Everything I need to know about e-Marketing… A work in progress

Having just finished a crash-course in social media marketing I actually feel like there was some uptake on my part, despite the incredible volume of information thrown at us and the incredible volume still to learn. I had an epiphany while speaking to the clients for whom my group conducted a best-practices industry analysis; I actually felt like I knew what I was talking about! I increasingly have that feeling when I speak to the ‘outside’ world now that my MBA life is drawing to a close. I’m beginning to appreciate my investment more and more.

As with all facets of business, e-Marketing requires a coherent strategy that tactically addresses the best way to engage consumers online. The e-Marketing course as currently presented gave me the opportunity to explore e-marketing from an academic perspective in ways that I had never really considered it. Simply put, I took social media for granted. I had assumed that a business’ social media presence evolved naturally, with user-generated content driving the discussion. This is, in fact, only partially the case. As I found out, some companies are reacting to social media haphazardly; they are in a given space, be it Twitter, Facebook or the other myriad of platforms that exist, simply because other companies are doing it. They don’t consider what value the platform can bring to their company.  Meanwhile others are driving the conversation. What I came to realize is that this is largely the result of the evolution of a company’s social media presence. There are several beautiful aspects of social media:

1)      It allows for two-way dialogue between companies and their customers, which naturally allows companies to get a better understanding of their market’s qualitative attributes

2)      Analytical tools exist that allow individuals/companies to take really thin slices of their market, deriving incredible value from the segmentation that these tools offer

3)      The combination of qualitative and quantitative insights can theoretically provide a comprehensive profile of the company’s online customer

4)      Online analytics can provide companies with insights into their offline market

5)      Creative use of social media works best when strategies are employed that target these thin slices

6)      Marketing with social media can inform a company’s overall marketing strategy

e-Marketing strategy is an interesting dynamic in that every company reaches some level of social media savvy at a different pace. One of the things that I recommended to our clients is to be patient, that their efforts in social media will take some time and if they are seriously committed to evolving their social media presence they will try to understand their customers and the dynamics of each audience they are attracting on a given platform. During this phase a company should be listening to their customers, be they other companies or consumers. In gaining an understanding of what conversations are actually happening companies can move beyond the listening phase so they are actually directing the conversation. It is in this latter phase that a company can have a seriously positive impact on their business.

The other valuable yet often overlooked insight is that companies should be bridging the gap between their online and their offline marketing strategies. As I described to our clients, social media marketing should be part of the company’s overall marketing strategy, not a separate entity. Social media requires continuity with the other marketing efforts or you run the risk of your efforts it falling on deaf ears, or not resonating with your audience. You have to keep in mind that social media isn’t free; it does cost money. It might not have an innate dollar figure attached to it but there is an investment of labour in maintaining your company’s presence. Ask a company that has hired a social media marketer. That does cost them money, to the tune of whatever small salary marketers demand. Today it is a justified and necessary operational expense, and increasingly so.

To this end, return on investment is a very real and definite challenge to quantify. As part of your social media marketing strategy you have to come to terms with the fact that the metrics used to measure ROI are initially completely subjective, often times directly related to internal goals set forth by the marketing department. In that sense, a company has to determine what level of quantitative ROI they are comfortable with. Simply put, interpreting ROI from increases in fans or likes or what have you is sometimes difficult to come to grips. It’s only after you’ve been in a space for some time, when you can look back on historical evidence, that relationships can be drawn. Once you’re able to overlay revenues with social media data you can start to see where social media marketing is effective.

Companies are still developing an understanding of what social media can offer them from a marketing perspective. This, when coupled with the fact that social media is a perpetually evolving space, means that constant monitoring of current and coming trends in social media is necessary in order to remain relevant to the consumer. This presents both an exciting and sometimes daunting challenge, particularly for those individuals that are already lagging behind. In some respects, you really just have to jump right in with a sink or swim attitude. The interesting thing, though, is that much like a person floating in the water, companies can be perpetually buoyant. By this I mean that companies can reinvent themselves in social media; at the bare minimum, companies only have to invest the time necessary to be in a space. If it’s not working they can simply remove themselves from the game. The true test of a marketing department is how well they can assess the current landscape and coming trends and make it work for the company.

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Optimizing my social media time and effort

I literally just erased a blog I began writing about how much value I derive from my social media experience. The tone was decidedly pessimistic. I mentioned in an earlier posting that I’m a bit of a neophyte when it comes to social media specifically and technology in general. As much as I find it interesting I don’t ever seem to devote enough time to it to really get a grasp on what’s the most current and potentially revolutionary trend. This all begged the question ‘What tools exist to make this easier for me?”. I figured I needed to educate myself before completely giving up on social media.

