Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wordpress Direct brings Automated Plagiarism to the Social Media

I read a rather disturbing article by Dave Fleet on Friday. The article considered the introduction of Wordpress Direct; a Wordpress tool designed to automate the process of blogging for those with little time to 'waste' on site setup, SEO and optimisation. The platforms scours the social media in search of content that matches the 'author's' interests, composing a blog from the content retrieved. I should note that I use the term author loosely. The content is essentially a plagiarized mess of a conversation that constitutes little more than spam. Even so, the number of platform users reportedly exceeds ten thousand to date; scary stuff, and a step away from social media transparency if ever I saw one...

Fleet rightly gives Wordpress Direct a 'fail', and I would quickly second this verdict. The tool seems little more than yet another exercise in profiting from deception. I presume that the majority of those employing the services of Wordpress Direct intend to profit from advertisements presented alongside the blog offering. Such 'efforts' simply detract from the user's perceptions of the social media, simultaneously cementing the arguments of social media critics such as Andrew Keen who consider the Internet as little more than a tool for plagiarism. Earlier this year, Google CEO Eric Schmidt described the Internet as a 'Cesspool of Misinformation'. Tools like Wordpress Direct do little to challenge these assertions, contributing instead to the increasingly voluminous pit of valueless information.

Clearly, those that engage blogging through tools such as those described above will jeopardise any transparency otherwise achievable through the social media. Woe betide the organisation that succumbs to the automated blog offerings of Wordpress Direct...

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Incorporating Legislation into the Social Media

I have often discussed the importance of engraining social media into the organisational culture. By creating an openly social culture in which employees are encouraged to participate, the organization facilitates the customer perception of the organization as human. Clearly this will help the organization to realise it's goals of transparently engaging with the customer whilst allowing the workforce to address any organisational concerns that they feel require consideration. Yet despite the benefits that the social media can bring to an organization, simple limitations must be observed in order to recognize the greatest gain. The exclusion of rules in their entirety will invariably lead to pandemonium, the result being a conversational mess that offers little value to anyone.

Essentially there are three sets of limitations that should be enforced to ensure clarity of purpose. These are language limitations, behavioural limitations, and content limitations. Whilst the specifics will invariably differ from organisation to organisation, the logic runs constant.

Language limitations concern the language that you would consider appropriate for association with your organization. Course language will almost certainly be poorly received by your customers, and as such should be avoided. Whilst technical terms should be accepted, the organization may consider making a glossary of terms easily available to those seeking further insight. Finally, spelling and grammatical errors should not be condemned. These allow the content to be recognized as human, and will as a corollary result in higher levels of perceived transparency. This is important for ensuring that customers engage with the content.

Behavioural limitations should be imposed to ensure that the workforce engage with the customer responsibly. Such limitations may include discouraging employees from posting derogatory remarks about colleagues, customers or competitors. Whilst somewhat more radical, your organization may decide to encourage employees to post content detailing their concerns regarding the organisation's products or practices. Whilst this recommendation will invariably be poorly received by many an organization, if carried out effectively, organizational transparency is once again demonstrated. Consider how you would expect your employees to behave offline and use this as the basis for behavioural limitations.

Finally content limitations concern any content that employees must be forbidden from publically expressing without prior consent. Such content would most notably include trade secrets, and any other confidential information that is not publically available. Whilst many may argue that such actions do not represent a transparent approach to the social media, I would disagree. There will invariably remain information that must remain confidential in order for the organization to remain competitive. It is up to you to establish what information should and should not be conveyed, and to ensure they these limitations are adequately brought to the attention of the workforce.

These 'rules of engagement' are hardly controversial, with little deviation from how employees would be expected to engage with the customer in the physical world. The incorporation of internal legislation such as that described here will allow the workforce to willingly participate in the social media, safe in the knowledge that their organization encourages customer engagement. Clearly organisational specifics will vary from one company to the next. As such, the list of recommendations made above is not exhaustive. A note of caution however; overly regulating the process will invariably result in confusion. Lengthy engagement legislation will cause the process to become restrictive, the transparency of the content will become jeopardized and employees will be deterred from participating therein. Make sure that you don't fall into this trap...

Always remember that there is a fine line between using internal legislation as a means of preventing conversational pandemonium and influencing content to the point at which it is perceived as 'manufactured'. Make sure that your organization doesn't exceed this point.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Avoiding the Manufactured Social Media Presence

In order for an organisation's social media strategy to succeed, the reader of the content must perceive the information to be both transparent and truthful. Whilst this necessity should require no additional effort by those organizations with a 'conversation' led strategy, a manufactured social media presence on the other hand will invariably be viewed with trepidation. Such a presence will more often than not be the result of social media misconceptions, emanating most notably from a lack of understanding of the imperative of two way information flows therein. Such misunderstandings will be most common within those organizations where the social media is not ingrained into the culture.

A manufactured social media presence is one that has been specifically crafted to convey a specific message to the recipient. These are often passed through senior management in order to seek approval before their release. Clearly this goes against the traditional social media value of transparent customer engagement, demonstrating one way information flows more reminiscent of the traditional media types slowly ebbing into contemporary obsolescence. Whilst the traditional media is oft referred to as the effective equivalent of 'shouting' at customers, the new media is more targeted towards 'conversing' with them. Success within the social media will invariably stem from the relationships created as a conversational corollary.

