Archive for “June, 2009”

FTC Challenges Online Marketing Methods

The self-regulating word-of-mouth marketing that happens online may soon change thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC believes that since consumers are increasingly turning to blogs for goods and services advice, the people giving the advice need to be held to the same set of standards as traditional marketers. This means bloggers will have to disclose all sponsored posts or they will be subject to an FTC investigation. In order to achieve this, the FTC has proposed revisions to its Guide Concerning the Use of Endorsement and Testimonials in Advertising report, which hasn’t been amended since 1980. A final copy of the report is expected to be released later this summer. This will be the first time the FTC has ever tried to patrol blogs.

As members in good standing, SMG aligns itself with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) code of ethics, so therefore our client services will not be affected. As members of WOMMA, we are committed to best practices in the ethical conduct of word of mouth marketing. Its Ethical Code of Conduct “helps define best practices, unacceptable practices and baseline rules for word of mouth marketing.” There are six main principles of this Code.

  1. Consumer protection and respect are paramount
  2. Honesty of ROI: Honesty of Relationship, Opinion, and Identity
  3. Respect the rules of the venue
  4. Manage relationships with minors responsibly
  5. Promote honest downstream communications
  6. Protect privacy and permission

We build transparent, genuine relationships with our clients and online influencers. When you try to build relationships using dishonest, unethical methods, you risk a lot more than investigation by the FTC, you risk alienating your customers and a significant brand reputation hit. Remember the kid’s game, Telephone? In the game you would always find three different types of people: those who are loyal to the message, those who are loyal to the messenger and those who are loyal to themselves. When conducting word of mouth marketing, or making an online endorsement, always know where your loyalty lies…and stick to it.

Digital Crisis Communications – what matters

Newsflash: you no longer have 12, 24 or 48 hours to craft a response to a crisis. #AmazonFAIL took less than 40 hours to go from initial blog post to the print edition of the WSJ.

In the “olden days” (which is when the structure of most Communications departments was configured) you did have time. You bought time as the reporter researched the story, the facts were checked, the copy edited, the plates made, the printing presses started, the newspapers trimmed and folded, loaded on trucks and delivered to your door. You literally had 12 to 48 hours. At least.

Now? Your big, bad news is 140 characters away from becoming public (seconds) or perhaps a blog post away (30 minutes, or the time it takes to write a coherent email).

Can you craft an adequate response to an issue in that timeframe? Can you call up all your stakeholders and put something together that is accurate and meaningful? That addresses the issue? Not likely. And, as I posted about #AmazonFAIL, that will not change. You still need time to craft your message. But the point is, you don’t always have to have a message crafted in order to start responding.

We’ve had a fair bit of experience with large-scale digital crisis communications in our work with Ford Motor Company, among others, over the last few years. Here are some things we’ve observed:

1. You don’t have to have all the answers. But you DO have to have social media channels to let people know that you’re looking into it, and keep them informed of your progress as you work through what’s really going on. Depending on the issue, that in itself can start to calm things down (if you are credible). In one SMG client example, a very large retailer made a significant change for which they were being roundly criticized on Twitter. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a Twitter account. They do now – and use it to respond to issues like this as well as customer complaints. As you’d expect, it’s become a wonderful “early warning” system that has now been integrated into the Communications department workflow.

2. You don’t need to respond to everyone. Shock! Horror! It’s true – not everyone has equal influence, and not everyone’s opinion needs responding to. When you’re dealing with something on the scale of, let’s say, the Automotive Industry Congressional Hearings (for which we ran an aggressive story correction/digital crisis response plan for Ford) the sheer volume of posts means you can’t (and don’t need to) respond to everything. Pick a natural cutoff and work up from there. It’s also really important that your efforts are integrated with MSM crisis communications – the wide distribution of misinformation in a wire story, for example, can trigger hundreds of blog posts that need correction. Look for the hubs of content, both MSM and digital, and ensure you respond there first, otherwise you’re playing Internet Whack-A-Mole, which is very time consuming and hard to get in front of.

3. Social media doesn’t always matter. Again – Shock! Horror! I’ve posted about this before – and I’ll post about it again. Unless an issue makes the transition to a mainstream media or digital platform with a massive audience – it will not gain widespread traction in a short period of time. Numbers on most platforms are too small (if you think your Twitter audience is 30 million, then the number of people who read this blog is about 197 million – that’s how many people are on the Internet in North America). In contrast, a single segment on the ABC World News reaches about 7.5 million people. I’m not saying that TV and Twitter have similar “quality of attention”, but that gives you some context in terms of pure number of eyeballs and reach.

#AmazonFAIL and the Domino’s issues both hit mainstream media. This happened because both were also viral events – that sharing is what pushed the volume to the point where MSM journalists, many of whom regularly troll social media communities for scoops – picked up on them. They also would have been significant stories last week, next month or next year – both were very serious.

