Is Social Media for You?

First of all, let me say that I’m very pleased to be teamed up with Chuck in launching Fresh Ground Communications, which we created to provide social media-savvy strategic marketing and PR services to businesses. We help both social media skeptics and enthusiasts keep their communications programs focused on creating and growing business opportunities, and I’m looking forward to many conversations about building relationships from the ground up with your key stakeholders and influencers.

I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to attend the Inbound Marketing Summit 2009 in Boston, held for the second year at Gillette Stadium (go Pats!). I went in to the event yesterday expecting the sessions to be all about measurement and ROI, which seems to be on everybody’s mind lately when it comes to social media. I was disappointed at first — I found a great deal of the typical PR and social media guru bashing, as well as the same old hollow enthusiasm for blind adoption of social media. But as the event progressed, there were glimpses of what I like to call social media responsibility.

Social Media Responsibility
If you’re going to engage your audiences through social media, you need to do it responsibly. There are a few principles of social media responsibility that I’d like to share with you:

  1. Social media isn’t for everyone, but it is probably right for you. I’ll be the first one to admit that not everybody needs to be tweeting and checking Facebook every few minutes. But I encourage social media skeptics to pick a social platform and try it: engage its community in a discussion about social media. Some of the most effective and interesting users of social media are the very ones who were skeptical — or are still skeptical — of the very platforms they’re using. There are a lot of social media enthusiasts who are getting sick of listening to the same old echo chamber messages, and who are looking for a fresh new perspective on things.
  2. Social media success is about more than just marketing. This was the whole idea when I launched my own blog at http://morethanmarketing.net: if you’re looking at social media as a marketing activity, you’re not just missing the big picture, you’re putting your company at risk. Why? Speakers at #IMS09 gave several examples of the dangers of throwing marketing staffers on Twitter and other platforms, but not empowering them to actually solve problems. You need to tie in the product development and customer support teams at the very least, or you risk alienating your customer base.
  3. Social media is about change management. It’s really about changing the way you do business. There are very few companies that can get away with the old school “we can control the message” communications model (Apple comes to mind). Integrating social media across the many customer touchpoints (not just the website and phone system, but every single employee of your company) requires a new way of thinking about your business.
  4. Social media success comes from the top-down and the bottom-up. A really enthusiastic CEO / CMO / marketing executive cannot lead an organization to social media success alone; conversely, really enthusiastic team members cannot create social media success without executive buy-in. You need both in order to enact the changes required for social media to help your company succeed.
  5. It’s not about social media success for your business, it’s about business success through social media. You just passed the 5,000 Twitter follower mark. Congratulations. But, what does that mean for your bottom line? Can you demonstrate that social media is leading to business growth? If not, why are you engaging in social media? Social media for social media’s sake is a dead-end street.

Without an understanding of these principles, you are not tweeting or facebooking responsibly. I am very happy to see these concepts well-represented at the IMS conference. I’ll share a few more thoughts with you coming out of IMS over the next few days.

Asking the Right Questions about PR

Mark Rose is asking all the right questions. In his post on the recently launched Google Sidewiki, he asks:

  1. What’s your social media PR strategy?
  2. What’s your Wiki strategy (Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Google Sidewiki)?
  3. What is your social media news creation and delivery mechanism?

He goes on to point out how PR is no longer about getting coverage and is, instead, about “How do we impact our audience through our own media?”

Exactly!

That point came up, albeit obliquely, during the PR panel at the recent Web Innovation Night in Boston. I’m not going rehash it all here (you can read several good posts on the topic) but anyone trying to market their organization or product, especially those in the entrepreneurial realm, needs to look beyond coverage and take a hard look at their assets.

  • Do we have a passionate spokesperson who can produce content?
  • What channel is best for reaching our audience?
  • How do we access those channels and become involved in conversations?

This isn’t to dismiss the importance of media relations. It is certainly an important part of any outreach program, though here at Fresh Ground we include media relations under the heading of “influencer relations,” as the tactical implementation of reaching out and setting up briefings is the same whether it’s a journalist, blogger, analyst or any other individual who has broad influence.

But for most companies, the days of paying a big retainer just to try to get in the press on a regular basis is over. The ecosystem of media that existed to support this idea has changed drastically, leaving companies with a need to shift how they approach their PR.

