Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Social (Public) or Personal?

This topic is inspired by several discussions over social and professional networks and the birth of 'Path', a social network that restricts the number of friends to a mere 50.

Firstly, I am often asked the question - 'Should I add colleagues on Facebook?'. This question resonates the very basic question of privacy in using these social networking websites. A very interesting observation was made by professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford, that we may have many (>=500) 'Friends' on Facebook, but we are capable of maintaining only 150 "meaningful relationships". This means that we have many people on our social networks, with whom we hesitate to share very persoanl and private information.

Now to answer the question that I am very frequently asked - I use two Twitter accounts. I use one for communicating trends with professional followers/following and the other for communicating personal updates with close friends and family. Similarly, I keep Facebook strictly personal and do not add colleagues as I might share a little too much than I want my colleagues and bosses to find out!! Like Twitter, many people maintain two separate accounts for Facebook as well - this is a step too much for me - but people do, and people who have the strength and energy to maintain multiple websites can very well do so. LinkedIn, by its very nature is for professional networks, and I keep it that way.

This leads on to the other thing I mentioned in the opening sentence of this blog - the birth of 'Path'. We have many 'friends' on facebook and we do not wish to share everything with everyone. Path is very much inspired by this and Professor Dunbar's research findings. It is a social networking website that restricts the maximum number of friends to 50. This means we would be careful in selecting the close 50, with whom we can share personal information without any qualms!

The whole point of this blog was to reflect on how 'social' has started to mean 'public' and slowly, new application slike 'Path' are trying to break the publicness of being social and make it more personal.

Please leave your comments on how you feel about sharing information on social networking websites.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ways to increase Twitter followers

7 ways to increase twitter followers:

1. Getting listed on twellow
2. Following back key followers
3. Encouraging retweets
4. Completing company bio on twitter profile
5. Including company website in bio
6. Spreading twitter name through business cards, client presentations
7. Post engaging and useful tweets and not just promotional stuff

I could write that in detail, but it looks quite self-explanatory for now. Will update later if required :)

2010 - Year of Social Media?

After many years of the introduction of social media, 2010 has been the year social media has seen wide acceptance as a marketing channel. Many case studies were released of companies exceling in deploying social media as a marketing tool.

Image courtesy: SmallBizTrends

2010 is the year that saw experts and practitioners emphasise on engagement rather than spread. Likes, followers and comments were highly sought after in media campaigns. New ways of monitoring and analysing returns of investment have been devised and implemented successfully breaking the fears of inability to measure success. More and more senior management are coming on board the social bandwagon - not because everybody is but because they are convinced of its power. It is true to say that, social media has gained special status in companies with record breaking hires of social media specialists. The year also sees a surge of social media protagonists.

The growth of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn users has been phenomenal this year. New mobile applications helped propagate these tools to the mobile, tech savvy and young masses.

Now that social media has reached its maturity and a new level of acceptance by the public and the marketing community, it is interesting to anticipate what 2011 has in store for this dynamic and innovative field of marketing. Experts believe 2011 to be the year of 'mobile'. Though nothing can be said for sure, it sure will be a prospective year for social media.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Short Six Steps of implementing a Social Media Strategy

This post is just to outline steps to implementing a social media strategy. For details, please check out my other posts.

1. Find out where your customers are and decide on the appropriate social media platform
2. Define goals for the social media initiative and identify metrics to measure progress
3. Set baselines to compare the before and after cases of the social media activities
4. Use appropriate measuring tools
5. Compare over-time metrics using the tools
6. Repeat and evolve the steps with changing business environment

Please leave comments, I would love for this list to evolve with feedback from readers. Thanks!

Friday, 8 October 2010

How to measure social media ROI?

This blog is a follow-up of my previous blog and aims to clarify how ROI on social media actions can be measured. I decided to write on this topic because this is one thing that worried me the most as a social media newbie. I am sure there are lots of people like me who still wonder how to formulate a proper mechanism or identify key tools to measure returns on social media investments! Measuring ROI is absolutely necessary to convince your boss that your social media strategy is working and it is generating sales in some way or the other.

On this topic, I found a very interesting video that is both informative and wittingly funny as well. Here is the video.
Olivier Blanchard Basics Of Social Media Roi

Return on Investment (ROI) is a financial term to measure financial returns. The formula for calculation of ROI is discussed in the presentation, however to reiterate, it is measured as:

ROI = Gain from Investment - Cost of Investment
                        Cost of Investment

Both financial and non-financial aspects are not easily measured. The first step before undertaking social media initiatives and in order to be able to measure the returns accurately, it is absolutely necessary to define clearly what is expected from the social media activity - is it customer engagement, attraction of new customers and so on. Once the goals are defined, it is imperative to delineate the basis of comparison, i.e. identifying baselines to compare 'before' and 'after' cases of the social media actions. For example, sales revenue before implementing social media strategy and sales revenue after.