For customers to willingly engage with your organisation, the social media must establish two important prerequisites. Firstly, content submitted must always represent transparent information. Secondly, the likelihood of successfully establishing a relationship with the organisation must be perceived to be high. The absence of either will as a corollary result in the immediate reduction of content credibility. Content deemed to lack authenticity will fail to engage the customer, and may as a corollary generate negative content in response to perceived organisational efforts to manipulate the customer. As the social media was arguably developed for the customer, such a strategy is unlikely to be well received by the community.

As with many a discussion concerning the social media, the importance of adding value for the customer cannot be ignored. This remains the most viable method for successful engagement therein. Achieved by actively and transparently engaging with the customer in two way conversation, this is often illustrative of organisations in which social media is ingrained in the culture.

Which of the two strategies is most representative of your organisation; shouting or conversing? Why not put yourself in your customer's shoes and ask yourself how you would rather be communicated with...

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dealing with Negative User Generated Content in the Social Media

As social media technologies increasingly facilitate personal expression, the likelihood of negative user generated content appearing online increases exponentially. Whilst many organizations fear the backlash of negative content, citing this as a reason for failing to engage in the social media, such a mentality is incredibly naive. As my good friend Danny Brown recently observed, you can be sure that someone is saying something negative about your organisation on the internet, irrespective of the depth of your online presence. This statement is increasingly relevant, particularly as the number of new social media technologies introduced on a near daily basis continues to rise. Addressing these online concerns is therefore the only solution for ensuring the ongoing viability of your business.

I am often dubious of recommendations condoning the use of legal action as a deterant against negative
user generated content. In the social media this strategy will fail. Threats made against the content's author will invariably be used against you, hence this action is unlikely to assist the organisation
in the battle against criticism. Nevertheless, many authors continue to encourage the use of such tactics, particularly in the case of '' websites. In my opinion this is the worst possible route to resolution. Legal battles are invariably brought to the attention of the community at large, and the organisation is more often than not painted as the villain.

In the
case of negative campaign sites, also known as '' sites, the organisation should recognize that the site's author was suitably affected by an event to engage in the creation thereof. The service failure faced must have been similarly significant. Instead of threatening legal action for the results of your organisation's misdeeds, recognize that the individual may represent an aggrieved ex-customer. Examine the content to identify deficiencies in your service provision, and if reasonable, engage with the author to identify any further concerns which they may have regarding your organisation. Adequate resolution of a complaint may not only result in the amicable winding down of the website, but potentially also in the author engaging in future positive word of mouth. Whilst such an outcome will invariably represent a best case scenario, appropriately addressing the issues raised will at worst minimise the likelihood of future recurrences. This is most definately a start.

the organisation should recognize that more often than not it has directly invoked the creation of negative content, there are invariably situations in which the intentions of the site's author are motivated by other factors. The means for resolving such issues will vary dependent upon the situation. Beyond '' type sites, misinformation represents one of the more common examples of negative online content. The social media is filled with misinformation about brands both small and large. Unfortunately, this is one of the risks of engaging in business. Ongoing monitoring of the social media must be undertaken to ensure that such instances are identified and a response crafted as necessary. This should be addressed through the transparent provision of fact, with resultant queries being addressed as appropriate. Although this may not be true in all cases, misinformation often represents misconceptions about the organisation. Simpy acknowledging and addressing these shortcomings should ensure that the organisation is accurately conveyed online.

Whilst the subject of addressing
negative content can fill an entire book, I hope that this post has provided a brief insight into how negative UGC can be approached. Whilst I have only skimmed a couple of the major threats to online brand equity, I would be happy to address my thoughts on the subjects which affect your organization.

As always, it's over to
you now guys!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What are You Not Saying that Someone Else is?

I am often amazed by organizations which lack any form of social media presence. Whilst the potential for negative user generated content is oft cited as a central concern, surely these organizations recognize that this content will invariably find its way online; one way or another. In the ongoing battle to delight the customer, it is far better for them to complain directly to you than it is for them to do so elsewhere. Grievances that are aired outside of the organization's direct control have the power to damage brand equity, but offer little value to the organisation unless found...

Negative content need not always result in negative outcomes. More often than not, a great deal of insight can be gleaned into the reasons for the perceived or actual service failure. By providing a platform through which consumers can vent their frustrations, the organisation creates a real time insight into how it addresses concerns. Imagine the potential for such a platform; grievances could be visibly and traceably resolved in front of a relevant audience. The possibility of converting negative word of mouth into positive word of mouth is very real. By facilitating the connection between organisation and customer, the likelihood of negative content appearing elsewhere is simultaneously diminished.

As always, the presence of an organizational social mediaplatform does not eliminate the need to continue monitoring the social media. For those interested in learning more of the importance of 'listening', I would recommend Li and Bernoff's 2008 book'Groundswell'. Effectively listening to the social media should will allow the organisation to identify perceptions of the brand online. Broad coverage thereof will allow the appropriate direction of effort towards those areas which require the most urgent attention. Clearly, the more aware the organisation is of online brand perception, the greater the likelihood that action can be taken as and when required.

The lesson to take away from this post is that negative content about your brand will invariably appear online. Beyond restricting access to social media tools and technologies, there is no way to prevent people from expressing themselves via the Internet. It is however possible to influence both the volume and location of this content. By providing a forum that is both fluid and transparent, you can ensure that the customer continues to see you as the first point of call following a concern. Remember, it is your responsibility as an organisation to listen to and engage with those that are keeping you in business.

