5 Biggest Social Media Mistakes

D'oh!When Renegade started doing social media audits several years ago, it was unclear exactly what we’d find. What we soon discovered is that many companies seem to be making the same mistakes, regardless of company size, B2B vs. B2C or the department leading the charge.  Here is a quick overview of the five most common mistakes we’re seeing, along with some initial thoughts on how to correct these self-defeating faux pas.

Measuring the Wrong Things
The most common metric mistake is emphasizing the number of fans you have over other markers, an approach that is symptomatic of a larger problem: viewing social as another mass medium through which branded content can be pushed. The reality is that it doesn’t matter how large your social footprint is if fans aren’t talking about your content on Facebook (PTAT) and sharing your videos, tweets and or LinkedIn posts.  Enlightened brands use and monitor several more illuminating metrics, including brand sentiment, speed and quality of customer service resolution and engagement (comments, shares, CTRs, etc.).

Too Many Channels and/or Sub-branded Pages
Once the social media bug began to spread across companies, every line extension of a line extension wanted its own Facebook page or Twitter account and/or Pinterest board.  IBM, for example, discovered through an audit that it had hundreds of branded handles on Twitter, and ultimately, they decided to reduce that list to only a few handfuls. Similarly, many brands are stretched too thin, jumping onto new platforms without the resources to keep their content fresh and their fans engaged.  It is better to just do a few channels really well than to be everywhere inconsistently.

Boring Non-Conversational Content
In social settings, brands, like people, get really boring if they only talk about themselves. Of course, you want to sell more products, but unless you have genuine news or product offers, brands should focus on being interesting and interested in their social channels.  Creating content that is interesting requires knowing your target really well—something that is increasingly easier with Facebook analytics platforms. Being interested starts by responding to comments and continues by asking questions.

Social is Isolated in One Department
Since marketers want to market, customer service wants to help and HR wants to recruit, isolating social in one department often limits the multi-functional role that it can play for an organization. This need not be the case. We recently participated in a client’s brand integration workshop and concluded that social media touched the work of seven other agencies, including advertising, media buying, web development, SEO, PR and customer experience, which speaks to the necessity of sharing the social love across your company.

No Social Media Road Map
As the old saying goes, any road looks good if you don’t know where you’re going. And so it goes with social, which sprouted haphazardly within most companies.  Establishing a clear road map for your company is imperative, and an effective road map should assign a purpose to each channel, set up an editorial calendar, create an escalation process for customer complaints and determine staffing needs. Lastly, the road map should define the paid or earned media that will ultimately be required to achieve any kind of scale.

Final note: If you aren’t making mistakes in social, then chances are you aren’t trying anything new. The trick is to turn these mistakes into learning opportunities that will ultimately put you one step ahead of your more cautious competitors. Please let me know if you have any great success stories that started from so-called mistakes–I’d love to make that the follow up story.  (A version of this article ran on SocialMediaToday.com)

How To Build an Effective Social Media Program

Given the rapidly changing nature of social media, it is not surprising that most marketers treated their 2010 activities like straw houses, unsophisticated structures with little hope of surviving much less gaining traction with consumers. Aghast at the resources consumed with limited impact, marketers are now seeking a more sophisticated if not durable approach. To address this challenge, here is Renegade’s Social Media Success Pyramid (see detailed illustration here), with guidance on how to build an effective and enduring program brick by brick. (Note 1: This article appeared on MediaPost early this week so you can stop here if you read that. Note 2: This is a topline overview with details on each section to be added soon enough.)

