Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Guts of Social Media

After a long conversation today with someone on a completely different topic, it occurred to me why I find the creation and application of meaningless - and in many cases, ridiculous - quantitative values to Social media absolutely maddening.

Marketing is not a science, any more than Information Science is a science (I say this as a person with a Master's in Information Science.) You can apply all the numbers you like to it, but Social Media is not a science. You can make a case for Advertising being a series of mathematical formulas that are applied across various media, but the best marketing is not based on numbers.

When you hire a website designer, do you ask if their websites have gotten more hits than another designer's? No, because that would be silly. You look at their aesthetic, their navigation, their usability.

When you hire an artist to paint your portrait would you consider asking them how much the other people they have painted make annually? Of course not, because you'd be measuring the wrong thing.

The same is true when you apply certain values to your Social Media. You can't measure relationship building before the fact. Yes, you can estimate, but estimates are guesses, informed by experience.

Guts, Experience and Aesthetic are what builds a great Social Media Strategy

You can't standardize, quantify or boilerplate these things.

A really good Social Media strategy will draw on your experience with your audience, your gut sense of what they REALLY want and need, and the appropriate aesthetic to attract them to your business.

No amount of number crunching is going to beat having the right gut sense of what works. Because great Social Media is an art, not a science.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trying Too Hard To Be Hip? Just Be Yourself.

Hip, cool, innovative, creative, forward-thinking, new, Web 2.0., interactive, semantic, social. Viral. Awesome.

All of these sound great, right? You want your website, your blog, your marketing strategy to be all, or at least *some* of these. You're hearing more and more about these new tools, and you're sure that with a little jolt of hip, people will come flocking to your business.


Think about how excruciating it was when your parents tried to use current slang in front of your friends.

You are a business owner. Whatever your actual age, you're in a position of authority. You are the parent, your audience are the children. Don't try to be hip. Don't try to be cool. Don't try to be anything you're not.

If you're talking marketing strategy and any of those words above pop up, think of them as a really obvious toupee' on your head. Don't pretend it looks good when it doesn't - don't be deluded by the buzzword du jour. Be as conservative, as grown your business needs to be. Don't look for "cool" elements on your website unless your audience is in the market for cool. Know the right tone to take, know the right media to use to target what your audience is looking for.

Not sure if your new website is trying too hard? Ask anyone more than 20 years your junior. When they make the scrunchy face, you know you're trying too hard to be hip. You can't fake hip, or cool, or innovative, so don't try. Your audience will only feel as comfortable with your site as your feel with it yourself.

Just Be Yourself on whatever social spaces you create and the people who want what you have to sell won't be put off by your excruciatingly unhip use of "cool" tools.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Two Ridiculously Simple Keys to Social Media Success

From the amount of conversation about Social Media and how to leverage it for your business, you might be forgiven for thinking that there is some obscure algorithm or complicated process that you need to master before becoming successful at it.

In reality, the reason it seems so complicated, is that there is a lot of money riding on making Social Media seem complicated. There are experts and gurus and coaches and trainers, all who want you to think that in order to understand Social Media, you must attend their seminar or read their book.

In fact, the reason Social Media is *actually* complicated, is because people are not looking to succeed in the use of Social Media - they are looking for shortcuts to succeed without doing the work.

A few moments of searching Social media online will uncover dozens of iterations of "what is the fastest way for me to grow my followers?" or "What is the most efficient way for me to gain readers on my blog?" Of these kinds of questions, my all-time favorite was "What Social Media Tactics Work?" with a specific request for responders to avoid "platitudes and generalizations" You know - like...Create Good Content and Talk With People.

Here's the reality of Social Media - there are only Two things you need to do to have a fabulous, successful Social Media strategy:

Create Good Content


Talk With People

These are not platitudes or generalizations - they are the rock-solid core of a successful, genius even, Social Media campaign or long-term strategy. Every other tactic, every other tool pales in the face of these two ridiculously simple keys to success.

Don't spend your time looking for cheats, workarounds, automated tools and other wastes of your money and your audience's time. Create good, relevant, authentic content and talk with people when they drop by. It's so ridiculously simple that hardly anyone does it. Buck the trend - be the first on your block to use these two ridiculously simple keys to Social Media and watch as you succeed where others fail.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Forget "Don't Be Evil" - Just Don't Be Inconsiderate

The privacy breaches of Google Buzz are setting the social media and tech worlds abuzz this week. Google has a famous motto, "Don't Be Evil," but as they get bigger and bigger, it seems like they have a harder and harder time reconciling that with their business strategy.

