We’re all pretty immature, here…

I've been thinking a lot about social media measurement lately – for a number of related reasons: social media is playing a bigger and bigger role in marketing every hour; I'm spending more of my time doing social media work for clients and they want things measured; and since I'm doing more of this type of work, I have a personal desire to know it's valuable.
 
Social media, social platforms, social marketing – whatever you call it, it's still evolving.  But it's not just the platforms, tools and their applications that are evolving; we're evolving too – in how we interact, how we think, how we understand the world around us.  And how do you measure evolution?  You can't, really, except in hindsight, because you don't always know where you're going.

Brian Solis has an interesting post on how quickly and how broadly the business world is changing – "The Evolution of Social Media and Business."

Tempering enthusiasm for and commitment to social media with the realism of one who knows the pace of organizational change, one of the clients I've been working with has said insightfully, "We'll crawl before we walk, walk before we jog, jog before we sprint."

I think this parallel to human development is an apt metaphor for social media measurement because it indicates different thresholds of accomplishments for different stages of an evolution.  With an infant or toddler, each word, each step, each new motor skill is a major accomplishment.  Even if your goal was for your child to be an Olympic miler, you wouldn't use quarter-mile splits as a yardstick from the get-go.
 
This is not to say goals are unimportant.  Quite the contrary.  Goals are of the utmost importance when using social media for any business purpose.  However, in thinking about measurement lately, I've come to the conclusion that metrics (and expectations) must incorporate both the end goal and the stage of the evolution.
 
To bring this back to a business example, if your goal is to drive 5% of sales through social media, but you have no presence, it's foolish – not to mention demoralizing – to measure progress against that goal in the first weeks and months you're working toward it.
 
While there's a great deal that's been written by various thought leaders and analysts on the different stages of social media participation, I've found little that ties those stages to metrics.  I'm still mulling over what the different stages might be, but here are my initial thoughts, with just a few divisions.
 
1. Baby Steps – Measure activity
When you're starting out, every effort that goes into laying the future success is important.  If you've only posted one update on Twitter, you're second one is a 100% improvement.  Examples:

  • # of Tweets/blog posts/comments posted (by you)
  • # of people within your company using social media

Use anecdotes – a new relationship formed over Twitter, a customer discovered on Facebook – at this point, qualitative measurements of real experiences can help ensure buy-in and continued support.  Success breeds success, but you have to define it differently at the beginning.

2: Making Progress – Measure initiative and reaction
At some point after an individual, group or company gets started with social media, there's a stage where more quantifiable metrics are available and telling.  Examples:

  • # of followers/friends/fans/group members
  • # of Twitter @replies or direct messages
  • # of Web site visitors referred from social media sites

3. Making it Matter – Measure Desired Outcomes

There's a great risk in dwelling too long on the types of metrics in stage 2, I think, because they don't map to goals.  If your business goal is to increase sales through social media, it doesn't matter if you have 100,000 followers who visit your Web site.  If the final metrics don't match your goal, they're useless.  Once social media runs in the blood of your organization you can measure how you're using it to impact real business results.

Examples (representing different business goals):

  • Revenues from sales closed through social media
  • Customer support issues discovered/resolved through social media
  • # of new hires initiated through social media

Every business will find a different mix social media metrics to fit their goals.  Here are a few additional resources to give you a few ideas:

Take a look at the links above, and feel free to share your thoughts on which work best with different stages of social evolution.
 
Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan
 

Give ‘Em What They Want

So, you’d like a few tips, yes?

IDG recently issued a series of research briefs on aligning content and topics to social media platforms and buyer interests.  While the research focused on IT vendors and buyers, I’d guess that the findings apply to other markets as well.  One key lesson is that buyers report a significant preference for best practices on blogs.  So, without further ado, here are a few best practices for you, based on the IDG research.  (For the full reports, please visit the IDG Knowledge Hub)

The key lesson is this: align the format and subject matter of the content you offer to the social media platform.  According to IDG, "The number of available marketing content assets offered by vendors has increased by 60 percent over the past five years. Now, with the advent of social networks the rush is on to tie conversations into all that content. But the randomness of these efforts leads buyers to report that only 39 percent of offered links from social conversations to traditional content are relevant, resulting in buyer frustration and lost sales momentum."

