Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creating Your End-of-Year Social Media Review

Because the calendar dictates that it is so, this time of year we're all looking back at our year (and, this year, a decade) of what we did. Best of and Worst of lists abound and Twitter, particularly, is a love-fest of Top this and Top that in Social Media. :-)

So, while we're talking about reviewing the year in Social Media, it's probably past time that you took a look at your own Social Media Strategy. Large companies have entire departments devoted to tracking metrics, but when you are a small or mid-size company there may only be you.

Here's a few questions to prompt you to figuring out what worked and what didn't.

Put your answers down in plain and simple language. Do not use business buzzwords or jargon. Be as specific as you can.

1) State your Social Media Strategy for 2009

2) State Your Top Three Tactics for the Above Strategy

3) State the Estimated amount of time/money each tactic took, per month

4) State your Objectives for each Tactic

5) State your desired measurements for each Objective

This *should* all have been established when you created your strategy. If you lacked any of the answers for these questions, that indicates that there was a big hole in the strategy to start with.

Now, draw a vertical line next to these statements and put in what you actually *did.*

For instance, you may have estimated that your Facebook page would take an hour a week, and your Foursquare page might take 3 hours a week, but you found that your Twitter feed actually took the bulk of your time, and your FB page languished as a result.

Looking at your objectives and the measurements you used for them is critical - did you, in fact, gain 10,000 fans/followers, sell three boats, get that recommendation or are your efforts to entice users to "Fan Us" work poorly? Or, conversely, the non-committal nature of Facebook may have worked awesomely well for you and you've more than made your numbers, but you may find it hard to get those followers to *do* anything.

Look at the gaps between the expectations and the execution. Analyse them without delusion. It's not your users fault that your content isn't compelling or that you don't give them reason to join your exciting /fill in the blank/, or your action language consists of "check us out!"

Look at what worked better than you expected. Did you find your sales rising when you posted that link on Twitter? Did you presence on Friendster cause a peak on your Shop? Maybe that hashtag you used on Twitter brought in new visitors to your site.

Note which objectives of your strategy each successful tactic was connected to. If you have a specific tactic that was unexpectedly successful and it was *not* part of a specific objective, note that, as well.

After looking at all this, walk away. Talk it over with a friend, or drop me an email - I'll listen. Focus on one thing that worked and one thing that didn't. Figure out *why*.

When you've looked at what you've done without delusion, once you know the why of what worked and what didn't, answer this question:

State your Social Media Strategy for 2010

Then take it from there. ;-)

Have a Happy New Year and I'll see you in 2010!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Simple, Delusion-Free Guide to Monetizing Your Blog

You've got a blog.

You like blogging and you get a a nice number of readers every day. It seems like a natural choice to monetize your blog and get something back for your efforts.

There is a lot of press about people making a living from their blogs - and some people do, it's true. There are a small number of professional bloggers out there who can make reasonably significant money from their blog, part- or full-time wages.

In many of these cases, these people had a large following *before* they began to blog. In others, they focused on celebrity gossip and related topics. It's unfortunate, but celebrity is the easiest way onto the money train. Today's post is for the rest of us.

I'm writing this post with two assumptions - 1) That you enjoy blogging in and of itself and; 2) That you are not trying to game the system and create an income machine. If you want to know how to fake your way into fast money, this is definitely not the post for you. If you have a blog you love and want to understand what you can *reasonably* do, read on. :-)

Here are Four Methods for Monetizing your Blog:

Banner, Block and Interstitial Ads

It's probably safe to say that the biggest ad network used by bloggers is Google Adsense, but it is not the only ad network out there. Many ad networks, both big and small, allow for creation of ads that can be placed in a variety of locations on your blog.

Banner ads were very popular in the early days of blogging. Many free blogging spaces put their own top banners above your blog to pay for your use of the space. These days banners are less common on blogs, because they separate your content from the audience in what is a very crucial space in your blog - below your header and above the cut, where they have to scroll down in order to keep reading. Banners across the bottom of a blog are often ineffective, because people read what's above the cut on your page and may not read all the way down.

