Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Reason Social Media Can be Difficult to Sell? It's the Indirect Nature of It, Part III

Guess this could be called Part II 1/2. Or the Need for Benchmarks.

One of the obstacles we're hearing from clients about engaging in social media programs is the lack of metrics.

Paul Gillin, a longtime journalist who has turned himself into a B2B social media guru and has a blog worth reading, was one of the first to point for the need to establish benchmarks -- and has written that several years later, we still lack benchmarks.

Traditional media has several established benchmarks, including circulation and the average time spent reading a magazine or newspaper. While time spent on a page is the basic equivalent to the second metric, it's doesn't provide the same snapshot overall.

In other words, the challenge remains: how can companies determine if they're getting any value from the social media initiatives.

In reading Charlene Li's new book, Open Leadership (disclosure: I received a review copy of the book), I came across another useful quote:
"In the absence of established metrics and benchmarks (for social media) you'll need to create them for yourself."
That's no silver bullet but the point is that companies have to experiment to determine what metrics make the most sense for them. If social media is about engaging with your stakeholders, it is also about the need to test -- and perhaps fail at first -- different approaches to reaching stakeholders.

I know that in the New Normal, getting budget or approval to experiment can be a challenge. Last night I talked with a very smart expert in small businesses, and she expressed concern about social media. But even as social media continues to evolve, it's not a fad that will fade away the way CB Radio did in the '70s.

And I know social media is not the answer for every client or organization. But at the same time, I think organizations should be asking the questions to see how they might benefit from reaching out over a new channel. Once you start doing so, you can start collecting metrics, and start figuring out which ones make sense for you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Transparency & Crisis Prevention -- Advice from Eric Schmidt

After writing about crisis management lessons from recent events (PR Lessons from BP, Toyota & Goldman Sachs), I came across a column by Google CEO Eric Schmidt that ran in Forbes.

Schmidt's point: thanks to a 24- hours news cycle, secrecy isn't so easy to come by. (Most people talk about a 24-hour news cycle, but to be clear, we're not saying it takes 24 hours for news to hit; news hits hourly, if not faster.) That's not necessarily a bad thing.

According to Schmidt, the real question is:
"What are our choices when we, whether as individuals or businesses, get it wrong--sometimes badly wrong? We can try to conceal our blunders, as so many people have done for so many centuries. But in a world where everything is recorded and stored, that is not a realistic option.

"Nor should it be. For a company that aspires to true significance or an individual who wants to rise to prominence, the question is, "How should we behave?" The answer must be, "We did the best we could and did so transparently." In time this should move from a defense to an expected standard."

I think it's good that a business leader like Schmidt endorses transparency, and that it will help pursuade other companies of the need to embrace a new way to operate.

But I sometimes I wonder if the idea of business transparency is just another business fad. Perhaps social media's significant contribution will be to make transparency part of the standard operating proceedure for business.

You can read Schmidt's column here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Reason Social Media Can be Difficult to Sell? It's the Indirect Nature of It, Part II

In May, I wrote about the challenges of selling in social media to metric-demanding clients.

One challenge is that some of the metrics are less objective than one might think. Click-through rates are calculated differently so that, depending on which service you use -- bit.ly or Tweetburner -- are vastly different. However they capture data about click-throughs, their results are like apples to oranges. Meanwhile, there are plenty of tools to track how many visitors go to your blog or site, and no two provide the same number. In fact, I've seen data from one site tool that provides different results for the same site.

That, of course, makes selling in social media programs a bit of a challenge.

But in reading Charlene Li's new book, Open Leadership, I came across a useful quote. Li is the founder of the Altimeter Group and a former Yankee Group analyst. According to Li,
"Inevitably they (management) want to know what the return on investment (ROI) is. But this emphasis on ROI is like asking what the value of a deeper, closer relationship is. Although I agree that leadership should rigorously examine the benefits of openess, an undue emphasis on hard ROI does no one any good...

For example, what's the ROI of a handshake? Or think of a lunch you recently had with a colleague or direct report, where you invested time and money to develop a deeper relationship with them. How do you calculate the ROI of an internal business lunch? ...In most cases, more than half of a company's operating expenses are likely to be spent on activities that have an indirect impact on the bottom line. We may not be able to link the ROI of these expenses to direct sales, but we know there's some incremental benefit that makes them worthwhile."
The challenge is getting the right people within the organization to understand that social media is another means by which they can connect to key audiences. Even B2B companies need to consider connecting with their customers because so many of them are using social media anyway.