I started out on Mashable.  I then turned to Wired. Again, not what I was looking for. Solution: Google. A quick search later I ended up at REELSEO.com, an online video marketing guide. From there it didn’t take me long to find a posting on Rockmelt, a web browser currently in beta testing that blends web browsing with social media. This, to me, is an ingenious answer to a paradox that I only recently identified.

Social media is a double-edge sword. There’s a finite amount of time in the day. I have to prioritize what time I do have to maximize my productivity. Technology has typically been a relatively low rung on that time allocation ladder. I believe this is the reason… and the crux of that social-media sword to which I alluded.

1)      I want to be part of the social media movement. I want to feel connected.

2)      There’s so much information that I don’t know how to filter it. I feel overwhelmed by it.

When I consider my options in dealing with these points I find the easiest path to follow is that of abstention. It’s the perfect solution really. And I don’t think I’m the only one to have these feelings about social media, because there are obviously many levels of social media savvy. For every techno-geek out there, for every professional for whom social media is of vital importance to their career, there are thousands of me, the ‘ambivalents’.  Now of course there are those that truly just don’t care but I’d have to argue that a lot of people do.

Back to Rockmelt, a web browser that organizes all of your social media proclivities in tabs (in the same way that traditional web browsers organize different browsing windows that you have open). From what I gather (based solely on a promotional video from the Rockmelt website, I’ll admit), the Rockmelt platform is a lot more intuitive. I just can’t believe it’s taken somebody so long to develop something functional that can educate/appeal to/whatever to such a large segment of the population. So I signed myself up because ultimately I do want to understand and use social media; I’m just looking for a dumbed-down version that I can get my head around.

 

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“Do you have AIR MILES?”

We’ve all had that question posed to us. You walk into a store, find what you need, and roll on over to the cash register to make your purchase. As you wait in line, you watch customer after customer fumbling through their wallets trying to find the ubiquitous card that everybody wants to have; the loyalty program card. And you know you’re going to have to dig into your wallet to get that extremely valuable 4 AIR MILES to add to your startling total of 362 AIR MILES, good enough to get you three packs of partially-used KFC wetnaps. It’s gotten to the point where we want one even if we don’t have any reason for it. I’ve signed up for loyalty program cards in Australia and New Zealand knowing full well that the odds of them being useful to me are about as likely as my needing the entire first season of Degrassi Junior High on Beta-max. Canadians, it seems, have a natural predisposition toward loyalty programs; fully 10 million of us are members of some sort of loyalty program, with the largest membership being that of AIR MILES, administered by Loyalty One. That represents 1/3 of Canadians with membership in the same club!

One of the growing trends in social media, according to Mashable.com, is the development of mobile applications that will take the place of the myriad of loyalty cards that currently prevent your wallet from closing. And now that I think about it, it’s kind of surprising that no one has come up with this before, particularly given that the number of apps keeps growing exponentially; Android, alone has added roughly 80,000 apps in a single year.

The other interesting aspect of this is that loyalty programs effectively give social media a monetary value; the ROI on social media, which has formerly been fairly complicated to understand for the uneducated, is now entirely measurable. The collection of points becomes an analytical tool representing the conversion rate that the specific media platform has generated. Tasti-D-Lite, a frozen dessert chain, has introduced a loyalty program through Twitter and Foursquare that represents a new angle on both loyalty programs and social media marketing campaigns.

What this means is that Canadian retailers have a couple of options in front of them. They can do what they have seem to have done in the past, which, in my opinion, is sit idly by and watch technology move ahead or they can embrace the coming tide and take advantage of our propensity for wanting to be part of something ‘bigger’. It’s nice to be part of a group; facebook has proven that. Canadians appear to get off on it more than most. Mobile apps could make loyalty programs even more appealing than they already appear to be to us. If collecting loyalty program points becomes even easier than it already is the number of participants in Canada could grow to truly absurd levels.

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I just added the word ‘iPad’ to my dictionary…

I’m mean really… a former English major can only look at squiggly red lines on the computer screen for so long, constantly being reminded that he’s spelled something incorrectly even if it’s not a real word!!! But at some point new words enter the lexicon of popular speech. Apple seems to do it over and over, bastardizing my language with newer, lazier ways of spelling. Leave it to techies and scientists to invent words to make their life better. And then expect others to understand what they’re talking about. But I digress…

This is actually supposed to be about how the iPad (and other facsimiles) is taking over modern-day computing, not how the iPad is taking over my dictionary.