Today, ads in the sidebars and in between posts, known as interstitial ads, are quite common. Block ads can be placed just about anywhere on a blog and can be practically any size. Interstitial ads separate posts or separate the top of a post from the bottom - you see this quite often on news/magazine sites: "Continue reading below." Interstitial ads that separate posts add distance between one post an another, but can also appeal directly to an audience with properly targeted ads.

Strengths: These kinds of ads are very easy to set up and, with most ad networks, a certain amount of targeting to your audience and topic is available. You can manage size and location so that these ads are not *that* intrusive.

Weaknesses: Your audience may not respond all that kindly to obvious monetization of your blog. Non-intrusive ads might not receive any attention at all. Bury your ads in the bottom right hand corner of the blog and no one will click on them. Many experts recommend avoiding interstitial ads, because they say it looks cheap. The irony is that at least two of the experts I saw with that advice had an ad planted squarely in the middle of their copy. So take your expert advice with a grain of salt. :-)

Be Aware: All ad networks have rules against you clicking your own ads to drive up rates. They also have rules about you making a point in the blog to encourage your readers to click the ads. Furthermore, many smaller ad networks have rules about mixing and matching advertising networks on one blog. Be careful to read the Terms of Service and not get on the wrong side of an ad network, or you could find your earnings held hostage or revoked altogether.

Contextual Advertising

Should your blog reach a certain number of visitors per month, you may be able to add contextual ads to your copy. These are, once again, served by a number of advertising networks. These ads appear as double-underlined links in your text and usually provide a pop-up ad as the reader scrolls over them. There isn't that much targeting available to you through these networks, since the words in your copy provide the context. Sometimes, the ads are hilariously off-topic.

Strengths: These forms of advertising are small, reasonably non-intrusive at first glance and sometimes actually useful.

Weaknesses: Contextual Advertising is not as targetable as banner/block ads and the pop-ups can be both annoying and are often blocked by readers.

Be Aware: There's no legal way to point out to your readers that these are not some evil virus put there by your blog host, but are, in fact, a way for you to make money. You have to hope that your readers are sophisticated enough to get what you are doing - something you can't rely on, realistically.

Affiliate Marketing

This is probably the most tried-and-true method of blog monetization. If you have a strong, focused topic, there are probably folks out there selling related items. There are any number of affiliate marketing networks, a little time searching around will surely come up with the best one for your blog.

Affiliate marketing works best when the blog actually discusses the items being marketed. This draws the reader's attention to the item directly.

Strengths: Affiliate marketing works well for review blogs, subject-enthusiast blogs, blogs in niches where information about relevant products and services are hard to find.

Weaknesses: Bloggers that rely heavily on sponsorships and received items can appear biased. There's a fine line to walk between unbiased, honest reviews and making yourself either unpleasant or a stooge.

Be Aware: Reviews of featured products are now reportable to the FTC and to the IRS. Bloggers should be aware of the new regulations and disclaim properly when reviewing received items.

Your Products and Services

Ideally, you have a unique idea or, at least, a unique approach to an idea. Perhaps you've written a book about it, or have branded T-shirts and coffee mugs or...something. Don't be afraid to commoditize you. Book, shirts, your services - these can all be featured on your blog as a way for your readers to show that they are part of your "team."

Strengths: You are selling youself, your ideas, your creativity. These are (or should be) your areas of strength - what you do best.

Weaknesses: No one cares until you make them care. Have a book? How nice. Having a book does not mean anyone will buy it - until that book becomes the most relevant and interesting thing for them.

Be Aware: The more you put yourself out there, the more you will draw attention - both good and bad. Be ready for negative reviews of your book, bad client experiences and nasty commenters on your blog. Note that they exist, then move on.

None of these monetizing methods give you a bye from promoting your blog, expanding your network or doing the work to create good, relevant, compelling content. If you are already doing the work these methods still might not bring in $$$ while you have 100 readers. But, when you have 100,000 readers or 1,000,000 readers, you might be one of those few who can say they make a living at blogging.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Facebook FanPages Make You Lazy

Facebook is easy.