Will you provide your customers with a highly visible platform through which to challenge you? I do hope so...

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cult of the Amateur: Has Social Media Destroyed our Culture?

Many of you may have noticed that a number of my recent posts have mentioned the name Andrew Keen. The reason for my interest in the so called 'anti-Christ of the social media' is that over the past few weeks I have been Reading Keen's 'Cult of the Amateur'. I realize that Keen's book has been reviewed by thousands of 'noble amateurs' out to defend their beloved social media, so for anyone that has read a thousand and one such posts, I apologize in advance... That said, despite my personal interest in the social media, I would hope that the following represents a fair assessment of a book that unquestionably offers a number of intelligent insights.

2007 book 'Cult of the Amateur' offers a refreshing insight into a subject that is all too often considered from a single angle. As many voices celebrate the benefits of the social media, Keen stands alone in his battle to challenge these widely held assumptions. A self confessed 'elitist', Keen opposes the growing 'Cult of the Amateur'. Whilst the social media is oft cited as democracy facilitating, Keen suggests otherwise, proposing that the glamourisation of the noble amateur is destroying our culture. Although this statement is likely to draw debate, there is invariably a degree of truth in his arguments. As our ability to voice opinion is increasingly facilitated, the level of misinformation on the internet becomes proportionately evident. We need only look to the internet itself to see that this is sentiment matched by many, including Google CEO Eric Schmidt. As misinformation becomes increasingly voluminous, Keen suggests that our access to expert information is increasingly jeopardised. As such, time becomes increasingly precious as our efforts to distinguish expert from amateur information becomes increasingly difficult.

information becomes increasingly accessible online for next to zero cost, employment within information reliant industries is similarly jeopardised. As such, we are likely to see a dramatic fall in the number of employees therein. Keen poses the obvious question; as the number of employees involved in professional information provision drops, who will provide the expert insights upon which we so often rely for our knowledge? As revenue creation within such industries becomes increasingly challenging, the integrity of the resultant information will invariably become compromised. Whilst opinion has surged as a result of communications facilitating platforms, the volume of reliable information has simultaneously dropped. Unfortunately, the aggregation of such information will incur costs, and as capital becomes increasingly scarce, the quality thereof may as a corollary be affected.

it is true that capital is becoming increasingly scarce, this should prove favourable towards competition. Increased competition has historically resulted in circumstances similar to those described above; one industry is slowly superseded by another, with the unfortunate loss of jobs along the way. This is the nature of business, and the process has been cyclically repeating itself for thousands of years. Interestingly, it is precisely the social media that has increasingly drawn our attention to these losses, heightening our awareness thereof. At the end of the day though, competition forces companies to improve, invariably benefitting the customer.

I cannot claim to agree with each of the arguments raised by Keen, it is my belief that more critics are required to counter the ever increasing surge of pro-social media fanatics. Whilst such a statement may come as a shock to many, I offer the suggestion that strong arguments both for and against a given subject are required to allow the rest of us to make an informed decision. Whilst Keen's arguments may be palmed off as extreme, I could name five to ten social media 'gurus' whose opinions are equally extreme in favour of the social media. In sum, there are both pros and cons to each side. In order to adequate engage the social media, both sides most be examined.

I would
undoubtedly recommend 'Cult of the Amateur' to any looking to broaden their knowledge of the social media.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Is the Social Media even about ROI?

This is a question which I have been contemplating for a little while now; is ROI truly that important in the social media? The more I think about it, the less convinced I become... Such a statement will invariably draw criticism, yet it is my belief that whilst certain forms of digital marketing require a specific, measurable means of ensuring viability, the focus of the social media lies elsewhere; namely in ensuring that the customer experience remains faultless. The quest for social media ROI is akin to the search for the Holy Grail; the question is though, are we looking for the right thing?

Whilst there
is little doubt that ROI provides a metric against which to measure organisational success, there has been little success to date in applying this basic model to the social media. Why; because the social media concerns qualitative, not quantitive data. In many a case, organizations base a number of their most critical decisions upon quantifiable information only. The need therefore to measure the return on social media spend is often seen as a contemporary imperative. Whether we are any nearer to recognising this goal today than we were ten years ago is debatable. In her post 'The ROI of Social Media: Get the Biggest Bang for your Buck', Clare Munn suggests that social media ROI is indeed measurable, highlighting that application difficulties often stem from misconceptions about the product thereof; it is frequently assumed that ROI represents capital returns only. Whilst I recognise her arguments that ROI needn't solely represent monetary returns and that measurement is an important aspect of organisational decision making, I still think that these steps are inappropriately focusing our attention. I find it somewhat concerning that so much emphasis is placed upon the quantifiable, whilst so little attention is paid towards simply achieving the qualitative. Next time you speak to your customer, ask them which of the two they are more concerned about...

What this
comes down to is how you incorporate the social media into your organisation. If the social media is the responsibility of a single department or team, then ROI similar to that described by Munn will be achievable. The results of a single team's participation within the conversation should be suitably contained to measure the results thereof. Within such organisations, ROI is likely to represent one of the sole means of proving the department's raison d’ĂȘtre. On the other hand, if your organisation creates a culture of creativity, in which all members of the workforce are encouraged to participate without feeling obliged, then measurement becomes all the more difficult. How exactly would an organisation go about measuring the positive impact that a single employee has had on a single customer through a detailed blog post or comment? Herein lies the difficulty. Within a culture of creativity, one must remember that employees are engaging of their own free will. I would argue that within such an environment, it is debatable whether these contributions represent an 'investment' at all. Despite these difficulties, it is these organisations that truly realise the potential of the social media.

