Chris Brogan, fast becoming a favorite read on the social media world, posted a thought today that I felt was worth weighing in on.

This is really where it’s at: Twitter isn’t just that site any more, it’s a communications method

Chris’ premise is that the real strength of Twitter is not as a tool but the method of communication it has introduced. For me Twitter has been a tool searching for a purpose for a while now. This is true for most current social media sites but Twitter has shown glimpses of how it could be used. The Hudson River plane crash and coverage of the G20 protesters all showed that Twitter can be used to inform and broadcast as well as converse and publish.

Twitter, the smart pager

As a marketer, Twitter is great for gauging a buzz and researching a topic. It’s great for building a relationship and reading other perspectives. It should be more. It can be more. It seems odd to me that the concept of the pager has been resurrected in Twitter. Twitter could easily install tools which allowed different streams of Tweets to be viewed and organized in one user acct. Each stream could serve a different purpose and allow one to many broadcasting or paging.

So, here’s a few random things that I’d like to see Twitter used for.

  • Bus arrival and wait times
  • Parking space availability
  • Emergency weather alerts
  • Tickets on sale for Elbow gigs

There are many more, I’m already getting cycling commentary and results from Europe. Chattanooga has a vibrant social media network which uses Twitter to broadcast, comment and organize.

Yeah I can find it, but I want it delivered

I realize that all of this information is available on the web already but I have to look for it. The Twitter concept of a one to many broadcaster delivers it to me in one place. It’s beginning, but my gut feeling is that Twitter hasn’t found it’s sweet spot yet. I can’t wait ’til it does.

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Building relationships takes time, are you willing to put in the effort?

Chris Brogan had a great post today. That’s not a surprise, Chris has pretty good posts everyday. Today’s post was about “promoting-without being that guy“. The basic tenet of his post was that the most effective communication happens after relationship has been built.

After reading the post my nagging thought was, who has the time? Or, probably more accurately, whose boss will give them the time? Social media is all about the relationship which is fine because people buy from people but it takes the time to build the relationship.

Are our expectations skewed?

I think marketers approach business relationships with a different set of expectations than personal ones. The expectation with personal relationships is that they are long term, will take time to develop and require work and effort. The expectation of most business relationships is that they are short term and disposable.

Business is just not set up for nurturing long term growth.

Yeah I know everyone will say it is, but it isn’t. They will argue that focused short term growth leads to continued long term growth and it does but at what cost in finding new business? If you look at the most successful sales guys you know. I bet most of them have been in the same industry or geography for a long time. They have built the relationships that keep rewarding them.

My experience

I was a territory manager for over 3 years selling AV product for Techrep Marketing. When I started I didn’t know the dealer base, I had no relationship. I spent the first year getting to know my dealers and how they operated. I didn’t try to sell them anything. I made sure that they knew that they could depend on me to show up when I said I would, know the answer or get the answer and sort out their problems.

1 Year, 365 days, of not trying to sell them anything. The way in which Techrep is set up in terms of philosophy and leadership from the owners, compensation and autonomy allowed me the time to build the relationship. I know I would not have had that environment at other companies in my industry and I know my sales would not have increased as much as they did.

Most businesses do not have the patience

Most businesses, due to the myopic quarter by quarter time frames they operate under, do not have the patience or the leeway to allow a social media strategy to grow and evolve. Techrep did and I nearly tripled annual revenues in 3 years.

Social media is a vital and fundamental movement in helping businesses relate to consumers. Those looking to build a succesful relationship with their customers need to take the time to build it. Businesses looking for a quick fix will be sorely disappointed.

How to hear the song in the noise.

So, social media is officially buzzy. All kinds of people will throw all kinds of acronyms, synonyms, analogies and stuff they heard someone say that sounded right at you. In all this noise how do hear your consumers singing?

Identify and follow

An established organization should have a pretty good idea who their customer is. If so, you’ve got a great start point in integrating social media into your marketing outreach. If not then you have a deeper issue and I recommend you go find out. Now.