Some useful financial metrics are YoY growth rate, sales revenue, number of transactions per month, net new customers per month and earnings per transaction. These financial metrics need to be closely coupled to non-financial measurements in order to maintain context and identify what actions are causing the change! In order to enable the social media strategy to be effective and to evolve over time, it is important to establish relationships between actions and reactions!

Some non-financial metrics, which need to be correlated with the financial results include, tracking positive or negative mentions in communities, measuring web traffic, number of comments, queries resolved, etc.

There are many nice blogs that talk about the tools to measure web traffic, and those that identify special social media mentions and perform sentiment analyses. Few recommendations include:

These Mashable blogs extensively discuss the measurement tools and which ones might suit small or big companies.

If I were to mention some well-known tools to measure web-traffic, they would be Google Analytics (is is free!!), Hootsuite, Omniture, TweetMeMe (for Retweets on twitter specifically) and PostRank among others.

For companies with more than one website, it might also be useful to use "Roll-up" reporting in Google Analytics, that helps measure an overview of all the websites! Here is a good article on Roll-ups :

Even with all the tools, the choice of useful data among all the measurable metrics and the ultimate analyses of these useful data has to be performed with the social media personnel's judgement. It may be required to gather data from multiple analytical tools into an excel file in order to make customised analyses.

So, there was a primer to start planning and measuring social media activities! I hope to write more about measurement tools in my upcoming blogs. Stay posted.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

What social media is NOT and what it is!

Social media has over the past two years grown from an experimental and anticipatory stage to a new level of adoption and acceptance from organisations across all industries. The only concern is the fact that many organisations still jump into the bandwagon - just to keep up with the "technology" without actually having a strategy. Many are not clear what what social media is and what it is capable of doing for organisations. Many still have wrong notions about social media, which I aim to help clarify through this blog today.

Let us start with what social media is not.

1. I refer to my previous blog to re-assert that social media is not just Facebook and Twitter.
Social media is not something to keep up with competitors but a new avenue to establish relationship and engage with customers. Many have the misconception that if I have a Facebook fan page or a Twitter fan following, then I have incorporated social media. This is a means of using social media, but without realising the full capability of what a social media initiative is capable of.

2. Social media marketing is not a short-term activity
It is not enough to gather fans and accumulate "likes" or followers. This traffic should not meet a dead end on the fan page. The traffic needs to be harnessed using a good social media strategy to convert it into sales and maintain customer relations. Corporate websites and social media platforms should not be independent but interlinked as a unified strategy.

3. Social media does not come for free
Yes, social media is a low cost/no cost activity. However, a good strategy needs significant manhours to achieve good results. Popular opinion says after initial set-up, dedicating about 1-2 hours everyday is essential to get good returns. Also, good measuring tools and KPIs are essential to monitor and translate effort into results.

4. Social media is not a fad anymore
Until lately, social media was considered to be a "fashion" that would fade away gradually. But with proven results and facilitation by main proponents, more and more organisations are adopting it and it is here to stay.

So, what is social media marketing?

1. Social media comprises a variety of platforms including social and professional networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, content sharing websites like Digg, Flickr, YouTube, and User Generated Contents (UGCs) like blogs, discussion boards, etc. (More on the categories in a subsequent blog)

Its a customers' era where customers are enormously empowered with social media. With customers already discussing about brands among themselves in these platforms, it is essential to monitor what good/bad is being said about the brand in these platforms and use it to improve the brand or clear misconceptions about the brand. It is a chance for brands to build on these existing platforms to reach out to the interested prospects.

2. Social media is a long term strategy
It should not be a last minute addition but a part of a marketing plan/strategy. It is foolish to follow the league without a strategy. Choice of media is very important. It is important to figure out where the target customers flock and which platform would be the most appropriate to target them. It is a long-term relationship building platform. It is a means to establish effective communication with customers and clients. It is a transparent platform, and has its downsides where users are free to posts negative comments as well. It is a platform to show customers that you care about them.

4. Social media requires time and resource commitments
Comments, feedbacks, content sharing (videos, text, pictures, etc) etc need significant time and dedication. Constant monitoring is required of what is being said about the organisation by people and to respond accordingly. Having facebook fans or twitter followers is not the end - next and a more important step is the follow-up; a plan to convert traffic into sales.