So isn’t the iPad just a big iPhone, without the telephone capabilities? Don’t people usually get pissed off when you take something away from them? Consider 15 years ago; the DVD was announced as a new media format, the Nokia 2110 was the top selling mobile phone, and Jumanji was a hit at the box office. If you had told people that they could have a cell phone but it wouldn’t work they’d probably tell you to stuff it.

I used to think that the iPhone and other facsimiles were the future of digital communication, that they would replace traditional computers. I found an article at Futurelab, though, that illustrates just what the iPad means to technology companies. A pretty nifty graphic supports the growth of tablet sales, supporting the hypothesis that the introduction of the iPad actually caused a negative growth rate in notebook sales. That, to me, is inconceivable… So I guess there’s a certain amount of skeptical acceptance that I have to take on.

So what does the iPad represent, then, if not a marching on of technology? The iPad offers western culture the opportunity to keep on consuming. After all, aren’t we always championing the need for economic growth. If we’re not consuming then our economy stagnates and that, according to the powers that be, will be the end of modern society. Technology has given us the means to fuel this economic growth. In the process we have become dependent on technology for economic growth to occur. Therefore, we need to consume new technology for economic growth to occur. It’s the nature of the digital world we live in.

We thirst after the next Apple gadget because that’s what we’ve been programmed to do. If you want to know my worst nightmare it’s watching someone’s hand shoot up in class and knowing that Apple as a business paradigm of innovation and beauty is just around the corner.

The horizon for innovation just keeps on getting longer and longer and at some point one would think that it would have to stop but realistically it’s in our nature to innovate. Steve Jobs will be remembered as a visionary and a sage and a bastion of innovation. And my dictionary will get longer and longer.

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social media and service recovery… stick to your guns?

I’m kind of torn between polarities with the recent Wired Magazine cover and the subsequent reaction by blogger Cindy Royal, who contributes a scathing post on Wired’s use of a woman’s cleavage on its cover to draw attention to an article on the technological advancement of tissue regeneration. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice to see someone gather some momentum against this sort of salesmanship. I think that Wired subscribed to an all-too-often-used tactic to attract readers. Admittedly, it works. I picked up the magazine when I saw it in the grocery store. That being said, I didn’t buy it. Not because I was reacting to Wired’s choice of covers but rather because a) it didn’t interest me, and b) I typically don’t buy magazines that cost more than books (cost-benefit analysis, for me, says I get more out of novels…).

What I did appreciate, though, is the dialogue it spawned, as well as the service recovery efforts that Wired’s CEO Chris Andersen went to, as highlighted in updates by Royal at the bottom of her original posting. It was actually a topic of conversation in my e-Marketing class last night, which inspired this post. One of the students in our class commented that it is her company’s policy not to validate negative criticism posted in response to the actions of her company. Acknowledging them effectively validates the opinion, which can actually fan the flames of the commenter’s ire. In the instance that she cited, not responding seemed to calm the affected individuals, who subsequently contacted the company on a one-on-one level. Of course, this presupposes that the individual’s passionate outrage dampens a bit. It also relies on the individual to seek the company out. Both of these factors have to come together; if they don’t then the company would still have had a disaffected customer… and disaffected customers can be a lot more damaging to a company’s reputation than the strongest supporter (re. United breaks guitars… which lives on by virtue of linking you to the youtube posting).

Social media represents an interesting opportunity for companies to engage in dialogue with their customers. Often times, this open forum provides people with an opportunity to vent their frustrations, as Cindy Royal did. Most importantly, though, is that it then gives companies the ability to cement customer loyalty by addressing the specific concerns of the most ardent complainers. Proper monitoring of the internet not only provides the opportunity for service recovery but it also adds to the opportunity to garner considerable goodwill, not only with the affected individual but also a larger mass audience that could hear of the company’s efforts to fix the problem.

Basically, companies have to be aware of what’s being said to and about them on the internet. Customer service is nothing new for companies; when was the last time you were in a bricks-and-mortar store that didn’t have a customer service desk/department. It appears that a lack of customer service on the internet is admissible, but it’s also potentially very damaging. Service recovery takes acknowledgement of the commentary and a little determination on the part of the company. Negative commentary can be a positive or a negative if the company reacts positively to it.