A number
of my recent posts have examined the critical realization that the social media belongs to the
customer, not the marketer. Despite this glaringly obvious fact, many still choose to ignore this, approaching platforms such as Twitter as they would the more traditional media. This is completely inappropriate. The purpose of the social media is to engage in the conversation; to listen to the customer and to meet their needs in any way they deem appropriate. Although this customer satisfaction is likely to prove difficult to measure using traditional metrics, it will invariably be evident through the ever evolving online conversation. In my opinion, the social media is not about ROI; it is about using the social media to delight the customer, not simply to achieve organisational objectives.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Importance of Not 'Forcing' Employee Participation

Last week I posted my thoughts on the position of the social media as an organisational culture. In the post, I offered my thoughts on why so many organizations are still getting it wrong, suggesting that the culture must actively encourage and be conducive towards employee participation in the social media. One of my main recommendations was that employees must engage in the conversation willingly. The space between encouraged participation and forced participation is vast. As such, the resultant outcomes will differ significantly.

The need for organizations to engage in the social media has been well documented. Terms such as 'Web 2.0' and the 'New Media' have been popular buzzwords for a number of years now; organizations are finally beginning to take note. Whilst this organisational realization is fantastic from the perspective of a social media evangelist, it is simultaneously of concern. Whilst many organizations are keen to get on board the 'Web 2.0' bandwagon, I fear that their eagerness to engage has clouded their judgement.

Recently, the blog has become an oft utilised tool of the 'tech savvy' organisation. Even traditional organizations such as the British government are implementing blogging; quite well too might I add. Unfortunately, for every organisation that 'gets it', there are ten that don't. Many of these organizations push blogging onto the workforce, instead of simply facilitating the use thereof through the provision of the appropriate tools. Although such actions are often the result of misinformation and stem from a good intention to evolve the business, a forced presence will invariably be perceived as awkward.

I read a fantastic post by Valeria Maltoni at the Conversation Agent Blog which questioned how often we as marketers adequately discuss the value of the social media with clients. Whilst the importance of creating a presence within the social media is clear to you and your colleagues, are your clients similarly 'au fait' with the true potential of blogs, microblogs, social networks and wikis? Probably not. It is our responsibility as professionals to ensure that the organisation does not apply social media practices simply because everyone else has. Unless the client is clear about the value thereof, then it is highly probable that the resultant content will come across as manufactured; particularly within those organizations in which participation is expected as opposed to being encouraged. Manufactured content will invariably be perceived as valueless by the customer, causing the likelihood of engagement to drop as a corollary.

That organizations are beginning to recognize the value of the social media is unquestionably a good sign. It is now down to us to ensure that those organizations looking to engage their customers do so via the appropriate channels.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Twitter: Network Builder Extraordinaire

A few weeks back I posted an article on StumbleUpon; one of the greatest social bookmarking sites available at present. I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss another of my favourite platforms. This post will examine Twitter, network builder extraordinaire.

I recently found myself discussing Twitter, the microblogging platform, with an acquintance of mine. The conversation came across more as a defence of the platform rather than as a mutual agreement of the benefits thereof; a position in which I have often found myself of late. Although the individual was eventually able to see the capacity for Twitter to facilitate network building, they suggested that it would invariably fail to recognize its primary function - as a marketing tool. Whilst anyone that follows this blog will recognize that I dispute any marketer ownership over any of the social media platforms I left the conversation with the realization that Twitter still has much to prove...

As usual, to those who would suggest that Twitter is a marketing tool, I say No! Twitter like the other social media tools is a platform for connecting consumers. Whilst the platform unquestionably has the capacity to promote one's product offerings, unashamed promotion is akin to entering someone else's conversation, blurting a point, and then leaving. This would be incredibly poorly received in reality; why should the online environment be treated any differently? Whilst self promotion is not the only way to ruin a Twitter relationship, it is important to remember that the route to success in any social media application is to actively engage with the community. In order to draw value from the platform, it is important to provide value back to the community.

Twitter's value is two-fold; specifically, value is drawn from both the capacity to create networks and the ability to identify customer needs in real time. The platform operates under a 'following' model; community members choose to follow one another having identified shared interests. The introduction of Twitter Search has greatly facilitated the user's ability to identify members with similar interests. Whilst this tool is conducive to building subject specific networks, its greatest strength lies in its ability to highlight online brand perceptions in real time. It is truly surprising how much can be said in 140 characters... As such, it is imperative that organisations recognise the necessity to constantly monitor Twitter Chatter. Negative comments concerning a product offering can be easily identified; it is down to the organisation to address these concerns as it feels fit. In any case, it is important to remember that the community will be watching...

