Social Media ROI and Obliquity

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image via FlickR courtesy of LucyFrench123

image via FlickR courtesy of LucyFrench123

“The problem with brands in social media is that they act like 19 year old dudes”.
Yelled Gary Veynerchuck at SXSW, excited as ever.

His point was that there is a tendency to approach every interaction with a single goal - sex for the dudes, sales for companies. And to rush towards that goal without pausing for breath.

I have been reminded of Gary’s comment a few times this week. Mostly by the economist, John Kay.

John has a new book out: Obliquity – why our goals are best pursued indirectly. And as a result he’s cropping up everywhere at the moment.

The premise of his book is that the greatest, most profitable companies achieve success as a result of focussing on higher ideals than cash generation. This is not an especially groundbreaking theory - I’ve rarely met a successful entrepreneur who was primarily money-motivated. However I do think he has coined a super phrase and one with a distinct social media relevance.

Obliquity - why social media goals are best pursued indirectly
Success in social media rarely comes from being the 19yr old dude. Sustained social media ROI relies on building realtionships, not converting one-night-stands. The tools of social media provide a new form of communication. As a result they can help you improve products, processes and customer relationships. An indirect, or oblique benefit, might be more sales.

However, obliquity is a tough message when you’re a nervous marketing manger who only likes to spend money on safe bets where ROI has been proven upfront or in advance.

The tragedy of social media is that “digital can be measured”. This drives a desire is to spend £1 and get £1 and 10 pence back before investing more. Whilst such an approach is fine for Google Adwords or other search marketing, social media plays by different rules.

Please don’t act like the 19yr old dude. Customers can spot it a mile off. You’re far more likely to achieve social media ROI if you focus on a different (oblique) business goal first. Use social media to engage customers. Use social media for deeper customer insight or to improve your customer service. The cash will follow.

The Economist on Social Networking

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The Economist on social networking - world of connections

The Economist on social networking - world of connections

What joy. This week,  The Economist, every Capitalist’s favourite magazine, has published a special report on on social networking.

A World of Connections, provides an excellent overview of the current state of social media for those still trying to get to grips with it. You can download a free pdf of the report here. Or check out my summary of key highlights below.

Introduction: A world of connections

  1. “Online social networks are changing the way people communicate, work and play”
  2. Facebook users post over 55m updates a day. 70% of users live outside the US.
  3. Social networks are superb tools for mass communication [NB the report is a bit light on their strategic use as a driver of 1-to-1 customer-to-company communication]
  4. “the most avid online networkers are in Australia, followed by those in Britain and Italy”
  5. Social Networks have “become important vehicles for news and channels of influence”. Indeed, they “played a starring role in the online campaign strategy that helped sweep Barack Obama”
  6. To sceptics all the “talk of twittering, yammering and chattering smacks of another internet bubble in the making“. Social networks still “need to prove to the world that they are here to stay”

“This special report … will argue that social networks are more robust than their critics think … and that social-networking technologies are creating considerable benefits for the businesses that embrace them, whatever their size. Lastly, it will contend that this is just the beginning of an exciting new era of global interconnectedness that will spread ideas and innovations around the world faster than ever before.”

Facebook’s growth: Why social networks have grown so fast—and how Facebook has become so dominant

  1. How the network-effect can drive lightning fast growth on a relatively modest marketing budget.
  2. An openness to external developers helped create thousands of apps. These apps provide part of the service and additional reasons to spend time on Facebook.
  3. Social networks have been beneficiaries of a fall in the cost of data storage and have also been “able to use free, open-source software to build systems that scale quickly and easily”
  4. In a feat of technical wizardry, Facebook’s engineers “quintupled the performance of an open-source memory system called memcached, which allows frequently used data to be retrieved faster than if stored in a database.
  5. Facebook Connect is one of the firm’s most important innovations as it allows members to take their social graph wherever they go on the web.

Twitter’s transmitters: The magic of 140 characters

  1. A key difference between Facebook and Twitter comes from the nature of relationships that underlie them. “On Facebook, users can communicate directly only if one of them has agreed to be a “friend” of the other. On Twitter, people can sign up to follow any public tweets they like”
  2. The most prolific 10% of Tweeters account for 90% of all tweets
  3. Another big difference between Twitter and Facebook is in the kind of content that gets sent over their networks. Facebook allows people to exchange videos, photos and other material, whereas Twitter is part-blog, part e-mail [I disagree with this. On the surface Twitter looks like a text tool, but many tweets link to videos, photos or other media].