Update:  November 17, 2010

In searching for subject matter for my next post I came across this article on Futurelab, a marketing strategy website, that speaks directly to the potential for disaster of poor service recovery in social media. Cook Source, a recipe magazine, decided to reprint a person’s recipe without formally notifying the individual. The editor, Judith Griggs, in a very poor display of judgement, decided that rather than attempt to reconcile her mistake with the disaffected recipe scribe she would launch a counterattack that was quickly posted to the person’s own livejournal. The result was quick and decisive. Still, the editor persists with her indignation at the recipe author’s persistence, demonstrating a clear misunderstanding of social media, glorying in the fact that the fiasco actually increased traffic to the Cook Source website. The question is whether the increased traffic a) is positive and b) if it is positive, will be sustained and translate into increased revenue…

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TED Talks Social Media

The idea behind the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences is to gather thought leaders from a multitude of disciplines in a central space to stimulate and foster dialogues on a vast array of topics currently relevant in and to society. Social media, in much the same way, harnesses user-generated content to stimulate dialogue amongst both contributors and consumers. The organizers of the TED conferences host these ‘TEDtalks’ online for public consumption free of charge, paying tribute to the true spirit of open discourse. Interestingly, TED.com offers an online history of commentary on social media that provides incredible insight into where social media has come from and can indicate where it is going.

An interesting starting point in the history of social media is a 2006 TEDtalk hosted by Mena Trott, a woman considered to be a pioneer in the early days of the blogging revolution. Her TEDtalk, ‘on blogs’ sets the stage for understanding why some people contribute to social media, be it for personal gain or for the benefit of an organization. She then juxtaposes this against her own reason for entering the blogosphere, which she describes as due to a high degree of self-involvement; she wanted to be heard. Regardless of an individual’s motivations for contributing to social media one thing is clear: there is an unbelievable number of voices actively seeking acknowledgement. Whether they get that acknowledgement doesn’t even really seem to matter. Social media provides them with a forum to put their opinions out into the world and if someone chooses to pay attention to that voice the world is a different place, for better or for worse. James Suroweicki, in his 2005 TEDtalk address ‘When Social Media Became a News Medium’, astutely points out that most people are ultimately doing it for free, which is a paradigm shift in our perception of the value that individuals place on their creative work. The result of this is that the collective knowledge being offered up for consumption is undeniably enormous. Suroweicki later states that ‘under the right conditions groups can be more intelligent than the most intelligent individual in the group’. This, to me, is the essential value of social media; contributing voices have the potential to advance something, anything, at an incredibly fast pace. If harnessed properly its value is immense to both users and non-users.

At the outset of that same TEDtalk, Suroweicki suggests that there was a specific day, December 26, 2004, during which social media became a validated and accepted, useful, and indeed revolutionary medium to convey news stories around the globe; a tsunami careened across the south-western Pacific Rim, with Thailand bearing the brunt of its force. Using evidence gathered from the blogosphere Suroweicki describes how on that day unorganized and uncharacterized amateur ‘reporters’ were able to paint an incredibly detailed picture of what was happening on the ground. And they were able to do so better than the traditionally accepted forms of media because of the connectivity of social media. Another illustration of this is highlighted by Clay Shirky, who, in his talk ‘How Social Media Can Make History’ describes how the BBC learned of a devastating Chinese earthquake from social media; the quake became global news on social media before the U.S. Geological Survey even knew that it had occurred. What this means is that social media, in addition to serving a more generic (and often mundane) need by individuals for self-expression, is an incredibly valuable tool in communicating exceptionally important information in real time. While real-time reporting was possible in the past, it was intermittent and completely random. Social media will allow this in perpetuity because as time passes more and more people are becoming connected to the conversations taking place, which increases the number of sources for information with each additional voice.

One of several common themes in the TEDtalks is that of the role of and need for leadership in social media. None speak more eloquently than Seth Godin who, in his talk ‘The Tribes We Lead’ speaks on how social media has fundamentally changed the way ideas are generated and spread. The internet, at once chaotic and structured, creates what Godin calls silos of ideas. Without leadership these silos function independently, never gaining a voice. According to Godin, leadership, therefore, is ‘about finding a group that is disconnected but already has a yearning’ for something. In consolidating these disconnected voices social media has an opportunity to create a movement, and it has the power to do so much more quickly than traditional media simply by virtue of the speed with which information can be spread. This speed, coupled with the tendency for users of social media to consolidate in networks like facebook and Twitter, results in an incredible opportunity for individuals to organize thoughts and populations that already exist; the sentiments are there and all that remains is for the movement to take shape. What it relies upon, though, is a coherent vision from a faceless individual to amalgamate these things in a central location, be it on a blog, facebook, Twitter, or some other useful location. If you can find your faceless individual, if you can find that leader to connect the silos of ideas, you can create a movement, something that Godin rightly highlights.

