not be a political revolution, but is most definitely a metamorphosis of the psyche. From Id to Ego and Super Ego,  I am network.  Long live the democratization of content and distribution.

The omission or inclusion of content by traditional networks no longer means a black out for the hapless consumer at the base of the information distribution pyramid.

Private networks can now direct information horizontally and independently of traditional media channels. If information or opinion is ignored, omitted, emphasized, underemphasized or distorted by reference to the interests of private networks, those networks can and do act independently to share information.  It’s harder to keep secrets.  It’s harder to wait out consumer’s memories by keeping a controlling silence.  The truth as an idea has become even more opaque  It’s harder to determine the objective basis of information, if only because of the inherent number of sources and their interests.

All the old structures for the accreditation of opinion as truth are in decay.  What does it mean to be a journalist?  What does it mean to be a scientist?  What does it mean to be a doctor or a teacher?  In the digital ether, possession of information offers its own accreditation.  All brands take heed.

So why are so many companies still either ignoring these private networks or treating them as if they were undifferentiated consumer protoplasm?  It is clear that at the moment that the best most companies can conceive is to roll out the old telephony model in answer to this new digital realm of customer relations.  I constantly see Fortune 500 companies approaching unhappy customers online in Twitter and Facebook only to ask that they contact Customer Service using the telephone or email.  Really?  You are going to ask me to make a private call to an outsourced Indian customer service backwater, when I have 22,000 followers on Twitter and each of them has a following averaging 1,000 people.  That’s an extended network of 22,000,000.  Really?  Are you out of your cotton picking mind?  I’ll tweet before I call.

I constantly see Fortune 500 companies fail to even acknowledge brand advocacy online.  You have a potential audience of 22,000,000 and you won’t thank me or acknowledge me when I say I am happy with the brand in public.  What are you thinking?

A digital network needs a telephone to communicate like an airplane needs rails.  Networks need to be engaged where they engage (not only at your web site, Twitter account or Facebook wall), human to human and in real time.  So start stroking and start spending now, as are your competitors.

I am network.  The potential risks and benefits relating to delivering or failing to achieve my satisfaction have increased geometrically.  My dissatisfaction can mean network dissatisfaction.  My satisfaction may not only make me a brand advocates, it may make my network a super brand advocate.

Companies seem to have largely missed the underlying promise and threat of this metamorphosis.  There is a monumental potential scalability to relay both positive and negative information around your brand in social media over accelerated timeframes.

I suggest we all reevaluate our investment and commitment to network satisfaction and brand promise.

The consumer is dead.  Long live the network.

social media: what should you outsource?

Posted in outsource social media with tags , , , , on August 19, 2010 by monozygote43

To answer the question, let’s lay out an imaginary continuum from brand ‘goals’ to brand ‘tasks’.  The path from defining a goal to delivering the goal must pass through these stages :

Brand Goal

Move the restaurant brand share from 30% of overall market to 70% of market in 12 months.

Brand Strategy

While the above goal is a total business goal, the strategy for social media might be “to contribute 20% of the overall growth goal from marketing, promotional and customer service initiatives within social media”.

Brand Tactics

The Brand tactics for the social media strategy might be to lift the utilization of individual restaurants in the chain by raising the average occupancy of seating (‘covers’ for those in the trade) to 89% from its current low of 52% by offering a combination of promotions and discounts.  This could break into three elements:

  1. A campaign to target competitor customers (especially disaffected ones), in specific social applications including Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Friendfeed with promotional offers and discounts (33% conversion goal);
  2. A campaign to create brand advocates by offering a combination of exemplary customer service and promotional offers to fans and followers (33% conversion goal);
  3. A game based loyalty campaign where frequent check ins through Foursquare , Gowalla and Facebook (yes, Facebook is location capable now too) are rewarded with promotional offers and discount (33% conversion goal).

These tactics would rely on a pre-calculated pricing for lowly utilized capacity in specific restaurants which takes into account improving the overhead absorption.  In other words, the tactics would rely on a type of variable pricing model that would change the value of promotional and discount offers as capacity was filled (much like the airline model of pricing seats).  Promotions and discounts would be very attractive at the outset of the campaign and would tail off toward the end.