Social Networks making money: Profiting from friendship

  1. When it comes to turning users into profits, social networks face two issues. Firstly, users are taking part to spend time with friends, so they do not pay attention to ads. Secondly, brands are nervous about appearing alongside unregulated comments and other content.
  2. Click-through rates are low, but the amount spent on adverts is increasing despite the recession.
  3. In part this may be because Marketers recognise the value that personal recommendations can have on buying behaviour. And social networks provide an opportunity for viral marketing.
  4. During 2009, Facebook turned cash-flow positive on revenues thought to be in the region of $500m.
  5. Games, virtual gifts, premium services and search rights are becoming an important part of some social networks’ revenue streams

Social Media for Small Business: A peach of an opportunity

  1. They cover the well known Kogi BBQ social media success story and mention that according to Razorfish 44% of people follow brands on Twitter  for deals [NB the methodology used in this research was rightly brought into question by Susan Braton in a recent DishyMix podcast]
  2. Social networks can provide a great launchpad for startups thanks to their reach.
  3. This article then randomly veers off into social gaming. A subject that deserves it’s own dedicated piece. But you can’t have everything.

Internal social networks: Yammering away at the office

  1. Social networks are being used to break down internal barriers in the corporate world.
  2. Informal conversations they allow can be a catalyst for creativity and new ideas.
  3. “The networks are also a great way to capture knowledge and identify experts on different subjects within an organisation”

Recruitment in a social world: Social Contracts: the smart way to hire workers

  1. Social networks, such as Linkedin and Xing help firms cut search costs
  2. Business social networks help improve the efficiency of the labour market
  3. They have also made recruitment more transparent as recruiters go onto social networks to check up on candidates ahead of making an hire

As an aside, if you’re interested in social media for recruitment here are a few relevant posts from our sister company, FreshMinds Talent:

How to use Web2.0 for recruitment
Social Media and the forefront of the job market
How to imporve your Linkedin profile

Privacy in social media: Privacy 2.0

  1. Privacy could be the Achilles heel of social networks. Users could decide to start reducing what they are prepared to share with the world online.
  2. Social networks have been developing privacy controls that give users the ability to edit what can and cannot be seen. However these are often hidden away within sites and social networks are making blatant attempts to encourage more sharing of data not less.

The Future of Social Media Towards a socialised state

  1. Social connectivity could become ubiquitous
  2. Mobile adoption will fuel future growth in social networking
  3. Facebook says that mobile users of the site are almost 50% more active than regular users
  4. Geo-networking apps may be the next big thing [unsurprisingly, the Economist can't resist a fleeting mention of Foursquare, the social network tipped for big things in 2010]

Conclusion

It’s great to see social media and social networking getting reported in such depth by mainstream media. This Economist report is not exactly cutting edge when it comes to social media insight or analysis. However it does provide a great base level for the 99% of the business world who do not spend their days glued to Tweetdeck.

Even if the above is not new to you, I recommend you read the report purely for a lesson in good business writing. As ever, The Economist delivers on elegant prose that neatly and efficiently flows from point to point.

Was there anything in the report that leapt out at you?

The unnatural lingo of the online world

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As online professionals, like any profession, we have a set of words and terms relating to our job. We talk about moderation and trolls and forums.

We talk about features and modules and fields. But unlike many other professions, we also expect the lay people using all those things to recognise what they mean.

We use a very unnatural language, and I’m concerned that it puts up false barriers between users and the platforms they’re engaging with.

Why do we use these funny, clunky words?I think it’s two-fold. The first adopters of online communities were tech-enthusiasts, of course. They were – and I use this term fondly – geeks. And as a geek I can attest that geek-language is not Joe Bloggs’ language. But the early lingo got stuck, and when the Joe and Joanna Bloggs’ of the world started to find their way to email discussion lists, instant messenger, and ultimately online communities, the lingo was set.

Early community managers tended to be the person that had been their longest or showed most interest (again, likely to be a geek), and naturally, the lingo would remain and be dished out top-down. Let’s start with ‘community manager’.

On our recent blog, What does a community manager do? I included a word cloud of all the one-word suggestions we’d had in answer to that question.Not one of them was ‘manage’.

So are we really community managers? Am I really Head of Community Management? Do we manage communities, or do we do something else? By far the most popular words were ‘facilitate’, ‘enables’ and ‘connects’.

None of those are really anything like management.

What would be a better job title? What do we really do?

Community Connector?
Community Enabler?
Communication Facilitator?

All rather ugly… what do you think?And then we have ‘Trolls’, as @SueOnTheWeb suggests. Yes, offline we have insults of course, but these don’t normally become professional parlance. I’m sure the police don’t have handbooks about dealing with ‘crims’, even if they say far worse than that in the locker room.

Trolling apparently dates back to early 90s Usenet group, alt.folklore.urban, but its meaning has been adapted and is standard community/moderation speak. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t – mean anything to a happy community member though, perhaps time to give up the geek-speak?

Moderation, of course, is the backbone of a healthy community. Whether it’s reactive-moderation, post-moderation or simply a culture of self-censorship amongst users, such as with many mature email communities, it’s vital.

