Archive for June, 2009

How companies can organise for social media success

A lot of people are trying to figure  out where social media fits within their company. Forrester has just published a report looking at how companies should organise to deal with social media.

Forrester has established  three distinct models:

1 The Tire (Distributed): Where each business unit or group may create its own social media programs without a centralized approach. We call this approach the “tire,” as it originates at the edges of the company.

2 The Tower (Centralized): We refer to this centralization as the “tower” – a standalone group within a company that’s responsible for social media programs, often within corporate marketing or corporate communiations.

3 The Hub and Spoke (Cross Functional): Like the hub on a bicycle wheel, a cross-functional group that represents multiple stakeholders across the company assembles in the middle of the organization. The hub facilitates resource sharing and cross-functional communications (via the “spokes” in the wheel) to those at the edge of the organization (or the “tire”).

They recommend the hub and spoke approach. ItsOpen has experience of working with all three different models.

The hub and spoke model makes sense but it can be difficult to put into practice. It can take a long time to build consensus.

The tire is good  to an extent, because we think  it gives a specific unit the opportunity to experiment and this model enables you to move fast.

The Tower has its value, but often it becomes clear that the tower can be most valuable by distributing knowledge across the organisation and by concentrating on itself and how it can embrace social media for the good of its role and the business as a whole.

The executive summary from Forrester says:

‘The biggest challenge brands often have to overcome isn’t technology but managing cultural change within the enterprise. With an ever-increasing number of brands engaging in social media marketing in recent years, companies need to not only be properly budgeted but also well organized. Once brands experiment with social activities, they must then organize from the inside out – or risk not properly staffing or responding to customers. Brands need to integrate social into their companies by developing a safe place for employees to experiment, creating a process to manage and measure these programs, and integrating social into other marketing and enterprise systems. Above all, brands must organize their companies in the hub-and-spoke model [a cross functional team], which allows business units to be  flexible with their social programs – but provides a grounded center that enables the company to act efficiently.’

Fully agree with the Forrester points  about the need for experimentation. That is essential. I take the point about the culture of the organisation. But the fact of the matter is that those companies who don’t change will quickly lose their ability to communicate effectively. A fact which is beginning to dawn on smart CEOs who wonder why their results announcements did not reflect what was written on the carefully-crafted press release by their very expensive advisors.

The changing news ecosystem

News being gathered through Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and news sharing sites is fundamentally altering how we are receiving information to guide decisions we make in our lives.

The protests in Iran and the death of Michael Jackson are just two recent examples of how the internet’s latest social technologies helped to break and share these developments.

Jeff Jarvis who blogs at Buzzmachine is again at the forefront of discussions on this subject. Arguably one of the world’s foremost web thinkers, Jarvis has put forward the fascinating notion that news is no longer a product but it is in fact now a process.

To support his view, he highlights the emergence of sites like Globalvoices which has developed an infrastructure which curates constant streams of news and information from around the web. So people can be kept up-to-date.

So what implications do these developments have for business media in the social age? Clearly the days of just putting together a polished press release; getting it signed off; and sending it out are over. Of course you still have to do that, but chances are the story will have moved on rapidly as soon as you have issued it or people will be commenting on it, changing it in effect, so it becomes redundant in seconds.

Business media professionals need to develop fresh methods for distributing content in real-time and responding to responses about their content in real-time.

And this all needs to be curated and presented for their interested audiences to be able to read.

Conversations which went on with journalists on the phone are now taking place online and business media communications professionals need to be participating online in order to listen, manage and protect – as far as is possible – how the organisations they represent are being reported.

This requires new skills. But I am sure leading corporate communications teams will get the hang of it pretty quickly. After all, who wants to spend most of their working time chasing after a blog story which could have been nipped in the virtual bud early on in the cycle?

Twitter emerges as key source for UK web traffic

Robin Goad, research director of Hitwise, has come up with some fascinating insights into the rise of Twitter.

Namely, that in May 2009 Twitter was the 30th biggest source of traffic for other web sites in the UK, accounting for one in every 350 visits to a typical website.