With one click people can show that they are a "Fan" of you, your business, your brand. That click allows their friends to see that they are a Fan of you, your business, your brand.

Facebook is too easy.

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value." said Thomas Paine. And he was exactly right. Something given freely becomes a trifle, something fought for becomes a treasure. People are like that. We only value what we have strived - or paid - for.

Facebook Fan pages are easy to set up. They are easy to advertise and they are easy to join. If you already have a nice-sized following elsewhere, many of those people will be glad to click that button and Fan you on Facebook. Why not? It's easy...and it doesn't mean a darn thing. As I wrote in an essay for my other blog, there are only two real measurements of commitment, and therefore value - Time or Money. Facebook removes the strain of either from your audience leaving you with...what?

Take a look at the businesses you've become a Fan of on Facebook. How many of them have actual conversations with someone from the company? Chances are that many of the posts on the wall are news from the company (with some percentage of folks who "like" those) and the few and far between comments, mostly composed of "Fans" talking to one another.

A Facebook Fanpage encourages lazy, one-way, no-committment communications on the company's side, and no involvement at all on the "Fan's" side. The organization posts an article and Fans "like" it...or not.

Worse is when your Wall becomes a complaints board. It's unlikely that you have the plans or the resources to handle every complaint your see on the Wall, so the natural tendency is to either limit it to one-way communications, so the Wall becomes that tried-and-true press release service or close it altogether, so your Fan Page is now nothing more than an ad.

The ease of setup and use is actually a significant barrier to engagement - there's hardly any opt-in for your audience; just a single button click and then hiding that page is just as easy, effectively creating a dead mailing list with valueless numbers of "Fans.".

The other problem is that corporate communications are actually quite difficult on Facebook. It was designed to be about an individual. For a company, that presents multiple problems. It's not as cute as it sounds to create a mascot and have them update the status. Most small companies have very little to share and almost no exciting topics to talk about. Mid-size to large companies really can' talk about themselves, since "themselves" is a multitude of various people doing various things. What's left? Publicly released news.

Even on a topic that people have interest in, it takes a lot to move people to communicate about their interest on the page itself. Conversations on Mailing Lists, Forums and other communities may be lively, but the Facebook Fanpage will be moribund - because it's too easy.

When crafting your Social Media Strategy, be mindful that Facebook is the bottom of the river - water has fallen elsewhere, from Twitter, from your website, your other communities, and it's likely to settle into a calm pool of "likes" and "shares" on Facebook. Plan for the occasional ripple, and plan to offer something unique for your Facebook fans to stimulate them into action. Or, get used to a quiet page full of overexcited company hype and press releases that your Fans "like."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Importance of Being Social

You know what I've been doing recently? When I am in desperate need of a genuine smile, I smile at someone else first. I ask about their day, or wish them a wonderful weekend. Like magic, I almost always get a smile back in return. :-)

This holds true on Social Media spaces too. It's not enough to "have" a Twitter account, or be a member of a mailing list. On the web no one knows you exist - until you speak up.

"Build it and they will come" only applies online if what you've built is a network and a reputation for being interesting, relevant and fun.

Today's post comes with some homework. Sometime this week, pick a Social Media space you have a presence on but have neglected for lack of time. This could be your own company mailing list, or your Plurk account, or whatever. Take 15 minutes and go find a conversation to join, or a person to connect with. Use the site features, answer a question, join a group and a conversation - be social.

Go smile at someone.

You'll have increased your network, your presence and your reputation. And, dollars to doughnuts, you'll get a smile back.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Online Communities 101 for Social Media Marketing

It's always important to understand one's roots.

In the case of Social Networking, roots go *way* further back than 2002, as was implied by (and subsequently quoted by newspapers across the country,) the article by D.M. Boyd & N.B. Ellison in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. I won't beat you over the head with the history of ARPANet, but I do think that it is important to realize that:

When you attempt to engage your audience online, you will be entering the dynamics of an Online Community

For the benefit of the many folks new to the Social Network bandwagon, I thought I'd talk today about the lifecycle of an online community. Today's post is not about sociology or marketing - it's a backgrounder on people and their relationship to the online community you build - the dynamics of the community. I like to think of it as Online Communities 101.

