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Thought Leadership Marketing: You’re Doing it Wrong

First up, just to get it out of the way, I’m going to lay out my bona fides on this topic. In 2006 I started a specialist consulting firm with no funding and no partners in a new space that most people had never heard of: social media. I had no marketing budget and I needed clients. I (along with many of my peers at the time) used what is now called thought leadership marketing to create valuable content, raise our profiles and generate leads. The company I started with nothing in 2006 went on to employ dozens of people and deliver multimillion dollar annual revenues for over seven years because of the thinking we did and the ideas we shared.

Therefore, I think it’s fair to say I know something about thought leadership marketing.

Today I see large companies (including my own current employer, SAP) identifying the obvious value of earning attention by creating compelling, relevant content. The genius of thought leadership marketing is that by positioning yourself as a leader in that particular area, you can effectively “own” it as the expert brand with the best thinking, the best ideas and, of course, the best products or solutions. GE, as an example, has done this well with the Internet of Things.

So what are people doing wrong? Pretty much the same thing they did wrong with social media. What we in the industry referred to as “build it and they will come” – simply, creating elaborate new web communities (that mostly end up dying) instead of using simple platforms to publish your own thoughtful content and joining conversations that already exist.

I firmly believe this is a comfort zone thing – everyone knows how to build a website, but very few people feel at ease engaging in existing conversations and publicly expressing (and debating) their POV as a representative of their company. It’s also, truthfully, a digital agency business model thing: there’s lots of money to be made in website builds and buying media to drive traffic, much less in helping skilled client staff share their views online.

So what do firms need to stop doing? You need to stop building online thought leadership “hubs” or “communities” on new patches of real estate. Media companies, staffed entirely with content experts, struggle with creating compelling engagement on their existing online properties – brands that create net-new space in this model are mostly hopeless at it. (I also think brands tend to measure success with a very low bar. We should be comparing ourselves to media – that is, after all, our true competition for attention online.)

You need to start identifying your internal thought leaders and follow the model that has worked so many times in the past – get them writing, syndicate their content, get them speaking at conferences (where many industries are sorely under-represented), engaging as themselves online where the important conversations are already happening. Corporately, you can create valuable content and background material that adds to these conversations, and share it.

Yes, all of this is harder – but it actually works. Death to the thought leadership website – long live actual thought leadership.

The Shared Experience: Live TV and Social Media

 

Ruth is the Director of Business Development at Social Media Group. You can follow her @rutbas.

Our family recently moved into a new house. My husband was lobbying hard to “lose the cable”. It would have been cheaper, but I resisted. You never know what’s going to happen I said. I may have felt differently if we had a fancy new TV set… but I’m still working with the TV we got when we first set up house, way back in the 90’s, so I held firm. I just suspected that there would be times when only live TV would do.

These last few weeks have been such a time.

We have all have snuggled around the TV to discuss the merits of Presidential candidates, marvel at how vulnerable “life as we know it” is with the onslaught of Sandy, and generally counted on the cast of characters across all the networks to guide us through the build up to election night. I still love that CNN map. And did you see Letterman do his show on the night of Sandy? I found it hilarious, and poignant all at once. OK, granted, I saw it on YouTube after the fact (Check it out)… but I love that Letterman went live with the show.

And nothing beats seeing those election results come in live. Loved it when Peter Mansbridge held up cue cards because the “number machine” was acting up, and was presenting everything backwards…

Granted, at any one time, all of my family members supplement live television viewing with various devices. It was very entertaining to watch the last set of Presidential debates while following Twitter. I’d never done that before, and I get the appeal. When Sandy hit I could track power outages via the Toronto Hydro Web site on my phone, and feel very on top of things. But the main event for us was still on that little box in the living room.

While we continue to have our shared experience with respect to media, around the television screen, families like ours are supplementing the experience with those various tweets, posts and conversations that clearly expand the “shared experience” outside of the household. My husband got thousands of views for one of his election posts one night. Sometimes, it’s just weird. It’s like we’re having this shared experience, and publishing it to the world at the same time. Or something like that. I hardly know what to call the emerging model- but I suspect it’s the new normal.

