September 26, 2017

Is ghost writing in social media right or wrong?

This week, I posted the first of what may prove to be a series of controversial blog posts on the SAP community network (known to members as SCN).

The posts won’t be controversial so much for the content itself (although I hope that that happens eventually) as for the way I’m presenting it.

I’m going to channel other people’s ideas, not my own. You can read the entire post here. It introduces me to the community and explains what I’m planning to do.

They may not like it and you may not either.

But I think what I’m proposing is a necessary blend of realism and good ideas. Others call it ghost writing.

As I say in the SCN post and as I’ve mentioned here plenty of times, I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that many of our best SMEs are going to take the time to blog. And many who do would be better off getting some help.

I wanted to present the core arguments here to see what you think. I think that if we limit the discussion only to those subject matter experts who have the time and skills to blog, we’re missing out.

Here my arguments for letting me present others’ ideas from the SCN post and adapted for your consideration here:

  • Most people—even really smart people—can’t write worth a damn. Why do we assume that anyone can channel passion into his or her writing?
  • Social media is biased toward English. Most of the people I speak to at SAP are German and while most Germans are amazingly skilled at English, that skill rarely translates to the written word.
  • It’s not about the style, it’s about the ideas. One of the best aspects of social media is the opportunity to put ideas to the community and gather feedback. I’m excited about the prospect of not just presenting ideas to the SCN community but also in building ideas with this community. As I interview SMEs around SAP and external influencers like analysts and customers, I want to be able to share the raw ideas in their earliest stages so that I can inform people and get their feedback.
  • Transparency is the “hidden” problem. I think what people object to most about ghost writing is that the real people behind the prose are hidden. I will always blog as myself, introduce the ideas myself, and will always reveal whose ideas I’m channeling. I will attempt to respond to all comments myself, based on the work I’m doing with the SMEs. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll go to them and get the answer and come back with it. I’ll also name the writers that I have working with the SMEs as we are doing interviews and working towards the “final” products: white papers, videos, etc.

What are your arguments (for and against)?

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Does integrity make you a social media loser?

In three plus years of tweeting, I’ve picked up what I perceive to be the general etiquette for engaging on Twitter. I’ve also done research asking B2B marketers how they engage and how they educate their employees and SMEs to engage. I’ve rolled all that up into an approach that I doubt constantly.

I don’t seem to be alone. Lots of people seem to be having Twitter identity crises these days. Social media a-lister Chris Brogan, who had a policy of following back everyone who followed him, deleted everybody before finally settling on a few hundred people to follow and shifting his attention to the new social network on the block, G+. Another popular blogger, Mitch Joel, worries that he sucks at Twitter because he doesn’t follow everyone back.

Meanwhile, we have opportunist sites like Triberr that let you “grow your reach” by automatically tweeting things that people in your “tribes” write about, as explained (exposed really), by Neicole Crepeau in this excellent post. What a ridiculous notion, that someone’s content is worth tweeting every time. I don’t know anyone whose content I would recommend to my followers every time (and I have 135 feeds I follow in Google reader). Do you?

It’s always been clear that the people who invented Twitter don’t really know what to do with it, but up to now, it seemed like the users did. Now I wonder. I’ve invested hundreds, maybe thousands of hours into Twitter and I’m starting to feel like a loser. Integrity is one of my few talents and I’m afraid it’s wasted on Twitter.

Here’s my list of what seem like the right things to do on Twitter so that I feel like I’m being a good member of the B2B marketing guild—i.e., helping my followers learn and discover new people who have smart things to say about marketing. Can you add your recommendations to this list or tell me why I’m wrong? If you feel strongly about this, maybe we can turn it into a Twitter pledge and share it.

  • I read everything I link to in my tweets and everything I re-tweet
  • I don’t tweet my blog posts multiple times unless there have been comments that I want to alert people to
  • I do automatically schedule tweets but I don’t auto-tweet stuff I haven’t read
  • I tweet links to content, not quotes from famous people
  • Follower counts don’t enter into my decision whether to follow someone
  • I tweet at least 5:1 ratio of other people’s content to my own
  • I tweet thank yous to people who mention me in their tweets

That’s my list. What’s yours?

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7 reasons why social media success has nothing to do with social media

This week I was asked to speak on a panel about social media to a group of B2B marketers in financial services. It was great getting the perspective of marketers outside of technology. But they call it “financial services” for a reason: They have all of the same struggles as technology services companies—with the added complication of tons of regulatory requirements.