4. Mainstream media are dramatically inflating digital crises. Two recent examples of this: Motrin Moms and Starbucks #top3percent. In both cases, ultimately the story was that Someone! On the Internet! Was Saying Something Bad! In six months I guarantee we’ll see less MSM coverage of issues like this because the “company screwed up in social media” story will be old news. If the issue is real, it will build for a considerable time online, and really, if you’re on the ball – you’ll know about it before it becomes a real problem. Also? I’m not sure that Motrin Moms had any effect on the sales of Motrin whatsoever (which is the real test of how damaging an issue is), unlike the Domino’s crisis, which had a big impact (and we can all understand why). Proof to the contrary very welcome!

In conclusion: really serious brand-damaging issues need a wider audience to have an effect in the very short term. Social media simply bubbles them up.

If you’d like to find out more about what a good digital crisis communications plan looks like, Leona Hobbs, SMG’s Director of Communications, will be running workshops on how to prepare a Digital Crisis Communications Plan at the Social Media for Government Conference in Ottawa September 29th-October 2nd, 2009 and the Crisis Communications for Government conference being held in Washington, DC later in 2009.

Can we please stop the Social Media ROI discussion already?

Everyone knows that before Social Media can be integrated into the DNA of the business world we have to deal with the ROI question.  It seems as though the search for the holy grail of Social Media ROI has been going on forever  (including a post on this blog almost two years ago) and yet we are no closer to reaching consensus. The conversation is being generated by some of the smartest people in the business and it ranges from simple formulas to complex templates, from “hard to measure” to “must be related to a dollars“.  Unfortunately I have no brilliant insights to add other than to suggest that if we haven’t figured it out by now then the magic bullet probably doesn’t exist. The CEO at my previous gig used to say that the only reason he would spend a dollar on I.T was if it either increased revenue, decreased costs or improved communication. I know social media is not I.T but my point is that every client has their own idea of value and we should align our ROI discussion with whatever that may be.

I’ve always had a strange sense of deja vu about this conversation and when this post popped into my reader it all came flooding back. I HAVE seen and lived through this before. Fifteen years ago I got into Business Intelligence when slick sales people were running around selling even slicker dashboards with lots of blinky lights. Then, as now, there were a small percentage of evangelists who were passionate about it and the ROI discussion was rampant even though we didn’t have the social networks to amplify the discussion. Unlike social media, a BI project would typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and management’s response was usually…”for a report?”.

As the BI world continued the search for the ROI magic bullet the technology was slowly evolving. The early adopters were able to learn from their mistakes.  Reporting, no matter how slick, was just a look back at what we did last week/month/year and by the time it was produced the client usually already knew what the results were. We learned that the real value was in producing information that was current, accurate, relevant, timely and most important , actionable. As the information started driving business critical decisions the timelines started shrinking and vendors started looking at real-time BI. My last project integrated real-time queries into an automated process and drove decisions based on pre-defined thresholds. The value of BI had been proven beyond doubt, the ROI discussion has been put to rest forever at this company.

At the end of the day we never did find the magic formula for ROI but instead were able to deflect the debate by focusing on adding the value the business was looking for. At my previous job it took eight years, for me personally it took thirteen. I don’t believe social media is dead, I believe it’s still evolving and if we look back and learn from the BI experience we shouldn’t have to wait thirteen years for maturity. So what are the lessons we should take from BI? These are the three that I think are most relevant to social media.

  1. always focus on adding value. ROI is about efficiency and if business sees the value, they’ll find a way to achieve the efficiency.
  2. listen to your clients, they may not always “get” social media, but they know what their business needs
  3. measure, analyze, plan, execute, repeat daily/weekly/monthly or as often as you can afford

The final word on social media ROI belongs to the clients, not the consultants. So while social media is not dead, could we please put an end to the social media ROI debate?

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo… There are Better Ways to Select a Partner

I joined Social Media Group last month as the Account Director, I’m a “seasoned” (but not too seasoned) interactive marketing-communications professional with nine years of online experience. I’m writing this as a public service having been exposed to many agencies, vendors in the past.

We all know there’s no shortage of companies wanting to sell consulting services.

These organizations claim to have different skill sets, specialties, and successes. It’s not always easy to discern the differences and for a client who wants the cream of the crop, the decision can be especially daunting. It’s important that certain criteria be assessed, here are 5 indicators that will help identify a competent agency.

1    Investigate Their Track Record
Deconstruct the senior management team individually. Do they have a wide range of expertise? Where did they come from and what’s their industry reputation. These are often over-looked criteria but these factors will drive the innovation and direction of the organization. It’s important to be aware of previous roles, successes and any other work they have been responsible for within your vertical.

