3: Your Social Media Success Plan
Most commercial organizations want some fungible reward for their actions - they want to see a measurable result, as quickly as possible, that can be directly connected to something they have done: if they run a newspaper advertisement, they want an increase in sales the very day the advertisement runs; if they redesign their Web site, they want to see an immediate increase in online orders as soon as the redesign is unveiled.
Unfortunately, social media doesn't work this way: it's about creating a positive impression with people, which may not result in an immediate sale - and even if it does, there is usually no direct and measurable connection between a conversation on a social media site and the actions taken by a participant or an onlooker.
(EN: This is similar to the problem of branding as opposed to promotion in advertising. The value of building a strong brand is slow and broad, and though companies generally acknowledge that it contributes to first-time sales and customer loyalty, there aren't many metrics and the few that are used are nebulous.)
As such, many firms that jumped onto the social bandwagon feel their efforts have been unsuccessful. They did not see a jump in sales the day they created a Facebook profile, and assumed the effort to have been a failure. Or worse, they attempted to use social media to do sales promotion, and found that they offended more people than they attracted.
To succeed at social, as at anything, requires starting with a sound plan: realistic and reasonable expectations of the results that it will achieve, and steady action that is in line with the strategy, not random and desperate attempts to achieve something quickly.
Next, a bullet list of the "fundamental tenets" of social media:
- Find out where your audience is and go there
- A lot of activity is more important than a lot of inactive users
- People who speak about you are more valuable than those who merely listen to you
- Contribute and interact in ways that is valuable to the reader
- Be accessible and approachable: social is interactive, not broadcast
- Define meaningful metrics - quantitative metrics are less significant than qualitative ones
Following that, another bulleted list:
- Be consistent. A regular publishing schedule is more effective than infrequent bursts of activity in maintaining a connection with your audience.
- Be appropriate to the forum. Do not take "consistent" to mean you send the very same content through all channels (e.g., reposting every tweet from Twitter to Facebook is a fax pas) - people seek and expect different information through different channels, and if your posts are the same on every channel, even those who care will unsubscribe to all but one.
- Be conservative. The number of people and the amount of information is massive, and it's easy to be overwhelmed. Focus on making the right connections, talking and listening to the right people, rather than taking on as much as possible.
- Be responsive. Social media is about two-way interaction, not one-way broadcasting. Respond to inbound questions and comments.
- Be generous and helpful. If you have knowledge, share it, and provide links to resources outside of a channel for those that want information.
- Be courteous. Do not give people any reason to regret having interacted with you. As to those who are instigators, don't engage in a flame war in public, just block them or unsubscribe to their feeds.
- Be patient. Social media does not yield instant results, and it takes time to build an audience. Human relationships cannot be forced, but develop at their own pace.
- Be selective. You don't need to engage with everyone, and you don't have the time even if you wanted to. Don't feel the need to follow everyone who follows you.
- Be accessible. While you don't want to be overly aggressive in pursuing connections with others, you should make it easy for people to find and connect with you: provide links to your social media profiles where people might be looking for them.
- Be forthright. If you are selling something, don't be ashamed to say so. But it's a matter of balance to promote, brag, and sell when appropriate and refrain from doing so constantly.
After the lists, the author lurches back to the point: especially given the hype about social media, many companies feel the need to jump on the bandwagon just to be part of the "in" crowd, and have no plan - and this leads to disaster.
And then, more bullets - this time about "things to consider."
- Why do you want to get involved in social media in the first place? Specifically: what goals are you hoping to achieve? Are those goals reasonable?
- Are your objectives in social media in line with your objectives in other channels? Are the two at least compatible and not in conflict?
- Are your objectives clear enough to be explained in a brief statement to decision makers at the board level?
- With whom do you wish to connect? It shouldn't be "everybody" or "anybody" but a very specific answer.
- Which people within your organization will be involved? Will it be a single person, or a group? Will different people connect for different purposes?
- Which platforms are the most appropriate or effective in reaching your intended audience? Which are the most appropriate to the type of information you intend to communicate?
- Do you want to leverage your existing software (SharePoint or Lotus Notes) to share information or use a separate platform?