Regardless if your company is starting a blog, or forum, or a Facebook page or group, a Yammer or Ning group, whether you're new to Twitter, have a mailing list or are pushing your presence through Foursquare, you are working with an online community.

Here's a quick-start guide to how online communities work and the kinds of people you'll find on them:


Beginners range from people who are new to this community to people new to all online communities. These people are likely to come into a community bristling with enthusiasm and energy and ask all the same questions that have ever been asked a million times until the luke-warm reponse they get from the more senior members causes them to calm down...or go away.

Implications for your business: The former can be informed simply with short, smart guidelines for use of your community. These people understand "netiquette" and get the whole idea of an online community overall, and may only need to know that you do not accept Not Safe For Work (NSFW) pictures on your group, or outside links in your blog comments.

The latter, you may have to retrain to be able to interact with people at all. Possibly by teaching them how to type, even how to hold conversations and reply to the group. There are people who really don't understand the implication of TYPING ALL IN CAPS, what RT, FWIW and @ mean, or how to disagree with an idea without insulting a person. You need to decide at every level of the conversation how much (re)training you are willing to do and build that into your community guidelines.

Intermediate Members

These folks have been around for a few "cycles" (see below) and have seen the same questions asked and answered a few dozen times. They know who is who on the community and will sometimes weigh in with responses where they have knowledge or links, or refer a "newbie" to a more senior member for an answer to a particular problem.

Implications for your business: Intermediate members are still enthusiastic enough to want to help get the word out - if you ask them. But they might act as if they know what they are talking about even if they don't, so keep an eye on communications made on your behalf.

Senior Members

Senior members of the community have posted so often that the system has automatically awarded them a higher rank or, in communities that do not have automated ranking, they are assigned Cognitive Authority by other community members. Senior members might be asked to moderate or administrate, which often takes them out of the cycle of posting and responding, as those duties quickly suck the fun out of a community. (I'm not kidding here - I have admined and moderated dozens of groups over the years and the number one way to make it no fun is to be the person in charge!)

Implications for your business: Senior members are highly engaged in the community. They have put a lot of time and energy into it. They will promote the community because they *want* to. Even if you have never empowered them to do so, when they speak it may sound like it's coming from you. (This is one reason why so many Senior members are moved to official Moderator positions.) Pay close attention to attitudes at this level. Disenfranchised Senior members, burnout, exhaustion or just plain being nasty will reflect very significantly on you at this level. Do yourself a favor and make sure you reward and note the achievements of these members. Don't let them labor unnoticed.


Moderators are almost always members of the community that have been around for many "cycles" and have proven themselves to be knowledgeable about the topic - and, hopefully, sensible and thick-skinned, as well. They are meant to keep the boat running evenly, and handle problems that occur within the membership.

Implications for your business: Moderators ARE your mouthpiece, even if the site is littered with disclaimers that they are not. Everything a moderator says comes from you, so be very careful to look for personal agendas, incomplete knowledge or bad atittudes.


Typically Administrators, known as Admins, have the final word on people problems, but they are usually busier with technical details and have little time to handle people issues. Admins are the Executive Officers of Online Communities; rolling out features, fixing breakdowns and making sure the sails are up and the whole boat is on course.

Implications for your business: The tech guy has few people skills, and the server is down - don't make him deal with the trolls.


Owners may be Admins, but they may also just be a business person who created the site for one reason or another. In the case of a Facebook Fanpage for instance, the Owner would be the company for whom the page was created, the Admin would be the internal or agency person who created it.

Implications for your business: There are tons of "Owners" in Branded spaces who have no day-to-day interaction with their community. This means you don't know your posters, your problem-makers or why no one cares and your online community is dead. Get involved, be your own mouthpiece, get the conversations started - *own* your community.

Online Communities "cycle" roughly every three months

Think of a cycles as the "dog years" of the Internet. Every three months sees a new crop of newbies, folks who were newbies move on or move up into an Intermediate position and Intermediates who have been around for 2-4 "cycles" find themselves acting as Senior members.