Establish your Foundation
Having a solid foundation that includes these five essential planning elements doesn’t guarantee success but it sure as heck increases the odds:

  • Audit: A comprehensive review of competitive activity, best practices, internal risk tolerance and input from all possible stakeholders. In addition to gathering critical data, the audit serves to engage management and foster cross-departmental consensus, both of which are essential to long-term success.
  • Brand voice: In all likelihood, your interns should not be the voice of your brand. Defining your brand voice takes the same strategic discipline as any other marketing effort and should result in not just identifying who can represent the brand but also establishing a clear and differentiated point-of-view.
  • Resources: Despite rumors to the contrary, social media is not free. It consumes mass quantities of time for listening, responding, creating, monitoring and reporting. Resources, whether internal and or external, need to be dedicated. Ideally these resources have experience getting things done across all the departments social can and does touch.
  • Product News: The old adage, “nothing kills a bad product faster than a great ad campaign” applies doubly to social media. If your product or service is not as good as it could be, either fix this first or make this the goal of your social activities. If your product is already highly competitive, then it will be still worth bringing something new to the party since social thrives around news.
  • Road Map: With all these other building blocks in place, you can now prepare a clear road map, defining overall social media goals, setting priorities by channel and establishing key performance indices. A good road map should also include test elements as well as potential risks along with a roll-out schedule for selected tactics.

Create the Blueprint
With the foundation in place, we move closer to execution by creating a strong blueprint including these four critical steps:

  • Design: Whether you are a billion dollar brand or an ambitious start-up, design never stops mattering. Even if it’s “just a Facebook page,” look for an aesthetic that is consistent, engaging and clearly your own.
  • Keyword Research: With the search engines now tracking Facebook and Twitter, the link between SEO performance and social activity is growing stronger by the day. Make sure you know the keywords that matter.
  • Editorial Calendar: Based on your keyword research, map out an “editorial calendar” that defines what content needs to be created, who will create it, where it will run first and how it will be amplified via social channels.
  • Disaster Plan: Since the fit just might hit the shan when you least expect it, do yourself a favor and outline a few what if scenarios and potential responses. Even if nothing bad ever happens, you’ll sleep a lot better.

Gather your Materials

Moving up the pyramid, its time to gather all your materials and execute with earnest.  In the process, you’ll want to focus on these three areas:

  • Analytics: With so many free and paid measurement tools available, measuring what matters is easier said than done.  You’ll need to work with pros to figure out what’s right for your situation.
  • Content: The center building block of a strong social program, content is indeed king.  Make sure your content is engaging, enlightening and or entertaining, representing your brand in all its glory.
  • Channels & Hub: Since context goes hand in hand with content, choose your channels carefully based on your target and the quality of your content.  Also, to optimize the SEO potential, archive your social content, especially Facebook and Twitter feeds on a “hub” within your website.

Measure your Progress

Since the goal of any business is to acquire and retain customers, to be taken seriously, social media must play a role in both of these areas.  Thus the penultimate building blocks of a successful social program are the following:

  • SEO Improvements: With the right content in the right places being shared by the right people, a comprehensive social program will yield improved SEO results over time as long as you remember to set benchmarks at the start.
  • Leads & Referrals:  While listening can yield leads and referrals can occur naturally, integrating social content into your CRM program will significantly enhance overall impact.  

Reap the Rewards

Ascending the social media pyramid is not an easy affair but it is certainly worth the trip.  Hard-earned consumer trust will be rewarded with increased loyalty, stronger word-of-mouth, higher value per customer, lower cost per acquisition and even lower churn rates.  You may even start measuring CPE or cost per engagement, given the relatively low cost of engaging fans once acquired on Facebook and Twitter.   Knowing that the original pyramids weren’t built in a day but have lasted 4,000 years, think about your social program as a permanent part of your go to market strategy and enjoy the view from the top.

Ben Franklin: Social Media Enthusiast?

The great patriot and social media enthusiast Benjamin Franklin would surely enjoy the communications revolution that has swept our fair industry and would have plenty of good advice for modern day practitioners.  Advice well earned.  At 15, he adopted the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood just to get his articles published in his brother’s newspaper.  This ruse pissed off his brother to no end and ultimately forced young Ben to flee to Philly where at the age of 21 he formed an early social network called Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.”

Once in Philadelphia, Franklin quickly distinguished himself as an agent of change, a man Malcolm Gladwell might be forced to describe as connector, maven AND salesman. At 22, he established The Pennsylvania Gazette, essentially a printed blog of his essays and observations, a vehicle that earned him tremendous social currency.  Shortly thereafter, he set up the city’s first library, the Wikipedia of its day, complete with America’s first librarian.  A noted scientist, perhaps his least known invention is the concept of paying it forward, freely sharing his ideas, inventions and on occasion his cash all with the hope that “it may thus go thro’ many hands.”  Clearly, without Franklin there are no open source API’s on Facebook and certainly no #good tweets on Twitter.