It seems pretty obvious that it's easier to Not Be Evil when there's only a few people involved. As soon as an organization hits some critical mass of layers and divisions, ideas on paper end up being more evil than intended, sometimes affecting people in exactly the opposite way than that which was intended.

But Google Buzz is not what today's post is about. Today's post is about your business and your Social Media policy and the lessons you can take away from Google's missteps.

Forget "Don't Be Evil" - Just Don't Be Inconsiderate

Google *intended* to do a cool thing. They *intended* to add a function to an already established tool. What they forgot was to consider the needs, wants, desires the Users had for the tool. By forgetting to be considerate, Google has blundered.

You're not the CEO of Google and your decisions probably won't affect millions but, when considering your Social Media Strategy, are you considerate of your users? Or are you attempting to mix two things together for your own convenience? For instance:

Do you require lengthy registration in order for users to make a purchase?

Market Research helps you understand your users, but when you require users to do your Market Research in order to be able to buy from you, you're placing your needs ahead of theirs, by mixing two things together. Be Considerate and offer a non-registration purchase method.

Do you implore users to follow you on Facebook and Twitter, but never interact with them there?

You're asking users to do your marketing for you, but not even giving them a basic level of interaction. Be Considerate, reward them for their help - at the very minimum by thanking them and answering their questions when they ask.

Do you make it easy to opt in, but incredibly difficult to opt out?

This should be obvious, but Google - and almost every company - misses this completely. Not every user wants your press releases, not every user wants to be part of the new tool research. Making it hard to get off the mailing list, or next to impossible to control privacy is punishing your user for not being willing to play ball on your terms.

In order to Not Be Inconsiderate, ask yourself this:

Does your strategy focus around the needs of your user, your audience and your market, or is all about you?

Put yourself in the place of your user. Would *you* want to follow you on Twitter? Would you want to fill out a survey before being able to continue? Would you want to do the things you are asking your users to do?

When you can look at your Social Media Strategy without delusion and answer, "It's not about *me*" then you've succeeded in Being Considerate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Buzz, Social Media Spork

I gotta be honest here - I eat my spaghetti and meatballs on separate plates. I don't like it when people dribble their Twitter conversations into my Facebook Feed. I won't buy my cable, computer and phone access from one company. And I don't like Sporks.

There are people who want one tool to do everything. They carry around multipurpose tools the size of a loaf of bread and are all chuffed when that 5/8" sprocket is just what is needed. Those people are always looking to automate their way to Social Media fame, because hey, what does it matter that their audience is composed of folks who like three different things about their business - it's all about their convenience.

Google wants to be your only tool. It's not enough to offer excellent search and email. No, they know better than you that you want *one* place that will do everything.

Only...I don't. Google's offering me a spork when I want a spoon, a fork and a knife. Specialized tools for specialized jobs. Perhaps this comes from my quarter century working as a researcher. You don't look up pipeline data on a humanities database. You use the right tool for the job.

If you want it all under one roof, clearly, Google's got you covered. But for those of us who prefer to talk to different networks differently, or use specialized tools that are good for what they are supposed to be used for...well, let's just say that Bing's looking better and better these days to me.

Dear Google, congratulations on your new Spork. I hope it goes better than Wave.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Learning Gap

If you're in Social Media, you've run up against The Wall.

The Wall takes on a number of forms. Here are few examples:

"But, I don't have time to do all this."

"Isn't there an easier way to do this?"

"Can't I just aggregate all my social networks into one list and send out one message to them all?"

The Wall is not made of ignorance, or greed. It's not made of impatience or need.

The Wall is built of Fear.

You are coming at the problem from the point of view that the tools are, in and of themselves, totally comprehensible and useful.

You are coming at this from the perspective that the more tools a person uses the better they can get their message out to people who want to hear about it.

Your client is afraid. They are afraid of the gaps in their own knowledge.