For organisations that are on the ball, Twitter offers an unparalleled opportunity to identify consumer concerns, and to resolve them in real time within the public sphere. Such positive publicity is likely to prove difficult to replicate outside of the social media.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Collaboration in Action: Chuck Westbrook's Blogging Review Group

For those that may not have seen Chuck Westbrook's recent post about blogs which provide great content, it is well worth a look. Westbrook's premise is, as is often the case, simple yet brilliant; create an online blog review group and bring high quality blogs to the attention of the masses. When I found the post referenced above during my daily 'Stumblings' last week, over 500 people had already positively responded to the suggestion. Imagine the potential traffic such a project might bring to a page... The 500 'visiting' members of the group would significantly raise the profile of the page in question, thus inevitably drawing further traffic through enhanced search visibility. This sounds like a fantastic premise which should go a long way towards identifying a number of hidden social media gems. The project's first host, Zoe Westhof of Essential Prose today relayed her thoughts on how the additional traffic had influenced the direction of the blog. By all accounts, the project has, for now, proven successful.

I am reminded of the fantastic 'Wikinomics' by Tapscott and Williams, which I read earlier this year. Westbrook's review group is most definately collaboration in action. The group clearly exemplifies the social media imperative that 'We' can achieve more collectively than 'I'. By drawing together a group of like minded individuals who share a common goal or purpose, the collaborative can account for the strengths and weaknesses of its members to recognize a given desireable action. In this case, the common interest is blogging, their shared goal; to increase traffic to a given site, whilst extending their individual knowledge of, and access to high quality content. For the members of this collective, the outcome is win-win.

Collaboration is becoming increasingly popular in the age of social media. Collaborative efforts, such as Wikipedia, clearly demonstrate that collectively we are able to achieve outcomes which would be singularly impossible to achieve. Whilst some will correctly highlight that the produce of such collaborative efforts will never match the produce of a handful of experts in terms of quality (for example, see The Great Seduction and Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen), for purposes such as those described above, the collaborative excels.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who 'Owns' the Social Media?

I've found myself writing a phrase to the following effect in the comments sections of several blogs of late, The social media tools were primarily developed as a means of connecting consumers, not as a marketing tool. Unfortunately, many marketers seem to be forgetting this as society's embrace of the 'Web 2.0' phenomenon becomes ever tighter. Don't get me wrong; I myself am from a marketing background, and as anyone that follows this blog will tell you, I keenly advocate the organizational use of the social media. For me though, there is both a right and a wrong way to 'market' through the social media. Again, many marketers are, in my opinion, guilty of committing these crimes against the groundswell. Let me explain...

There are two ways an organisation can create a presence within the social media. Firstly, the organisation may enter the social media by 'shouting' their message. Such a strategy finds itself in alignment with the more traditional media, which allowed marketers to broadcast their message to a huge, but untargeted audience. The second strategy, to 'converse', is far more personal. I am certain that you can guess which of the two strategies I favour...

I have always found being interupted in the middle of a discussion incredibly rude. How does this differ from the online environment? As marketers, what right have we to enter a conversation amongst our consumers in an attempt to influence the conversation? Very little in my opinion. Yet marketers continue to unashamedly enter the conversation, broadcast their message and leave. This is wholely unacceptable. Such interjections offer very little value to the conversation, and should therefore be avoided. Admittedly, there is a time and a place for broadcasting, this being in the traditional media at the viewer or reader's discretion. For those looking to create such a presence of an Internet based campaign, my suggestion would be look at more measurable online marketing techniques, such as affiliate marketing. The social media is unlikely to benefit from your presence...

For me, the social media has and always will be about customer engagement. It is about openly and honestly engaging with the customer in an environment designed for their use, not ours. Whilst it is arguable that such a strategy is no longer considered marketing, I would strongly disagree. Engaging with the consumer is the responsibility of the marketing department, and I see no reason why this should change now.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Perceptions of Success and the Social Media

Success is an important thing. Besides resulting in a desired organisational outcome, most notably in the form of capital returns, success allows judgements to be made concerning the likelihood of repeat positive outcomes in a given situation. This knowledge offers observers the opportunity to make informed decisions concerning the viability of future successes. Similarly, the perceived likelihood of success is equally important, particularly in the age of the social media. A time in which it has never been easier to generate content, organisational action has never been reported on and scrutinized to the extent that it is now.

One thing I always say to those that are still sceptical of the social media is that if the customer can't say something directly to you, they will say it elsewhere. Remember, the social media provides an electronic voice to anyone with an opinion. The problem with comments made against your organisation within the 'somewhere else' of the social media is that before you are able to action a criticism or suggestion you must first locate the comment. Considering the number of new applications that pop up on a near daily basis, this is no easy task.

It is my belief that any organisation which fails to implement a social media strategy is acting incredibly shortsightedly. As customers spend a greater proportion of their time online, organizations must recognize the value of engaging in the resultant conversation of an increasingly digital society. Simply providing one's customers with the tools to converse with the organisation demonstrates an interest in what said customers have to say. Demonstrating an interest in listening to your customers though is only the first step in an ongoing cycle. The organisation should not take my previous recommendation as grounds for failing to continue listening to external sources of social media; specifically the ones outside of their control . On the contrary, continuing to listen to the groundswell remains one of the most crucial aspects of any social media campaign. Whilst this is all well and good, how do perceptions of success tie into the above? That depends entirely upon how you use the social media.

As we have discussed, the social media is essentially a conversation between multiple parties. Each party must contribute to the conversation. Herein lies the value of the new media. By expanding our knowledge through shared conversation, we as readers are able to benefit from the resultant content. Conversely, if the perceived likelihood of successful access to content is low then the platform will be avoided. This is simple logic. Applied in an organizational context, those organizations which fail to adequately participate in the conversation will be deemed to have failed in their social media strategy. Low perceptions of success will invariably deter consumers from contributing, and the value of the platform is quickly reduced to none.