Brand Tasks

Clearly, the work needs to be planned and laid out in a critical path with allocated resources and clear accountability and responsibility.  Hence the need to break down the tactics into tasks.  Tasks for just one of these tactics could be numerous:

Let’s imagine just some of the tasks required to apply tactic number one (1):

  • Monitor in real time all competitor accounts in specified applications and all generally accessible customer comments where there is dissatisfaction with service or quality;
  • Develop pricing/promotional model indexed to available capacity and existing bookings system;
  • Develop Standard Response Procedures defining the manner and etiquette of approach to customers;
  • Respond to competitor customers with a promotional offer within 15 minutes of them expressing dissatisfaction on-line.

So, what should you outsource?

If you are thinking “Oh God, I haven’t defined this strategic continuum, or distilled the tasks supporting the goal” and “what exactly are my people doing out there…and how does it support the goal?”, you may need first to outsource the process of distilling tasks from goals in order to arrive at a project plan for social media.

You don’t need to give up ownership of Brand Goals and Strategy to seek assistance with the process of distilling action plans, metrics. structure and accountability for engagement.  It makes sense to drive through this with external help and a sounding board.  Additionally, provided you are enabled to manage your external providers effectively, social media engagment can be more effective and less costly than internal engagment.

Distilling the goal to task continuum will help you to see the big picture of what has to be done and over what timeframe.

If you don’t have brand goals and strategies, don’t outsource anything.  You need to have the goals and strategies worked out before you engage…whether under your own steam or by means of an outsourced provider.

You will notice that at each level of the continuum, there is a measurable goal.  This is essential for getting at the plan and actual ROI of the strategy.  The reason most campaigns fail is that goals don’t connect to tasks and the metrics required to plan and measure ROI aren’t incorporated into the various levels of the Goal to Task continuum.  If you don’t understand ROI or the application of Conversion rates in comparing action and reaction, you may also want to outsource the entire metrics and reporting aspect.

If you are satisfied pouring water into sand by having no particular measurable goals in mind, don’t outsource. It will simply result in the blind leading the blind.

If you are thinking “the reason I haven’t done this preparation is that I am too busy trying to remain in control of the actual minute to minute engagement in Social Media, you may need to outsource the implementation.  Don’t forget, you are committing to responding and approaching people in real time all day long.  Sure you can hire and train people, bring in the necessary technical platforms for monitoring and response, make space available in the office and define all those procedures protocols and pricing models and guidelines.  But how long will that take?  Do you have that time to spare?  Shouldn’t you be focused on the big picture? What utilization will all those assets achieve if applied only in your organization? How productive will internal implementation be?

Could an outsourced specialist working with higher utilization of those same assets, deliver the same outcome more effectively, and with less expense than you could internally?  Could a tight analysis of essential tasks result in identifying activities which are adding no value to the goal?

In conclusion, assessing the outsourcing option requires you to evaluate the comparative cost and effectiveness of internal versus third party provision.  That assessment often requires consideration of the timelines involved in putting rubber on the road.  It also requires you to assess some of the risks associated with outsourcing.  One thing is for certain.  You need to know the goals, strategy, tactics and tasks of social media engagement before you decide what to do and who should do it.

Social Media Strategy: The Principal Reason for Failure.

Posted in social media strategy with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2010 by monozygote43

The most common reason for the failure of good strategy in social media is the failure of implementation.

Of course there is a lot of bad strategic thinking out there as well, but no strategy is better than its implementation.

The most common reasons for the failure of implementation are:

1. The failure to align brand goals, strategy, tactics and tasks with action;

2. The failure to align action plans with forecast costs and returns;

3. The failure to manage the process of implementation with a short interval focus on the metrics of financial ROI (the only type of ROI that is real).

 Let’s talk about number 1.

Like it or not, the following words have specific meanings and are interrelated:

Goal

• Strategy

• Tactic

• Task

• Action

There is an incredible amount of ‘lore’ floating around in the ether on the subject of Social Media Strategy.  Mention the words “strategic goal or strategy” and everyone falls prostrate before the God of intellect and sublime insight.  Companies spend a fortune for advice on ‘strategy’.  People who can allegedly ‘facilitate’ strategic thinking programs are managing $2,000-$5,000 a day in consulting fees.  With no exception I am aware of, none of them will take responsibility for implementation and delivery of ROI.  Tell me if you know of one who is 100% contingent billing (charging for delivery of results only).  It’s so easy to say you can’t be held responsible for the quality of implementation.