(Disclosure: I received a review copy of "Open Leadership.")

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

PR Lessons from BP, Toyota & Goldman Sachs

The cover of Sunday's New York Times Business Section was: what not to do in case of emergency, drawn from the recent examples of BP, Toyota and Goldman Sachs. I would also add H-P to that list, though obviously to a lesser degree.

It's well worth reading the article, but here are some lessons, drawn from Peter S. Goodman's article. Please note: what follows is general advice, not directed at or in response to any particular company or specific situation.

  1. When faced with a potential crisis, don't delay in responding. At the same time, don't give off-the-cuff responses. If you need to research the situation, say so, then provide regular updates because of course you'll need to evaluate the issues involved.
  2. Don't blame other people or factors. You can't spin your way out of a catastrophe. "There's not a lot of news when the company takes responsibility and moves on," according to James Donnelly at Ketchum.
  3. Don't take an adversarial position with the public, government officials or the media. After all, when the crisis is over, you'll need to maintain good relations with customers, regulators and the media.
  4. You don't always have to get out in front of the story, according to Eric Dezenhall, who believes there may be some situations where the issues are just against you, and it's best to "absorb the pounding," in the words of the Times article. Tiger Woods' scandal may be an example of when it might be best to make an apology and drop out of view.
  5. Don't start post-crisis communications efforts (usually done via TV spots and the phrase, "working together, we're solving this issue") while the crisis has not yet been solved. It will look insincere. However, it's okay to start communicating your apology and taking responsibility for the crisis.
  6. Don't forget your communications goals: As Dezenhall says, "It's the height of arrogance to assume that in the middle of a crisis the public yearns for chestnuts of wisdom from people they want to kill. The goal is not to get people not to hate them. It's to get people to hate them less."
  7. Don't provide the updates you want to hear. Provide accurate updates. Credibility will be important after the crisis has been forgotten. But people will remember if they felt you were not truthful.
  8. Don't get caught between your attorneys and your PR team. Your attorneys will advise against taking responsibility because that may open you to law suits or make it easier for plaintiffs to win their claims against you. On the other hand, your PR team will advise you to be as open as possible. You've got to draw a line in the sand, and stick with it, and not get caught in ongoing arguments from either side.
  9. You should prepare a crisis plan to keep focused on how to research, resolve and communicate about a crisis. That means you should update the plan, too. If you pull your crisis plan out of your desk, does it include how to monitor and address social media? If the plan was created six years ago, it's way too old because that was before Twitter, YouTube and other tools that can communicate the other side of the story -- i.e., not yours -- fast.
  10. Don't go off message. Recent off-the-cuff messages by CEOs sparked more controversy, and became the main story element for the next 48 hours or longer. If the message is off, it can have a stronger impact than much of what you're doing right. Who can forget Pres. George W. Bush's "You're doing a heckuva good job, Brownie" to Michael D. Brown, the then-head of FEMA in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- when the opposite was clear to everyone watching TV.
  11. Remember to communicate internally. Too many companies circle the wagons in a hastily set war room, and forget to communicate to their employees, customers, and partners -- these are potential allies who can help. They can also lose confidence if the only information they're getting is from external sources.
  12. Keep your board of directors and major investors informed. For public companies, it's critical to communicate with your board of directors and major investors. Even if you handle the situation, you may lose the confidence of the board or shareholders if they feel you have not been honest with them. That's part of the reason H-P's board pushed out Mark Hurd, despite the fact he had turned around the company. Poor communications with his board after a poor response during an ice storm is part of the reason that JetBlue fired its founder David Neeleman. Good communications plans identify in advance who the crisis team needs to keep informed.
  13. People in a 24//7 war room still need to take a break. Exhaustion can distort perception, realities and priorities. A crisis can alter the perception of the organization, cloud their minds when it comes to objectively assessing the facts, the internal and external perceptions, the priorities, even the right move. For that reason, people inside the war room need to make sure to take a breather, go for a walk, get outside the war room mentality so that they can be effective. We can never know for sure, but if Tony Hayward had taken a break, he might not have said during an interview, saying apologizing and saying "There's no one who wants this over than I do," that "I would like my life back."
  14. Don't blame the 24/7 news cycle. According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, writing in Forbes: "What are our choices when we, whether as individuals or businesses, get it wrong--sometimes badly wrong? We can try to conceal our blunders, as so many people have done for so many centuries. But in a world where everything is recorded and stored, that is not a realistic option. Nor should it be. For a company that aspires to true significance or an individual who wants to rise to prominence, the question is, 'How should we behave?' The answer must be, 'We did the best we could and did so transparently.' In time this should move from a defense to an expected standard."
  15. Even if you have a plan, you need to be able to adjust it as necessary. The nature of a crisis is that you can't always anticipate how the narrative unfolds. Developing and rehearsing a crisis plan is important. But it's also important to know when to change directions and adjust tactics, mid-crisis, to achieve your goals. After all, too often a seemingly minor issue can become the story -- like when the CEOs of the major US automakers flew on separate private jets to testify before Congress. The point: you may have to sort out the realities of the actual crisis as well as the perception around the crisis, and those perception issues follow a different, unexpected path.
For more, check out the Times article. The hardcopy also included a sidebar, "Three P.R. Nightmares" (not available online) that listed the cost of the impact the scandals had on the stock prices of Toyota, BP and Goldman. Interesting proof points to why crisis planning is important and valuable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Why Forbes Publishes Its Annual Forbes Celebrity 100 List & The Lessons It Teaches PR