Below are the top-ranked content topics and linked content types for a number of popular social media platforms.

1.    On blogs:

a.    Share: Best practices, news and case studies
b.    Link to: Case studies, ads and tutorials

2.    On forums

a.    Share: Evaluations, news, case studies
b.    Link to: Tutorials, free event registration, evaluation version

3.    On Twitter and Microblogs

a.    Share: News, perspective on industry issues, customer support
b.    Link to: Ads, technical knowledge, free event registration

4.    On Social Networks

a.    Share: News, insight on organization/political challenges, customer support and best practices
b.    Link to: Free event registration, ads, ROI calculators and planning worksheets

Overall, when linking to your company’s content from external sites, maintain an even balance between educational and promotional content.  Buyers responded that they prefer educational content about 43% of the time and promotional content 42% of the time. Don’t overdo it with marketing, but make sure people know about the great company behind the tips you’re providing. 

IDG’s research is valuable in initiating discussion about the importance of tailoring content and links to conversation platforms.  However, the results should not be taken as definitive, due to an extremely small sample size (about 100 respondents).  As IDG notes, "These aggregate findings only represent a starting point for discussion.  There is significant variance by investment type, buying role [and] focus."

In the end, despite the ease social media brings to publishing, it’s still important to know your audience and your surroundings when telling your company’s story. 

Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

New Year, New You: 3 Resolutions for PR Clients

Remember that scene in Jerry Maguire when Jerry pleads with Rod, “Help me help you!”  There’s a bit of that in this post.  With that in mind, here are three New Year’s resolutions I hope PR clients – with Greenough or otherwise – will make for 2010. 

1. Be a Social Butterfly

No, social media is not for everyone.  BUT: it is, without a doubt, one of the dominant forces changing the way business is conducted today.  As Forrester analyst James Kobielus recently wrote in a blog post, "Social networks are the future of online life, whether we like it or not.  Before the end of the coming decade, relationships with everyone –including family, friends, colleagues, employers, merchants, suppliers, and government agencies—will hinge on your access to these parties, and they to you, through online communities of all shapes and sizes."

For 2010, I hope companies resolve to at least consider social media with an open mind.  Dig a little.  Listen.  Explore.  Dell recently reported being able to trace $6.5 million in revenue to Twitter. As Vice President, Social Media and Community, Manesh Mehta explained in an article on The Huffington Post, social media can give you insights into your business that you can’t find anywhere else.

"Today's corporate leaders are struggling to figure out how to use social media to further their business strategy. At Dell, we believe this is backwards thinking. Social media isn't a means to further a corporation's strategy, it's a means to help determine it."

Even if social media doesn’t make it into the marketing plan for 2010, you should know why it’s not there, why it’s not right for your business.  Times are changing, and chances are, if social’s not right for you today, it might be tomorrow.  Be ready.

2. Think Like A Leader

A thought leader is a person respected by his/her peers and widely known for innovative ideas, thoughtful analysis and fresh insights on a particular topic or industry.  A PR agency is best suited to help you with the first part of that sentence: well respected and widely known.  I’m impressed by the creativity and quality of thought my co-workers display on a daily basis, and a few of us could be considered thought leaders in our own right.  And while we pride ourselves in our ability to immerse ourselves in our clients’ businesses and our experience in the clean/consumer/information tech industries, you know your market best.  What do you think?  

Your PR team can help you strategize about the best way to communicate an idea – how to say it, when to say it, where to say it, whom to say it to – but that idea, that “it,” should start with you.  If you want to be a thought leader in 2010 (and we want you to be one!), don’t be afraid to think like one.

3. Share the Love

Jen in HR is already on Twitter?  Matt the software developer has his own blog?  You published a new white paper on your Web site? Is the sales team kicking off a new promotion? Tell your PR team!  Every year, in our client satisfaction survey Greenough asks clients to evaluate teams on “understanding of my business.”  If your PR firm isn’t a perfect ten in this area, is there anything you can do to help?  The more you share with us, the more we can be a true extension of the marketing team, and the better we’ll be able to tell your company’s story.

Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

Catch a wave, and you’re sittin’ on top of the world

Recently I was working on a writing project for our client Numara Software and was invited to use Google Wave by a product marketing manager there.  He was testing it out and thought it might cut down on the number of e-mail attachments we had flying back and forth and help us collaborate more easily.  I’d seen the buzz about Google Wave in the headlines, but didn’t really know what it was about.  But, hey, something invite-only from Google?  Of course I’d try it!

So I set up my account, signed in, and got ready to wave… whatever that could be.  I had something that looked like an e-mail inbox on my screen, and in it something suspiciously message-looking called “Welcome to Google Wave.”  I clicked and was greeted by a “Dr. Wave” in a white coat breaking glass in a pitch black science lab.

Thinking that I was smarter than this crazy mad scientist, I started clicking around elsewhere on my screen.  Dr. Wave disappeared.  Then I couldn’t get him back.  The video was nowhere to be found.  45 seconds into my Google Wave experience, I was confused.  (Never fear, a little sleuthing on YouTube, and I successfully tracked down the escaped mad scientist.)

If you haven’t used Google Wave yourself, it’s hard to conceptualize what it’s like.  Computerworld’s Preston Gralla provides a helpful, straightforward review in “Google Wave: It’s innovative, but is it truly useful?

Google describes Wave as “an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.”

“An online tool for real-time communication” – Wave can be used like a simple instant messaging tool, but as such, it annoyed me, because I had to move from keyboard to mouse to click “Done” each time I finished a message (lazy, I know!).  And when Google says “real-time communication,” it means real time as in “oh crap, another typo, I can’t type when I know someone’s watching each letter pop up, whoops another one” and “uh oh, I should rephrase that, I really hope no one’s paying attention, because that was really not how I meant for the tone to come across.”

“For communication and collaboration – A wave can be both a conversation and a document.” – I think Wave’s primary strength right now is its ambition and vision.  There’s no shortage of innovative and good ideas that went into creating Google Wave – real-time group collaborations, keeping conversations about content and content in the same place – but sometimes it’s overwhelming.  Google Wave feels a little like trying to use e-mail, Word, and IM – at the same time in the same screen.  A great idea in theory, but I didn’t like it in practice.  Sometimes I didn’t want the conversation part happening right within the document-esque part.  It’s distracting, and I lost pieces of it.  My “inbox” would tell me there were new contributions to conversations, but they didn’t appear right at the top (like an e-mail chain) or right at the bottom (like an IM conversation).

Once I got over my insecurity about my typing skills, I was able to use Google Wave effectively to collaborate on the writing project, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as I wanted it to be.  Google Wave lacks the instantaneous, intuitive usability we’ve come to expect from our technology.

In my opinion, Google also faces a challenge because of its heritage.  Google’s search technology changed the world, and Wave’s organization is based on searching.  If you’ve ever missed being able to sort by sender or by oldest to newest in Gmail, you’ll have a small idea of why replacing organization entirely with phenomenal search capabilities can be frustrating.

The bottom line?  Google succeeds because its innovation pushes limits, but Wave is trying to push too many limits in too many directions all at once.  Google has never tried to hide that its product is a beta version, I’m not a developer (despite the IT nerd jokes I get in the office), so I don’t have access to some of the latest and greatest features people all over are working to create…but if Wave succeeds, I think it will look vastly different from the way it looks now.   I won’t rule out success, but I think it’s still a fair way down the road.

Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan

Reporters on the Payroll?

Much has been made about the shrinking state of the media, both on this blog and in countless other outlets. Newspapers and magazines are folding and/or downsizing at a staggering rate and reporters are tasked with covering multiple beats, often for less pay, all while worrying about what the future holds for their industry. As a result, many outlets simply don’t have the time or resources to cover evergreen features in the extensive manner they once did.

This situation poses a variety of challenges for companies. California professional hockey team the LA Kings has come up with an interesting solution—hiring its own fulltime reporter, Rich Hammond, to cover the team’s games at home and on the road for its Web site. Hammond previously covered the King for the Los Angeles Daily News and, in his new role, has been given total autonomy to write whatever he wants to about the team, regardless of the fact that he is a salaried employee.