Check out the info-graphic below,  ”TV Goes Social: The Rise of the Second Screen”  to see how radically our TV viewing habits are changing…  and integrating into the social media experience, whether watching the live version or canned version.

What has the experience in your household been in the last few weeks with regards to live TV viewing and social media?

 

The Joy Of Discovery: A Good Starting Point in Planning Social Media Strategy

Ruth Bastedo is Director, Business Development at Social Media Group. Follow @rutbas

I come across a lot of business owners and marketers who are wondering how to tackle social media. I spoke last week to a group of women business owners at the Go for The Greens Business Development Conference at Walt Disney World last week, and next week I’m talking to a group of SME’s at The Financial Executives International Conference, “Leading Economic Growth” next week in Toronto. What I hear, is that while most companies instinctively know that they need to address social media in some way, it is still hard to know where to start.

In the immediate term, social media may or may not have an important impact on your business. It’s when you start looking at long term trends, and at the deep impact that social media is having on our fundamental communications infrastructure, that you start realizing that love it or hate it, you cannot ignore potential depth of social media on the way your clients and customers are going to live in the future, and interact with your business.

This is the place to start. Take the time to figure out how social media could potentially impact your clients and customers, as they connect and interact with your brand, products and services. How can you leverage this social interaction to move your business objectives forward?

We call this process “Discovery”. During our Discovery sessions with clients, we go through a number of exercises to look at this problem from a variety of perspectives- but one of the exercises I love the most, is called an “environmental scan”, where we go look at how the future could impact the client’s business, from a variety of different perspectives (demographic, technological, regulatory etc.). Discovery has become a key part of our planning process.

A 2012 comScore report, “Canada Digital Future in Focus” states “Social is quickly moving from a supporting role to a key pillar in monetizing digital.” It sounds like a platitude, until you start looking at the numbers.

According to the research in the report, Canadians on the whole spend an average 45 hours of time online a month, and lead the world in online engagement. Time spent on social networking has now surpassed the time spent on any other category of activity online. If you look at younger demographics, the 18-24 age range, you can see the strongest surge of time spent on social media quarter over quarter. Viewers under 35 also account for 57% of all videos viewed online. Smart phone penetration has reached 45 percent of the Canadian market.  If you’re not familiar with the report, I urge you to download it, and take a quick browse through.

The pace of change is wild. As a business owner or marketer, where do you start?

At the moment, according to a recent US based survey on “Social Software and Big Data Analytics in Business” by Mzinga, Teradata Aster, and The Center for Complexity in Business on how companies are using social media, 64% of companies are using it for marketing/brand experience, 47% for customer experience/service/support, 39% for employee collaboration and 27% for sales.

Those areas are likely baseline areas to get right first, and to use as a starting point to develop meaningful measures of success, that map to your business, and to your strategic business objectives.

In the same survey, 77% of companies said that they currently DO NOT measure the ROI of their social media programs, and 49% say they are not using social media to its full potential.

We are all only at the very beginning of all this. Engage in the “Joy of Discovery”, to make a sensible and manageable start to tackling long term planning, and determe what measures of success are going to be right for the future of your business. It’s a challenge for all organizations to determine what level of investment in social media is appropriate, but the question is no longer a “should I”, but is moving to a “how should I”.

Social Media and the Small Business: Heaven or Hell? (…and 5 tips to make it easier to cope!)

Ruth Bastedo is Director, Business Development at Social Media Group. Follow @rutbas

Last week, I was up in the Muskoka region, which around these parts is affectionately known as “cottage country”, talking to a sold out group of women business owners in the region. The event was organized by the Mukoka YWCA’s Women in Business program, and the topic was “Strategies for Success”- based on an article I did last March for the Globe and Mail on women entrepreneurs, “Ten Strategies for Achieving Success as an Entrepreneur“.

It was a fabulous evening, and it was great to get to know the group of 60+ women business owners, all of whom were keenly looking for ways to build and market their businesses in a smaller community.