I don't think I need to explain why Sports Illustrated runs its annual swimsuit issue in Feb., when much of the country is buried in snow, when the Super Bowl is over, when basketball and hockey seasons seem endless, and when it's too soon (and too cold) to think about spring training.

But the reason for the annual Forbes Celebrity 100 may not be so obvious.

The annual Forbes Celebrity 100 is designed to be "a power ranking based on earnings and fame but also on social media rank such as Facebook friends and fans, Twitter followers, overall print and broadcast coverage, number of blog hits, and appearances on covers of 25 consumer magazines.

Sounds like a good set of metrics. But those metrics, other than earning power, make the list subjective rather than objective.

They're trying to quantify fame, much the way Q Score have done for celebrities for years.

Adding the element of "power ranking" makes it okay for Forbes to cover celebrities because Forbes gets to treat them as business people, not just as eye candy.

How else could Forbes justifying placing Sandra Bullock, Kobe Bryant, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Swift on its cover?

Forbes can always put Oprah on its cover (as the current hit, "I Want to be a Billionaire," points out), but it would take a stretch to imagine Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Anglina (do I have to provide her last name?) and others.

The value of its annual Forbes Celebrity 100 is to act like the always popular People Magazine for one issue during mid-summer -- the equivalent slow period for business as Feb. is for sports fans.

It's fun beach reading. It gives you the opportunity to debate whether Beyonce, who claimed the Number 2 spot and earned $87 million, should out rank James Cameron, Number 3 who earned $210. Or to try to figure out how boxer Floyd Mayweather (number 31 with $65 million) out-ranked producer Jerry Bruckheimer (number 47 with $100 million)?

The answer, of course, is besides the point.

For Forbes, the point is to generate interest and boost readership at a time when its readers may be on vacation, trying to unwind a bit. (They never truly unplug.)

The lesson for PR functions: look at your industry for any slow period, and think of developing a fun stunt that's accessible but relevant to generate attention when your competitors may have checked out. Swimsuits in Feb. have a tangential connection at best with sports just as teen celebrities have a tangential connection with business. And SI and Forbes have been doing a good job filling their respective magazines during slow periods.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Social Media Only About Popularity? Or is Bloomberg BusinessWeek Wrong About the Need to Be Popular

The current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a cover story on popularity.

The thesis of the article is:
Popularity is not a state of grace. In business, it is treasure hard-won on the battlefields of product development and marketing, then leveraged or squandered or stolen back. Most of the products and ideas showcased here—the stuff we buy, sell, and otherwise consume the most—owe their status in part to aggressive sales tactics, from knocking on doors to strong-arming grocers to gain the best shelf space. In its most potent and permanent form, however, popularity transcends sales pitches, advertising, fads, and maybe even conscious choice.
Yet I found I didn't like the article. True, it was filled with interested factoids about which brands or more popular -- Jif or Skippy, vanilla ice cream vs. chocolate, bananas vs. apples -- but there's not much in the way of useful, actionable lessons from the extended article.