As adults, we live lives in which we must be instantly competent at everything we do, even if the technology or process is completely new to us. There is no ramp-up time, no learning curve for us. Maybe we're lucky and we take a training class, but that's it - from that point on, we're mostly on our own, until we reach out - at a cost - to a professional for guidance. And doing that is an admission that we have failed as adults. We fear this admission. We fear those things that makes us feel that way - and we fear the people who bring it to our attention, even when we ourselves have contacted those people to assist us.

This is the Learning Gap.

Before you Bridge the Technology Gap, You Must Bridge the Learning Gap

As a Social Media Professional, you must understand that to some people every page of every system is a whole new system to learn. It may be self-evident to you that Help is in the top right-hand corner of almost every page on the Internet, but it is not self-evident to a high percentage of users.

People do not know what they do not know. even after you've taught them, because they do not know how to Learn things. They may be convinced that they cannot learn this thing or that this is all too confusing. As a SM professional, you need to bridge these gaps first, encourage and reward your client as they learn - teach your client to learn...and teach them that failure is all right. No one will penalize them, there are no red marks if they get it wrong a few times. Encourage your client to play with, and then transition them to work with this new technology. Give them spaces in which they can fail without feeling stupid, or less than competent. Bridge the Learning Gap.

No one is going to look at you and say, "I'm afraid of my own ignorance - I'm afraid to try and Learn something new and I'm afraid that if I don't I'll lose business." But that, in a nutshell is the Wall.

So, when your client looks at you and says, "I don't have time to do all that," listen to what is really being said, and start Bridging the Learning Gap, first. Then it'll be easy to teach your client the Technology they need to succeed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Repeat After Me: It's a Tool, It's a Tool, It's a Tool

"Which Social Media Network is better?"

When advertising was merely about maximizing eyeballs that saw a message, this question made perfect sense.

One network would be getting more eyeballs pointed towards it at any given time. If two popular shows were on at the same time slot, one show might get more of one gender or age group than the other. It was easy to choose.

The Internet is not easy. Social Networks are easy for users, but for marketers, comparing social networks is like trying to compare apples and buffalo. Which is better? Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or Orkut or....?

Social Media has never been about the technology - it has always been about the relationships.

Social Networks and sites that provide advertising are both tools. Sadly, the one tool they are not is a magic wand. Even in an incredibly niche space, when the only eyeballs likely to see your ad are inherently totally interested in what you have to sell, conversion to a sale is as difficult as it might be to a general market.

Social Media has never been about the technology - it has always been about the relationships.

When people discover a new tool, they buy into it with an almost religious fervor. Flash, for instance, was once a new, exciting tool and every website in the universe felt it incumbent to devlop a Flash landing page - a phenomenon that lasted until...well, it's still going on, actually.

Tools are tools. Where you talk isn't as important as the message itself, but it behooves you to take that message to the right space and the right people. The question should never be, "which is better, tool a or tool b?" the correct question is, "Which is the most appropriate tool for *my* business?" I make this somewhat obvious distinction, because the answer might very well be - *none* of the most popular tools are the best choice for you. An old tool (email) or an obscure tool (IRC) might be exactly what you need to get your message in front of the eyeballs most likely to actually care.

Social Media has never been about the technology - it has always been about the relationships.

Facebook is a great tool to easily reach and potentially engage people on Facebook. How can you know if the people you want to reach are there? Search a few of your keywords. Are people building groups around those topics? Are they discussing those topics, listing them in their profiles? If the answer is yes, then provided you have a strategy to actually Engage those people, then Facebook might be a great place for you. But remember - it's just a tool. If you use it incorrectly, don't be surprised if you get nowhere.

Social Media has never been about the technology - it has always been about the relationships.

But, here's the catch. Using a tool designed for people to connect with one another to market your business is always using the tool slightly incorrectly. LinkedIn is a tool designed to help professionals make professional connections. Any marketing of your product or service looks spammy, because that's not what LI is for - it's a tool to increase your network...not your sales.

If your service is creating custom Twitter backgrounds, then yes, Twitter is a great tool to use. But use it wisely, because if all you post on Twitter is pitches for custom backgrounds, you'll soon be ignored like the other spammers, because Twitter too is more than just a tool to get your marketing message out - it's a tool to communicate and share with other people.

So, before you use a Social Media hammer to try and screw in a marketing brad on the network of your choice, take a deep breath and repeat after me: It's Just a Tool.

Because Social Media has never been about the technology - it has always been about the relationships.

Project Wonderful