The power of social media as a tool for communicating information and connecting individuals has evolved since it first developed its valued place in society. Its evolution is rapid and its implications are complex. Its appeal is that it’s unpredictable and its challenge is that we want to predict things; we want the satisfaction of being able to say ‘I saw this coming’. Social media, however, has a life of its own and we continue to be fascinated by it, trying to understand, if not control what will come next. Being at the forefront of its next wave, whatever it may be, creates tremendous advantages for those aware of developing trends.

Works Cited

1)      TED.com- Ideas Worth Spreading. http://www.ted.com

2)      TED.com biography. Mena Trott. August 2006. http://www.ted.com/speakers/mena_trott.html

3)      Mena Trott. ‘on blogs’. Filmed Feb 2006. Posted August 2006. TED Conference, LLC.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/mena_trott_tours_her_blog_world.html

4)      TED.com biography. James Suroweicki. November 2005.

http://www.ted.com/speakers/james_surowiecki.html

5)      James Suroweicki. ‘When Social Media Became News’. Filmed February 2005. Posted November 2008. TED Conference, LLC.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/james_surowiecki_on_the_turning_point_for_social_media.html

6)      TED.com biography. Clay Shirky. June 2009. http://www.ted.com/speakers/clay_shirky.html

7)      Clay Shirky. ‘How Social Media can Make History’. Filmed June 2009. Posted June 2009. TED Conference, LLC.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

8)      Sichuan Earthquake. (2010, May 8). The New York Times. (online).

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/news/science/topics/earthquakes/sichuan_province_china/index.html

9)      TED.com biography. Seth Godin. May 2009.  http://www.ted.com/speakers/seth_godin.html

10)   Seth Godin. ‘The Tribes We Lead’. Filmed February 2009. Posted May 2009.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html

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Tweeting for Social Impact

I just spent the last three days attending the 2010 Net Impact Conference hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (incidentally an incredible piece of LEED architecture), immersing myself in all things “Sustainability”. For those that don’t know, Net Impact is a global organization that consolidates the combined passion of business students and professionals for sustainability into a cohesive voice for change toward developing sustainable business practices in everyday life. In attendance were over 2500 undergraduate and graduate level business students, as well as corporations wanting to share their message.

The sheer breadth of topics available to conference attendees was, in a word, immense. Topics included Corporate Impact, Urban Development, Cleantech, Social Entrepreneurship as well as a host of others. This is where social media entered the picture. Attendees were encouraged to actively use Twitter to share their thoughts on individual panel discussions they attended as well as the conference, itself.

What struck me was the power that tools like Twitter have for grass-roots movements like Net Impact. Net Impact doesn’t attract individuals interested in a single area of sustainability; they are interested in the advancement of the Sustainability Movement as a whole. As such, each attendee was forced to choose which of the 350 panelists were the most ‘valuable’ to their learning, meaning that there was a ton of information left on the table. Twitter gave conference-goers access to far more information than they otherwise would have been able to get.

Now this doesn’t seem like much, really. I mean, people have been using Twitter as a way of spreading information since its inception in 2006 and its followers now number in excess of 100 million users. There are, on average, 750 tweets per second (representing 65 million tweets per day); Twitter is firmly entrenched in social media and in Western society.

Contrast this with the Sustainability Movement in business. While it is gathering momentum you don’t have to go far to realize that it is still very much on the fringe; most schools don’t even list sustainability classes as an option in the program overview and those that do offer it as a stream are still refining the way they structure the classes. Twitter offers an opportunity to individuals who want to expand their awareness on the subject or spread its message. It also allows users to feel like part of a collective, not an insignificant thing when you consider the seemingly insurmountable challenge facing anyone trying to strengthen the voice of a movement.

I’m not a Twitter user. (Hell, this is actually my first independent blogging effort!) That being said, I somehow feel that I should be and am also somehow embarrassed that I’m not. It’s becoming a network externality in business; in order to leverage a company’s marketing efforts you have to stay in touch with opportunities at your fingertips. Figuring out how to do it effectively is why I’m in this course…

112,050 = the number of tweets posted since you began reading this post.

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