Buzz Pill?

Is there a magic social media pill? We all seem to be looking for it.

As a professional riding the social media tidal wave, I’m engaged—in witty Facebook banter, of course, but I’m also digging deeper—doing some serious soul-searching about the role of social media in marketing, how best to execute it, how to manage it, and how to leverage its power to make clients and associates successful and happy. I guess taking a hard look at my path is sort of a mirror to my life—as some of my most enlightened friends would say.

Yet, it’s surprisingly tough—on all levels. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, iPads, Nooks, etc., social media is embedded in every fiber of our awareness. Personally, I feel unhinged without my Apple. (Remember Eden?) With something so pervasive, so woven into the fabric of our daily behavior, one would think clarity and monetization would be a cinch. But not so fast. It can be difficult to put the buzz back in the bottle! It is not enough to simply offer up content and post updates.

Brand advocates and marketers who want to take advantage of social media are encountering a tangled web. They are finding they need to design a fully integrated program of active and ongoing engagement, connecting customers with the actual human beings in their organizations who can meet their needs. It’s part Marketing 101 and part online alchemy, I suspect. Gosh, maybe it’s really not about the technology at all. It’s the humanity. Could it be that the stuff that happens offline is what really makes social media sing?

For instance, Dell currently engages with customers through what they call the “four pillars” of the company’s social media ecosystem:

  • 100,000 employees
  • Dell.com–ratings, reviews and customer feedback relating to Dell products and services
  • Dell communities, such as IdeaStorm, a platform launched in 2007 that is designed to give voice to customers and enable the sharing of ideas
  • External platform communities, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

That first pillar represents one of the biggest changes in Dell’s use of social networking, lately—and possibly the most powerful. Although social media initiatives began with public relations teams at Dell, employees now play the role of brand ambassador across the company, notes Buck. This requires a purposeful, dedicated engagement plan, as well as policy development and training to ensure that the employees who will be representing Dell clearly understand company guidelines regarding the appropriate use of social media.“Our employees play a vital role in our social media outreach, and, to date, we have trained more than 8,000 Dell employees to engage with customers through social media,” says Michael Buck, executive director of global online marketing. “Dell’s Social Media and Communities University is a key enabler for the company to leverage the power of 100,000-plus employees as brand ambassadors, confident that they have been empowered to use it the right way.”

Perhaps the most effective social media strategy is to train your company’s employees to use social media—whether 3 or 300,000, fully integrating the support process and empowering interaction with customers/prospects on behalf of the company. This has not only spread the marketing buzz, so to speak, it has also building the brand across the farthest reaches of the vast social media psycho-sphere. To infinity and beyond!

Where are you going?

2011: From “Oh, Wow!” to “So, How?”

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach and consultant — providing the practical tools and action plans you need to survive and thrive in the brave new media world. She is a listener, writer, blogger, speaker, actor, and mom. Contact her ellagantz@sbcglobal.net

What have you always wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask? Register for Breakfast and Blogs, a very social session with Elaine to find out. Start off your New Year with real social media sizzle.  Thurs., Jan 13  — 9:30 a.m.– 12:00 p.m., $10 at La Madeleine Preston Forest.

I’m really not sure how many people do this sort of thing, but I am actually going back to my predictions for 2010 – to compare them to what really happened.  It was as daunting and perplexing a task as I imagined. Especially since social media evolution is anything but linear. One thing we do know it that Google Wave never quite hit the beach.

My most significant memory from last year’s missive was actually my delight when Chris Brogan actually chimed in. Wow. Now that’s what I call social media He wrote:
I like and agree with the first four. I disagree with 5. Email is still the main protocol of the Internet age. I *wish* it were different, but definitely not in 2010. Great post.”

My number #5 was: “Email as We Know it Will Become Passé.”
So, I guess we’ll begin with the end – #5. Well, as Chris Brogan said, email did not go away in 2010. But, I venture to add this was probably just slightly premature. With Facebook’s Messaging Hub beginning to bubble up and mobile technology/SMS infiltrating our lives in terms of behavior, I think we are looking at more of an email mutation than elimination.  When Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made her prediction that email is “probably going away” at the Nielsen Consumer 360, many balked, but her point about teenagers is well-taken. Stats she cited indicate that only 11% of teens email daily, and as we know, teenagers are really “the beta testers” for future techno-media trends. In fact, I have my own focus group right here in my own home. My 18-year-old would rather text than talk. He has Facebook up on his laptop whenever it’s turned on, sends very few emails and never uses the speaking function on the phone. My 14-year-old son is really text only. Good thing I have unlimited texting, or I we would be under a bridge somewhere. He never opens up email or even Facebook. Should Mark be worried? Hmm. We’ll just wait and see.