Turning Social Media into Topical Media

I started a Facebook page. Suddenly I had friend requests from three dozen people I had not seen in years, among them relatives living on other continents. It was great to see everyone again. There I was in my home office late one weekend evening, having a little reunion with people from my past. Then the gloss wore off when someone IM’d me and we had nothing to say to each other. Awkward moment… how do you end that conversation? Fortunately, I had to put my son to bed. Well, um… nice chatting. IM you again sometime.

I went back to my Facebook wall the following day. I learned that one friend was taking a shower at that very moment, and one would be staying home from work on Monday to take care of her sick kids. A friend had forgotten his wallet on the bus, and another declared that she now prefers the taste of Tom’s of Maine over Crest toothpaste. The same friend had tried fallafel for the first time the previous evening. She liked it and would try to make it at home. Bored yet?

While I love people and their stories, Facebook’s personal content is often diluted to suit all “friend” audiences, and as such it becomes sterile. The sterile-content problem is addressed in an interview that Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s On Point, recorded last week. His guest, Vanessa Grigoriadis, just published an article in New York Magazine entitled, “Do you own Facebook? Or does Facebook own you?” This is a question I’ve often asked myself when looking at some of the Facebook addicts I know.

Yet despite the trivial, diluted content that might give Facebook a bad rap (and at times drive me crazy), social media are emerging as extraordinarily effective personal and business tools. [Read more…]

Add a social media tool to your toolbox this week

It seems that almost every day I discover another social media book, blog, or concept that I would love to spend hours, if not days digging into. I follow a few experts on Twitter, including Paul Gillin and Chris Brogan, and could easily spend an entire day exploring their links and comments.

I recently committed to spending time each week exploring and mastering a new tool. A few weeks ago I started adding photos to Flickr, a photo sharing tool (my screen name is perrinmcc if you want to check out some pictures). Yesterday I dug into Delicious, a social bookmarking site you can use to manage and share bookmarks (username also perrinmcc, not too many links yet).

Take a moment today to explore a tool that intrigues you. Not sure where to start? Check out this fantastic list posted by Chris Brogan: 50 ways marketers can use social media to improve their marketing. Let me know which one you pick.

My ever-changing friendships

David Carr discussed Facebook in his weekly New York Times column this week and hit a few points that I have pondered.

First of all, yes, I am on Facebook. I explored it a few months ago as part of my ongoing research related to Hart-Boillot’s continued expansion of its digital offerings. Already on LinkedIn, I wanted to get a better sense of other social networking sites.

Although my group of Facebook friends is rather limited, it has fostered closer relationships with that group (including my high school-aged cousins, a new friend, and college acquaintances). In his article, Carr questions how blurred the line between your personal and work personas should be. Carr suggests that one should either be strategic in your posts or selective in your friending. Like Carr, I am neither, but must admit that I have not sought out work-related friends and have not received any such friend requests. Would I accept a friend invitation from a client or an editor? Absolutely. I enjoy knowing about their lives and would welcome them to join my online world.

On Facebook? Feel free to friend me. With a name like Perrin McCormick, I am pretty easy to find.

Was it a Twebinar or a Tvebinar?

I attended my first Twebinar yesterday. “A what?” A Twebinar. Twebinar = webinar + Twitter.

Imagine a Webinar during which attendees can have conversations about the Webinar using Twitter. Referred to as a microblogging tool by the social media crowd, I describe Twitter as a public instant messaging platform. Check out this in Plain English video on YouTube for a great demonstation.

Back to the Twebinar. I consider a typical Webinar to be a live event with a slide deck. Yesterday’s event was mostly pre-recorded video with a few minutes of live video and no slide deck. The slide deck wasn’t missed, but the live video portions played such a small role today that I wondered why it was a scheduled event rather than just a video clip posted on YouTube. Enter Twitter.

Making it a Twebinar was brilliant, as the community of 500 viewers simultaneously watched the video and tweeted about it online. Yes, much of the tweeting focused on technical difficulties experienced by some attendees, but there were also many posts and comments about the Twebinar’s content: interesting examples of companies successfully using social media to spark conversations. Today’s Twebinar certainly got me talking – and thinking that perhaps the new age of Webinars will be Vebinars and Tvebinars.

If you check out Twitter, be sure to find and follow me. I am @perrinmcc.

Social Media and Politics

I had the pleasure of participating in Social Media Club of Boston’s “Civics, Social Media and the Countdown to Election ‘08” on February 7 at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. While I was excited about the meeting, I almost avoided it to hear Ségolène Royal, the former French presidential candidate, who was speaking in the room next door!