The talk was not on social media. It wasn’t really about marketing. It was about how business owners set goals for success and put together the support structure required to reach them- but “dealing with social media” turned out to be a hot topic. I am always struck in these types of situations by the love/hate relationship that small business owners have with digital marketing in general, and social media as a sub-section of that.

Digital marketing is a necessity for all small businesses. Period. You ignore it at your peril. But many, many business owners (and I would put myself in that bucket, in my time as a business owner) have a huge challenge finding the time, resources, workflow and strategy to make it truly effective. Let’s face it, it can be a grind. That’s the hell part. And then all you feel is guilt for ignoring what you know can be an incredibly powerful, game changing exercise.

BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Really. It can be heavenly.

It took me a long time to find my groove in the social media space, and I’ve been in digital communications for 15 years. This is hard stuff to get your head around, but if you tweak your approach, and find that magic combination of channels, content, tools and workflow. It can be very easy to execute, and incorporate into a daily routine. Once I hit that right combination, I started seeing results immediately. My social media world is aligned, and for now, does what I need it to do.

Looking at this task from an non-marketer’s perspective, here are 5 tips that I think would be of huge benefit to any small business owner, looking to get a handle on “this social media thing”, with a minimum amount of pain.

1. Access “Social Media 101” content. There’s a ton of it around. One recent post that I thought was a good solid, up to date overview of the major channels is “Social Media 101: Getting Started on the Top Social Networks”. Pick one or two as a starting point for your company. It’s likely going to be Twitter and Faceboook, for consumer oriented companies, and Twitter and LinkedIn for business oriented companies.

2. Determine your marketing objectives. Do you want sales leads? Brand awareness? Do you want to reach out to your customers, and get them to refer other customers to you? Is your marketing effort local, regional or national? It could even be international. Be clear on what you’d like to get out of this time you invest in social media. How can social media integrate or support what you are already doing on the marketing front. Look at models out there that reflect your objectives.

3. Be clear about your target audience. Who are these people? What information is going to be most relevant to them? How are they going to use and engage in social media? In order to engage with your audience in a meaningful way, try making a list of all the ways your content can add value to their lives. This list should guide you in developing value add content.

4. Develop what we call a “content strategy”. This is developing a mechanism to create, curate, source or simply pass on content that is going to be relevant to your clients and customers. People are more likely to “follow” you if you are providing thoughtful content that is going to add value to them. You have to figure out where to find this content, and how often you are going to “share” it with them. Quite often, we develop “editorial” or “conversation” calendars ahead of time, so you know what themes you are going to focus on every week. Download the Social Media Group White Paper on Content Marketing for a good introduction.

5. Find a tool that works for you. There are lots out there, but a good tool makes all the difference in the world. A couple of months ago, I started using a tool from a local company called Get Elevate, which makes it easy to find content, curate it, and send it out via Twitter. There are some good lists out there- here’s the type of thing you should be looking for: 50 Mostly Free Social Media Tools You Can’t Live Without in 2012. Find something that you find intuitive, and easy for you and your staff to use, and that lines up to your marketing objectives.

As a small business, keep your scope small and focused, and before diving in, be clear on what you want to achieve with your social media investment. Test as you go… at least for the first little while. Get help if you have to, professional or otherwise- but social media can be a very valuable part of any marketing plan, but you have to at some point, just start somewhere.

Connecting Customer Service and Social Media

Ruth Bastedo is Director, Business Development at Social Media Group. Follow @rutbas

This week I was at a talk by Howard Grosfield, the President of Amex Bank of Canada at the Toronto Board of Trade. I was really impressed by how Amex considers social media to be an intrinsic part of future of the customer experience. Grosfield emphasized again and again how important it is for Amex to have customers willfully and actively promote American Express, especially through social media. It goes without saying that in order to encourage this type of advocacy, the quality of the customer service experience is of paramount importance.

You can get a taste of Mr. Grosfield’s take on the importance of customer service to Amex by taking a peek at an excerpt from another talk he recently did at Rotman School of Management, “Selling Service: Building a Brand on the Foundations of Service and the Customer Experience”.

The talk got me thinking about link between customer experience and social media. I revisited discussions in the LinkedIn Group “Customer Experience Management”, to see how much talk there was on the social media front. Social Media is clearly popping up as a factor that is being examined more closely by many companies.