Perceptions of success are particularly important when the customer has had a negative experience of the organisation. Remember, it has never been easier for users to create content. An aggrieved 21st Century customer can now create a '' site as easily as they are able to vent in a social network or blog. Whilst this information has the potential to damage an organisation's brand equity, it also offers the organisation unparalleled insight into the perceptions of the customer in question. The rantings of a dissatisfied customer can provide insight into service failings, product defects or limitations; as previously identified though, this information is only of value to the organisation when it is located. Whilst this process is made substantially easier through an organisation controlled social media offering similar to that described above, such platforms will only be used if the perceived likelihood of successful redress is high. A low likelihood of success with drive your customers away, and the organisation will be perceived as demonstrating a disinterest in resolving their concerns. This will invariably make the customer's grievances worse.

On the other hand, satisfactorily addressing a particular concern within an open forum can have a plethora of benefits. For example, by openly addressing customer x's concerns in an open and honest discussion (see my recent post on the importance of transparency in the social media), the social media can represent a real time interest in addressing the consumer's concerns. In addition, a number of product or service insights may be suggested which the organisation had yet to recognise. Whilst many may argue that such an approach would simply highlight the organisation's failings, I would suggest otherwise. For me, such a strategy highlights an organisational strength; an ability to engage the customer in direct and often difficult conversation.

The question is, are you listening to the social media?

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The Overwhelming Importance of Transparency

Yesterday, I offered my opinion on Jacob Morgan's suggestion that organisations need a social media marketing department. For me, the social media represents more than the technology on which it is played out; it represents a culture. Founded upon an overwhelmingly human desire to connect, the various platforms oft referred to as Web 2.0 have emerged as a corollary of the resultant demands. It is my belief that in order to implement an effective social media strategy within an organisation, the workforce in its entirety must be enlisted and encouraged to participate willingly therein. Limiting these responsibilities to a dedicated department will invariably result in the 'conversational' output being perceived as manufactured. Manufactured posts will invariably be identified by the community and exposed. Woe betide the organisation that claims that the content offered up to the social media is genuine, when in fact it has been produced by the marketing team... This leads me on to today's topic; transparency.

It is increasingly acknowledged that the value of the
social media stems from its ability to facilitate conversation; after all, the majority of the applications were specifically developed to cater to societal demands for connectivity described above. Initially a means of connecting various 'communities', the potential for the social media was quickly recognised as an innovative new marketing channel by astute marketers. Whilst this provided an unparalleled opportunity to converse with one's customers, the transparency of the conversation was promptly contaminated as organisations began covertly influencing the direction of the community under the guise of an indepedent user. Fortunately for the social media, for every astute marketer, there are several thousand equally astute community members. Marketing efforts to covertly enter a conversation with the intention of influencing the mindset of the community were more often than not exposed as fraudulent. Attempts to manipulate the conversation often backfired, the damage having been recognised in the brand'sequity.

It was at this stage that still more astute marketers
recognised the true potential afforded by the social media. Having recognising that the social media is a communications facilitating platform, many organisations decided to use the new medium as intended, engaging the organisation's stakeholders in direct conversation. Instead of attempting to misguide consumers into discussing a particularly brand or product, organisations began openly and honestly conversing within the communities. Herein lies the value of transparency. By making your intentions for entering the conversation clear, the likelihood of community engagement is significantly more likely. Further, it is this engagement that will provide meangingful value to the brand, most notably in the form of genuine consumer insight. If your organisation is open with the customer, then the customer will be open with you. Access to honest market insight of this sort is likelyto prove difficult to come by elsewhere.

, there are still many marketers getting this wrong, in fact Danny Brown has instigated an extraordinary discussion which, amongst other things, examines the presence of unashamed promotion on Twitter. These organisations still do not recognise that you will only benefit from the social media by acting socially; i.e. by openly and honestly participating in the conversation. Whilst self promotion is permissable, such marketing efforts will only succeed where the listener perceives there to be propostional value. In other words, the social media is about give and take. Encourage your employees to honestly engage with communities via the social media. Not only will this provide insight into customer brand perceptions, but it will simultaneously encourage said customers to perceive the organisation as more human, more approachable.

The social media is a
fantastic tool, but let's no go contaminating it with unashamed promotional efforts. Let's use the social media as intended, and engage in conversation with the customer in an environment designed for them, not us as marketers...

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Should Organisations create dedicated Social Media Marketing Departments?

So, this topic is an evolving conversation which I have been having with Jacob Morgan this morning via Twitter. Should organisations have their own dedicated Social Media Departments? My answer; no. Whilst Morgan makes some very convincing arguments in his latest post, my thoughts on the matter differ somewhat from his...

Whilst it is true that the 'Social Media' comprises a number of tools and platforms, I would argue that a cultural perspective is required to achieve success therein; in other words, we need to ensure that the organisation's culture is conducive towards the social media. Remember, the Social Media has gained in popularity as a result of a social revolution, not a technical one. Whilst the resultant demand for connectivity has invariably led to the creation of the Social Media tools addressed above, the new media (or 'Now Media' as suggested in an intresting article which I read yesterday) represents a cultural shift first and foremost. This must be recognised within your entire organisation, not just within one department.