But when the panel was over, I realized something scary: Most of the success factors we wound up talking about had nothing to do with social media. They had to do with other things that companies have to do before they can successfully engage in social media. Here are some examples:

  • Most C-level executives are not in social media—they’re in search. ITSMA research shows that 66% of buyers seek information themselves rather than waiting to hear from providers. They seek that information through search: 79% of c-level executives do at least three searches per day. They are more likely to encounter our content through search than through the social media channels themselves.
  • Social doesn’t happen in B2B without a culture change. When we surveyed B2B marketers last year, 50% said they do not have a social media policy. It would be easy to say that B2B companies don’t have social media policies because they just don’t get it, or they’re slow and lack resources. But I talk to them all the time and I know that’s not the case for most of them. They hold back because they know that they need the full support, commitment, and participation of the business in social media. Without those things in place, there’s no reason to get into it, because you will fail.
  • Before social media can happen, companies need an idea culture. A lot of B2C social media marketing can come out of the marketing group because consumers are looking for deals, product information, and peer reviews. Marketers can handle all that stuff. But you can’t tweet a 50%-off coupon in B2B. You have to tweet ideas for solving customers’ problems. Marketing can’t do that on its own. Social media is the easy part; idea marketing is the hard part. Top executives and SMEs must commit to making ideas part of employees’ individual expectations. One of the reasons I know that B2B marketers get this is because the number one goal of marketers in our survey was to integrate social media into the larger marketing strategy—to link social media to their idea marketing process and their events—the channels that are proven and where the business has committed to contributing content.
  • The business case doesn’t exist for social media; but it does for idea marketing. When we asked buyers how important good ideas are to the buying decision, 58% of executive-level buyers (people buying more than $500,000 worth of IT services at a pop) say that it is important or critical for making it onto the short list of providers. Let me repeat: More than half of your buyers say that if you can’t demonstrate that you have good ideas for solving their business problems, they won’t buy from you. We asked: If a provider brings you a good idea would you be more likely to buy from them? 30% said yes. Of that 30%, 54% said they’d consider sole sourcing the project. Social media are great for developing those ideas and for making them available to many more people. But first you have to have an engine for creating the ideas.
  • Many B2B companies have already said no to social media. I’ve spoken to marketers who have dipped a toe into social media and pulled it back because they saw that their companies simply weren’t ready. They’ve started blogs where SMEs posted three or four times and then got busy with other things or got bored and the blog went dark. Someone somewhere latched onto that and declared that blogs don’t work. They blame the channel rather than blaming their company’s lack of commitment. Then that gets translated into “social media don’t work for us.” Many B2B companies are just now contemplating getting into social media for the second time.
  • Marketing needs a system of record before it can succeed in social media. Businesspeople don’t care how many Twitter followers you have. They care about the size, speed, and quality of the pipeline. We need a lead management process to act as a place to bring people from social media. In our recent lead management survey, just 53% report consistent definitions of lead tracking that are adopted globally. Only 65% have defined the lead flow process. Without a process for integrating social media into lead management, the ROI of social media in B2B will never move beyond brand awareness and website traffic.
  • Thought leadership is more important than social media. At the earliest stage of the buying process, marketing owns the relationship with buyers. Buyers don’t want to hear from salespeople at this point. We call it the epiphany stage; it’s before buyers have articulated their specific needs. But at this point, buyers are trolling for good ideas, insight into industry trends, and news. Companies must have an engine for providing those ideas in place before they can expect to make waves in social media.

What do you think?

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Is Twitter “social?”