- How will you measure success? Do your desired results and timescale relate to a specific goal you wish to achieve?
- Have you considered the existing conversation before deciding how you are going to contribute to it? Or do you want to start an entirely new conversation?
Measurements and Metrics
Metrics are sued to track progress toward a goal, and can be helpful in doing so - so long as they do not supplant the goal itself. (EN: There's not much elaboration on this, but it's a very important point. If your goal is to promote a product by having a blog, and the goal of the blog is to get 5,000 views a day, you may find yourself blogging about things that have nothing to do with your product in order to get the number of visitors you want, having forgotten that the hit-count is merely a metric.)
Setting reasonable goals is also critical. Especially if you are starting from scratch, you will not build a massive audience in a short period of time - and if your metrics demand this, you will fail to achieve them, or engage in dysfunctional behavior to pump up the numbers. Start with a baseline that indicates where you are today, consider the resources you can devote to a goal, give yourself a reasonable amount of time, and consider what can actually be achieved given those factors.
The author states, "it's a great idea to have a social media corporate policy and a strategy about the types of tools you will use. (EN: I disagree. It's a better idea to discover what tools your intended audience is using and plan accordingly, following your audience as it moves, rather than making a unilateral decision and carving it in stone.)
It's also commendable to encourage your employees to consider how they can use social software to reach customers - but that alone is too vague to be actionable. As with any other activity, it should be driven by business objectives, and you would benefit from having a way to gather data and measure progress.
The author notes that there are many tools, free and commercial, for crunching numbers - but consider whether they are appropriate to your goals. There is no better way to become obsessed with metrics and lose sight of what is meaningful than simply adopting an analytical tool without considering whether the analysis it provides is appropriate to measuring the things that are actually meaningful.
- There are some metrics that are easy to quantify and access: you can very easily measure the number of people who visit your company's blog.
- Other metrics require more effort to measure: do the people who read your blog come away with a more positive impression of your product?
- Still others seem to defy observations: do the people who read your blog advocate for your product in other venues?
The author goes on to list some of the numbers that can be easily gathered, or accepted from the analytical tools provided by service operators:
- Blogging - Number of views, unique visitors, RSS subscribers, comments, reposts, third-party ratings such as Technorati "authority"
- Discussion Groups - number of registered users, number of new users, number of active users, number of message threads, number of posts per day, number of page views
- Twitter - number of followers, number of re-tweets, number of URL clicks, number of posts to you (@you), number of posts about you (#you)
- Facebook - number of fans/friends, number of comments, number of "likes" on posts
- YouTube - number of views on each video, number of channel subscribers, number of comments, ratings
- Flickr - Number of views, number of comments, ranking
The author also lists a number of sites that attempt to provide metrics that expand on what the service providers do: BlogPulse, Brandwach, Google Insights, Klout, Omniture, Technoatic, Twitter Trends, etc. (EN: this will change much over time)
There is a word of caution that metrics and tools change frequently - so it may be difficult to measure performance over a long span (even so little as five years) as existing services will change their calculations or even shut down their sites while newer and better ones will pop up.
Also, trends in audiences change over time. When your numbers seem to be failing, it may be that the audience has migrated to a different site, so site-specific metrics reflect not only your actions, but the success of the site itself.
Choosing the Right Tools
The author presents a flowchart for choosing the right tool. The graphic considers three factors:
- Purpose. Some tools and communities are focused on a specific purpose - for example, if your goal is recruitment, LinkedIn is a better choice than a blog.
- Format. If the information you wish to share can be communicated better by video than text, and you have the means to produce video, consider YouTube.
- Frequency. If your information changes rapidly, several times a day, then Twitted would be more appropriate than a blog.
(EN: The irony is that a flowchart, or perhaps the one the author has devised, isn't really the appropriate tool for making this decision. You should consider all three factors before making a choice, rather than jumping to a specific solution after answering the first one only.)
Also, consider the tool in the context of a task: an organization does many things, and may wish to employ an array of tools for various purposes: a blog for sharing evergreen information, a Facebook page for more frequent and perishable updates, a LinkedIn presence for recruiting.