Implications for your business: Make answering those same questions simple. Even though no one reads the FAQs, display them prominently, and make them easily linkable. Watch the questions so no one who has a real need slips through the cracks. Find engaged Intermediate and Senior Members to assist you with routine work and *reward* them with recognition. Expect to lose Intermediate and Senior Members every three months, and be ready to replace them. And be prepared to face the same three or four problems over and over and over.

Bonus Member - Troll

Trolls have no agenda other than to cause you grief. They may be twelve (physically or emotionally) or they may be angry (See my article about the "Anti-Guy"). Their idea of fun is to be mean, or rude, or just loud until your community has become a place of misery for everyone. Trolls are like warts - if you try to remove them gently, they come back for more - remember, driving you crazy *is* their agenda.

Implications for your business: Drown their noise out with great content, good conversation and everyone having fun or you'll find yourself locked in an endless battle to shut up a squeaky wheel that will never be sufficiently greased. Be aware of the trolls, but do not engage them.

As a blogger, for instance, you might find that a few people are consistently commenting - these are your Intermediates. If you're gone for the week, they may even reply to a simple question or two with a link. Your Senior member-readers will defend you against trolls, engage in conversation with other commenters and promote your posts and idea.

Ultimately, it's still up to you to create an atmosphere that encourages dialogue between your members and between you and them. People come to your community/forum/blog/Twitter/Facebook etc because they have some interest in what you have to say. You still need to engage, inform and transform the dialogue into a relationship for your community to blossom.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Medium and the Message

"The medium is the message," Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964.

Marketing departments understand this to mean that the media used affects the *power* of the message. This power is measured by such things as "reach," "impact," "click-through," and "virality." In other words, marketing people measure *how many* people see the message and from there, how many of them take action based upon that message. This is, obviously, why advertising during major TV events is more expensive - it is also why large companies seem to always be running after the most popular online space to "have a presence." More eyeballs = more possible action.

What McLuhan meant, however, is that the medium affects the meaning of the message - in effect, every medium changes the message and affects the society in which that medium plays a role.

Your choice of medium affects your message.

This seems simple on the surface. But think about companies that try to communicate the same message across several media platforms. How effective is that same message portrayed in the same way in several media? It's a rare campaign that can manage this.

So how does this apply to your business?

It means that for every Great Idea TM you come up with, there is likely to be only one or two really good media on which to execute that idea.

Let's start with a simple idea - a store is having a Holiday Sale. They develop a 30-second TV commercial and buy media space on a Holiday special on TV in primetime. It's straightforward, simple. Now here's the Great Idea TM - someone thinks, "well, we already have a 30-second video...why not put it on a site like Youtube, where people can see it?"

Except, the medium changes the message. On TV, you have a captive audience. If they want to watch this show - unless they actively opt out by muting the sound or changing the channel, they will see your commercial. Online, you have to entice them to want to watch that commercial. Of course, you could buy ad time on a online show of some kind, and still have the captive audience (who has fewer options to opt out) but if you put your commercial on your website, or on a video sharing site, that ad better be darn interesting or people won't bother watching. In fact, the message needs to be completely different. There needs to be some entertainment value intrinsic to the video or you run the risk of viewers parodying it to add entertainment value for themselves.

You might have great label copy on your product - whimsical, slightly offbeat. If your Twitter writer keeps that tone, without understanding that sometimes a question has to be answered, not parried cleverly, the message is going to disappear in the "look at us, we're so cool."

Every time you come up with a Great Idea TM, consider the media that that idea is truly suited for. Don't try to multipurpose what isn't meant to be multipurposed. A website contest might work really well for people already inclined to visit your website, but could fail horribly as an ad reaching a broad, not necessarily interested audience.

Choose your medium, choose your weapon; from branding to sales to contests. Target the medium to the message and the message to the audience. Or risk the message being changed the moment it leaves your mouth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

3 Questions Your Social Media Strategy Must Answer or, Why Social Media is Failing You

One of about every five conversations I have about Social Media ends up sounding like this:

"Oh, yeah, I tried /fill in the blank Social Media platform/ but it didn't work."