Majority opinion seems to be that Twitter isn’t really a social platform it’s a broadcast medium. A study by Yahoo Research found that 50% of tweets are generated by an “elite” group of 20k users and that those users tend to follow one another rather than branching out—what many refer to as the social media echo chamber.
For these reasons, pundits say that Twitter isn’t much use for reaching B2B customers. But I treasure this “eliteness,” and while older, high-level executive technology buyers are not on Twitter, the younger ones (and those that wannabe C-level executives) are. And in many years of interviewing this audience and blogging to it, they all tell me that they get online to learn, not socialize (even the older ones use online search like crazy.
Twitter isn’t for conversation, it’s for learning.
These days, my audience is B2B marketers and my goal is to help you learn. I have a search column in TweetDeck for “B2B.” I try to check it every day to see what people are sharing. 99% of the time, they’re sharing links to content—blogs, research papers, news stories, etc.—that they think is relevant. I browse through the tweets and look for things that interest me. Then I click through to see if the content is something that I think B2B marketers might learn from. If it is, I re-tweet it or rewrite the tweet if I think there’s a better point to be made about the content than what the original tweeter said.
If I disagree with the content I’ll say so and ask others what they think. Rarely do I see people who believe that the tweet alone is content to be learned from (except those annoying people who think quotes from famous people are worth tweeting). So I treat Twitter like a reporter rather than a cocktail party host.
Learning is social, isn’t it?
The best truly “social” interactions I see on Twitter are organized chats. I’ve been both a featured “guest star” and an attendee and I always learn something. But again, chats as I’ve experienced them have always been about sharing and learning rather than getting to know one another. What am I doing wrong? Am I wrong to believe that B2B audiences will gradually come to social media channels like Twitter to learn?
Many say that marketers are a different breed than “customers,” and what works for marketers won’t translate to the B2B world in general. I don’t think they’re so different. Sure, marketers like to participate in social media more, but that’s because they are the ones charged with making social media happen in their organizations. But just like their audiences, marketers are smart, educated people who like to learn. But I’m left wondering, is sharing content being social?

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3 factors in winning the social media horse race

Seems everyone has an opinion about Google’s G+. And as usual in a situation where little data exists (yet) to support fact-based opinions, most of them are extreme. Some say G+ is dead in the water because it hasn’t generated the mad rush that Facebook did and that growth and use is already starting to slow. Others say that G+ will rule because of its integration with Google’s other tools like Android, Gmail, Docs, and its media properties like YouTube and Google Music—in other words, the colossus effect that we’ve been waiting (for so long) to take effect.

It’s way too early to make a call, so I’m not going to presume to know G+’s prospects for success (especially when it hasn’t even been officially launched), but there are a few things that the rise of a possible new giant in social networking points out:

  • Social networks are porous. One writer claims that the attraction of G+ is the opportunity to start over in social networking. The argument is essentially that we’ve screwed up everything in Facebook and G+ is our social media morning after pill. But as even the worst one-night stand movie comedy will tell you, starting over is tough to do. Erasing or simply stopping our lives on a social network is possible, but it’s much easier to just start sharing across many at once. For example, just when I was lamenting having to do over all the work I’ve done to build up a Twitter community with some true interaction and conversation in G+, along comes a browser extension called SGPlus that lets you post on G+ and share it across Twitter and Facebook at the same time. When and if Google releases an application programming interface for G+, no doubt one of the social dashboards such as Tweetdeck will build G+ in. It’s easier for tweets to flow across all the various social networks because of their short nature and the fact that they usually contain links to longer content that can show up on Facebook and G+.
  • There are only two types of relationships in social networking. G+ is touted as something new, but it’s really a combination of two elements that I’ve talked about here before: Permission-based and viral-based relationships. G+ combines the viral model pioneered by Twitter, in which you can follow someone you don’t know and hear what they have to say, and Facebook and LinkedIn’s permission-based models, in which you can only engage in relationships with those you know. All the social networks we’ve seen so far are based on one or both of these models. G+’s relationship model mix of the two is a little bit complicated. So much so that it takes a PhD. to explain it.
  • There are only two types of content in social media. Short or long. That’s it. One of the reasons that Twitter is compelling is because its content is so short. You have to come up with something really pithy and link to the deeper thinking. Twitter kills the long-winded entry about nothing. The reason that blogs are so popular (and the cornerstone for social media in B2B social media marketing) is that they are long. They satisfy our need for stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and give us room to support our arguments with facts and proof (the cornerstones of thought leadership). Gone are those annoying blogs from the early days that just posted links to other stuff. Twitter killed them all. G+ tries to split the difference. Most of the posts I’ve seen on G+ have been twitter posts that go on for too long—140 words instead of characters, with little in the way of deep thinking or factual evidence to justify the wordiness. In this sense, G+ looks more like the blogging platform Tumblr. And we all know how Tumblr has taken off, right?
  • Commenters rarely engage in conversation. All the social networks allow for various kinds of real-time, texting style conversation, but when it comes to commenting on content, there’s little true conversation. It’s rare to see threaded conversations (unless the discussion is political, in which case the conversation usually happens at the shouting level). G+ and Facebook allow comments to specific entries that are pretty easy to follow. Twitter has the re-tweet button, @replies, and hashtags. I don’t think any of them have a particular advantage in the conversation department, but I think that G+ is at a bit of a disadvantage here. Those 140-word entries don’t have much depth to them, which means that many of the comments are inane. There’s just not much to say about something that didn’t have much substance to begin with. I also think there’s a piling on factor in G+. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but when I read posts by the A-list bloggers, there are tons of people who seem to think that saying something—anything, even “So true, so true”—is good for their street cred and exposure. I just don’t want to wade through it all. I think longer blog posts inspire more thought and better comments, even if they don’t rise to the level of conversation.

