Social Media Planning and Strategy – An Oxymoron?

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and renowned speaker on all things social media, once said: “We don’t have a choice whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it.”

According to a 2009 survey by Marketing Trends, the top three areas of investment moving into next year are e-mail marketing, social media and search. Why? The traditional marketing model has fundamentally changed. People are moving away from physical events and advertising as they are no longer the optimal choices to market brands or products. Meanwhile, more companies are seeing social media as a key marketing channel. According to the CMO Council, “60 percent of the more than 600 marketers who responded in our survey will invest in new online community and networking tools in the next year.” Today, it’s about word of mouth — people  their time online are engaging with like-minded people to learn what others (their trusted networks) are saying about brands, products and services.

I recently attended MarketingProfs’ #techchat on Twitter with Guy Kawasaki, the leading expert in social media. He brought up two thought provoking comments during the chat which inspired me to write this post. First, he said when it comes to social media, businesses should just throw something at it and see what sticks.

Second, he said, social media planning and strategy is an oxymoron. Maybe this was his way of stirring up controversy to see what others would say. A few years back, this would’ve made sense, but given how far we’ve come with social media in B2B and B2C companies and the data and success stories we now have, there is no excuse for companies to not adequately plan and build a strategy.

I recently spoke at a panel session sponsored by Enterprise Network where I had the pleasure to be among a stellar group of social media experts — Kathy Sacks, VP of Communication for InfusionSoft; Al Maag, Chief Communication Officer for Avnet; Ed Brice, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Lumension, and Patrick O’Grady of the Phoenix Business Journal. For more details, you can read Linda Vandervedre of PR Valley PR Blog. Attendees consisted of entrepreneurs, marketers and business consultants all looking to get into social media, which takes me back to my original point — it’s not a question of if but how well, and doing social media well takes planning and a solid strategy that aligns with business objectives. Companies that are looking to launch social media have a tremendous opportunity to become thought leaders and drive social media forward. To do this, consider these points:

First things first, research: During the panel session, Kathy Sacks had an interesting twist when she said we are therapists, because we need to listen as part of social media. We need to monitor and listen before we do anything. Find out what people are saying about your brand, products or services or even competitors’ stuff. Companies underestimate the intelligence they can gather on customers, prospects, competitors and future markets through social media monitoring. The data points gathered through listening and monitoring will help you better understand where your communities are and where you need to be when mapping out your strategy and plan. Such examples are also crucial when making a case to your team and executive management.

Planning is the foundation for all things social media: Planning has several components. First, define your objectives —to simply listen, monitor, innovate, engage and/or build thought leadership? From there, you can outline what channels are relevant and why. For example, consider launching a blog and developing a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as YouTube. Understand your resources and what’s realistic in terms of fully committing to these channels to meet your objectives. Planning requires attention and time because social media is about authenticity, engagement, consistency and commitment. Under the leadership of Heather Loisel, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for JDA, I’ve had the pleasure of working our social media team to see the progression of planning and how that is impacting executive buy-in. A well-thought-out plan will serve as a compass for your strategy.

Strategy will determine your social media direction: “Before you journey, observe the wind carefully, detect its direction, and then follow it. You will get to your destination twice as fast with half the effort.” (Ching-Ning Chu). According to Sirius Decision, a coordinated strategy is in place in fewer than 20 percent of B2B companies that use social media. When building a strategy, everyone must work together to build an enforceable policy, education program, and what key channels you’re going to integrate into your marketing plan and deploy company-wide as part of your strategy. Your strategy should take into consideration how you’re going to integrate everyone into the mix — IT, HR, legal, executives and employees — into the fold. This is key for getting executives to buy into your plan for using social media outlets – getting their approval will allow you to align corporate objectives with social media strategy and goals.

ROI (Risk of Ignoring): Mitch Glasser said it best during the Q&A after the panel session about ROI — that it’s no longer about return on investment but the risk of ignoring social media. This is true. Today, you no longer control the brand; your customers do. And this is unsettling to many marketers. But you have to consider the risk of ignoring social media because if you choose to close your eyes to what’s happening in the social Web, your competitors will pass you by.

Additional Resources:

Linda Vandevrede’s Valley PR Blog: Local Communication Pros Discuss Social Media

Ed Brice’s Marketing Gimbal Blog: Six Social Media Sins

Mashable: 3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy

 Phoenix Business Journal Blog: Social Media Going Business to Business

Sirius Decision: Monitoring: The Foundation of a B2B Social Media Strategy

CEO Blog: Should CEOs Stick to Internal Blogging?