What about the other words: Tactic, Task and Action?  These words fall more to the action oriented among us…the people who cross the line between thinking and doing.  How often is the task of implementation short changed, and pushed down to levels of management where $5,000 would pay the mortgage for 3-6 months?

Let’s face it, strategy is much more sexy than putting rubber on the road, and often the first step of implementation is totally assumed to have been undertaken by senior mangement.

The first step of implementation is to translate brand goals into tasks.  Task is the precursor of action. 

 Take this simple example of a restaurant called the ‘Cheesecake Temple’:

Brand Goal:

• Lift share of the weeknight dinner market by 50% before end 2010;

Brand Strategy:

• Become the preferred restaurant of patrons eating in company of children;

Brand Tactics:

• Target customers of competitors, ‘Trixies’ and ‘Rainbow Cave’ in Twitter and Facebook;

• Text discounts and promos to clients;

• Provide kids web based games at tables;

• Use Foursquare to reward frequent use;

• Giveaway hosted birthday & play credits via FB wall.

 Brand Tasks:

 For the tactic: “Target customers of competitors, ‘Trixies’ and ‘Rainbow Cave’ in Twitter and Facebook”:

 Tasks:

  • Offer promos to their followers in Twitter and fans on Facebook; 
  • Search negative mentions of Trixies and Rainbow Cave in real time, 24/7;
  • Create and use Standard Response Procedures (SRP). Position in company wiki;
  • Create and use discount table to calculate discounts. Position in company wiki;
  • Create and use daily available capacity charts. Position in company wiki.

Simplistic?  Go to the groups who are supposedly implementing your newest social media strategy and ask each one to tell you what they are doing and how it connects to goals strategy and tactics.  Get ready for the disconnects.  My guess is they will be doing ten things that aren’t called for and only half the things you would want them to do.  Ask them if they have any idea of the underlying cost versus benefit projection for the work they are doing.  Love to hear how you go out there.

More detail?  Sure, there is heck of a lot more detail, especially in moving from task to action or project planning.  But you don’t have to go much further than this to highlight where most social media programs fail to deliver the goods, and why most programs managers think  (albeit very socially unacceptable for them to rubbish ROI in public) measuring ROI is difficult and a waste of time.

Social Media: Leave the Telephony Model at the Front Door Please.

Posted in social media with tags , , , , , on August 11, 2010 by monozygote43

Social media is becoming a jungle of automated response.  You follow someone on Twitter, you get an automated reply and a URL tacked on to the message.  You message them human to human and they don’t reply, because they aren’t there.  They follow you, but it’s just them following an automated follow list.  You watch some tweep’s output for ten minutes and see nothing but an automated news and blog feed while they try to dominate their ‘niche’ with hijacked content.  You post on a corporate Facebook wall and get an automated offer or welcome plus directions to their ‘billboard’ (web-site).

It’s hilarious watching one auto-tweep (peep=people, tweep =twitter people) follow, then ‘unfollow’ the other while they pound each other mercilessly with messages that neither ‘robot’ will read or acknowledge.  The geometric progression of insincerity, lost time and lost capacity is horrific.  It’s the definition of futility in a social medium.

“H-I   T-H-A-N-K-S   F-O-R   F-O-L-L-O-W-I-N-G:  N-O-W   G-O   S-T-A-R-E   A-T   M-Y   B-I-L-L-B-O-A-R-D”.

By automating your brand presence in social media, you join the robots.  It’s a bad look and a bad feel.  Robots are soulless. Robots are puppets. Robots don’t have original thoughts.  Why have robots represent you in a medium made unique only by its social element?

OK. I know why you do it.  You do it to lift the velocity of your engagement to real time and cut costs.  You think an immediate automated response is better than a delayed human response.  Is it a ‘toss up’ between being in a conversation with someone who takes two hours to express a thought in reply, and walking into a party where everyone else sends humanoid facsimiles to represent themselves and ‘socialize’. 