In his coverage of the announcement, New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena questions whether fans will continue to view Hammond’s articles as “news” or if the posts will be deemed PR spin because of his direct affiliation with the Kings’ management team. Hammond argues in the reverse, pointing out that he no longer needs to run his articles by an editor and thus will be producing more genuine content than when he wrote for the Daily News.  He told Yahoo! Sports, "There's no filter on it… It's not subject to any review. I'm not filing to any person; I'm filing to the Internet."

To date, the reporters-on-payroll trend exists fairly exclusively in the professional sporting world. But as the media landscape continues to evolve one has to wonder if other industries might soon join in. I have to admit I’m a little intrigued by the concept, but I wonder how impartial I would be were I in that situation. Can a reporter write concise, accurate copy if he or she is being paid by an organization that has a vested interest in positive coverage?

As always, we welcome your thoughts.

Submitted by Kate Finigan. Follow her @PRKateFin

Media World A-Twitter Over Washington Post

Newspapers, the heralded vanguard of free speech, are currently embroiled in a heated debate about how that freedom applies to them.  About a week ago, The Washington Post responded to an editor’s Twitter posts with an organization-wide memo with guidelines on social media. 

Narisetti took down his Twitter account, but Google’s caching function lets one see what it looked like shortly before it was taken down.

The guidelines, which were not initially made public, have since been posted on paidContent.org and focus primarily on preventing public announcements of bias, opinion or preference.  Excerpts include:

"When using these networks [Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace are mentioned], nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment.  We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism."

And:

"All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens.  Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website."

While the paper likely took action because it feared an outcry in response to Narisetti’s tweets (which most agree could be viewed as biased, or even offensive), it has been the response that has generated outcry.  Journalists, media pundits, PR folks and engaged readers alike have all jumped in to debate The Post’s response.
The guidelines prompted a range of negative responses – from outrage at the apparent suppression of free speech and the individual’s subordination to the corporate machine to laments about the “Old Media’s” inability to adopt “New Media” and predictions of an accelerated death for the Post.

On the other side of the debate, supporters have come to The Post’s defense, reasoning that the guidelines reflect common sense and are a welcome compass in the labyrinthine world of interactive media.  Below are a few nuggets from those who have a great stake in the debate, media professionals themselves:

From BusinessWeek’s Stephen Baker’s post “How I run afoul of Washington Post’s social media rules – and why

"In today’s political environment, expressing concern about global warming, Stowe Boyd notes, could be used to show bias. Voicing any opinion about Israel or the Palestinians, sex scandals in the Senate, health insurers, you name it, would appear to be verboten."

"It seems that the Post wants all the good stuff from blogs and social networks—extension of their brand, traffic to their site—but without any of the problems that come from losing control. Yet the power of these social tools grows from the very freedom of expression that the Post editors are trying to rein in."

Over at Time, James Poniewozik concludes in his blog post:

“If you slant your coverage, hiding your beliefs does not make your work better. If your work is fair, sharing your beliefs does not make it less so (on the contrary, it provides your reader more information to keep you honest). But by perpetuating a fiction no one believes anyway, newspapers don't make themselves trustworthy; they just seem phony.”

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz wrote in, “To Tweet or Not to Tweet

"Not to put a damper on a great fuss, but I think this is entirely reasonable. I don't see it as a corporate attempt to crush creativity and sap the soul. People follow journalists on Twitter and Facebook because they're interested in what the person writes, blogs or says on television. We can't pretend we're random people who can just pop off at will.…I don't think the guidelines reflect a lack of trust. There's no czar in charge. Management is just asking folks to think twice before sharing something with the world."

Whatever your perspective, it’s clear that the Post has hit a nerve here.  The number of blog posts on the topic and the range and depth of the comments indicate a much larger issue at hand than one of a single paper and a few tweets.  Indeed, much of the meat of the debate is to be found in readers’ comments to other journalists’ responses; rife with analogies to the legal system and government and well-laid logical arguments, these often raise the debate to an issue of ethics and philosophy.

What are your thoughts?

  • Do journalists have an obligation to veil their personal opinions?
  • Does disclosure of bias help or hurt the traditional media, which are increasingly mistrusted based on the grounds of bias?
  • What does the historic journalistic ideal of objectivity mean in a world of the thin-and-growing-thinner division between professional and private life?

– Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her at @cmorgan