Having established his bona fides as social media pioneer let me now call upon the ever-humble B. Franklin to offer us instruction on how modern day marketing patriots can declare their independence from social media silliness.  And while this piece is no Poor Richard’s Almanac, it will approach the topic at hand with a similar clarity of purpose and simplicity in language.  It will also do so knowing Franklin would have supported this author, “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”  Finally, it will encourage marketers to take AIM, a simply acronym that befits a Franklinian approach to social media.

1.  A is for Audit

All too often, marketers take the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach to social media.  The numerous social media pundits who prescribe dabbling over diligence encourage this philosophy.  Back in 1748, Franklin would have warned you of the risks of this approach, noting, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”  Instead, Franklin would have encouraged a rigorous social media audit, offering, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Hardly revolutionary, a social media audit lays the groundwork for a successful campaign, fulfilling Franklin’s prognostication that, “Diligence is the mother of good luck.”  These audits can be done in-house but as Franklin warned, “Those that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.”  Kinaxis, a supply chain management company, sought the help of Forrester before it went on to triple its leads and double its site traffic via a rigorously planned social media program (see detailed case history http://bit.ly/cNOgPz .)

2. I is for Implementation

A great communicator himself, Franklin would have been undaunted by all the new options, evaluating each carefully in order to “Never confuse motion with action.”   When it comes to content creation, Franklin’s remarkably timeless advice to, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” is as true for Twitter and YouTube in 2010 as it was for patriotic pamphlets back in 1775.  Anticipating the transparency that enlightened marketers now seek, his proverb “honesty is the best policy,” is truer today than ever before.

Franklin inherently understood social media implementation, and the critical roles of likability, entertainment and patience.  For brands that want to build fans on Facebook and the like, Franklin offered, “If you would be loved, love, and be loveable.” For brands afraid of having a little fun with their audience, Franklin encouraged, “Games lubricate the body and the mind.” And for brands in an unrealistic hurry to gain traction in social media, Franklin noted, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”

3. M is for Monitoring

As Postmaster General in 1768, Franklin monitored the routes of British mail ships to discover why it took them two weeks longer to reach US ports than private merchant ships.   Conducting his own focus groups with merchant captains and whalers, Franklin ultimately charted and named the Gulf Stream, which was acting like a firewall, slowing the movement of data from East to West across the Atlantic.  Not new to the idea of monitoring, Franklin approached even minute details with earnest, noting, “A small leak will sink a great ship.”

So too must social media marketers monitor their activities with rigor and respond accordingly.  While lots of free tools are available to monitor everything from conversations to web traffic, organic search performance to lead generation, Franklin reminded us that, “Lost time is never found again,” thus the anticipating the use of time-saving paid services like Radian6.  With such a disciplined approach to social media, marketers can, in Franklin’s words, “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”

Even 220 years after his death, Benjamin Franklin remains a beloved character bestowing a treasure trove of wisdom for good citizens and good brands.  In fact, among the 12 virtues that he drafted when only 20 years old, you will find the single best guidance for any brand I’ve ever read, “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”  (This article originally appeared on MediaPost.com)

Graduate to Social Media 3.0 (redux)

Just in case you missed it, this article ran on MediaPost today.

A seasoned marketing veteran said to me recently that social media is simply “what we used to call buzz marketing.”  I bristled at this and mentioned that Donny Deutsch had also tried to categorize social media at the recent NYC I40 Character conference as “just another new & sexy media channel” like cable TV 20 years ago or the Internet 10 years ago.   In my humble opinion, to look at social media through the lens of a previous communication channel is an old-school approach that is inherently self-limiting.

Instead, I would encourage marketers to graduate to Social Media 3.0, an entirely new dynamic that requires a high degree professionalism, new strategic platforms, new metrics for success, new monitoring tools, cross-disciplined planning and an open-mindedness to social media in just about any business category.  To that end, here are four courses of action marketers should consider to really make the grade in social media.