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Forgive me…for I have sinned…I haven’t blogged for quite some time but given my recent journey, I’m going to ask for forgiveness and hope that this blog post makes up for it.  In my last post, I covered the first part of the CEO blog: Good for the Executive Brand and Thought Leadership with Guy Kawasaki, where he outlined some interesting points around this topic and whether CEO generated blogs truly garnered value versus the time and effort a CEO has to dedicate to his/her blog.  When asked the question whether CEOs should have an external blog, Kawasaki said, “It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this because there are several key factors at play. First, is the company publicly traded? If it is, then the CEO must be very careful to limit the information in the blog—so much so, that the blog may be rendered boring. Second, can the CEO write well? If not, is she or he willing to use a ghost writer? Third, does the CEO truly have something significant to say? This is a ‘duhism,’ but not enough CEOs as themselves this question.” 

 

In a world where social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate, connect, and collaboate, more people are begging the question: “Should CEOs blog?”  Better question would be: “Can your CEO blog well?” It’s definitely an untapped opportunity for CEOs to get in on the action if their passion and time permit.  As Del Jones (@jonesdel) puts it in one of his interviews in USA Today, it’s about risk and readability. Further, it’s about the transparency of the blog. With that said, is it more beneficial for CEOs to stick to internal blogging for the sake of enhancing communications with their internal audience – the employees?  This question takes me to my second installment of the CEO blog series and why CEOs should stick to internal blogging.

I took this question to my colleague and good friend  Chris Hewitt who used to run his own marketing firm. He is also the author of his personal blog called What Does Marketing Really Do?  He’s makes a good argument as to why CEOs are better off having an internal blog to reach their employees and boost communications with their constituents. Read below:

Do you think CEOs should or shouldn’t blog and why?

Absolutely. I believe that CEOs should most definitely share their voice through blogs.  However, where to blog is the real question for me; I believe that CEOs should strictly create internal blogs for employees of their companies and not blog for the general public.  

While I understand that a CEO is the public face of an organization, I believe that there are plenty of other outlets for CEOs to meet those demands.  If a CEO is going to blog, that valuable time is better spent on topics that can motivate, inform, and organize the members within their organization.

How important is it for CEOs to blog? 
Continuing with my concept on internal blogging, I believe that it is critical for a CEO to embrace blogging as one of the developing concepts for communicating with their people.  

A CEO could use blogging as a method for supporting and encouraging dialogue with the members of their organization.  The asynchronous communication vehicle allows employees to read and respond to the CEO and vice versa…regardless of work schedule, time zone, or geography. 

Additionally, it is important for the CEO to share their thoughts…not simply rely on the talents of a ghostwriter.  Whether it is a video, audio, or written blog, the experience has to be honest and authentic – transparent straight from the CEO’s mouth.

Should you get other senior management to blog? Why or why not? 

Senior management should follow the spirit of internal blogging that is presented by the CEO.  Additionally, the roles of senior managers may demand externally blogging to reach targeted audiences.  Leverage this group to reach outside the company and reserve the blogging of the CEO as exclusive content for employees.

Do you think blogging by a CEO has a positive or negative impact to their overall brand? 

Based on my ‘internal’ blogging concept, I would say that CEO blogging has tremendous value with the ability to influence and affect the value of an organization’s brand.  Discussing core organizational and strategic concepts through a CEO blog – and encouraging open dialogue around those concepts can enforce brand positioning.  As employees (and their interactions outside of the company) are a powerful reflection on a brand, a CEO blog can directly affect that outcome through engagement and dialogue.

What other ways can it benefit the Company and it’s overall business objective?

Many internal communications are structured ‘releases’ thoughtfully created by teams of people. A CEO blog can create a meaningful dialogue among all people within the organization, especially large enterprises where employees can be many levels-removed from the CEO.  A personal voice to a message and an invitation for feedback could positively affect employee satisfaction and motivation.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for senior management and CEOs when it comes to blogging?

Do 

  • Authentically share insight and information 
  • Encourage and support feedback 
  • Respond and participate in the dialogue on an ongoing basis 
  • Invest the time in thoughtfully reflecting on blog topics (especially difficult or sensitive topics) 
  • Continually return value through content; take responsibility for developing readership (spend some time with your blog analytics)

Don’t

  • Assume you know what subjects are the most relevant; ask for ideas on blog concepts 
  • Overly ‘market’ the message 
  • Let someone else be your voice 
  • Feel the need to make every presentation formal 
  • Ignore your organizational culture; know your audience

Can bad blogging kill your brand? Any examples?