2    Check For A Backbone
Moving from consulting to service deployment, a strong process and methodology is the backbone of any successful interactive agency. An organization that invests in developing a well-defined methodology for implementing a program will be more likely to deliver successfully – on-time and on-budget. Look for a company that’s willing to be transparent about the way they work.

3    Look For Balance
Big ideas are great, but back to the previous point, if the company isn’t able to bring them to fruition they will fall flat before they can succeed. It’s essential that a great strategy can be transformed into tangible execution seamlessly within a single organization.

4    Make Sure They’re In The Know
A competitive shop needs to stay current and on the cutting edge of the latest strategies, tactics and winning technologies. The digital space changes daily and a company that doesn’t invest in their own knowledge may not deliver a forward-thinking campaign. In the digital landscape, innovation is essential. Make sure to partner up with a pioneer.

5    Demand An Education
A good agency will spend time teaching their clients about the online space, their strategies and chosen technologies. While some clients will only digest this information in varying degrees, an understanding of the medium will allow a client to be a more active participant in the process.  More importantly, clients should understand what they’re paying for.

Don’t be afraid to kick the tires and ask plenty of questions when selecting an agency. The right choice can lead to a long-term partnership and plenty of success.  Remember these guidelines and don’t get sidetracked by less important details.

Report from Social Mastermind // Social Media for Social Change

As I wrote yesterday, Rob and I participated in the Social Mastermind // Social Media for Social Change event as part of Net Change week. I think we both had a remarkable experience.

The day saw us arrive and be assigned to consult with a non-profit. Rob worked with the Toronto Arts Council, a group that provides funding to support the development, accessibility and excellence of the arts in Toronto. I was matched with Meal Exchange, a national charity that mobilizes youth leaders to help eliminate the root causes of hunger and poverty. Here’s a short video the folks at Meal Exchange put together for their 10th anniversary earlier this spring. Both Rob and I were really impressed and inspired by the work our clients are doing.

First on the agenda was to take a briefing from our new clients (for the day) on their organization including their current web, marketing, communications and social media activities. We also learned about their structure, budget and target audiences.

Then we began the process of focused brainstorming to generate ideas and help bring together the various components of a strategy. Rob and I were both lucky to be in a position to reach out to colleagues back at SMG WHQ for help and support with research.

Some key things stood out:

  • We are so fortunate to be working in this emerging field of social media and digital communications. It is incredible to be able to take the experience and perspective we have from working with our phenomenal clients and apply that knowledge to help these deserving organizations.
  • It was very apparent that these organizations operate incredibly efficiently on small budgets. And while social media tools are free, the time investment to use them effectively is costly. The non-profit groups have little capacity for experimentation, so aligning our recommendations to suit their situations was key.
  • Networks are so powerful. As I was working away with Dave from Meal Exchange and Parm from Humber College, I was able to reach out to someone in my network and establish a connection that might help make one of their annual events better. Aside from providing strategic counsel for digital communications, that kind of immediate response from people in my network just goes to show the kind of capacity there is in our communities to give back.

Giving back at Social Mastermind // Social Media for Social Change

Today, Rob and I are taking part in Social Mastermind // Social Media for Social Change at Net Change Week.

Our challenge as participants – work with a non-profit organization to develop an executable social media strategy that the charity can implement in a day. We’re going in “cold” – we don’t know who we’ll be helping. It feels a bit strange not to be doing advance preparation work ahead of time.

Everyone at SMG thinks this is an incredible opportunity to give back. While helping a charity in need, we know we’ll come away from this experience with new perspectives on the application of social media to educate and inform, make connections, build community and raise funds.

I’ll be back with an update tomorrow about our adventures at Social Mastermind // Social Media for Social Change.

Social Media Group now working with Parks Canada

Parks Canada manages, protects and educates about Canada’s natural and cultural heritage treasures and SMG is thrilled to announce that we have been selected to assist in managing their brand in the dynamic world of social media.

Working with their new media team, SMG will provide a comprehensive suite of services to help Parks Canada bring some of Canada’s most significant National Parks, National Heritage Sites and Marine Conversation areas to all Canadians.

SMG is honoured and privledged to be working with the Canadian Goverment on some of Canada’s most precious natural and cultural resources.

Interesting Fact: Parks Canada is directly responsible for the management of approximately 2.2% of Canada’s landmass, which is approximately 219,662 square kilometres.

Finding Patterns in Noise: Listening to the Mob

Earlier this month, to paraphrase Mr. Kenobi, a million @replies cried out and were suddenly silenced. By now, much has already been written about the #fixreplies fiasco, but what I haven’t seen is any analysis on how the mobs were gathered, and when and where the pitchforks and torches of the masses wound their way through the conversation. Indeed, upon closer inspection, it seems a large proportion of the mob was unarmed.