But does the word ‘moderation’ really mean anything to most people? When we write our disclaimers and use the word, does it mean what we think it does to community users or is it just another word to gloss over?

Do we not need something a bit better, a bit more ‘human’?

Of course we have the abbreviations, the ROTFLMAOs and the LOLs and the IYKWIMs… and that’s fine, that’s a snowball that’s melted across all social media and even seeped into emails and txtspk so that non-community connected people (like my mother-in-law and mum) will use it.

And for many people that’s part of the fun of using social platforms. But it can also be very exclusive to people new to the experience. We probably can’t do anything to prevent the spread, in fact, embracing it is part of the community management experience at many communities, but if we run abbreviation-heavy communities, the least we can do is slap up a dictionary, like iVillage do on their message boards.

So again, what’s missing? What lingo remains solely to divide people? What should be replaced with more human words and what can community managers do to ensure language-use doesn’t create unhealthy cliques?

What does a community manager do?

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Sounds like a stupid question, no? But actually it’s a valid one, especially in this time of flux. If you ask some people what an online community manager does, they’ll describe a moderator.

If you ask others, they’ll detail a curator. Others liken it to being a gardener, keeping the weeds at bay and encouraging conversation to flourish.

Thanks to all our Twitter friends who suggested one word answers to this questionIn our recent community predictions for 2010 post, many of our contributors thought that 2010 would see a tightly-defined, standardised ‘community manager’ role, with various spin-off roles taking on the work that’s currently supplementary to many of us running communities.

So what are the skills that should make up this core community management role? Well, looking at the communities I am currently responsible for and have run in the past, I would suggest the following ‘job spec’.

Managing moderation and moderators
That’s right, as communities mature – and some of the first communities are veritable grandparents now – it’s simply not sustainable or sensible to have community managers spending all their time moderating.

With a sensitive or particularly ‘lairy’ community, post-moderation (or even pre-moderation) of every piece of content can be a full-time role, possibly several full-time roles.

If this is the case, community managers should be managing the work of moderators, possibly even moderation software, not doing all the grunt work themselves.

Welcoming new members
Whether you personally greet every new member, make it your business to encourage particularly shy members when their first post goes unanswered, or put together an amazing ‘new members’ pack’ to be emailed out when anyone joins, welcoming members is very important.

Engaging stakeholders
Building a flourishing community is fantastic, but if you’ve built it as part of an organisation, and that organisation isn’t committed to it, isn’t prepared to listen to it, the people that make up the community could well fall out of love with it.

Promoting good behaviour
This starts with the community management team, continues through fair and transparent guidelines and is enforced by consistent moderation and through taking tough decisions for the good of the community.

Monitoring and reporting
A good community manager understands how healthy his or her community is, they know it instinctively, they can sense it, but they also have the figures to back it up.

Reporting and statistics aren’t unpleasant monthly (or weekly) pains in the bum, even if they’re often treated as such. If you really want to know your community, and if you really want to prove that there is a point to all the work you’re doing – and the organisation is funding – then you need to know how your community is behaving, feeling, and moving around.

Be an advocate
For your community, for the members that make it up, for your organisation, for community management in general. If you don’t feel you can, this is not the job for you.

This list is not exhaustive, what shall we add?

Social media sales lesson from Pharma

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image courtesy of shutterstock

image courtesy of shutterstock

In the past few days I have been discussing social media with a pharmaceutical company.

The pharma industry is necessarily highly-regulated and risk-averse. It caters very well with the ‘traditional’ use of the internet, i.e. when corporate messages are broadcast from a main website.

These traditional corporate websites issue strictly controlled and watertight messages that have been approved by internal managers and legal experts, such that there is absolutely no possibility of brand damage or, heaven forbid, any litigious patients taking action.

And yet, patients and health care professionals (i.e. the pharmaceutical industry’s customers) are increasingly seeking answers to their health care questions online.

One recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of American adults — and 83 percent of internet users — look for their health information online.

Therefore if the traditional corporate pharma website don’t provide the answers, customers can (and do) go elsewhere. e.g. WebMD and NHS Choices

Meanwhile, and rather belatedly, this week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hosts a public hearing to discuss the use of the internet and social media tools — including blogs, podcasts, and social networks — to share information about the FDA-regulated products, including prescription medicines and medical devices.

Pharma is moving in the right direction. But progress is painstakingly slow, and meanwhile the client’s customer has many other (new) outlets for online information. 

The social media  sales lesson here is… know the customer’s customer. 

When I talk with my pharma client (as with all my clients), it is with their customer in mind.  In the long run it is their customer that calls the shots. So I ensure that I can speak to the stakeholder with some authority about their customer – bringing new insight into their customers as often as possible. Given that customers use of social media is rocketing, this inevitably places social media on the company’s agenda.