The meeting included a panel comprised of Morra Aarons-Mele, political director of BlogHer.org, the largest site for women bloggers, with over 5.5 million unique visitors a month; Joseph Carrabis, founder and chief research officer of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global, author of 23 books and over 300 articles, and a master at analyzing marketing, media and customer (audience) behavior; and Robert Boyle, founder of Glassbooth, an organization created to develop innovative tools to empower the American voter. Glassbooth’s first tool, Glassbooth.org, was launched last November and was instantly a critical success – check out this site’s brief quiz and see if your preferred candidate actually shares as many beliefs with you as you might think.

The meeting addressed numerous issues related to social media, including: privacy vs. anonymity, the dark sides of social media, the way social media can extend the news cycle (for better or worse), the lack of issue-based analysis in traditional media in the US, and US journalism vs. global journalism.

Among the many kernels of knowledge and wisdom shared by panelists and attendees (who included some amazing social media pioneers, such as video blogger Steve Garfield) was the fact that research shows that most voters actually did not vote for the candidate who most strongly agreed with them on the issues in recent elections. Apparently, most voters end up supporting the person who presents information in the way that they prefer to have information presented, rather than the person whose beliefs and record most strongly align with their own.

While I find such results depressing, it does support the notion that marketing is critical, no matter what your product, service or message. Some politicians might think, “If I say it, they will listen,” just as engineers might think, “If I build it, they will come.” Until these become true (and it might be a better world if they were), we will have jobs marketing, packaging and presenting information to our audiences, touching their specific emotional triggers and producing the desired behavior. Fortunately for us, in B2B marketing communications, we work hard to translate a message into words and images that clarify the content for the audience, and we aren’t asked to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes!

The Battle of the Social Networking Stars

A recent edition of AdWeek lists Facebook as “what’s in” in social networking, leaving MySpace in the “what’s out” category. As the two sites work against one another to win over everyone from tweens to senior citizens, the questions remain, which site will prosper and how is it winning over its users?

In the beginning (2005), Facebook (FB) was an elitist’s paradise, available only to Ivy League students. Shortly thereafter, it opened up to all colleges. Now it remains to be seen if the networking site can retain its credibility and sense of security since opening registration to all ages.

I make no pretense about my own stance. I’m Katie, and I’m a Facebook-aholic. But I wasn’t always this way. I started out on the pages of MySpace and, being generally opposed to change, I resisted the Facebook movement as long as I could. But alas, it won me over. I still have the MySpace account – it’s there somewhere, doing not much of anything. However, in an effort to make this post as collectively unbiased as possible, I welcomed comments from a small group of people holding accounts on both networking sites.

Generally speaking, it seems FB is often deemed better because, unlike MySpace, it has a convenient News Feed and Recently Updated Friends lists that allow you to know the exact moment someone updates his or her profile (e.g. “Katie Delach has joined the group ‘David Ortiz is a God'” – and if that’s not useful information, I don’t know what is).

On the other hand, MySpace is generally considered the social networking hotspot for local bands and artists, and has been a useful tool for musicians to garner a fan base and launch their careers. Often though, MySpace users are frustrated by the growing presence of spam and people with strange requests. Exciting people like “Candy” (wink, wink) frequently want to meet you and there are always tons of single people in your area, just waiting for you to meet them, if only you’ll add them as a friend.

Though both sites rely heavily on classifieds and advertisements, FB inserts the ads in a more subtle and tasteful manner, whereas MySpace incorporates loud, trashy banners plastered all over the page. Aside from the ads, FB is less visually confusing. Though some may say that FB stifles the creativity that is encouraged by MySpace, FB’s standardized look provides a clean, attractive interface, unlike the clutter of MySpace backgrounds. It’s downright scary to look at people’s MySpace profiles sometimes. Clicking on a profile and being immediately blasted with the music, flashing lights, videos and busy wallpapers that suddenly pop up is simply overstimulating. Some of the FB faithful are taking a stance again the recent explosion of optional FB applications that are being added to personal profiles at a feverish pace. They see applications like daily horoscopes, fortune cookies, personal graffiti walls and the SuperPoke (my personal favorite), as a potential downfall of the site, causing profiles to become chaotic and ugly.

Every networking Web site has a life cycle. People eventually get bored with the old one and move on to what’s new and hot. And so, the battle wages on between Facebook and MySpace, while new competitors like Tribe Networks, Hi5 and Piczo begin to emerge. In this, the great war of online social networking, on which side do you fall? Are you a Facebook-aholic like me? If so, write me a message, poke me, or friend me because, as we all know, Facebook is the true mirror of our lives.