Is It Time for Big Brands to Engage?

Up until this point, it’s understandable why many brands have chosen to avoid social media. Quite frankly, there haven’t been many meausurable success stories beyond those of the usual suspects like eBay, Best Buy’s internal Blue Shirt Nation community and Procter & Gamble. For the most part, it’s because many companies social initiatives have lacked a strategy, key performance indicators and overall community management. However, it’s hard to ignore some of the consumer driven data coming out of Cone Research’s latest 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study (requires free signup to download).

For starters, Cone’s report tells us that almost 60% of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week. More importantly, the study shows that 93% of Americans believe a company should have a presence in social media, while 85% believe a company should not only be present, but should also interact with its consumers via social media.

If that’s not enough to whet big brand’s appetites:

  • 56% of American consumers feel both a stronger connection with, and better served by, companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.
  • 43% say that companies should use social networks to solve my problems
  • 41% want companies to solicit feedback on their products and services
  • 37% feel that companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brand
  • 33% of men and 17% of women interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media

I don’t know about you but if I’m the CMO of a big brand, I’m looking at these numbers and shaking my head. What? You mean my customers actually want to talk to me using social media? Yup, they do. And they are already doing it with some of the other big brands they know and love like Starbucks, HP, Saturn and Sony.

So guess what Ms. or Mr. CMO, you have two choices at this point. You can continue to ignore social media and hope that smart people like Cone Research are wrong (hint: if Cone is wrong, so are the same smart folks at Forrester Research, Gartner, Sirius Decisions and Deloitte) OR they can embrace the “Groundswell” and start to think about a social media strategy and implementation plan in 2009.

Thanks to the folks at Cone for continuing to provide great research in this space. For more information on the Cone Research study, please visit their site.

p.s. Thanks to colleague, Kathy Warren, for sending me the e-mail with this great data in it!

NOTE: UPDATED on 11/24 – PLEASE READ CHIP GRIFFIN’S COMMENT ON CONE RESEARCH’S CLARIFICATION ON FINDINGS/METHODOLOGY.

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Building a Lagoon

lagoonOne of my favorite metaphors for the social web as it relates to marketers is the ocean. Although metaphors are often overused, it’s a great way to think about – and explain to others – Web 2.0 as a marketing medium.

I have been a certified SCUBA diver for several years now and have had wonderful experiences exploring the underwater wilderness. Every time I do it I’m reminded of something that my certification instructor told me – “This is not your world. You are merely a visitor.” Submerging always makes me poignantly aware of that fact, with all of the awkward, heavy equipment restricting my movement, a mask limiting my vision, and the rattle of my regulator a constant reminder that under normal conditions I can’t even breathe here.

To marketers, who are the lifeblood and to a great degree the masters of other communications mediums like television, radio, and print – the social web is a vast, foreign world that belongs to the fish (the users) and where they can visit, observe, but never feel truly at home or enjoy any degree of control. It is highly unique in that way.

Occasionally, the marketer can throw some bait in the water to attract the fish, but when the fish see him or her they might get frightened away by that foreign presence – and one always runs the risk of attracting sharks (aka “the wrong audience”) when there is bait involved.

As a result, a lot of marketers remain safely on dry land, but staring longingly at the ocean. Why? Because the very thing that makes it awkward for them makes it preferable, and natural, for the fish. And marketers by nature want to be where the fish are. But there is another phenomenon underway. The Internet as a medium is starting to absorb the others. Radio is becoming Pandora and Last.fm, Television is becoming YouTube and Hulu, and the print industry is becoming blogs, RSS feeds, and Twitter. Dry land is shrinking, and learning how to swim is evolving from an opportunity into a matter of necessity.

But marketers have time, are getting more savvy, and are figuring out new ways to deploy their resources. They are starting to get keen on another option – the lagoon strategy. Lagoons are the shallow tropical pools connected to the ocean where fish can feel completely at home, but which are safer and more comfortable for people as well. There is a slightly higher degree of control in a lagoon – you let water flow in and out freely but can typically keep unwanted fish out (and fish can keep themselves out, if they like). You can decide on the dimensions and features in the water ahead of time in order to make sure the lagoon is for you as much as it is for fish. Because it’s safer, it’s also a great place for new swimmers to get comfortable and learn about the ocean.

Social marketing is all about building lagoons. “Lagoon websites” built by marketers must emulate the places where your customers spend most of their time online, meaning any content has to be valuable and relevant to them, and they must be able to contribute and share using a full suite of social tools. Lagoon sites work best when connected to those social sites in the open ocean (Facebook, YouTube, etc.), but the tactics employed out there have to be designed to give customers a taste of what is available closer to shore. Putting a display ad on a social network is like putting it on the bottom of a boat. The fish just don’t care – they’re too busy swimming.

Likewise, lagoon-builders have to know at the outset that a lagoon requires the right kind of constant maintenance and oversight to stay healthy and populated with fish. More than that, they must be willing to jump in and take frequent swims. And most importantly they have to be passionately dedicated to doing things on their customers’ terms. This is, after all, not their world.