There should be an overall strategy and coordination among these various efforts, but marrying to one tool to exploit its advantages for one objective also means compromising your ability to do other tasks.
Social Media is Not the New Way of Communicating
The author returns to the misconception that social media is a new way of communication, which enables people to communicate and connect in ways they did not before. Quite the contrary: the reason social media became popular is it facilitated communication that was already occurring - that is, it didn't change the nature of interaction, it just made it easier.
The author considers dial-in bulletin board systems, which rose well before the Internet. A good example of this is "the WELL" which was launched in 1985 - which, like many dial-in boards, migrated online. The nature of the community remained the same, it was simply easier to for users to connect.
The next phase of interaction, still predating the Internet, was online services such as CompuServe and AOL. These were highly popular services, CompuServe having more than three million users by 1995 (EN: I found a reference that suggested that AOL was closer to 10 million around the same time, but it's not clear whether this was before or after is transitioned to being an internet service provider rather than an online service).
The resources offered by these pre-Internet communication tools were largely the same as the ones offered today: the ability to communicate via e-mail, chat, and instant messaging; the ability to download or upload information stored in a file library; the ability to maintain a personal profile; etc.
The author belabors the difference between social and non-social resources (the latter being one-to-many broadcast), as well as evergreen versus frequently updated information, etc.
The primary value of the Internet was not to provide these tools, but merely to consolidate them (to switch from one site to the next was as easy as clicking, rather than making two separate phone calls) and making them more intuitive (it takes some savvy to connect via modem and navigate the unique labyrinth presented by each BBS).
The Growth of the Web 2.0 World
The notion of "Web 2.0" is a reboot of the Internet, one that focuses more on a user that is more actively engaged with services. It's billed as being new and different, but all things considered, it is not: the sites and services that are encompassed in the 2.0 compass don't offer any capability that wasn't already available, and many of their capabilities were offered in the days of dial-up BBS.
Seen this way, the distinction between "Web 1.0 and "Web 2.0" is simply the difference between content published by one person to content aggregated from many - which, again, has always existed, but the focus of service providers has shifted. (EN: I'd add the qualifier "some" or perhaps even "a few" at the present time. The incidence, like the nature, is wildly exaggerated.)
Another distinction that can be mad is in the difference between push and pull information: using e-mail to share a link, you broadcast it to many; using social media, you place it where others can find it at their own leisure. (EN: This is debatable, and I don't see much difference between the Facebook news feed and an e-mail inbox. People's shared links are still thrust upon their acquaintances, and with even less discretion.)
There's also a mention of curating: using tagging systems, the users rather than site operators decide how documents and other files are classified or tagged on the web. The author mentions tag clouds and folksonomies as methods by which users categorize and label information so that other users can benefit from their knowledge.
(EN: This is another thing that is not new, merely consolidated, but more to the point, its success and longevity is in question. People still turn to search engines, and still look to knowledgeable sources to help them find information. It's being re-considered whether ten thousand uninformed people are better curators than one individual with subject-matter expertise.)
Another interesting technology is collaborative development or crowdsourcing, which occurs in the software development industry as well as with "wiki" technology. (EN: Same comment as before, but the disparity is even more exaggerated.)
Socializing and Interacting
Web 2.0 has made interacting with other people easier than it was before, through large networks of people who leverage the same sets of easy-to-use tools.
The author relates personal experience related to the difficulty of staying in touch with a large number of people from disparate groups: family, friends, social acquaintances, co-workers, clients, etc. It would take an incredible amount of time to touch base with each person by handwritten letters, or even with e-mail, or even by participating in a number of different online communities. But given that virtually everyone is on Facebook, it's much easier.
It's also easier to find connections by exploring the social network: friends of friends are easily accessible. (EN: This is readily recognized by the number of people you find, or who find you, on social networks. Connect with one person you worked with a decade ago, and a dozen other people from the same place will attempt to re-connect. Trace their connections and you may find you can connect to many more.)
Shifting from personal to commercial use ...