I’d rather get a human response 5 minutes later or even 2 hours later than find the brand or person I am engaging is a lifeless bucket of bolts. Human response will be THE differentiating service feature in years to come in social media.

The message for companies engaging ‘human to human’ is: lift your human monitoring and response velocities NOW.  That’s the smart battleground if you want to stay ahead of the game.

Old Spice Man will be a tired memory in the dustbin of historical marketing gimmickry, when the focus on monitoring and response velocity is still white hot.

If you sell some type of soap powder, then go ahead and automate marketing, sales, distribution and customer service.  Set your robots loose.  I’m not against billboards and vending machines in the street or at the bar.  Drop boxes for return of used bottles and cans are fine.  I just don’t like any of them walking around my party pretending to be human.  I invited your mind.  I am looking for you…not your crummy robot.

Decide whether you are selling soap powder and then make a commitment to be essentially automated or essentially human.  If you choose humanity, be selective about who you seek to engage.  Look at your market and figure out where they party.  Keep it human.  Less conversations that lead nowhere mean more human resource for better response times. Plan for high standards of velocity in response.  After I say “hi” to someone in a conversation, I’m not going to wait 30 minutes for their mouth to start moving…not if someone else’s mouth is moving faster.

Velocity like Relevance, is one of several critical (and eternal) standards in social and it is going to be very competitive to see who can respond fastest with a human touch.

Get ready to spend more on social media.  Much more.  While human response in social is scalable, the time and effort  required to set it up is expensive.  As a brand achieves an effective and reliable human presence in social, consumers develop a contingent trust.  Also, the brand develops a wonderful asset in its online brand advocates.  People tell other people the answer.  Consumers market to consumers.  Customers defend human brands.  It’s horizontal engagement and it requires trust.  Nobody trusts robots.  Every time a consumer interacts with another consumer to pass valuable information about the brand, it improves the productivity of engagement by the brand.  This is the open secret about social that will kill the brands that opt to automate engagement.  But it will cost money to get that human presence up and running.  Per Clayton Christensen and his books, social media is truly a disruptive technology, unless you treat it like telephony.

Telephony was doomed from the start as a commercial human to human medium.  Strangely, its privacy represents its weakness as a commercial medium.  It has zero scalability.  Extra calls mean extra conversations and extra salaries and wages.  Nobody hears the conversations in telephony, so nobody learns from them.  Nobody was there to witness the joy or despair.  No horizontal engagement.

We’ve been here and done that automation thing with telephony.  Telephony was automated with AVR and passed about from one agent and one country to another (all robots reading from scripts).  We didn’t like it.  Remember?  It persisted only because we had no options.  Social media is different.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to automate your brand presence in social media to lift the velocity of response and cut the cost of engagement.  Social media is scalable and will pay you back for keeping it human.  Automate, and humans will always choose humans if one is available.  Watch the people migrate from telephony to social media.  Watch them migrate from telephony models to human models inside social media.  Leave the telephony model at the front door please.

Multiple Personality Disorder in Social Media.

Posted in social media with tags , , , , , , , on August 4, 2010 by monozygote43

There is no doubt; marketing and sales functions have arrived in social media.  My question is, when will brand management join them?  In some companies, as far as managing brand in social media is concerned, it really looks like the animals are running the zoo and the brands are running scared.

Look at Kia Motors America and in particular the campaign to promote the new Kia Soul van that includes a major Kia sponsorship of the 2010 Warped Tour.  Kia has a promotions tent on site at the tour venues.  Some Kia marketing genius decides to run a cool contest for fans to meet and greet Christofer Drew.  The problem is that the Kia promotions guy has the fans sucking muddy water from a filthy pool of old rainwater on the ground which is filled with garbage…first to fill a soda can with water sucked up by mouth from the pool…wins?

Watch the video  of the water sucking fiasco.

Drew responded on July 9th just before midday via twitter, accusing Kia of being “inhumane bastards” and saying he didn’t give a F&*% about his contract with them.  Nice right?  125,000 twitter followers and a very popular musician to boot.  Drew was pissed…but more importantly his fans and their followers on twitter were creating a new corporate villain in Kia Motors America.