Identify

Define a set of key search words which can be used as a benchmark for research on your industry. Do the same for your organization and how you wish to classify the results. Plug these search terms into Google, Perspctv, Technorati and see what comes up. To re-hash Lord Leverhulme, do it often and never neglect to do it.

Every day would be a minimum until you get an idea of the pulse of how your industry interacts with social media. A quick glance over the sites that pop up will be enough to decide whether they’re a legitimate result or not. As these sites, blogs and outlets are identified use Delicious to archive them. Rinse and repeat.

After a short period of time and reinforced by your stack of Delicious tags you will begin to notice patterns. The same blogger names will keep popping up, or the same sites, or the same quotes from the same source.

Follow

As a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how your target interacts in this world, follow them. Make time to follow the bloggers you have identified, read their work, understand their perspective. Remember social media is all about them and not about you. The definition of your brand is where your message meets your customers perception.

How your message is being perceived is probably the most useful side effect of engaging in social media. It provides perspective on how your message is doing, for better or worse. As you get to know those who are commentating on what it is that your company does entry points for interaction will appear (more on that later).

Identify and follow. To quote Radiohead “Karma police, arrest this man. He buzzes like a fridge. He’s like a detuned radio”. Trying to find your consumers singing in the noise of social media is like listening to a detunes radio, hopefully you now know where the tuner dial is.

You are not in control, get over it.

My first post in this series focused on looking past social media as a one stop solution for deeper engagement with consumers. This post focuses on why social networking requires constant engagement.

It’s all still so fluid.

All social networking sites are constantly adding and removing features attempting to do the same as you, engage better with their audience. As well as the networks changing, users reactions to the networks are changing. In the same way as you engage your target audience the tools they use and react to will change over time and message.

This is a huge shift from web 1.0 where a website was published and updated by the publisher when there was new product or announcements. Compared to web 2.o web 1.0 is very static and is controlled by the the publisher. The joy and frustration of using web 2.0 to engage consumers is that it’s always changing. What worked for a message last week will probably, but not necessarily work this week. In other words it’s not static and you don’t control it.

Social media requires a total shift in perspective of how marketers should view their target market. In the past most of your target market read a few select publications and attended a few select events. They were easy to find, define and track. They were also easy to engage. Now they are spread and not where you left them. Like toddlers they are off exploring the new world (there’s an analogy that’s going to get me into trouble).

Successful adoption of social media requires keeping your finger on the pulse of the media itself and your target at all times. Thankfully this is not difficult, just time consuming. There are many, useful tools and avenues for obtaining and cataloging this information.

Remember, with social media you are not in control, get over it.

Well done Coca-Cola.

March 31, 2009

A tweet by SocialNetworkTV led me to this article in the AJC on Coca-Cola’s Facebook Page. According to the article Coca-Cola’s Facebook page has 3,336,512 fans, second only to President Obama’s at 5,998,526 and Coca-Cola had nothing to do with it.

Nothing.

It was started by Dusty Sorg an LA based actor. He was disappointed by the quality of other fan sites an wanted other fans of Coke to “show some respect for this beautiful product.” It grew so quickly that it raised one of Facebook’s internal flags as a a page that either needed to be shut down or taken over by the brand to prevent spamming.

So far this story isn’t that surprising. Huge multinational conglomerate’s flagship product has huge Facebook presence, saw that coming. It’s surprising that the site was started by a fan, not by the company but nothing so far is “news”.

What really grabbed me was Coca-Cola’s response to the situation. Michael Donnelly, Coca-Cola director of worldwide interactive marketing contacted Sorg about the site knowing that Facebook wanted it shut or control to be shifted to Coca-Cola. Mr Donnelly proposed a solution where Facebook were satisfied that Coca-Cola were involved in the page but the page continued as it had started, as a fan page.