Organisations must recognise that to create a Social Media conducive culture, the entire workforce must be empowered to participate therein; if they so wish. This recommendation may be considered with scepticism by some members of the organisation, yet I see no reason why it should. The organisation's culture should encourage employees to monitor the Social Media, and to conribute accordingly. Simple regulation of the content permissable for exposure would ensure that employee contributions facilitate the depiction of the organisation as a 'human' entity, whilst recognising minimal damage to the brand equity. Such legislation may include the prohibition of derogatory remarks, coarse language, and trade secrets; simple standards by which the employee would be expected to similarly conduct their offline affairs.

Clearly, this can be implemented poorly by an organisation. In my opinion, social platforms should never be forced upon an employee; for example, no employee should be forced to blog if they do not feel so inclined. Forcing an employee to express themselves instead of encouraging them will not work. For those that are apprehensive about actively contributing to the Social Media the organisation should encourage more passively participation; for example, by simply encouraging the workforce to monitor the Social Media during their daily Internet browsing for references to the organisation. Such efforts will achieve signficantly greater reach than through the attempts of a single department.

One of the final points which I would like to make concerns the difficulties organisations face in measuring Social Media ROI. As the core purpose of the social media is to develop a conversation with the customer, it is often difficult to present a concrete ROI. Were a single unit to be held accountable for all Social Media decisions made within the organisation, it would often find itself defending its position with very little evidence to justify its reason for being. Were such a situation to occur, it is possible that the organisation would simply eliminate the department, thereby removing social media from its strategy in its entirety. Such a move would be disastrous for relationships with the customer...

In conclusion, I submit that Social Media requires active participation from all willing employees in the presence of a conducive culture. Whilst the overall responsibility is likely to remain with the marketing department, by actively involving one's workforce through the encouragement of both active and passive participation, the likelihood of successfully establishing an effective conversation with the customer is enhanced.

Please feel free to disagree with the points raised in this article. Remember, there are always multiple angles to every discussion. It is only through examining these various perspectives that we are able to make an informed judgement from which to craft a solution. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Social Media: Are You Open to Interpretation?

I like Twitter; In my opinion, Microblogging is the future, but that's another post... The Twitter concept is simple; users are given 140 characters to convey themselves. Clearly the character restriction can pose a limitation upon a user, constraining their ability to effectively convey themselves. A number of organisations have appeared which address this limitation through the provision of a simply URL shortening service. My favourite URL shortening service is which, in addition to URL shortening facilities, allows users to track clicks on each of the miniature URL's submitted to Twitter. I regularly follow the statistics on the links which I submit to ensure that my contributions remain relevant. Whilst checking these links today, I noted that one of my links had attracted more attention than any of my prior submissions. The post in question was a link to an article on Obama's use of the Social Media, by one Andrew Keen...

For those unfamiliar with Andrew Keen, I would recommend picking up a copy of the book 'Cult of the Amateur'. Keen has achieved a position of notoriety within the digital community for his outspoken views on the Social Media, and the impact thereof upon world culture. In the world of Social Media, the comments more often than not are massively one sided in favour of the benefits of the Social Media. Although I must admit that I fall closer to the pro-social media side of the fence, I find the perspective of many evangelists somewhat blinkered. As such, it is often refreshing to examine alternate view points such as those offered by critics, and to develop one's understanding of a topic that is still arguably in its infancy.

Although this particular post was nothing overly remarkably, when posted to Twitter the URL achieved over twice as many clicks as any of my prior submissions. The tweet, which simply stated 'Andrew Keen's Thoughts on Obama and the Internet', clearly offered potential value to a number of those within my network of follows. Arguably the comments drew a proportion of interest from the Twittering community familiar with Keen, however I like to think that these figures illustrate something else. Occasionally, I am concerned that as social media advocates, we overlook contrary views to our own; an issue which I addressed in a previous post. Not for the first time, I think the figures discussed above prove me wrong...

The interest in Keen's post highlights a desire to understand views which differ from our own; an important element of developing our knowledge of the social media. Whilst any discussion will invariably draw strong proponents in either corner, the adoption of unwaivering belief in our own points of view will result in a flawed understanding of the subject. In order to truly consider ourselves experts, we must possess a knowledge of both sides of the equation, recognising and understanding the contributions of social media critics, such as Keen. Who knows, you might learn something new...

I pose the question to you; how open to interpretation are you with regards to the Social Media?

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Social Media - Who gives a Tweet!

For those that follow this blog, you may have noticed the recent addition of both a Digg and a StumbleUpon button. As someone with next to no programming experience, these additions represent nearly two days of experimenting with my blog's XML code; so if you ever feel like pressing either, that would be greatly appreciated! During my attempts to install the code, Press Release PR owner Danny Brown recommended through Twitter that I examine the Add This application; a fantastically simple tool which places a single universal share button onto a webpage. Unfortunately, by this point I had written so many of my own 'experimental' changes into the page's XML that each of my efforts to install the button onto my individual blog posts failed. I relayed my failings back to Brown via Twitter; but then a funny thing happened....