We know that Jif outsells Skippy, than vanilla ice cream is more popular in-home and that Americans buy more white-colored cars than other color (black is the second most popular). But in my reading of the article, there was limited value in knowing which brands, products. etc. are more popular.

We learn that "With nearly a billion dollars in annual sales, Lay's market share dwarfs that of its rivals," but not why so many of us buy so many of Lay's potato chips.

The article seems to suggest in an age of social media, being popular is the end goal. That would be llike living in a perpetual high school environment.

Yet Bloomberg BusinessWeek acknowledges in passing that it's not all about being popular. In a separate, online only article, "Popularly Unpopular," Arik Hesseldahl reports makes an important point about popularity: "Why does the most popular social network rank next to last in a customer satisfaction survey?"

In other words, you don't need to be popular or well liked to be necessary.

I know we're all trying to get as many followers as possible on Twitter, the largest number of fans of Facebook, and links to our blogs. But I think if your goal is merely to sit at the cool table in the high school lunch room in the social media cafeteria, you're focusing on the wrong variable.

Let me know what you think. Is my take a popular or unpopular perspective?

Monday, August 16, 2010

More Newspapers Establish Paywalls & the Implications to PR

The news-is-free business model is crumbling.

Starting today, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette will charge non-subscribers for staff-generated articles. Non-subscribers can access 10 staff-produced articles per month before being charged, either $1 per day for one day's access or $14,95 per month. Subscribers don't have to pay for online access.

Wire-service content is available for free.

As the Globe's Johnny Diaz reports: "The T&G joins a small but growing list of newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal and Newsday, that already charge for some access to their websites. In Massachusetts, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, part of News Corp., which owns the Journal, started charging in January for its website, southcoasttoday.com. Online subscribers, for example, are charged $3.37 a week, which provides access to all articles, blogs, and video."

The Globe has not announced any plans to establish a paywall. However, as a sister paper to the T&G, which is in turn owned by the New York Times which has announced plans to start charging for online access, it's only a matter of time before the Globe establishes its paywall. The same is true for the Herald, since the Journal has charged for online access for years.

Not all paywalls are successful. Newsday spent millions of dollars to establish their paid online access policy, but generated only 35 subscribers in its first three months.

Nonetheless, we dubbed 2010 to the year of online subscriptions because we figured this was the year that online media companies would come to that realization -- including the fact that online advertising alone won't generate enough money to subsidize free access. They've got to find a way to make online content pay for itself.

Over the next three to five years, we expect most newspapers and magazines will have to have a paywall. There will be a domino effect, as more sites find a way to charge for online access, an growing number of sites will adapt paywalls.

The implications for PR functions may be a bit of back to the future. In the past, if an article appeared in a newspaper in one market, you assumed it only reached readers in that market; and for a while, the Internet broke down geographical barriers, and you could access an article in the UK's Guardian as easily as accessing a newspaper around the country. But, as paywalls become the standard, not the exception, articles that appear in the Guardian may not show up on search engines -- so we're back to articles in one market not being seen in other markets.

In an increasingly fragmented society, paywalls will be another obstacle to reaching a mass audience.

I will be further discussing the paywall implications in another article this week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two Marketing Lessons for App Developers

Clearly there are more lessons to be learned about marketing apps, you have to start somewhere. Call this post App Lessons 1.0.
  1. Much like anything else (except Apple technology), people don't like to buy version 1.0 because they know it's likely to have buggy features. Same goes for apps. Apparently, versions 1.0 don't do as well as later versions of the app. According to one app developer I spoke with, "It almost pays to launch as 1.0 and then upgrade even with a minor change to 1.1." In an era when perfect is the enemy of good because you need to get the product or service out the door and into the hands (or smartphones) of customers, that appears to be good advice. You don't want to release a product that still belongs in beta, but you don't want to wait until the app is perfect. Good enough is a good first step.
  2. Keep a blog for your users so they can exchange ideas, tips, etc. In the age of social media, this helps build a community of users, which engenders loyalty and results in stronger brand awareness. As an example, check out the blog for Photo Shootout for iPhone. (Disclosure: I've worked with the developer, Paul Michaels, but not on the blog.)

    Please share other lessons you may have learned along the way.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Three Lessons I Learned From Bad Direct Marketing

I recently received an interesting-shaped box in the mail from Yahoo, so I opened it up, wondering what could be inside.

What was inside sparked a couple of lessons about direct marketing and the problems all companies face.

