How Brands Use Social Media

There is nothing like getting in front of college students to talk about social media marketing. I’ve had my fair share of speaking at various industry events but this one was special. Being able to get in front of the students at WP Carey class at ASU to share what I’ve learned over the years was special and I’m thankful to Bret Giles (@bretgiles) of Sitewire for giving me the opportunity to do just that.  Note, Bret happens to run the WP Carey class at ASU centered around social media.

All jitters aside, it was an opportunity for me to speak openly with the students about the realities of social media in the business world – gaining adoption, educating the troops, integrating social into the very fabric of the business, and getting buy-in from the upper management team. I also shared examples of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to social media.

Of course, there are similarities and differences between personal social media interactions and those that are commercially or brand motivated. My presentation focused on how companies are using social media to humanize their brand, amplify their voice and engage with their audience. Examples of these brands highlight how they are integrating social into their overall business objectives. Feel free to view the presentation and share your comments.

Facebook: A Competitive Tool In Your Social Media Arsenal

 Facebook is being hailed as the competitive tool and companies, BtoB and BtoC, are chomping at the bits to add this powerful social networking tool to their social media arsenal. Facebook currently touts a staggering 500+ million users worldwide with active users logging on in any given day, connecting to average of 130 friends, according to Altimeter Group. Further, the Society of Digital Agencies reports that more than 45 percent of senior marketers worldwide named social networks and applications as their top priority for 2010.

However, according to the Altimeter Group, despite the urgency, most brands lack a strategy. To help brands embrace what’s being deemed as the most popular social networking marketing tool, the Altimeter Group launched a new research – The 8 Success Criteria for Facebook Page Marketing (see slides below).  

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: 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.

10 Steps to Achieving ROI (Return on Influence) Through Corporate Blogs

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Wired magazine once argued “that fresh, genuine voices have been drowned out by a ‘tsunami of paid bilge’, that blogs attract too many comments from net lowlife, and that the action has moved elsewhere.” Is there any truth in the notion that blogs are dead? I disagree. While it may seem like a “me too” approach nowadays when it comes to blogs (let’s face it just about everyone – your mom, grandmother, sister, priest, etc., has a blog), they’re alive and well. A blog can be very effective for companies in achieving ROI (return of influence, not investment) for your brand and thought leadership as well as building stronger relationships with your customers, garnering coverage, and connecting with the online communities at large. I’ll give it to you from an insider’s perspective – a real world success story on how we’re winning with this strategy.

 

We launched our corporate blog The Optimal Security back in January, not as a “me too” but for a couple of reasons:

  • To establish a voice for the company,
  • To create a dialogue with our audience, customers and partners
  • To humanize our brand and bring transparency,
  • To build awareness around the industry we represent and are passionate about,
  • And, to educate the market on key industry trends and challenges

Optimal Security Blog

To kick things off, we gathered our key stakeholders to strategize and started by asking ourselves why, how, and whether we had the right resources to start a blog. But first, we monitored and listened to industry blogs, analyzed competitors’ blogs, and started the initial framework. IBM was a good place to start in terms of understanding their use of its blog as a sounding platform and their social computing policies.

 

 

To get started, we did the following and this is what I would recommend:

  • To Blog or Not to Blog – understand your objectives and why you want to start a blog. Make sure this is something that you are passionate about and will support on an ongoing basis because it’s a commitment.  You can’t just divorce your blog.
  • Establish a blog team – recruit key experts and executives (including your CEO) to sit on the blogging team to provide expertise and insight in several different categories.  For us, we have our CEO blog called Pat’s Corner (where he blogs on emerging trends, topics, and thought leadership), Security Insight (for breaking news), and more solution specific areas (that focus on challenges and trends).
  • Define a Blogging Process – outline an editorial process and educate the bloggers on how the process works.  Someone needs to own it and make sure the content is approved before each blog gets posted so it’s within your company standards and message. 
  • Educate Your Bloggers – once you have a process and strategy in place, hold a team meeting to go over the process and how it all works.
  • Write Rich, Compelling Content – content is king and as my boss @cedwardbrice (http://marketinggimbal) says think like a publisher and create and publish good content.  This rule is the rule you should live and die by.  If you don’t have powerful content that people will want to read about, you’re doomed for failure.
  • Establish a Blog Team Email Alias – by having this email alias, it simplifies the communication process and keeps them in the know of what’s going on.   Also, as part of the process, PR and marketing should be tightly integrated with this overall process.  PR/Corp Comm should be constantly alerting the blog team on breaking news, industry trends, and key topics that should be covered in your blog posts. This gets me to my next point.
  • Blogs are Breaking News (as David Meerman Scott puts it) – integrate corporate blog with your Rapid Response outreach.   If you have outside agency, involve your PR team to educate them on the process , who your blog team members are and what they will be blogging about.  This is what we do with our team at Lois Paul and Partners.  When there is breaking news, a lot of times PR firms will push out a commentary. Take a two-pronged approach – blog about it, educate on the issue, define any mitigating steps, and push it out. You will be surprised at how the reporters respond. Some sample links of media coverage  as a result of blog outreach are below.  Trade pub reporters look to our blog as a go to resource.
  • Integrate Across Social Media Channels – leverage all your social media channels and promote it via Twitter, have your PR teams retweet it, have your employees spread the word via their SM channels, etc.  Reach across as many channels as possible to get the word out.  Leverage LinkedIn, a very powerful tool, to start a discussion around your blog topic. Great way to get the word out but also gauge different perspectives from the community.
  • Pimp Out Your Blog (again, David Meerman Scott’s terms) – keep the blog design simple and easy to navigate.  Include key things like About Your Company, Blogger Profiles, Categories, RSS feed, Tags, Other Favorite Blogs, and social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube Channel, etc. if your company has those channels available, promote it. Register with Technorati and link it from your blog.
  • Add to the Discussion (as David Meerman Scott puts it) – engage and link it.  Consistently monitor other influential blogs and provide comments and link it back to your blog if it’s relevant. Also, monitor comments on your blog and address it immediately.
  • Monitor and Analyze – constantly monitor share of voice on Bloglines, IceRocket, and Google Blog Search, etc. Monitor coverage and make sure you communicate this to your bloggers and your company to help build the momentum and educate your executives and employees on the power of your corporate blog.

Seth Godin said it best when he said: “Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.” Don’t just push out your screaming marketing messages.  Make it interesting, compelling, educational, and thought provoking.  Engage with your audience and write about what they want to read about.

Now, do you think blogs are dead? You be the judge.  Tell me what you think?

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