The author suggests that businesses can take advantage of social media by providing educational blogs about their products and services, including videos and audio tracks to educate their customers. Educators could do the same as an alternative to classroom lectures. (EN: True, but this is not social media: you may leverage blogs and file sharing to do these things, but it is still broadcasting to a passive audience rather than interacting with them in a social manner.)
Another approach is to provide interactive features such as discussion boards and wikis that enable customers to help one another. (EN: This is making the leap to social - if the dialog is interactive.)
The author also advises organizations to construct a "social graph" of their organization, which substitutes for the organizational chart that illustrates the chain of command - because information does not often flow through these same channels. There is a hidden network of people who work across channels to get things done that often is undetected. By doing so, you can identify key people: whom do others within the organization turn for reliable and accurate information, when they need someone to get a complex or critical task completed, or when they need help finding the right person?
Your Strong and Weak Ties
There's also an aside about the depth and breadth of relationships in a social network: some people have hundreds or thousands of connections online, but their connectedness to most of these people is shallow. Others have only a few dozen connections, but have frequent and intimate contact with each person to whom they are connected.
No-one seems to know what the magic number is. The author struggles to find an authoritative source, but seems to come up empty. She refers to "a recent posting on Facebook" that claims a person can only deal with about 200 close relationships and suggests that if you have more, then "it doesn't mean you are popular, it means your quality control is bad or your ego is too big." Also, she refers to a hypothesis (which is to say, a broad statement unsupported by facts) that the number of people with whom a person can maintain a stable social relationship is 150.
Strong ties are generally valued more than weaker ones, but the value of weak ties is not to be underestimated:
- When you have strong ties to a person, chances are you have access to the same information they have, and will generally be in agreement. Weak ties give you access to information you don't have and can offer a diverse perspective.
- The people to whom you have strong ties are likely part of a closely-knit clique of people who communicate in a closed circuit with one another. People connected to you by weak ties are more likely to propagate your information outside of your network.
- Another "clique" effect of people with strong ties is that they know each other very well, but don't know many people outside of their circle of strong ties, or often know the same people. People with weak ties can connect you to more outsiders.
- Likely the same thing, said another way, is that a group of people with strong ties to one another functions as a closed clique, whereas a group of people with weak ties to one another functions as a routing hub
The author considers the model of a computer network as an analogy for a social network: people are servers, routers, and terminals.
- Servers: A server is a person who has a great deal of information to share, but who will only share it if asked. These are the subject matter experts, who are the fountainhead of valuable knowledge.
- Routers: A router oases information from one hub to another: he does not have the information resources of a server, but he facilitates connections between the people who do have it and those who need it but don't know how to get it.
- Terminals: A terminal is a person who needs to get things done, and whose only use for other people is a means to getting what he needs to do his task. This is a "lurker" or a "feeder" who takes from the network, but passes nothing back in exchange.
Naturally, this leads to pigeon-holing and oversimplification if you assume a person to be one type or another all of the time. But unlike network hardware, people are multi-functional devices that can do all three tasks as needed: everyone needs some information from others, has some information that others value, and can help others to connect where the knowledge they have doesn't fit another person's specific needs.
Of the three roles, it's hardest for people to act as a router. They can be counted on to get the information they need (terminal) and to share the information they have (server), but find the middle role awkward. (EN: this is likely a cultural or psychological issue.)
The author provides an odd tip: to respond to ritual questions by sharing a detail along with your response. Her specific example is, when asked "how are you?" she responds with something along the lines of "I'm fine, thank you, although I'm totally delighted to have completed the public folder phase and I'm now onto phase 2 of my Exchange migration project." She advocates doing so to open up the dialogue, and give the other person something they can comment upon that will turn a brief exchange into a more meaningful conversation.
(EN: Uhm ... maybe this is a good idea in moderation, but I have the sense that if someone responded as the author describes, I would probably avoid that person for a while, and likely regard them as narcissistic and annoying. I recall a bit along the lines of "never ask an old person how they are doing unless you have an hour to spare - because they will tell you far more than you really wanted to know." I like the suggestion, but sense it takes a little more thought as to how much to share and when it is appropriate to do so.)