Setting up a successful social media program

Assuming that your company is one that has something to gain by social media engagement you have to decide how to deliver successful initiatives that advance tangible business goals. That may mean going to an agency for help or finding internal resources. In many cases, it’s a split of duties between your company and a marketing/advertising/pr firm. I’d like to offer some experience-based recommendations on how to divide social media tasks.

The first step is to understand your goals. Are you trying to create awareness and loyalty? Do you want to drive website traffic? Do you intend to generate qualified leads? Is providing better customer support a goal? Clearly thinking through your primary goals will help you understand which social media tactics support those goals.

Next, assess your social media readiness. How many of your employees are on Facebook or Twitter? Do any of them blog? What sort of social media footprint does your brand project? Are people talking about your brand? Identify which venues they favor and determine whether the sentiment is positive or negative. This information provides a baseline against which you can measure the impact of your program.

Determine what mix of resources will deliver cost effective results. For example, UPS has an in-house blog monitoring program that leverages receptionists as blog readers. Their reporting is aggregated so that marketing folks can understand what’s being said in the blogosphere. Perhaps you have an agency that is able to monitor blogs too. That’s fine, provided they can move as fast as a viral story does online. A weekly blog coverage report doesn’t cut it when a story can propagate online like wildfire. A frequently updated wiki or media dashboard is a better solution for keeping everyone informed.

Communicate with authenticity and transparency. The era of social media has opened up organizations that were opaque in the past. People have come to expect that company executives and employees have social network presences and can be engaged in authentic dialog. The expectation of dialog comes with an expectation that they are communicating with someone that is knowledgable and “on the inside.” This argues for putting Twitter in the hands of your employees, just as Zappos.com does. They have over 400 employees on Twitter and it has become a defining part of their culture.

So if your employees are monitoring the blogosphere, tweeting and at home on Facebook, what’s the role of your agency? A good agency will have broader and deeper experience with social media than you. Their lessons learned are useful and may help you avoid mistakes. Marketing agencies can develop integrated campaigns and leverage your resources, web shops are able to build Facebook applications and drive traffic and PR firms can orchestrate blogger relations in support of events and product launches. Agencies can round out your resource set, provide ideas and direction and guide your strategic thinking. Just don’t give up the most important thing, your authentic voice.

Blogwell Conference – Kaiser Permanente’s Case Study

If nothing else, the Blogwell conference was one of those rare occasions when case studies are presented clearly and without hype. All of the presenters were focused on making a difference with their respective constituents.

Hilary Weber, Kaiser Permanente’s Director of Internet Marketing Services presented Kaiser Permanente’s social media strategies and tactics. Kaiser Permanente (KP) is one of the largest health care providers in the country with over 8 million members. They have an ongoing need to communicate with their constituency, but since they are in a very highly regulated industry, they have to choose their communication themes carefully.

For example, HIPPA regulations restrict them from revealing patient information. Another example they cited referred to suicidal postings on a member forum. If they are aware of it, they have to respond to it. Obviously the selection of the topics they blog about has to be done carefully.

That’s why much of their work online reinforces brand awareness rather than engagement in all of the issues that concern their community. Their experience with blogging has taught them several fundamental lessons about making your corporate brand work for you, not against you. They focus on their brand positioning as health advocates – proactively helping people to be as healthy as they can be. In other words, KP helps people to thrive. Lessons learned include:

1) How to begin blogging – Don’t go it alone. Find out who in your industry is blogging and reach out to them to find out what worked and what didn’t work. Don’t re-invent the wheel.

2) Recognize that we’re all in this together and much of it is “uncharted territory.”

3) Start out with a “safe” topic.

4) The best way to get a good resource is to be a good resource. Best practices

A corporate blog is simply another tactic when it comes to brand. KP had an internal homegrown newsletter that evolved into a branded weekly newsletter for members. It was a natural step to change the format to a blog. They’ve found that their best bloggers have the passion, creative talent and motivation to contribute on a regular basis. The very best are true brand advocates.

Know your audience – Much of KP’s view of social media is influenced by Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. KP’s member research identified what their members do while online. They found that most users are viewers, collectors and critics. That lead them to create a mini site that satisfied their member’s need to view, collect and critique. The mini site is a hub for interactive components such as the Burn It Off fitness calculator. The calculator allows you to figure out how long it takes to burn off calories from the snacks you’ve consumed.