What do you think?

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The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it

cooling

Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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4 Reasons Why Facebook Stinks for B2B Marketing

Recently, I was preparing a workshop on social media for an ITSMA client. The marketer in charge of the company’s social media effort gave me a clear edict: “Look, I don’t want you focusing on Facebook, okay? We don’t see the value of it for B2B and we want it off the table. Every time we talk about it, we have an endless argument that leads nowhere.”

Seemed a bit harsh, but I had to admit that I had been harboring my own doubts about the value of Facebook for B2B for a long time. I’m not saying that B2B companies shouldn’t be on Facebook. I think every company should be on Facebook. There are just too many people passing through those turnstiles not to put up a sign somewhere. So I think B2B businesses should have a Facebook page that shares whatever content the company is already producing. Why not? It’s yet another channel for reaching customers and the effort required to set up a Facebook page and create RSS feeds of your content to update it is pretty small.

But let’s put this all in context. What is B2B marketing all about? Relationships, right? And I just don’t see what’s good about Facebook for creating relationships in B2B. Much of what works on Facebook seems to fall into two camps:

  • Charity. I see many brands launching altruistic campaigns on Facebook to get attention and burnish their reputations.
  • Contests/giveaways/games. Much as people at trade shows will do just about anything for a t-shirt, it seems pretty easy to get people to click the like button if they can get free swag or get a chance to win something. EMC, Cisco and Intel have had success with this kind of focus for some time now.

But I notice a few things about B2B efforts on Facebook that leave me skeptical:

  • Engagement is campaign focused and temporary. I see brands investing effort in campaigns around a particular event or contest, but what about the space in between? If the only way to get people interested in your content is by giving them stuff instead of wisdom, how are you supposed to sustain that connection over the long term?
  • Conversation is banal or non-existent. The B2B pages I’ve seen on Facebook are broadcast focused. Lots of big graphics and calls to action around the above mentioned swag and charitable causes, but I’ve never seen anything in the way of substantive discussion that anyone would mistake for thought leadership, as you would on say, a good blog post by a subject matter expert.
  • The like button is a blunt instrument. There’s no denying the power of Facebook as a platform. Its sheer numbers mean that brands get tons of likes. But click on that like button and X,Y,Z Company is in your Facebook stream forever (with no clear way to get rid of it) along with the stuff you really want to read from your BFFs. That’s gotta get old pretty quickly. Research shows that people unlike brands on Facebook nearly as often as they shut off other channels and for all the same reasons: “too frequent, irrelevant or boring communications.”
  • The perception of Facebook as a consumer platform persists. I keep waiting for Facebook to buy LinkedIn or Twitter and just put an end to the business vs. consumer distinction. But until they do, it seems that the perception will persist. Is it any wonder that B2C marketing techniques dominate? Facebook just doesn’t seem like a good source for B2B thought leadership.

Again, I’m not saying Facebook shouldn’t be part of a B2B social media strategy, but its utility as a platform for building a deeper relationship with B2B buyers still seems limited. What do you think?

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How social media muteness endangers your company: The crisis at McKinsey

McKinsey recently learned a difficult lesson about what happens when the world takes your thought leadership marketing seriously—and when you lack the ability to respond in the moment through social media.

The trouble started when the McKinsey Quarterly published an article in early June entitled How US health care reform will affect employee benefits,  based on a survey the firm did about what will happen to employer-sponsored health care insurance coverage when the President’s health care law goes into effect in 2014.

A textbook example of pragmatic thought leadership
The article itself is one of the best examples of thought leadership I have ever read. It is bold, clear, authoritative, and based on solid research. It is a textbook example of what we at ITSMA call pragmatic thought leadership: it takes a current issue of concern to the company’s target audience and evaluates what may happen in the near term without any mention of company methodologies or offerings. The piece settles right into the Florsheims of the average HR manager and paints a picture of what might happen to their benefits programs when the law takes effect.

That picture is stark and scary.