Social media marketing can help reduce marketing costs and result in higher returns and an efficient CRM system if used appropriately and with dedication. There are many case studies of social media success stories - Ford being a widely cited example. More on success stories will be covered in upcoming blogs! Watch out and please leave comments to the post.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Social media and startup companies

Yes social media is cool, it is effective and a great means to engage customers and drive sales. However, it sure requires dedicated resources and manpower. Is it feasible for a startup company with minimum resources? So, it made me wander into the internet to find a convincing answer to this question.

The first article I read was by Ken Yeung (2009) on "Helping Startups Understand Promotion & Survival Using Social Media". One interesting mention was of Clara Shih (author of The Facebook Era)'s insight into changes in promotional activities with the introduction of Web2.0. In the early telephone promotion years, interaction between a business and clients was on a 1:1 basis. With Web1.0, i.e. static websites, the paradigm shifted to 1:Many and with the development of Web2.0, the interaction of business:customer has become Many:Many. Another reinforcing statement extracted from this article was that "you don’t have to work with big agencies to promote your brand ... it’s all about networking, going to events, showing the benefits of your product in the ecosystem through partnering with influencers and others".

Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Analyst) points out three things that startups need to follow to succeed in incorporating social media into their marketing strategies:

1. "Be specific in what problem you’re solving"
2. "Crowdsource your support"
3. "Be a part of the dialogue happening online"

According to blogger Jeremy Toeman, for startups to reach out to big bloggers like TechCrunch or Mashable, building trust by engaging with comments and conversations with them is vital. The unanimous outcome of this meeting was that "(product) positioning is more important than exclusivity when dealing with bloggers". The bottom line for startups - "Define a specific problem" and build a customer experience in the first 30 seconds of customers first trying out the product.

Now that said and done, I came across a blog by Joanna Lord, which was pretty much in the same lines I was having my thoughts directed. She talks about the less resources, pressure from friends, boards and investors and the apprehension of over-investment. It is fundamental that she pointed out the fact that social media adoption is experimental and adopted by many big companies in a trial by error fashion - expending time and resources till a match is hit which is capable of generating enough returns. This method is almost an impossible dream for startups.

Furthermore, she rightly mentions that startups first need to have content where the "attracted" customers can get back to, and that "it is important to really lay down a concrete foundation for a start-up’s brand, pub­lic face, and network"; only after successfully materialising these efforts should startups devote resources into developing and executing a social media plan.

However, few interesting comments gave me convincing answers to the question I raised in the first place -  startups in particular should use social media as it is freely available and the ROI is relatively easy to measure. 
However, there should be more reason to using social media than just because its free. Investigation about the target audience - if they use social media and which platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc) ?

The conclusion i draw from this discussion is that content is important to lock the fans and followers, but with a suitably devised social media plan and a well-defined way to measure ROI, social media is worth a try for start-ups.

Further curiosity led me to another question if platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be used to launch new products/services by startups! Check out my next post for answers.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Social Media Marketing Isn't just Facebook and Twitter

As rightly written by Heidi Cohen on, social media usage has been rampant, however the returns are not as expected for many of the lot. Twitter and Facebook are not the only channels to social media marketing and it is not free and not something companies can perform in their leisure. It involves much ado and needs dedicated resources if these platforms are to be exploited to advantage.

According to the EngagementDB study, spread and usage of social media channels is not sufficient, but engagement with the customers is important. The dual dimensions of spread of channels and depth of engagement determines the success of social media initiatives and can be related to financial returns. The study reveals direct correlation between depth of engagement and financial returns. In their study, Starbucks, Dell, eBay and Google are among the top brands with high end-user engagement.

On similar grounds, Heidi presents numerous ways to make social media marketing effective or to increase the level of engagement with customers/potential customers to create lead generation.

It is not enough to attract customers' attention using SEO, UGCs and presence on many social platforms. That was the easy part - the next series of steps are to keep them engaged and interested. Heidi suggests inclusion of options like "likes", social sharing, comments, reviews and RSS feeds on product information pages.

Including customer touch-points is also very crucial - arranging FAQs section on websites and dedicated human resources to revert to customer queries are very important: this makes it clear that efficient social media marketing does not come free and involves resources. It is important to keep interacting with interested prospects as purchasing process is long and you want to be on the top of their mind. Tracking of source of sales can also be achieved by using promotional codes.

Above all it is important to make the "story" memorable to be worthy of being remembered ad shared.