Technophobes may grumble about the amount of attention that Twitter is gaining. But for all the enlightened communications professionals out there, this is yet more evidence that social media can really help you gain attention and influence.

Robin’s smart analysis is well worth a read.

The proper use of social media by businesses

At Its Open, we’re happy to shout the praises of social media as a way of getting close to customers and partners.

But social media only works well if it’s used properly. Rushing in to set up a site on Facebook or Twitter without first developing a strategy for how you plan to use it can spell disaster.

As an article in The Vancouver Sun points out, Facebook and Twitter are both designed as networks for socialising, not selling. Adapting them for business purposes takes a little ingenuity and imaginaton.

Fortunately, Facebook now allows members to have a company page, which is slightly different from a personal page. People can become a “fan” of your company rather than a “friend”. But as the article’s author, Jonathan Weber, notes:

“Most people do not think of themselves as “fans” of particular businesses, even businesses they like. (Fan after all is short for fanatic, and it’s a pretty rare firm that inspires fanaticism.) So it’s not that easy to accumulate fans.”

It’s a tricky dilemma. Weber says there is no “magic bullet” but he does have some suggestions, including the rather controversial one of asking your employees to promote the company via their Facebook page. His main piece of advice, however, is simple:

“Making good use of social networks requires you to act human and to stay sensitive to the evolving ethos of the community. And that requires time and attention-two commodities that are always in short supply at small companies.”

Coca Cola getting into social media

cokeSome interesting insights about a big brand’s attitudes to social media have emerged from an advertising event in Cannes. Coca Cola, it seems, has been nervous about embracing user-generated content and social media, and is only now starting to get the hang of it.

That’s an admission by Jonathan Mildenhall, The Coca-Cola Company’s VP of global advertising strategy and creative excellence. The brand watched as a Facebook fan page started by consumers swelled to 4m users, and that helped it understand the point.

He said: “At first we were unsure but we’ve seen another world in the sense of the creative community love for the brand. That has helped build confidence in handing over brands to user-generated content and we’re putting that into a lot of our plans.”

For instance it has been running a competition in Mexico, where users can create and upload ideas for a 60-second TV spot. Voters choose which one will be aired.

“If I’m here [in Cannes] in three years’ time I’ll have user-generated content from all over the world to talk about,” Mildenhall said. “To have consumers genuinely at the heart of our business is something that truly excites me.”

Forrester on the practicalities of European Social Media Marketing

It is early days for social media innovators in Europe, according to Forrester. But marketers are now ramping up their spend as they realise that a shift of power is taking place.  Key constituencies are migrating online. Online audiences are talking about brands and companies honestly and openly with their colleagues.

Forrester analyst Rebecca Jennings argues that European social media markets are immature relative to their US counterparts, but that means there are plenty more opportunities for experimenting and taking leadership roles.

Social Media puts key audiences in charge

Navigating the changing world of media communications can be confusing. The new rules are that key audiences are now in charge. Using social media tools, they can gather around you; be heard around the world and have a big impact on organisations in a second. The balance of power has shifted.

Customers, analysts and investors are sharing information and news with each other in real-time. Journalists are using Twitter and blogs to source news and information. NGOs are putting up and distributing videos. Established media companies are blogging.

Key audiences can organise themselves quickly and find and spread information. They are challenging old ways of media communications.

So what do you do? Our advice is simple: firstly you need to read blogs and Twitter. Listen to what is being said about you; then begin to talk with your key audiences; engage with them and join the conversation; then start to blog and use Twitter so that you can engage with your key audiences eye-to-eye. Don’t do this because it is a fad but because it is good business.

If you engage then they are most likely to become more satisfied with your company and they will tell their friends, peers and colleagues. It does not make commercial sense to act as if your stakeholders are not there using social media. When they are. It cannot be commercially healthy for your customers to be having conversations about you, without you being there.

Media site strategies for the future

Faced with the rise of social media, corporate media teams can no longer rely on the idea that their key audiences will make their way to their web sites or media centres.