The survey predicts that 30% of employers will drop health care coverage for employees altogether, throwing them into the government-mandated health insurance pool of individuals without company coverage. Among employers with the higher level of knowledge about the law, the percentage that would drop coverage rises to 50%.

Such a bold and relevant piece of thought leadership was bound to capture mainstream media interest, and this one certainly did—another coup in McKinsey’s long string of thought leadership marketing successes.

The chattering classes intrude
However, something as politically charged as the healthcare debate is not the normal territory of buttoned-down consulting firms like McKinsey. It was like letting a dumb teenager into one of McKinsey’s glass conference rooms with a stack of fireworks and handing him a match. Something important was bound to get damaged.

And so it did.

Republicans cited the article chapter and verse, because it lent some credence to the idea that the world would fall into communistic chaos as soon as the evils of Obamacare were unleashed. Meanwhile, the White House attacked McKinsey’s survey as an “outlier,” saying that other studies from Rand, the Urban Institute, and Mercer all showed that the law would have little impact on the number of companies with coverage.

Journalists look for trouble and McKinsey stonewalls
The political stir encouraged journalists and bloggers to try digging deeper into the story and that’s when McKinsey got into trouble. When a blogger for Time asked for more details on the survey methodology, she says McKinsey stonewalled. That information vacuum led some bloggers to fill it with questions about the quality of McKinsey’s research and its motives. The biggest credibility blow was struck by a blogger at the New Republic, who pointed out that unlike reports from the firm’s own “semi-autonomous think tank” the McKinsey Global Institute, the healthcare survey did not undergo a formal peer review process. Ouch.

Too late, transparency—and defensiveness
Of course, you know what happened next. On June 20, long after the bloggers had already moved on, McKinsey finally made the survey and its methodology transparent and issued a cranky and defensive statement about the survey that helped things not at all. Here’s why: One of the most compelling things about the article is its boldness. In one passage, the authors take on all those who think healthcare reform will be an easy ride, including none other than the Congressional Budget Office Itself:

“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that only about 7 percent of employees currently covered by employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) will have to switch to subsidized-exchange policies in 2014. However, our early-2011 survey of more than 1,300 employers across industries, geographies, and employer sizes, as well as other proprietary research, found that reform will provoke a much greater response.”

Wow. That’s pretty unequivocal. Hey CBO, you’re wrong!

All of which makes McKinsey’s too-late response to the criticism all the more mealy mouthed. Check this out:

“Comparing the McKinsey survey to economic estimates, such as the CBO’s, is comparing apples to oranges. While the McKinsey Quarterly article about the survey cited CBO estimates, any comparison is not apt. We understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.”

Oh, I get it. We readers are just too stupid to know a prediction when we see one. That wasn’t a prediction, it just looked like one to the uneducated. Maybe if we had all gone to the upper two percent of business grad schools like the folks at McKinsey we would have known better. That’s the height of arrogance.

Companies without a human face will suffer
But hey, I’m not here to say yet again that companies should be transparent in a crisis and respond quickly and in a non-defensive manner to criticism rather than letting it fester. You’ve heard all that before.

I’d like to posit another important piece missing from the McKinsey picture: people.

Despite its prowess in thought leadership—McKinsey is simply the best—the firm is falling dangerously behind in social media. This crisis unfolded online and in social media. All the company needed was to get some of its well-spoken hot shots out there blogging to clarify thinking behind the survey and things would have gone a lot better. Companies that lack a human face and hide behind their brands—no matter how good those brands are—will suffer in the era of social media. That static, institutional explanation of the healthcare survey on McKinsey’s website is like a billboard flashing “We don’t get social media!”

It’s ironic, but there is a person who could have responded to this controversy in a very interesting way. It turns out that a McKinsey internal expert on the healthcare industry, Bowen Garrett, was one of the authors of the Urban Institute paper that claims that healthcare reform will not cause a big disruption in employer insurance. Gee, how about a quick blog interview with Garrett, or a video, or podcast? But McKinsey doesn’t do blogs or anything else timely on its website. It’s a slave to that big (admittedly wonderful) publishing machine called the McKinsey Quarterly.

There are many things that social media can’t do, but one thing they can do is give you the opportunity to turn on a dime and inject thought leadership into the conversation when it is most needed. Companies that can’t do it will suffer the consequences.

What do you think?

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The five stages of social media grief—have you passed through them yet?