The most interesting shift between late 2009 and late 2010 is that the questions people are asking have changed dramatically. People don’t seem to be asking, “Hey, what’s the next big thing?” “What’s the next Twitter?” It’s more about implementation and impact – “What’s the most effective platform for my business?” “How do I integrate this into my daily operations?” “Where’s the best ROI?”  It’s no longer “oh wow!” It’s “so, how?” Social media tools and behaviors are now a given, our modus operandi. We just need to figure out how to do it. The old advertising model of trading money for attention is the anachronism. The new formula is trading time (even  energy) for attention. The activity is just as important as the message.

“Social Media Will Become Less Social.”hmm
I’d still like my term – “return on engagement.” It’s more active, deliberate and participatory. However, I think our trajectory has been very different from what I expected — largely due to the meteoric growth of Facebook. Engagement is now defined by the quality of the experience itself, rather than some tangible outcome. The value I spoke of last year was a slippery concept, because “value” can now be defined in brave, new terms, as well. Who knew Farmville and Mafia Wars would become the new American pastimes? Who could have predicted you can actually buy Facebook points in the grocery store? And the metric that “one-third of women 18-34 check Facebook when they first wake up in the morning,” according to an Oxygen Media study?

“More Enterprise Social Software Platforms Will Emerge”oops
Enterprise platforms continue to exist, but boy was I wrong on this one. I did not see the mobile app locomotive, powered by Apple, flying down the track. I think the branded in-house community concept has quite literally jumped the rails. And, to think, I was once so on board with that idea.   Simply, there is an app for that – in fact, what many signify as the emergence of Web 3.0 – targeted, segmented, defined and delivered to the user on demand. So, interesting how things can change in a year. Still, we may be moving in this direction yet.  Fast Society, a new iPhone app, allows the user to create small groups to text with on the fly, and the groups last for three days. Facebook is also providing ways to communicate with smaller networks. Facebook’s new Groups Feature allows segments friends into personal, professional and interest-based communities to better manage privacy. Watch for more of these smaller, closed networks to launch in 2011 as people seek deeper connections online.

“Social Media (Engagement Media) Will Become More Integrated”bingo
I think I get the winning buzzer for this one. Organizations of all sizes are embracing the value of fully integrated multi-channel strategies. Using social media channels alone for marketing, customer service or fundraising will not be as effective as designing coordinated campaigns and communication strategies that include traditional communication techniques. This includes email, website, online ads, SEO, face-to-face interactions, print advertising, social media platforms, blogs, events, and managed promotion to all media. This has become pivotal to social media success in general. Integrate and align with overall objectives. It’s a must.

“Relevance and Ease Will Become Increasingly Important”yep
There is no more compelling spokesperson for an enterprise or organization a passionate customer, employee, or supporter. This is the core strength of word-of-mouth advertising and peer-to-peer fundraising. And there is a range of scenarios—from a class agent soliciting annual fund gifts for his or her school, to a customer making a recommendation for a new restaurant on YELP! The brand voice is now filtered through the customer in his or her own geographic and psycho-graphic universe.

As we look to 2011, we can’t deny or ignore the brand power of Facebook “likes,” which will become the core advertising and promotional objective for many businesses on Facebook. “Like” strategies will become increasingly sophisticated and integrated into the overall marketing strategy.  For instance, instead of doing A/B testing between two photos to see which generates more Facebook “Likes,” the savvier brands and agencies will be leveraging technology that can simultaneously deploy 10,000+ ad variations to yield the lowest CPA (cost per acquisition) of those “Likes.” The art and the science.

Finally, there’s mobile and SMS. The app has arrived and has consolidated the expansiveness, chaos and clutter of the worldwide web to the simplicity and focus of a tiny button the size of a stamp that fits in the palm of your hand.  . . . Oh, wow!

What are your predictions for 2011, infinity . . .and beyond?