  1. You need to get your target's attention. The interesting-shaped mailer did that. So did a simpler mailer I received earlier in the week that looked like an X-ray print-out. I paid attention to them, in part because they were sent in the mail -- at a time when everyone gets flooded with email -- and in part because they were unusual.
  2. You have to make sure that once you get their attention, that you have something meaningful to say. As Charlene Li, author of "Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead" and the founder of the Altimeter Group (and former Forrester Research, writes, "organizations need to earnI the right to have a conversation...without a relationship in place,the best marketing campaigns will fall on deaf ears." The gift from Yahoo included a purple Yahoo! flag and a brochure about why marketing with Yahoo can help my business. The X-ray was a mailer that said we could get great results from using that company for our direct mail creative. But here's the thing: I don't need more clutter on my desk and we don't handle direct mail campaigns for our clients. So both were nice tries but inefficient efforts. I don't even recall the name of the company that sent me the X-ray sheet.
  3. You need to consider different approaches when trying to reach elusive targets. The fact that Yahoo used direct mail to get companies like mine to advertise online doesn't mean that Yahoo doesn't trust its online marketing to reach potential customers. But it does validate the need to find different ways to reach targets. This time didn't work for Yahoo, but I don't mean to pick on them; I've received ineffective direct mail from Google, too. The difference is that Google didn't spend as much money on its piece, but they did send me many more pieces.
Do you know anyone who might want a used purple flag?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Seven Tips To Thinking Like a Publisher

One piece of advice that's offered up a lot these days is that organizations to think like a publisher. The point is that organizations need to produce content that can be posted on their sites, their blogs and elsewhere.

And that's good advice, as far as it goes.

But it may still leave the people who now need to generate more content a bit confused about their role as publisher. There's a good blog on the topic, What Does It Mean to Be the Media? written by a friend of mine, Alison Kenney, that's worth reading.

Here are some tips:
  1. Instead of focusing on advertisers -- as traditional publishers do -- social media publishers need to think about the content that will interest their readers and provides value. So in that way, you need to think more like an editor.
  2. Make sure your content is not like advertorials. Social media is about engagement. Too much sell will turn people off. Your PR staff should have a good sense of what can fit into your content without going over the line. If it sounds like a marketing piece, you've gone too far.
  3. You need to establish metrics, just like traditional publishers, as Alison points out. But you will also have to do some experimentation to determine which are the right metrics for your organization. Newspaper circulation and readership are traditional measures for advertising and PR, and was a good standard for anyone and any sector. But with social media, that's changed. Some metrics may be important for a startup, another for a more established company, and others still for nonprofits. And just because metrics for one organization make sense, does not mean those same metrics make sense for a different company -- even one operating in the same sector.
  4. You have to think beyond text, beyond white papers. You now need to think cross-platform: turn a podcast into an article; turn an article into a video -- but do so quickly, efficiently, without a lot of layers or process. This will require change from a cultural, budget and operational perspective.
  5. You need to regularly publish new content. In the old days, the shelf life for marketing collateral could be years. If you ran out of a printed brochure, you could print more and that was fine. That doesn't work in the age of Twitter. You can't just post one thing in January, and leave it at that for the rest of the year. People expect new content, so you've got to generate new content on a regular basis. (The good news: unlike traditional print brochures, Tweets are only 140 characters so that your one brochure, parceled out at 140 characters at a time could last a long time.)
  6. One key difference for a social media publisher is that it's okay to repeat and repost content. The old days of editors responding to a story idea by saying, we covered that a year ago doesn't work or matter if your organization is acting as a self-publisher. The reason: although messages on Twitter and Facebook can last a long time, it can be difficult to search for, and most people don't search for missed messages. Since both Twitter and Facebook offer timelines, your posts can get lost if people don't log on when you post (especially true for Twitter) or can get lost amid all the other Twitter feeds your followers also follow. So while you have to continue to develop new things to Tweet about, the good news is that you can repeat some content because most people will not have seen it the first time.
  7. You need to encourage your team to think like reporters inside your organization. Like an editor, you need to look at everything the organization does and think about how that can be used to tell a story. When it comes to social media, including on Twitter and Facebook, that may mean acknowledging mistakes and missteps made by your organization. This may be the most difficult cultural change your organization makes to embrace social media.
And now you might understand why all those old movies newspapermen (the term they used before "journalists") drank so much!