"What were you trying to do with it?"

"Oh, you know - promote me/my business."

"Right," I say, "but what were you trying to *do* with it?"

Then, the blank stare.

Yes, Social Media is comprised of an amazing series of tools to communicate with people. If you have a reason to. If you don't have a reason to want to communicate with people, then it doesn't matter that you don't *get* Social Media.

If you do want to communicate with people, then there are 3 Questions every Social Media presence you have must answer for your strategy to be effective:

What is this Site/Page/Profile About?

Small businesses have an unfortunate tendency to conflate the owner with the brand. In some cases you *are* your brand, especially if what you bring to the table is your personal skill set. But in many cases, your brand may be more than just you and your individual knowledge. For instance, a building contractor's profile might include information about Bob the Builder, but it ought to also include information about Bob's buildings. It's not that I don't want to know Bob, but his interest in golf is less important to me than his interest in completing jobs on time, on budget and up to code.

When you look at your Social Media spaces, what do they say about you? Is it about you on a personal level, is it about your business, does it say anything at all?

My favorite energy drink has a Facebook FanPage that says absolutely *nothing* about the brand. Spend an hour there and all you learn about are corporate communications about things that have no relationship to the actual drinks or the people who drink them. I love the drink - I am not a fan on the FanPage. Why would I be? I have no idea what that page is about.

What Are You Promoting?

Everyone brings something unique to the table. You bring a LOT of unique things to the table. If you put all those incredibly unique things in front of a person at once, there's no way to determine if any of those unique things are actually relevant to the visitor. We're back to that old standard signal to noise ratio - more of your communications must support your brand than are about "other stuff."

There's a fine balance that has to be achieved. Using Social Media means you're also going to be saying "Fine thanks, how are you?" and "What a great meal!" Too much of that and you dilute the brand - too little and you're churning out spam.

If you run a dog breeding service, then maybe people would love to hear from your dog Miffy on your page or profile, but when you sell tires, that picture of you and Miffy is taking up valuable real estate - and Miffy's Twitter feed is not really promoting your brand.

The third and absolute most important question your Social Media strategy *must* answer is:

Why Should People Come Back?

There are a million ways to get people's attention, but very very few to keep it. Only two, in fact.

1) You must be Relevant to their needs or interests


2) You must be Compelling

When I look for new pony, my need is specific. I want a company that understands that when I say I want Welsh Cart Pony, I really don't mean a Tennessee Walker. If you write about Welsh Cart Ponies, I'll drop by. If I get to your blog and it's full of advertisements for diapers and discussions of your nephew's job hunt, you've failed to maintain relevance - and you've provided no compelling reason for me to come back a second time.

You are an expert in your business, a master of your skills. I'd *really* like to hear your insight into the things you do. That is Compelling material!

One last time, take a look at your Social Media spaces. Are you sharing Relevant and Compelling information?

Interestingly, all three of these questions were just as relevant for Web 1.0 as they are now for 2.0, or beyond. Because while technology changes...people don't.

Before you throw yourself out there into the wild world of Social Media, have clear-cut answers to all three of those questions and I promise, Social Media won't fail you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Social Media Without Delusion Live in NYC!

Join me on December 9 at 6:30pm at the SLC Conference Center, located at 352 7th Ave (at 30th St), 16th Floor. Pre-register online at Meetup, but it's not required - feel free to show up at the door and pay the $10 admission there.

Thanks to Elaine Lee and the Traditional2Digital Media Group for sponsoring the talk.

Feel free to suggest questions you'd like me to address in the comments - I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Social Media - It's Who You Know

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know.

This phrase has never been more powerful than it is right at this very moment. The worth of your Social Network is based on this solid foundation of ancient wisdom.

You are the center of your universe. Your personal and professional contacts have at least one point of commonality with you - something that allows you to make that connection with them. The same is true for your business. It might be that you have nothing more than a LinkedIn group in common, but that is enough to make a connection between you and another person. Sometimes you really do find yourself in an elevator telling someone what you can do for them. :-)

Your network is the currency by which your Social Media value is determined. It's easy to ask someone you already know and trust to help you out - it takes a certain belief in yourself and your network to ask someone you don't know for help.