All that money being poured into the valuable new buzz around their Soul van is being shot out of an open corporate artery by unchecked and reckless marketing techniques. Is there a brand management doctor in the house?  No doubt some several million people saw that tweet, and the re-tweets berating Kia Motors for being inhumane.  How many saw the video (before it went private)?

What did Kia have to say?  You got it…nothing. Since July 7th on their facebook PR account, there is nothing.  Nothing in twitter, and nothing at the Kia motors America website at the time of my writing.  Clearly they were talking to Drew in the extended world.  They needed to be talking in the social media because that’s where the damage was being done to the brand. Where was general management in Kia?  Marketing got them into this…who would get them out?  The Legal function did from the looks of what happened next.  Although, a ‘hear no evil speak no evil’ posture by Kia suggests the presence of old media Public Relations voodoo as well.  You know…wait it out and shut up.  Eventually, everyone will just forget it happened.

Some time on the 11th July, Drew deleted his tweet, but that’s like deleting a word file containing a draft of an email that was published to a few million people.  You can’t delete the memory…and the retweets are out there spread far and wide…and it was re-tweeted mercilessly.

If all this wasn’t enough, Kia are simultaneously running a series of advertisements with singing hamsters who are dressed ‘hood’ and moving to rap music by Black Sheep. Kia have chosen the hood and rap genre to drive the ’soul’ message around the new Soul van product.  Young, independent American men and women of moderate means are their target market.  I am very sure that includes African Americans.  At first glance the ads are clever and entertaining…but not everyone sees it that way.

Search twitter for ‘Kia racist’ and you will find plenty of people saying the ads are racist.  There is plenty of blog activity as well, and action in Kia’s own promotional web sites and comment sections.  People are tweeting and re-tweeting the racist claim and the idea isn’t going away.  Again, there is nothing from Kia PR in an official capacity.

It’s possible that the PR people at Kia also decided silence was the best response on the racism claims…but I’m going to wager they simply aren’t listening and they don’t have a policy for managing events like this.  Does the old “put your head down and just wait it out” policy work in social media?  Will the racism thing just go away?

I don’t want to buy into the racist claims one way or another, but Kia have another social media forest fire here…at least tall columns of smoke are rising.  Does someone need to respond quickly and provide gold plated assurances to the African American segment of the market?  It is pretty clear to me that the choice of the ads theme is actually a huge compliment to the music and the fashion that has been used, because Kia has selected it as the embodiment of ‘soul’.  Well, why doesn’t someone just say that…over and over again?  That would silence most critics.

The media savvy and ‘customer facing’ departments in large companies, including sales, marketing and public relations, have in many cases raced ahead of the remainder of the organizational phalanx to engage markets and customers in social media.  As a result, some have created company personas in social media that appear to be inept, unbalanced and unaware of larger issues relating to brand reputation, trust and after sales service.

In some cases, these companies just take a bad persona in traditional media and walk it straight across to social media.  The amplification and acceleration of social media on already weak branding creates a very negative message very quickly.

In the case of Kia Motors, a self-directing and autonomous marketing function could easily be considered a corporate “alter” that has effectively asserted control over brand behavior in the social media fulfilling all the symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD…now DID).  It’s time for the rest of corporate functionality, and general management, to realize that social media is the future.  Privacy is dead, and marketing and sales can’t be the reigning personality of the company in social media.

See if you can recognize something here about companies you know in social media behave from this description of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) as an individual affliction:

Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by having at least one “alter” personality that controls behavior. The “alters” are said to occur spontaneously and involuntarily, and function more or less independently of each other. The unity of consciousness, by which we identify ourselves, is said to be absent in MPD. Another symptom of MPD is significant amnesia that can’t be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV replaced the designation of MPD with DID: dissociative identity disorder. The label may have changed, but the list of symptoms remained essentially the same”.

Working in social media requires crisis policy and procedure, together with standard procedures for response and standard protocols for elevating decision-making.  If social media doesn’t engage the full functionality of the organization, you may be leaving brand management in social media to an ‘alter’.