~ Photo uploaded by bluangelsdream

Social Marketing ROI: Ignore At Your Own Peril

Last Friday morning, I had an informative conversation with new friends Paul May and Jeremy Bencken of BuzzStream. The topic was return on investment (ROI) in the world of social media/social marketing and whether companies will continue to spend money on social endeavors without a demonstrable return on their investment. What spurred the conversation was Paul’s recent blog post inspired by friend and fellow blogger, Jason Falls, similarly focused post.

What I liked about our discussion was the fact that Paul, Jeremy and I were all completely aligned. While we appreciate the “Clue Train” mantra that many folks cite these days about social media/social marketing being able to put a “human face” on a company, at the end of the day a company needs to be able to be capable of demonstrating real results from their social efforts. What this doesn’t mean is that the two goals need to be mutually exclusive and in fact, when done correctly, a company can enjoy greater results by being human AND tapping into the power of social

This is reinforced by what we’re seeing in terms of results from some of the companies that our company, Powered, helps our customers enjoy (yes, I know I promised I wouldn’t talk too much about Powered but the results we’re seeing from our customers social marketing/elearning programs reinforce my point). As we wrap up our annual ROI report, here are just a few of the preliminary results our customers experienced in 2008.

Of our customers’ web site visitors who participated in one of our “Powered” learning centers/managed communities:

  • 92% would recommend our customers’ site to a friend
  • 95% would visit our customers’ site again
  • 85% would recommend our customers’ brand to a friend
  • 66% would be more likely to purchase from our customers’ brand
  • 63% have a more positive view of our customers’ brand

Yeah, I was impressed when I first saw these numbers too, but what I really liked was the fact that our account services and content teams here make a point of regularly encouraging our customers to be open, honest and transparent with their customers. One might think this is a no brainer given the fact that our customers are investing time and money into these programs but that’s not always the case (as evidenced by Gartner’s recent report). Even better, most of our clients actually listen to us.

So is your company measuring ROI around its community efforts? Does your community tie to specific business goals like engagement, loyalty, purchase intent or other traditional marketing metrics? If not, you may want to start thinking that way. While it’s important to put a human face on your brand (and that can likely be the BIGGEST area of impact for your company), having measurable programs will be critical in helping protect your social marketing/social media programs in tough times while the world sorts through its current credit/financial mess.

If you have examples of companies that are doing a great job of growing and measuring their “social” efforts, please include in the comments below.

Cross-posted on http://blog.stroutmeister.com

Let’s Dispense with the Marketing Fluff!

Although I’ve been blogging for nearly three years, this post is particularly near and dear to my heart. The reason is that it’s my first post on my new company, Powered’s, website. One of my many responsibilities as the new chief marketing officer here at Powered is to contribute regularly to our corporate blog.
 

What I can promise you is that I will talk about things that are important to you as a fellow marketer, social media expert or online community manager. What I don’t plan to do is be an informercial for my company. You don’t want that and my colleagues here at Powered don’t want that either. You want value and insights, just like your customers/clients do. If I don’t keep my word on that front, feel free to call bullsh#t on me.
 
Oh yeah, I’m not afraid to be open and honest in the way I communicate. That doesn’t mean I swear a lot (although you will see an occasional ephithet from me) but it does mean I’ll tell you things you might not want to hear. From time to time, I’ll also say things my boss, Ken Nicolson, doesn’t want to hear either but I can promise you that my posts will always be constructive.

So what are the things that I plan to blog about here. Here are a few of the overaching topics I will cover:

  • Macro trends: There are number of exciting trends starting to surface in the world of social marketing/social media that fundamentally impact companies and how they interact with their clients. For instance, did you know according to the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study, almost 60% of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site?
  • Case studies: This will include Powered customers like Atkins, Sony and Motorolla along with non-powered customers. These case studies will talk about specific results these companies are experiencing from their social marketing programs.
  • Timely topics/tools: From items like the importance of engaging content and the adoption of microblogging in the enterprise to the use of social marketing programs to increase customers propensity to buy, these posts will provide a guide to important themes in the world of social marketing/social media.
  • Event updates: One of the things I always try to do when attending physical events like Community 2.0, South by Southwest or DMA09 is provide key highlights (and often podcasts) from the event. If I’m not live blogging, I’m often Twittering so I will be sure to include a quick post with a link to the updates from the event.
  • Company wins/platform updates: Okay, I have to talk a little about what our company is up to. But again, this won’t be infomercial-esque crap. It will be updates on items that will help give you a better grasp of who we are as a company and what we’re thinking about.

 
I will continue to keep my own professional (and sometimes personal) blog, Citizen Marketer 2.1, where I’ll cross-post some of the items from the Powered blog. I will also work hard to keep contributing to my group sports blog, Big Papelbon, especially now that I’m now 1,900 miles away from my home town of Boston (I’m always looking for new contributors).
 
Am I missing anything my list of topics I plan to cover? If so, please feel free to add your suggestion in the comments below.