On the SMG front, increasingly our clients are interested in integrating social channels into their customer’s experiences, and moreover, they are interested in providing value add content that supports these experiences in a  more holistic and cohesive manner.

For an overview of the space, I urge you to take a look at this great set of info-graphics, “The 10 Best Customer Service Infographics for 2012” sourced by one of the LinkedIn group members. It’s a really excellent perspective of what’s happening out there, and gives lots of food for thought.

This is a taste of the content below. Enjoy!!

 

Support Gets Social

 

 

 

Opt-in Email Offers Consumers Consent and Value

Leona Hobbs is Vice President & Partner at Social Media Group. Follow @flackadelic

Email remains a killer app. Despite working on the cutting edge of social media and integrated digital marketing we frequently find ourselves considering the role of email. Given the coming revolution in mobile advertising, permission figures prominently in our thinking about the best way forward for our clients as they seek to earn attention and engage (and re-engage) customers.

Yesterday’s feature release from eMarketer: Opt-In Email Offers a Lesson in Loyalty Creation highlights research conducted by eMarketer analysts.

eMarketer chart

From the article:

Internet users’ favorable feelings towards email advertising stem largely from marketers contacting only those recipients who have granted them permission to do so, as well as from the personalization and relevancy common to such messages. Those efforts leave consumers with a greater sense of control over their relationship with a brand and a perception of having gotten reciprocal value from the interaction. Savvy marketers are applying that lesson to their other principal digital touchpoints—brand websites, social media and mobile—in order to more effectively reach customers and further encourage loyalty across channels.

“Generally speaking, neither brands nor customers want to connect through a single channel,” said Hallerman. “Proliferation [of digital touchpoints] has created both opportunity and complexity for marketers, who face challenges figuring out how and when to communicate with customers … Consumer acceptance of opt-in email exemplifies what happens when brands offer [consumers] … control.”

Read more on eMarketer and check out the full report: The Lessons of Email: Using Digital Touchpoints for Customer Loyalty (subscription required).

 

Let's Stop Saying Viral

Michelle McCudden is a Manager on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group.

On Friday February 17th, SMG participated in Social Media Week Toronto by hosting an Ignite-inspired event, with each speaker given five minutes to speak on their topic. I delivered a talk entitled “Let’s Stop Saying Viral” and you can watch the video here:

We had a great time, but five minutes goes by really, really quickly. (As an added challenge, I could probably discuss my distaste for the term “viral” for hours on end.) So, as my colleague Cam Finlayson did yesterday, I wanted to take some time here in the blog to follow up on a few points and dig a little deeper.

Much of my thinking around the idea of viral content is covered by the excellent series “If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead”by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, and Ana Domb Krauskopf, with Joshua Green which I would highly recommend for a nuanced take on the issue. In short, “virality” is a weak metaphor for how content is actually shared, because it downplays the role of the user—the person who will actually choose to share it with their networks. It’s preferable, the authors argue to think about content as “spreadable” instead:

“A spreadable model emphasizes the activity of consumers …in shaping the circulation of media content, often expanding potential meanings and opening up brands to unanticipated new markets.”

Let’s look at a recent example of a piece of content that has been incredibly popular over the last month (in fact, you’re probably sick of it already):

 

The “What People Think I Do/What I Actually Do” meme’s first appearance was as a photo on artist Garnet Hertz’s Facebook page on February 2, 2012, according to knowyourmeme.com. The original version, depicting the profession of “contemporary artist” received only a handful of comments and just over one hundred likes, but 5,124 shares (for reference, Hertz has about one thousand Facebook friends).

From there, this concept was shared and repurposed quickly and widely. It’s hard to say for sure how many times it’s been shared, but it’s garnered coverage on Mashable, Gawker, and PCMag for its ubiquity. There’s also at least 20 Pinterest boards dedicated to collecting examples. It’s fair to say that most would say this meme went “viral,” or as I would argue, was highly shareable.

However, Jenkins et al. argue: “Content is spread based not on an individual evaluation of worth, but on a perceived social value within community or group. Not all good content is good for sharing.” So what made this meme so shareable?