People are finding their own paths to news and information. They are subscribing to blogs; they are reading Twitter feeds; they are going to news-sharing sites like Digg or aggregators like IceRocket; and they will use whatever new applications grow in popularity.

Media teams should not see their sites or media centres as destinations or venues that they have to drive traffic to. They should regard themselves as services, pushing out feeds and taking their content out to where their key audiences are. They should be offering their content to relevant networks who can then distribute it further for them.

If you have a press release then you need to act like an internet paperboy and distribute it efficiently to key individuals and sites where you know they will be interested to learn more about what you have to say.

Seagate aim to get closer to their customers using social media

Seagate has a well  developed social media strategy led by Rich Harris which other companies can learn from.

With sites like Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed, Harris points out that consumers have learned to empower each other to make better purchasing and brand preference decisions.  He says that a company’s social media strategy should  focus heavily on engaging and validating customers personally, as it relates to your products or services. He reiterates the importance of companies getting as close as possible to their customers, paying attention to what they are saying so they can serve them better.

At ItsOpen we argue that the first step in any social media strategy has to be to listen to what your customers are saying about you. Whether they are journalists, investors, NGOs, analysts, suppliers or consumers. This information can be invaluable in terms of informing the business about what is happening in your marketplace.  You can then begin to plan how you are going to make contact with people talking about you, and decide how as a business or a department  you are going to join in and use social media tools.

What makes some people uneasy about participating in social media is that it is so public. Off the record phone calls or briefings do not work with social media. You have to be open about who you are and speak in a human voice to be successful. It is best to get independent advice before starting to participate on behalf of your company.  At ItsOpen we provide guidelines and training to support companies who want to start engage with social edia. It is also a good idea to start using social media tools in your private time to get used to them and overcome any stage fright!

Below is an extract from the interview with Seagate’s Rich Harris about the company’s social media strategy. And you can read the full interview here.

Q. What do you think is the best approach for such a large company?

A. I believe that for a large  company the approach tactically is not as important as the approach the company takes culturally. Marketing has always been marketing, regardless if you are sending out faxes or posting to Twitter… However, social media is very new and a very fast-moving and ever-changing environment. To get the most out of it, it’s best if companies are flexible and open to new out-of-the-box ways of thinking. Companies are already comfortable with B2B and B2C.  Now you have C2C developing it’s own culture and highly influential mix of people. Look at it this way: web marketing – pre-social media – was to create one-way communications and direct people back to your mother ship website to pay for your product or service. Now, with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed, consumers have learned to empower each other to make better purchasing and brand preference decisions. There is more value in that approach for them since they are the ones spending the money at the end of the day. To be successful in this model companies will have to be a bit more transparent and nimble.

Q. What hard lessons have you learned?

A. You need to be as excited about  the lessons you will learn from your failures as you are about the successes you have in social media. Social media is volatile, yet exciting. It ebbs and flows sporadically and is as powerful as it can be fickle because every consumer is human and therefore emotional. I would also say that the audiences companies are trying to reach in social media are less likely to pay attention to one-way communications. They love being part of social networking because it engages them and validates them. A company’s social media strategy should focus heavily on engaging and validating your customers personally as it pertains to your products or services.

Q. What is your, or Seagate’s, general philosophy on social programs?

A. Personally, I believe you have to be honest, transparent and pay close attention to what your audiences are saying. Be fueled by the lessons you learn and use those lessons as catalysts for getting as close to your customers as possible. The closer you get, the better you can serve them. Conversations and information will spread about your company genuinely, quickly and effectively if you stick to this. As you drive brand awareness and ultimately preference, you will hope that it converts to sales at the end of the day. In that scenario, everybody wins.

Psychology profiles of Tweets

There’s a lot of tweeting going on about a new  web service called Tweetpsych which enables you to generate psychological profiles of people based on the content of their tweets.

Is it just harmless fun? You can do a profile of your boyfriend or girlfriend, for example.  Or could it be used as part of a company recruitment process possibly? The speculation on Twitter is building.

You can read more here.