Shortly after my post, someone contacted me, offering to help me to install the application. Quite frankly, I was amazed. Although I have read several reports detailing proactive organisational efforts to address product issues, this was my first experience thereof. The individual, known as
Thorpus, left a simple message; "Feel free to drop me a line and I'd be happy to help with your AddThis problems". Simple, right? Maybe, yet this is precisely the type of value that the connected consumer is increasingly demanding. Unfortunately, many organisations still fail to recognise that actions such as those taken by Thorpus really do influence consumer perceptions thereof.

There is no excuse for failing to recognise consumer concerns within the social media; particularly when tools such as Twitter actively facilitate the identification thereof. By simply acknowledging the concerns of the consumer and asking 'how can we improve?', the organisation paints itself as human; it demonstrates a desire to delight the customer.

All I can say is thank you Thorpus.

What are your experiences? Has an organisation approached you to address your concerns through the social media? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Think Social Media is a Quick and Easy Way to create a Relationship? Think again...

Whilst social media is arguably one of the best ways of achieving a connection with the customer, it requires a significant investment of both time and effort on the part of the organisation. As the number of new social platforms increases almost daily, it is becoming ever more difficult to identify those facilities which add potential value for your organisation; a point raised by Tara Joyce in a recent discussion with Danny Brown. The increase in the number of platforms poses a proportionately increased threat to the organisation; for whilst the social media affords an unparalleled connection with the customer, you cannot benefit from a conversation unless you are aware of it.

This is a problem I see no short term solution to. Although much recent discussion has held the economy accountable for dips in Venture Capitalist spending, the number of startups appearing almost daily seems unaffected. I anticipate that the number of new social media tools available to the consumer is likely to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Clearly, the importance of proactively understanding one's customers has never been higher. The organisation must ensure that trends amongst consumers are montored, and that an appropriate presence in the social media is created accordingly. Although there may be platforms that are too small to warrant any significant presence, it is imperative that the organisation is at least aware of any relevant information contained therein. Monitoring of the online environment is clearly a requirement. Reputation aggregators and proprietary technologies should be examined to ensure that online chatter with regards to the organisation is recognised and acted upon accordingly.

The issue of ever increasing social media platforms is likely to remain a topic of discussion for some time. One thing is clear; in order to maintain a position of strength, organisations must remain knowledgeable about their customers and the spheres in which they operate, gauging the value of applications as and when the need arises. Although it is arguable that the specific technology is of lesser importance than the content of the conversation, this argument holds little weight when the customer is condemning or condoning your organisation within an electronic community in which you have limited or zero presence. Overall, the importance of monitoring brand perceptions online cannot be ignored.

In any case, the importance of the relationship remains.

What are your thoughts? How does your organisation decide which social platforms to create a presence in? As always, thoughts and comments are gratefully received.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

I've seen the Future, and it's got a Stumble Button...!

I have made my position on the future of the social network clear. My recent post The Future of Social Networking; What Future?laid out my prediction that whilst the social network is likely to remain a dominant platform within the social media, the leading service provider is likely to shift cyclically until a more viable revenue creation model is established. As such, I see a limited future for the social network as a business solution. Although the success of the social media is founded upon its ability to connect users, it is my belief that as new social network providers enter the market, grow and then fade again into obscurity, businesses will slowly become disillusioned with the often cited benefits thereof. Whilst the adoption rate of social networks is substantially higher than a number of the other social media platforms, a fact which has allowed these organisations to offer a more mainstream product offering, I am dubious as to the advertising potential offered thereby. Whilst it is impertative that the organisation creates a presence in those forums in which the customer resides; a term coined 'fishing where the fish are by Jeremiah Jowyang, over targeting these networks may offer little additional value to the organisation. In my opinion, a facility such as StumbleUpon offers a far more viable solution for achieving organisational visibility.

For those unfamiliar with StumbleUpon (SU), the premise is simple. Users create a list of favourites; these being websites, videos, photos or content that interests the individual. The product of the favourites listed is automated content recommendations stemming from the favourites of users with similar interests. Whilst this is unremarkable in itself, SU relies heavily upon the contributions of the resultant user community as a means of creating and offering value. As with many social media platforms, community lies at the centre of the product offering, yet SU establishes a somewhat novel approach to community creation. Although users are able to 'friend' acquaintances; a feature which is common throughout the social media, users may alternatively select to 'subscribe' to another user's favourites list. This functionality allows the user to 'follow' other community members as they expand their list of favourites. This is where I see the real potential for businesses in the future.

Perhaps I should rephrase my last statement; this is where I see a role for specialists in the future. Facilities such as SU can be used to create a mass following. By establishing such a following within the SU community, the individual has an incredibly asset upon which to call. Whilst such a community is unlikely to offers solutions such as those frequently seen on platforms such as Twitter, it is a fantastic means of drawing significant attention to a particular webpage. In that respect, SU holds more in common with news aggregation sites such as Digg than with microblogging communities. As these specialists create a community following, the value which they are able to offer to an organisation increases proportionately. As Metcalfe once posited, the value of a network is equivalent to the square of the number of users therein. Imagine if you controlled such a network of devoted fans...

Clearly, SU has the potential to draw significant traffic to a given website. As users create their own community of subscribers, the value which the individual is able to offer to a portfolio of clients is unparalleled. Although these individuals are likely to offer little value as organisation specific employees (principally because the network will remain attached to the individual), it is as brand advocates that 'Stumblers' offer potentially huge levels of visibility. As such, SU is likely to represent an important tool for anyone looking to get professionally involved with the social media.

Planning on using the social media to your advantage? Best get Stumbling...

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