I definitely think that bad blogging can damage, if not kill, a brand.  Written communication, because of the general thoughtfulness and preparation, can be so powerful…especially when drawing out emotive responses.  The following are some examples of conceptual mistakes that can result in a ‘bad’ external blog:

  • Is not consistent with the brand positioning, customer approach, or messaging.
  • Ignores the needs, motivations, interests, or concerns of customers.
  • Introduces an important or potentially divisive topics without thoughtfulness or context.
  • Abuses trust, loyalty, or commitment of customers and readers.

Although not technically a blog, we can learn a lot from the recent controversy surrounding John Mackey’s (CEO of Wholefoods) comments regarding healthcare reform.  Regardless of your opinion on the subject, John’s comments were strong enough, on a highly volatile topic, to powerfully divide an audience.  Coupled with John’s influence as CEO of Wholefoods, the message collaterally affected customers, employees, and the business…forcing a burden that can affect those relationships.

Which CEO blogger do you admire most and why?

From an external blog perspective, I really like the authentic and consistently relevant writings of Jason Fried (founder of 37Signals – Web-based software).  As a small business entrepreneur, Jason is close to his business, his customers, and the evolving trends in the Web 2.0 marketplace.  The innovative approach he uses to drive his business is shared with readers; creating dialog and discussion from value-added content.  

In closing, here are my final thoughts – regardless of whether your CEO blogs internally or externally, it’s no small feat. Doing it well and blogging on a consistent basis can take great amount of time and effort. If properly executed, a CEO corporate blog can wield tremendous value to the brand and thought leadership. The question is, what’s the right platform for the CEO and what’s the overall objective.  To round things off, having a CEO internal blog can be a powerful tool for any company when it comes to bridging and building strong employee communication – especially when most people are, as Chris puts it, “many levels removed from the CEO” but the key to maintaining a successful blog is doing it well, being authentic, and being consistent…some of the key ingredients to a corporate blog.  Look for my next installment of the CEO Blog Series on whether CEOs should stick to other simple tools such as Twitter.

CEO Blog: Good for the Executive Brand and Thought Leadership?

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Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post titled: Beware of the CEO blog. He writes:

“It’s apparently the newest thing. I just got off the phone with one CEO who’s itching to start, and read an email from another who just did.

Here’s the problem. Blogs work when they are based on:
Candor
Urgency
Timeliness
Pithiness and
Controversy

(maybe Utility if you want six).

 Does this sound like a CEO to you?

 

 

Short and sweet, folks: If you can’t be at least four of the five things listed above, please don’t bother. People have a choice (4.5 million choices, in fact) and nobody is going to read your blog, link to your blog or quote your blog unless there’s something in it for them.”

This kind of statement is warranted given the role and demands of a CEO and it’s clear that a lot of CEO blogs are for the most part ghost written by someone in the marketing department or a third party ghost writer. Let’s face it: most CEOs don’t have the time nor patience to write  blog posts on a consistent basis. While the demand for more CEOs and senior executives to join and engage in the online conversation, they have greater pressures at hand: growing the business, meeting or exceeding profitability for their shareholders and managing the overall business goals and objectives for the company. There are some exceptions to the rule – a few high profile CEOs who have been blogging for an extended period of time, most notable among them, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com and Guy Kawasaki, founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, among many others.  These CEOs among others are utilizing Web 2.0 technologies, social networking, and social media to push their agenda, educate the market, and use their blogs as a platform to highlight industry trends, challenges, and bring insight by combining personal experience and industry expertise. Why? Simply put, they understand the need to adopt new ways of communicating with the online communities beyond their internal groups such as employees and shareholders.   

My personal experience with launching our own blog and our CEO’s blog brings me to this topic. I believe that executives down to employees should take a top down approach when it comes to blogging and if a company decides to take this on, it needs to be implemented with the right strategy and plan in place.  Our CEO Pat Clawson is a great example of how he leverages the blogging platform to communicate a clear message on the industry trends and challenges but how certain issues impact the market as a whole.  It’s not just about engaging but educating as well.  Here is an example of what not to do in a CEO blog in a CEO blog – McAfee CEO David DeWalt’s blog of using the platform to promote the company and its products and services.  People aren’t interested in coming to your blog to read more about your company and your products, they want to learn and gain insight into your expertise and knowledge about what’s going on in the industry and how it will be impacted.  While this isn’t the worst example of a bad CEO blog, this is just one to demonstrate some common mistakes CEOs make when it comes to blogging.