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The ROI for social media engagement is increased sales revenue…the same as it ever was…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 3, 2010 by monozygote43

Lately, there has been some serious mumbo jumbo presented in models and blogs talking up the complexity of measuring social media ‘ROI’.  You know…a quadrant for this and a quadrant for that…with arrows going in every direction accompanied by an opaque consulting jargon and expensive reports to explain the opaque jargon. Suddenly, we are hearing an old siren’s song.  “non financial ROI”. 

Anyone else experiencing déjà vu?

When the young priest in the movie the Exorcist claimed he heard the voices of many demons coming from the possessed body of Regan, the old priest replied dismissively…”there is only one”!

The only ROI for engagement in the social medium is revenue from sale of product and service.  That is of course, unless you are not in the business of making money. 

David Ogilvy famously said “let’s not forget, the purpose of advertising is to sell product”.  Amen brother.  That’s the purpose of engaging in social media too.

You can measure anything you like on a balanced scorecard.  If expending funds to deliver those goals doesn’t coincide with an increase in net earnings over some specific timeframe, your shareholders will trample you in the rush for the door. Remember, capital has other places to go and competing returns and risks.  

Clayton Christensen  reasonably justifies investment in social media engagement as investment in disruptive innovation.  By its nature, disruptive innovation may or may not provide immediate or even downstream financial benefits.  Christensen gives excellent justifications for engaging anyway.  They just aren’t ROI justifications.  They play more to the strategic competitive risk of not engaging a new technology.

If there is no immediate ROI, no amount of intellectual masturbation around new evaluation metrics will change that fact.  You can justify the cost of engagement in social media anyway you please at the end of the day.  That justification doesn’t necessarily amount to an ROI.

The problem with calculating an ROI for social media engagement only arises if engagement has little or nothing to do with improving sales revenue or retaining customers now.  If that shoe fits, then wear it.  Let’s not start a new cult of flawed investment logic like those which characterized the dot-com era or the recent housing bubble.

Drill down one level and ask, does my engagement in social media do anything to either reduce the attrition of existing customers or increase the number of new customers acquired?

If the answer is “yes”, your engagement, including basic brand management and simple customer service initiatives should produce a measurable ROI.  The next task is to forecast the impact you expect to have on revenue over a specific timeframe, and the costs you need to expend in order to deliver that ROI.  This will give you a forecast ROI.  Putting the sanity of that forecast aside, you will ALWAYS be left with the actual ROI….actual revenue and actual costs of engagement over any period.

Where the evaluation of actual ROI is concerned, the devil is always in the detail.  Depending on the nature of the business, evaluation methodology will always hit hurdles when it needs to separate the revenue contribution of multi-media campaigns across product.  Suffice to say there are numerous methods for determining the impact of each campaign medium on the financial result.  Often, history holds the key. Staggering the campaign elements can help distil the ROI from an investment in any medium.

Customer service and brand awareness campaigns may not be aimed at immediate sales, but if they don’t ameliorate the attrition of existing customers or bolster sales over extended periods, what good are they?  Again, determining the impact of service and awareness campaigns can be achieved by looking back into history for ‘before and after’ results.  You can run a million polls and surveys, but what do they mean without an increase in sales over some specified timeframe?

It is always better to engage in a campaign where the means for evaluation of ROI are imbedded in the design, than to launch a campaign and then start asking how to determine whether it is making a difference to sales. These are hardly new challenges for companies that believe in measuring real ROI.

Without a forecast ROI, you may as well say, “I don’t have any idea of what financial return I expect to see as a result of investing in social media engagement”.  Again, you can waive the requirement for a financial justification for engagement.  Just don’t try to morph ROI into something it isn’t.

The bottom line is; Don’t engage until you have a financial evaluation methodology defined.  Know why you expect an ROI to result.  Know the time frame over which you expect to see results. Know how you intend to measure the ROI inside the campaign term.  Engage for other reasons if you wish…but don’t call it ROI.

When the novelty , excitement , vagaries and idiosyncrasies of social media subside, or are better understood, ROI will be seen to apply to this new medium just as it did in every preceding medium.  In this context there is nothing new under the sun. The definitions for earnings, revenue, profit, expense and assets will retain the same meanings over time.  Of that I’m sure.