Coca-Cola wanted to make sure the page could continue to exist without the company intruding on fans.

“It’s a fan club,” Donnelly said. “We don’t necessarily think a fan club should be owned by the company but rather more by the fans.”

WHAT! I suspect a few short years ago and another company would have taken those 3.3M fans and leveraged them to death to sell more product. Coca-Cola’s response, let them be what they are, fans. Coca-Cola appears to get a part of the socia media landscape, find and support your fans. I wrote about building a fan base a month or so ago and drew parallels with the bands growing their fan base city by city, gig by gig.

Coca-Cola knows that fans infect people and turn them into fans. It looks like Coca-Cola is happy to take a supporting role in that process.

You can’t get there from here.

I read an interesting post over the weekend entitled “2009 Social Media Optimization: Back to Basics?” on aimclearblog.com. It was a synopsis of the key points presented at Search Engine Strategies New York 09 by the various speakers.

Part of what Dave Snyder talked about grabbed my attention.

“The biggest problem … in social media is that it’s mostly approached from a high level. “Cookie cutter process people” are delving into social media in the wrong way. Don’t keep using the same social media tactics client to client, platform to platform, expecting similar results.”

The use of social media is not a one stop process for reaching customers. Many business procedures from time and motion studies a hundred years ago to Motorola’s Six Sigma methodology in the 80’s have all followed the same principles. If you measure ABC you will gain a result X that will inform you how to improve ABC so you achieve X+. To put it another way there is a defined path from current to improved efficiencies.

Most shifts in marketing have also followed this path. If you increase the eyeballs then a CTR  of A will lead to B new potential customers who will convert at C rate to capture X new customers. Change any one of these and you affect the output of the equation. Simple math.

Social media is a lot more fluid, what works for one producer-consumer relationship does not mean it will work for all producer-consumer relationships. At Knetwit we discovered that there were very few student forums and blogs but lots of Facebook traffic. However most of the commentary about students was blog based. So, to reach students we concentrated on Facebook, to interact with those commentating about students we identified pertinent blogs to commentate on.

One of the frustrations of convincing an organization to adopt a social media presence is the lack of a defined path from A to B. It’s hard to define what that presence wil look like. Part of the fun of using social media is the discovery of where your customers hang out and what they talk about behind your back.

Thankfully there is no huge cost barrier to involvement in social media, just a time and discipline barrier. It takes time to discover the best paths to interact with your customers. It takes time to create the message that resonates with them most and discipline to keep doing it regularly.

I’ve said before, my favorite quote about social media comes from Lord Leverhulme of Unilever fame. In 1922 he said to the graduating class at Liverpool University.

““The conduct of successful business…merely consists in doing things in a very simple way, doing them regularly and never neglecting to do them.”

This is social media, do it simply, do it often and never neglect to do it.

I’ve just finished reading “Enlightened Entrepreneurs” about business ethics in Victorian Britain. It details the lives of 10 pillars of Victorian industry and their effect on the social fabric of their workers’ lives. George Cadbury (of chocolate fame) and Sir Titus Salt both ended up building model villages (Bournville and Saltaire respectively) for their workers and instigated health and education care for them and their families decades before the British government did.

Of all of these “enlightened” business moguls, I have a soft spot for William Hesketh Lever or Lord Leverhulme as he became. His company, Lever Brothers is still a powerhouse in the modern world economy. You’ll know it as Unilever. A soft spot because my grandfather worked for them his entire career and Lord Leverhulme, when asked what his occupation was, always answered “Grocer”.

In 1922 Lord Leverhulme was speaking at the graduation of Liverpool University students on the secrets of success in business.

“The conduct of successful business…merely consists in doing things in a very simple way, doing them regularly and never neglecting to do them.”

Ian Bradley, Enlightened Entrepreneurs, Lion Publishing 2007.

It strikes me that this is as relevent today as it was 80 years ago and that it’s a great description of how to adopt social networking into business.