Morito

Image via Wikipedia

Social media (along with skimpy marketing budgets) are causing a transformation in marketing to a degree that we haven’t seen for a lifetime. But in our rush to embrace the new, we haven’t taken adequate time to honor the painful transition we are experiencing.

Think of me as your grief counselor for good ol’ message-based marketing. It will still be around for some time yet, but it needs to stop that incessant yapping and get a hearing aid so it can start listening once in awhile now.

In my seven years as a social media acolyte, I’ve spoken with many marketers who grew up at the knee of message-based marketing. I’ve seen how difficult the transition can be. For them, and for you, I offer this reflection on the journey so that you can recognize your own place in it and know that you are not alone—that you have friends who love you and who are eager to see you when you get to the other side. (Just don’t become distracted by the bright white light on your way through.)

  • Denial. “Another marketing channel on top of my existing workload, with no extra budget or headcount? This can’t be happening—not to me.” The marketer passes through a period in which social media is thought of purely as a B2C thing. Not gonna happen in B2B. Nope. No way.
  • Anger. “Hey, marketing speaks, everybody listens. That’s the way it’s always worked. Enough of this conversation crap already!” A painful, unfortunate, and embarrassing time in which marketers have been known to share their rage over their loss of control of the marketing conversation in an uncontrolled way in public gathering places. (Ever wonder why you don’t hear about Mojitos anymore? The American Marketing Association successfully lobbied the FDA to have Mojitos outlawed after research linked them to these unpredictable outbursts. Those “theme” martinis offered during open bar receptions at marketing conferences are also reportedly on the way out—but it’s taking the FDA some time to catalogue all the different varieties.)
  • Bargaining. “Look, we’ll redesign the newsletter. We’ll make the events more targeted to the C-level. Just. Don’t. Make. Me. Tweet!” Another phase marketers probably won’t the grand kids to know about, in which marketers cling to an irrational hope that social media can be postponed or avoided altogether by promising the CMO a reform in lifestyle.
  • Depression. “6000 tweets a day mentioning our brand and I’m supposed to assign a ‘sentiment’ to them all? What’s the point of going on?” Only slightly less embarrassing than the anger and bargaining stages, marketers in this stage ban the use of the word “Twitter” in lunch conversation and generally shun the annoyingly perky (unpaid) social media intern, muttering, “What’s he got to be so happy about?”
  • Acceptance. “Okay, if we’re going to do this, let’s find some SMEs who have something to say and support them.” At this point, marketers accept that they are responsible for making the social media conversation happen inside the company and with customers and take solace in the fact that it’s another channel for developing and delivering thought leadership—the stuff they’ve been slaving at for the last 20 years. During this stage, marketers have been known to spontaneously shout in a self-actualized fashion, “I am a professional communicator! Learn from me!”

How about you? What stage you at?

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How to get employees involved in social media: focus on ideas

Many marketers involved in social media management tell me that they struggle to get their subject matter experts engaged in social media. But focusing solely on engagement is the wrong goal. What we should be talking about instead is getting those experts involved in creating ideas.

In an interview this week with Stephanie Tilton (thanks, Stephanie!) on the Savvy B2B Marketing Blog entitled How to Gain Real Traction with Thought Leadership, I talk about how marketers need to create an idea network within their organizations to spur their subject matter experts to start thinking.
Create an idea network as the basis for social media
Marketers need to facilitate a process for internal development of ideas and for external feedback. The combination of internal and external creation and feedback creates friction and competition. Experts need to defend their ideas, get input and collaboration from others, and compete for attention. Here are some examples of how this can work:

Internal

  • Knowledge share sessions
  • Awards programs
  • Primary and secondary research
  • Competitive intelligence

External:

  • Customer councils
  • Collaboration with academics and analysts
  • Partnership with trade associations

Creating an idea network helps demonstrate the importance of ideas to the organization. Many companies take it a step farther by making idea development part of employees’ annual goals. The high-end consulting firms like McKinsey have done this for years. Ideas are baked into the culture. To rise in the firm, consultants know they need to come up with good ideas and try to get them published.

Marketers need to help create that culture in the company by facilitating the idea process. Companies need to create a platform—and an expectation—that enables subject matter experts to be thinking all the time.

When ideas are an expectation, social media participation is easier
When employees know that they are expected to be thinking—and getting that thinking out into the market—engagement in social media participation becomes easier. They have something to talk about! Social media becomes a great test bed for testing ideas and getting feedback. It also becomes a way to slice up big ideas into more consumable pieces.

What do you think? How are you getting subject matter experts to engage in social media?

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