No more waiting in the weeds: Make time to grow your social media garden

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Find her at SocialFuse.

gardenI recently read Josh Catone’s Mashable post on the “5 Essential Tips for Promoting Your Charity Using Social Media.” I applaud Josh’s concise synthesis of the basic-level concepts defining social media. But I really think it’s time to help organizations get specific and tactical. We need to move from musing to mastering. Many of the organizations I advise are still befuddled and overwhelmed by social media. They seem to view social media as some separate, daunting frontier they need to confront and invade. However, in many ways, social media is really just a new, better way of helping nonprofits do what they do best – engage. It’s made for us! We need to move the conversation from “Why should we?” to “How should we?” It’s now more of a functional shift than a philosophical one. Josh’s recommendations are well-taken and commonly held. Yet, here are some additional thoughts to ponder to take your strategy to the next level:

Build a Plan and Work It.
Josh instructs that you’ll get a much better return on your investment in social media if you take the time to actually engage your followers, friends, and constituents. He warns that we should not just broadcast information. We should consume it, as well. Indeed, this is the way social media works, but the question is – How do we work this? To foster relationships, organizations need to officially delegate responsibility for regular care, feeding, and cultivation of online communities to staff, trained volunteers, or perhaps, an outside agency or consultant. Simply creating a Facebook fan page or Twitter profile will not produce results. Start by assessing the following:

• Your Goals – SEO, PR, traffic (to drive awareness? advertising click-thrus? conversions?)
• Your Audience – Where do your constituents/stakeholders live? What do you want them to do?
• Your Resources – You, interns, staff, agency, consultant? Budget? Communication tools?

Social media is organic – much like a garden which must be regularly tended and even weeded. It’s all about activity and careful attention. Here are some specific tasks to help your garden take root and thrive:

• Create and update blogs and tags at least once a week.
• Respond to all blog comments within 24 hours.
• Pose questions in and respond to queries in relevant Linked In discussion groups.
• Tweet at least once daily and retweet (RT@) content relevant to your mission.
• Respond to Facebook comments promptly, and update Facebook status at least daily.
• Post high-value content, such as videos, articles, and blogs across key social media platforms.
• Identify the A-List blogs and cultivate positive relationships with as many as possible to persuade them to blog about your issue. Or guest blog for them.
• Drop html links with target anchor text related to a specific call to action, relevant product, or web resource for an additional SEO lift and traffic increase.
• Start and update a custom, branded community such as Ning to drive engagement and enhance SEO on your own site.

Create a Human Persona.
Social media is your opportunity to put a face on your organization and to humanize interaction. Those who are immersed in social media are not really looking for a press release or canned “mission statement.” They are hungry for intimate, behind-the-scenes, authentic access. Think about ways to make the private public. This is the messaging that will attract and embrace.

Create Valuable Content.
Josh recommends sharing only the highest quality content. This is key. I was speaking with a friend just today about the challenge of being inundated with information. With so much competition for the attention of constituents, you need to make sure the content you publish and share is relevant and real. So, be sure to consider the context and the medium. Perhaps, consider experimenting with videos on your website – feature video testimonials from donors and/or recipients. Social media is about storytelling – truth that touches the heart.

Create Community Instantly
Social media gives you the power to spread information quickly. Using social media platforms to issue a call to action online can trigger viral campaigns rapidly, economically, and effectively – enabling you to reach new audiences. Plus, using tools, such as #hashtags on Twitter, can help you create improvised communities around issues on the fly. Hashtags are a community-driven convention for adding additional context and metadata to your tweets. They’re like tags on Flickr, but you add them directly to your post. You create a hashtag simply by prefixing a word with a hash symbol: #hashtag. Read more about them on Beth Kanter’s blog.

Create a Social Media Culture.
Just as everyone in a healthy organization is a salesperson, everyone in your organization should help cultivate your social media presence. As Josh says, if everyone at your charity is connecting with people on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll be able to engage many more people than if just a couple of folks are tasked with using social media tools. But, in the realm of the tactical, you should not expect this to “just happen magically.” Create a social media policy – even if it consists of a simple public relations calendar of messages, events, or campaigns to discuss organization-wide. Include your staff, donors, and even recipients. And don’t forget your board of directors. Nonprofits are constantly seeking ways to engage boards in resource building, and social media is a great way to involve boards of directors – especially when it comes to tapping into their potentially powerful spheres of influence.

“That is well said,” replied Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
-Voltaire

How are you cultivating your social media garden? What’s helping you thrive? Let me know if you need help planting the seeds. Find me at SocialFuse.