Contrast that with another idea, a recipe contest. KP found that the contest does not align well with user behavior because it takes too long. It was simply too much work for their members and they had very little uptake on the contest. On the other hand, an interactive poll saw lots of user attention because it meshed with their audience’s penchant for critiquing.

KP’s recently been working on sonic branding as a part of branded music initiative. Making the music available to the members satisfied another favorite user activity, collecting. KP does a similar thing with video files on their mini-site because it plugs into the desire to view. Future ideas include a daily brain teaser (for seniors), daily office yoga pose, more polls and a suite of blogs.

Their media relations team monitors blogosphere sentiment weekly. They note positive, neutral and negative sentiment that is relevant to their brand. They have guest bloggers posting on various sites to counter inaccuracies.

Their current focus is building an internal social networking capability using Jive Clearspace. That should prove interesting. That will be nothing short of a massive change management project for their organization. Maybe we’ll hear more at the next Blogwell event.

Social Media Monitoring at UPS

Debbie Curtis-Magley from UPS spoke at Blogwell yesterday. She spoke about her experience starting up and running a social media monitoring function. Brown has been monitoring the blogosphere for less than a year. In that time, they have accumulated hard won wisdom about the function as well as faced unexpected challenges. Their toolset includes TNS Cymfony and Tweetscan.

Their monitoring has revealed all kinds of conversations about their brand. Some good conversations along with some less than flattering conversations. One of their first key lessons learned is that monitoring and analyzing the blogosphere can be overwhelming because of the sheer volume of content. There are so many references to their brand that they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that they won’t be able to read everything. Some things will slip by. The best they can do is to sample the content and make inferences based on that sample.

The UPS experience suggests that there are some key considerations before embarking on a blog monitoring program.

1) Ask yourself what do you want to learn from the program. How are you going to use that information? UPS is interested in:

General Brand Conversations – degree of chatter that mentions your brand

Reputation topics – monitor issues that represent opportunities or threats

Business Industry sectors – brands role within market sectors

From a PR perspective, UPS looks for message playback. Are the messages being understood and repeated? Understanding how UPS is mentioned is often translated into opportunities for improvement.

2) Recognize the limitations of monitoring

UPS appears in many off topic posts about pushups or meetups or universal power supplies. All of them have the letters UPS in the string. Between that and mentions of people that are selling products and shipping via UPS, there’s lots of noise to filter out. UPS engages in a great deal of thought and work around filtering out the noise. Automated tools are useful but have limitations. They filter and organize but they haven’t found them useful for analyzing content. Some tools that algorythmically score positive and negative sentiment, but you really need human intervention to understand context and sentiment.

UPS decided to handle monitoring internally and devotes staff to conversational analysis. Each staffer gets one topic per day to monitor and they spend about an hour per day monitoring. That gets a good representative sample of conversations. UPS uses receptionists for staffing the monitoring function.

3) Understanding trends in conversations.

Look at conversations over time. That helps validate if there are issues to be resolved. They also track accomplishments and try to understand the effectivness of their messaging. Are the messages being repeated and understood? Monitoring shows which messages resonate.

Analysis is done in-house. Staff collects monitoring data on worksheets, then they analyze and write custom reports. The manager gives guidance of what the staff needs to look for, but the staff identifies the blogs and conversations. UPS measures the volume of conversations on particular topics, determines the share of voice for UPS and their competition, identify key influencers and issues and gauges the tone of conversations (positive, neutral or negative).

4) Internal blogs

UPS leverages their employees for internal blogs. Drivers, package handlers, etc… they blogged and vlogged from the company’s Centennial celebration. The staff blogged from the Beijing Olympics (UPS was a sponsor). As a NASCAR sponsor, they blog about that, too. The internal blogging program is very popular with their employees.

A .500 Average

Adam Sarner recently asserted that 50% of social media initiatives are failures. The short snippet I read was light on details and never defined success. That’s probably because success is such an individualized thing. No two clients are alike.

I’m not sure how the PR industry measures itself. I’m sure it’s not as anal as baseball, but efforts at statistical analysis are sure to progress. Batting .500 right now sounds good to me. Let’s compare that to the success/failure ratio of big IT integration projects. Their average is less than major league pitchers.