First, the numbers:

In the first 26 hours of the uprising, there were 20,463 tweets with the #fixreplies hashtag from 15,423 people. Not a huge number, considering twitter’s userbase is estimated somewhere in the tens of millions. However, another recent twitter blowup, #amazonfail, reached only 14,162 tweeters in the first 26 hours, so perhaps that mass is more critical than the overall percentage would suggest.

But what do we define as conversation? For starters, consider the retweet ratio: 11,027 retweets vs. 9,445 tweets. Over half of the overall conversation is an echo. In fact, at 5am, when #fixreplies was 6 hours old, retweets peaked at roughly 65% of the hourly conversation, and sustained that level for another 5 hours. For those five hours, the echo was twice as loud as the original content. And like any echo, it lost strength over time. After that 5 hour stretch, retweets fell to 40% of the hourly total, jumped to 60% the following hour, but fell towards 30% over the next several hours.

Perhaps more telling, 8,682 of the individuals involved were ONLY retweeting the content of others. To return to the earlier metaphor, over half of our agrarian uprising left their pitchforks at home and were sharing with the other half. Still an impressive sight, but somewhat less deadly.

The norm?

So is twitter really the echo chamber it appears to be? Looking again at #amazonfail, we see an echo in full effect. For each of the first 6 hours of #amazonfail, retweets averaged 40% of the hourly content. After that, RTs slid to 30%, bounced back to 40% and then declined to around 20% of the hourly total. But unlike #fixreplies, this mob is more diverse in its methods. Rather than the domination of aggregators over creators, the opposite is true with #amazonfail, with roughly half of the tweeters involved tweeting only new content, and another 37% tweeting mixed (RT & original) content.

So what?

The mobs still arose, the respective brands were still torched in the town square, and they’ll still be fodder for hundreds of “what not to do” conference sessions. Can we sift anything new from the ashes? Sure.

  • Take a good hard look at how your audience is speaking before wading into an issue.
    After twitter posted a compromise position on their blog, the retweets began to die down, taking the overall volume down several notches in the process. If you can appease the aggregators, the voice of the content creators is blunted. Without the echo, the voice doesn’t carry as far.
  • Personal and complex issues breed personal and complex responses.
    With #amazonfail, the issues involved were both highly personal and highly complex. To properly explain a position, a tailored response was necessary, and agreement was shown through the @reply more often than the retweet. With a focused campaign such as #fixreplies with one clear goal, the retweet was a simple tool for a simple job. In a campaign such as this, the response is much, much easier to tailor – provided the communicators on the receiving end are listening.
  • Users at the higher end of the follower spectrum play key roles toward the outset of an issue.
    The initial conversation spikes in each issue showed a dominance toward these super-users, with a corresponding ripple focused among the middle of the road users a few hours later. More study is warranted, but it stands to reason that if the super-users can be addressed early enough to avoid the initial spike with even a “we’re working on it” message, a situation may be defused before a tweetstorm level event kicks in.

Of course, early warning is key to staying ahead of a storm, but in the event you are caught out, analysis of the situation is key before acting. It’s best to at least look out the window before sticking your head out in the rain.

Professional Associations Need to get Linked In to Survive

handshake 1 via oooh.oooh
handshake 1 via oooh.oooh

Belonging to a professional association can be a valuable experience. I belong to two professional associations, which I believe have helped me develop a vibrant, fulfilling career.

Despite this, I often wonder if technology will eliminate some of the membership advantages or perhaps even eliminate the need for having professional associations at all.

One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is wasting time. So if technology gives me the ability to network in a fraction of the time it would take offline, why wouldn’t I incorporate it into my daily routine?

If professional associations are going to survive in the era of social networks, they will have to adapt to suit the needs of the members. Most organizations have recognized this need and have incorporated online newsletters and webinars. These are great for professional development, but what about the actual networking? How can professional associations use social networks to provide their members with a place to connect and build relationships at their own convenience?

By offering an interactive place for members to build profiles, promote their businesses, upload resumes and get involved in discussions, professional associations will fulfill their networking mandate in a fraction of the time – and cost. If they fail to do so, people will turn to creating their own communities online by using free or affordable tools like LinkedIn, Ning, and

Unfortunately, social media doesn’t follow the old saying “if you build it, they will come.” In order for professional associations to be successful using these tools, they require community managers to facilitate discussions and engage in conversations. By keeping information fresh and engaging people in conversations, you will have a better chance at getting people to revisit the site. Once a online community is developed, it can complement in-person events and other programs that are being run by the professional association. But, most importantly, they have the potential to give professionals a place to network in their own home, on their own terms, and in their own spare time.