Let’s look to this meme using the key qualities of shareable content from their article:

  • It expresses something about the user or their community. Because it’s easy to modify (source a few pre-existing images, type simple text on a black screen, and ta-da—you’re done!), this content is almost infinitely adaptable.  Versions have been created for professions as niche as Laptop DJAnalyst Relations,and Keyboard Player. Whatever your job, whatever your community, there’s either an existing take on it, or it’s incredibly easy to make your own.
  • The message serves a valued social function. There’s a clear social value inherent in this meme. By sharing it to with colleagues or those who work in a similar industry, users are able to provide something that is intended to be humorous, relevant, and resonant. By sharing with those outside of one’s own profession, there’s an opportunity to comment on how they might perceive your job.
  • The content gives expressive form to some deeply held perception or feeling about the world. What I Do/What People Think I Do allows users to demonstrate how they believe their job is perceived by others, and society at large. It’s a commentary on the perceived worth of a given profession.
  • Individual responses to the content helps users determine who does or does not belong in their community. In sharing this meme, users are providing a piece of content for others in their networks to converse around. If for example, someone posted a version specific to their profession to their Facebook wall, what might they expect? Some, particularly those with similar jobs, may express their agreement or amusement with the content in the form of a like or comment. Alternatively, there’s an opportunity to critique or disagree with the meme’s depiction, or ignore it all together. These responses will help the original poster to learn about their social network.

What People Think I Do/What I Really Do clearly embodies the qualities of spreadable piece of content. Looking at others that have blown up recently (I’m looking at you, Sh*t People Say), I would expect to find much of the same. What’s your take? Can we please move away from viral as a model for how content is shared?

Big Data and the Perception of Privacy

Cam Finlayson is a Director on the Client Strategy & Innovation team at Social Media Group.

On Feb 17, 2012, I had the pleasure of participating in SMG’s Ignite-style Social Media Week Toronto Event.  The Ignite presentation format itself was a fun challenge, although what was most memorable for me were the conversations that took place after the six presentations.

My session focused primarily on privacy concerns and the future of social data. Based on the dialog after the event, it become clear that this topic was very much top of mind for many of the attendees. Interestingly, there were related articles published in the New York Times the weekend before SMW 2012 on Big Data and a second the following weekend highlighting Target’s use of personal information . These along with the recent changes to the Google Privacy settings likely provided much fuel for discussion. What follows are three of my favourite discussion points during this post-presentation dialog.

Volunteered Data & The Value Exchange

It is my belief that the privacy debate is an extremely complex issue and it will take some time to settle. That said, public option regarding ‘volunteered data’, or willing contributed information (Twitter posts, Facebook comments, etc.), is relatively straightforward. It is generally understood that in situations where there is a clear value exchange of a service for data or personal information, this is part of the social contract of using digital tools. In other words, in exchange for the use of a free service like Facebook or Google there are terms that outline privacy and ownership considerations. It is also understood that the value of this information to companies like Facebook or Google is that it provides valuable user intelligence that can be leveraged as part of their advertising offering.

Observed Data & Consumer Profiling

In comparison, the world of ‘observed data’, or the breadcrumbs of information we leave behind as we conduct our day-to-day digital lives, is an entirely different story. In many ways, this is the new Wild West of data with very few rules and many trailblazers. For example, corporations that are developing innovative techniques in data analysis are seeing huge benefits. That said, as public awareness increases these innovative practices are put into question.

A perfect example of this is found in the recent New York Times article on Target . Many readers were alarmed by the accuracy of Target’s customer profiling via data refinement. The fact that the company could anticipate major life milestones (like upcoming pregnancy) based on changes in buying habits (increase of body lotion consumption and a switch to unscented) is too much ‘Big Brother’ for some. However, for corporations and marketers alike, the ability to predict these milestones creates an attractive opportunity to generate consumer brand loyalty by marketing to an impressionable consumer at a time when they’re experiencing major change of habits.