Despite the headline, Adam ended on a high note.

“When asked whether the faltering economy will mean that businesses are cutting back on this largely unproven field of social media for marketing or customer relations, Sarner said he didn’t think so, and that many businesses will turn to the Web to stay in touch with consumers during a difficult financial climate. “This is going to be a lifeline,” he said. “You don’t ruin your customers, and your spirit of customers is probably the only thing you have.””

Right on…

Social Media Club Drinkup

The venerable British Banker’s Club in Menlo Park was the venue for the Social Media Club’s drinkup in Silicon Valley this evening. A number of San Franciscans showed up, refugees from the fog belt. Plaid generously sponsored a few rounds for the crowd. They’re a design shop in Danbury, Connecticut that has the balls to stage a west coast road trip to win hearts and minds. They packed their plaid van with swag and left Vancouver, BC about a week ago. They’re headed down the coast to San Diego before hightailing it to Vegas. They’re fools if they don’t stop in Palm Springs. Really.

I applaud their spirit of adventure. After all, it won’t be long before we’re all driving electrics with 150 mile range. The road trip as we know it is destined to become a nostalgic thought.

If your summer’s looking like one big staycation, then check out Plaid’s video feed from the van. I’m sure the Danburians will be digging it.

TechCrunch 3rd Summer Meetup

Going to TechCrunch’s 3rd summertime fling wasn’t at the top of my list for a Friday night. I ignored the event until Twitter-aided social alchemy came into play.

I was without Twitter for 10 days. A series of epic hardware/software fails kept me off the grid. On the eleventh day I settled in with a reconditioned Lenovo (oy!) and installed Twhirl. One of the first tweets I spied was Arrington putting up 200 invites for grabs. I jumped on it. Within 4 minutes all were taken.

The gig started at 5.30. Not that the Valley is a 9 – 5 place, but I figured that there would be a lot of Fred Flintstones sliding down the tail of their dino at 5 and making their way to Sand Hill Road. I got there at 6.30 to find a minor traffic jam adjudicated by rentacops. Once parked, there was a long line, but the socializing wasn’t bad. The shock for me was this…. young entrepreneurs being carded at the door. The borders of the sub 21 crowd’s badges had a different color to indicate their lack of drinking age.

I often ask myself why I give up a Friday night to attend such events. After all, none of the ideas are nearly as interesting as what you can find at MIT’s Media Lab or Stanford’s AI lab. The reward I get is seeing so many old friends. These are the ones that were there when this whole damn thing got started. I won’t name names, but they are the ones that were ambling about the West Coast Computer Faire thinking that this is cool shit.

Every generation has inventors. There are visionaries born every day. I just hope that none of us ever forget that seeing the unseen is still the game. We all need a bigger dose of that.

Perception and Behavior

The Conversation Group occupies an interesting niche. Our clients come to us because we understand social media. They value our ability to uncover the new influencers and engage them on blogs, social networks, or other digital venues. Their objectives often require a mix of media relations and marketing initiatives. This split between pr and marketing can be difficult sometimes.

A client may have a BHAG like “increase our valuation by 50%.” In part, that’s a matter of perception and thus a job for public relations. PR deals with people’s perception of events, brands and products. It’s a difficult discipline to pin down in terms of ROI yet most everyone can point to examples of artful PR initiatives, even if they are unaware that an agency was behind the article or TV spot.

Marketing is about influencing behavior. Another client’s BHAG may be something like “let’s increase sales in our online channel by 50%.” In order to achieve that goal, marketing strategies and tactics are employed to influence behavior. A successful marketing campaign will cause more people to purchase the product online.

What happens when you integrate the two practices? Can behavior and perception be influenced by the same agency? I believe the answer is yes. This is a new take on integrated communications. At the end of the day, this is what our clients are asking us to do. Integrating pr outreach with marketing programs has the potential to drive consumers in the direction that a brand desires.

Public relations and marketing each have their strengths and weaknesses. Together, they augment the weak spots of each discipline. Such augmentation is difficult at best when two teams handle PR and marketing separately. That’s why I think The Conversation Group will continue to deliver real results for our clients. We are able to move the needle on perception and behavior all under one roof.