Getting back to the point, out of curiosity I took this question to several CEOs and executives who are active on  Twitter and blogging and posed the question: Should CEOs blog? Why or why not? This blog is to shed some light for those who are looking to start or already have established a blog, what are some of the dos and don’ts?  This will be a rolling series to provide different perspectives on this topic – first of which begins with my Q&A with Guy Kawaski who was named as one of the top CEO bloggers to provide his perspective. At the end of this series, I will provide an outline of key steps to achieving a successful CEO blog and dos and don’ts.

Q&A with Guy Kawasaki:

Do you think CEOs should or shouldn’t blog and why?

It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this because there are several key factors at play. First, is the company publicly traded? If it is, then the CEO must be very careful to limit the information in the blog—so much so, that the blog may be rendered boring. Second, can the CEO write well? If not, is she or he willing to use a ghost writer? Third, does the CEO truly have something significant to say? This is a “duhism,” but not enough CEOs as themselves this question.

How important is it for CEOs to blog?

On a scale of 1-10 where 10 = “you’ll get fired if you don’t do this,” blogging is about a 4 or 5. Fundamentally, a CEO is paid to lead, and that’s what she or he should focus on. Blogging can be an aspect of leading (specifically, communicating), but it is by no means to that end. It’s not an end in itself.

Should you get other senior management to blog? Why or why not?

The same questions apply to the CEO as senior management.

Do you think blogging by a CEO has a positive or negative impact to their overall brand?

The best case is that the CEO’s blog is mildly interesting. The worst case is that the CEO’s blog is deadly boring. The worst case is much more likely. What the CEO should truly do is ensure the creation of great product or services so that OTHER people blog about the company.

What other ways can it benefit the Company and its overall business objective?

CEOs should focus Twitter versus a blog.  What CEOs should do is tweet, not blog. Or have a ghost tweet as her or him. Blogging requires a carefully crafted, legally and HR cleared essay that shows intelligence and insight on at least a weekly basis. Good luck. Tweeting requires a good link to something that the CEO (or ghost) finds interesting. These tweets should point to articles, blogs, etc that the CEO thinks his or her audience would find interesting. This is a lot easier to do and a lot safer too.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for senior management and CEOs when it comes to blogging?

Sponsor a company blog as opposed to a blog or blogs tied to specific people because the overall purpose is to communicate with the company’s customers, provide tips and tech support, and engender loyalty. Good examples of this type of blog are here..

Can bad blogging kill your brand? Any examples?

Kawasaki says: “If blogging killed your brand, you had a pretty weak brand already, and it probably deserved to die.”

President Barack Obama sets a great example on how he uses social working and Web 2.0 technologies to educate and forward his agenda. He is considered an Internet marketing maven who has used platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace to market his message across to millions of individuals.

First and foremost, I believe CEOs should ask themselves whether they have the right ideas, content, and dedication to create and share their content/message with the world. Second, what is the overall objective?  As Godin mentioned in his blog, there are key components to launching and maintaining a successful blog that others will want to read and follow. If you don’t meet the criteria, then it might not be your cup of tea. But rest assure, if it’s not you, the CEO blogging, be sure to get your company behind a corporate blog to create a competitive advantage.

While it sounds like a “me too” approach, the way we communicate has significantly changed. My belief is that CEOs should definitely blog and every company should have a blog because it’s not about the return on investment (ROI), but about the return on influence within your industry. By adding your voice through a blog, you’re putting a face to the company and humanizing your brand, not to mention elevating your thought leadership. And, if you don’t have the time to blog, get a ghost writer to meet with you on a weekly basis, brainstorm on some key topics, and voice your opinion and why people should care. While the option of using a ghostwriter might not be ideal, as long as they can take YOUR message to your blog, it’s a step forward in moving the needle and getting your company front and center in the market. The article on cbsnews.com Why Most CEOs Who Blog – Blog Badly sums it up nicely: keep your posts short, clear, educational and most of all, compelling. Don’t become the poster child for “Why CEOs shouldn’t blog” but take a leadership role and drive a message that can change the market perception, interests the readers (journalists, buyers, bloggers, etc.).

My blog: How to Achieve Return on Influence Through Corporate Blogs

David Meerman Scott: The Future of PR: should your CEO blog?

Jeremiah Owyang: The Many Challenges of a CEO Blog

Guy Kawasaki is a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures. He is also the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web.  Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College. You can read completed coverage of blogging at http://blogging.alltop.com/.

Be on the lookout for Part II in Should CEOs blog. This one takes the perspective on why CEOs should stick to internal blogging with Chris Hewitt.

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