Take an honest look at your network - is it strong? If you needed to talk to someone about custom watches as a gift for an amazing client, would you know who to ask? What about relocating an office? How about an developer? How about a contact at a major cable television network?

I picked these things only semi-randomly, of course. My network includes at least one of each. Your network might not have all - or any - of these but just like the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" a strong network means you're only a few people away from knowing someone who can help you. As you develop your Social Media Strategy, give some thought to expanding your network. Every day, follow someone new on all the sites you're on. Introduce yourself to someone new at work, or at a meetup, or an association meeting.

Build in time to expand your network, because it's not what you know - it's who you know, that counts

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Importance of Internal Communications in Social Media

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll have read my adventures in tortuously bad customer service this past holiday weekend. I won't belabor the specifics here, but the company I dealt with is large, well-known and once had a great reputation.

As I posted my difficulties on Twitter and Facebook, I received a lot of comments that were the digital  equivalent of eye rolls. "Big companies are all out to screw us" was the general consensus.As it happens, I don't agree. I've worked for big companies (global big) and in general "screwing the public" isn't ever on an agenda. If you talk to most individuals at a large multi-national company, you'll find hard working, decent folks.

So, one has to ask one's self, where's the gap between intent and execution? If everyone is working hard and is decent, how is it that customer experiences are so incredibly awful?

The gap - fueled by delusion, of course - is that internal communications have eroded to the point of surreality.

The delusion these companies buy into is "We save money by paying less for (a service we need.)"  That delusion might mean outsourcing, it might mean internal consultants or contractors on the job. That delusion -and the decisions that come from it - take that service, that piece of the production line, that part of customer relations out of the direct line of responsibility of the company. There's one gap.

The next delusion is "Our contractors are responsible for their piece of the job." Well, without establishing accountability for their actions, then basically - no, they aren't. There's your second gap.

And finally, with customer service outsourced and delivery outsourced and no one in place who can match the two, all those cost-cutting efforts end up with customers in a whirl of miserable, incompetent and powerless customer "service."

A horrific example of this is the #Amazonfail of last summer, in which Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Feminist books were suddenly de-listed en masse by Amazon. What many chose to see as a conspiracy, I saw as a complete breakdown in internal communications (read down to the final update.)

It's easy to roll your eyes at the "obvious" mistakes being made by another company, but take a look at your own business. Even if you own a small one-person business, you're liable to outsource work. For instance, your Search Engine Optimization, or your fulfillment. After all, you can't do *everything* by yourself.

Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing - does it even know that you have a left hand? Is the "quality" you claim in your corporate communications supported by your internal and external communications?

When you say you are engaging with consumers, is that reflected by actual interaction with them - or is your "Social" media really just more of the same one-way communications? Perhaps your attempts to be cutting edge are being hamstrung by your legal department.

Good External Communications Comes From Good Internal Communications

Before you launch that Twitter feed or new blog make sure that you can devote the right resources to your message. If Communications is in charge of the blog, and Sales is in charge of the e-Commerce site, make sure they - and the store clerk at the register - know about the holiday sale. This may seem amazingly obvious, but in my above bad retail experience, not only did the store associate have no clue at all about what I was asking, but the website was broken in three unique ways. And then it got hairy, with delivery and customer service who could not and did not help in any way, because they were clueless, disengaged, and not accountable for solving the problem...among other issues.

Good internal communications is not the same thing as having your stakeholders' buy-in. Communications can be borked at any level of your organization. From people at the top who wave their hands and say "make it so," without any real comprehension of what "it" is, down to the guy on the call center phone with a script and a quota, every level of engagement with your customer has a million opportunities to be the best - or the worst - experience that consumer has ever had.

Align your internal communications, and you'll find that your external communications will take off. When management, legal, communication, marketing and sales are all talking a common language then you have a solid base from with to launch your Social Media program. Otherwise, you're just creating more opportunities for confusion.

Project Wonderful