Enough with the Interns

Because a lot of marketers consider social media experimental and/or the exclusive domain of Millennials, they fail to staff this relatively young field with experienced professionals.  The result is a self-fulfilling mishmash of tactics that rarely yield sustainable results.  Because social media can have an impact on everything from search results to PR coverage, lead generation to customer loyalty, marketers need to acknowledge its critical role and staff it accordingly.

Just a couple of weeks ago I met with a publisher of a major print mag that was way behind its publishing peers in social media.  When I asked how he planned to attack this challenge, his response was, “We just hired a summer intern to outline our social media strategy.”  Are you kidding me?  I couldn’t help but wonder if this same publisher would put interns on the phone with his most important customers or ask an intern to figure out his long-term business plan. No wonder print is in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love interns.  Just don’t put them in charge of anything customer facing – especially social media. Take this stuff seriously folks. Hire professionals, or your competition will eat you for lunch.

Align with Business Goals

Social Media 2.0 was mainly “ready, fire, aim.” Marketers set up Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube videos and blogs  when the spirit arose, all in the name of experimentation.  Some succeeded but more ended up with a disparate array of content that languished, raising serious questions in the C-Suite about the ROI of social media.

Social Media 3.0 is about aligning your efforts clearly and directly with your company’s principal objectives of increasing revenue and/or lowering costs.   If the emphasis is on the revenue side, then you can further break this down into customer acquisition and/or revenue per customer.  A number of companies like Dell and e.l.f. cosmetics are using social media to drive revenue, pushing out offers to their networks of fans that translate into immediate sales and repeat purchases.

If the emphasis is on cost reduction, then consider how social media can lower call center costs and/or cost per lead.  Best Buy’s Twelpforce has responded to 28,000 customer inquiries via Twitter, dramatically lowering cost per response vis-à-vis its call center.  A well-designed social media program can radically improve natural search results, which in turn will lower your cost per lead.

Get Serious about Metrics

Once your business goals are clear, establishing KPIs (key performance indices) and related social media benchmarks is a relatively simple task regardless of your business category.  To that point, one of the most interesting social media cases I’ve seen lately was about a Canadian supply chain management company named Kinaxis, a company that is so serious about metrics for success that they hired Forrester to guide their strategy while making the business case for social media.

In 2008, Kinaxis set out to engage the greater supply chain community with the hopes of increasing website traffic, driving sales leads, generating positive word of mouth all with the underlying goal of improving natural search results.  Using a multi-pronged online approach that included blogging, community building, video distribution and Twitter, Kinaxis was able to build and sustain an active community and triple their number of web-based sales leads to 42,000 in 2009.

Though I can’t do justice to the Kinaxis case here, suffice it to say that they monitored a wide range of metrics including page views, impressions, referrals, email open-rates, conversion rates, word of mouth mentions, and more, all of which went up dramatically due to a well planned and executed program of engagement.

Conduct a Social Media Audit

As I stated at the beginning of this diatribe, social media is far more complex than a traditional media channel in which a marketer can simply buy some time and push out a message.  Social media touches just about every aspect of your business from customer service to corporate compliance, lead generation to public relations, advertising to corporate social responsibility and then some.

As such, marketers would be smart to conduct a thorough social media audit internally or better yet with the help of outside experts who can take an impartial look at both the issues and the opportunities.  This audit requires the attention and participation of multiple department heads, since a well-conceived and well-executed program is inherently cross-disciplined, and turf wars must be avoided.

A thorough social media audit (see Renegade Social Media Audit slideshow here) examines the competitive environment, defines an overall strategy in the context of business goals, outlines tactical opportunities and identifies any organizational and cultural changes required to support implementation.  This highly disciplined approach will save countless hours of wheel spinning, helping to insure that your investment will be rewarded and you’ll be graduating to the next level of social media success.

So instead of just toasting Dads and grads on Facebook this June, give some serious thought to how your social media program can graduate to a new level of professionalism and accomplishment.