Data As An Owned Asset Versus The Concept of Open Data

As we look to the future, arguments regarding data ownership run the gamut. However, most agree that data has become its own asset class that will continue to increase in value in the years to come. There are some that feel all personal data is the property of the individual and, as such, in the future we will be able to decide how this information is used.  Whereas, in contrast, many feel that our ‘digital exhaust’ is simply open information that is legitimately free game for those that have the means to refine it.

Looking to the Future

We live in a day and age where sharing personal information is part and parcel with how we conduct our digital lives. This exchange is so intertwined with our digital existence that for younger generations it is becoming an afterthought.

The decisions that are made now regarding ownership and use of personal data will lay the groundwork for digital information platforms. And here’s a reality check: Gone are the days for fretting over whether or not information is collected. The focus now needs to be on how personal information can be used and ultimately who dictates the terms.

If you missed the SMG Social Media Week event you can see all of the presentations here. My presentation on Big Data and social good can be found below:

 

 

 

 

February Speaking Engagements

SMG speakers will be coming to a city near you! Throughout the month of February, three members of the SMG team will be speaking at events across North America, check out if they will be coming to you:

Google+ PR Summit

February 14, 2012, Las Vegas, NV
Tactics and strategies for engaging customers, clients and the public on the newest social network.
Speaker: Maggie Fox, register online here

SAP Global Marketing Social Media Week Event

February 15, 2012, Palo Alto, California
Discussing The Great Content Disruption: How Content Marketing is Changing Everything
Speaker: Maggie Fox, register online here

The Changing Face of Research and Implications for Marketers: You’re not in an interview anymore, Dorothy.

February 16, 2012, Toronto
Discussing advances in our understanding of behaviour and decision making, how insights are collected in a fully digitized world and new tools and opportunities. A must for those looking to understand narratology, gamification and how to leverage online advocacy!
Speaker: Patrick Gladney, register online here

5th Annual Social Media Marketing (Open Dialogue)

February 22-23, 2012, Toronto
Discussing Social Marketing to Business vs. Consumer Audiences: What’s the Difference?
Speaker: Ruth Bastedo, register online here

Is Twitter the New Help Line? Improving Customer Service with Social Media (Webinar)

Join Maggie Fox next Tuesday February 14th at 12pm EST / 9am PST, as she hosts an exclusive, live webinar from Social Media Today on Is Twitter the New Help Line? Improving Customer Service with Social Media.

More companies now are monitoring Twitter and other online social channels and responding in real-time – often within hours or even minutes. They know the power of social media and the capability of bad news to spread like wildfire. They also recognize the opportunity to influence the message by jumping into a conversation sooner rather than later.

Join this panel to examine:

  • Why social media and customer service are made for one another
  • How your company can jump into social monitoring
  • Notable corporate social media gaffes and what was learned from them
  • Best practices for companies actively engaging customers online
  • The cost-effectiveness of social media monitoring and immediate response as customer service tools

Register online, here

 

 

 

Movember – The Stachy Stache agenda in social

Movember, the “scratchy stash” season is nearing an end.  I for one am delighted by this annual expression of manliness.  I love seeing men walking around looking “unfinished” (my description for men sporting the rugged look) for a great cause.  I hear the process of growing a moustache can be quite painful, scratchy, itchy, gross and awkward – so kudos to all those who are powering through these “challenges” to create awareness and raise support for prostate cancer.

Social Media has served as a vital channel to generate both awareness and funds for this cause.  An untold number of males are using social media to express themselves and spread the word.  Moustached males adorn avatars and Mo Galleries are popping up everywhere. Now,  NHL players have joined the party and even  Justin Bieber is rocking a bieberstache too.

Movember is now a global discussion. Three years ago social mentions about the initiative were only across 23 countries – in 2011, we have about 100 countries engaging their followers and friends about Movember.  Our contribution to a recent article on the National Post’s “Enthusiasm for Movember Sprouts in Canada” covers some of the social statistics of the cause.

According to the article on the National Post social media has played a significant role in the fundraising efforts with more than $40-million in donations last year coming through email, while another $6.7-million came through Facebook links and almost $140,000 by way of Twitter.  Social media is definitely adding value to this grassroots movement.

Happy Stachy Mo Funs!