Tag Archives: media monitoring

It’s Fryday! (Lessons learned from #frenchfries)

Today is Fryday - a national promotion from McDonald's, derived from social media intel.

Social media monitoring is something we all know we should be doing, but winnowing out the signals from the noise can be difficult, and beyond that, figuring out what to do with the resulting data can also be a challenge.   To be successful, an organization needs to be agile – its business processes need to be able to ingest the data and recalibrate communications on the fly.


That last sentence in can sound pretty daunting.  Business processes, ingesting data, recalibrating communications … at this point many folks are inclined to think “that’s for other companies, we simply can’t do that…” and turn quietly away. Fact is,  listening isn’t so hard, it can be done by any organization for little to no money, the changes can be incremental, and in order to be successfull, all you really need to do is pay attention, and use what you learn.

I heard a great example of this from Heather Oldani of McDonald’s earlier this week at PR Newswire’s Social Content Leadership Forum in Chicago.   McDonald’s has real traction in social networks, and they’re paying attention to online conversations and building relationships with different communities and constituents.  Conversations encompass everything from environmental, parenting and nutritional topics to tracking national availability of the McRib to discussions around menu innovations, such as Fruit & Maple Oatmeal and apple slices in Happy Meals.   Conversations ebb and flow, but the McD’s team has noticed a constant.

In less than an hour, McDonald's Facebook post had garnered thousands of likes, shares and comments.

“French fries are social,” Heather noted.   Topics and issues may come and go, but people love McDonald’s fries, and they talk about that devotion online.

Now, in the grand scheme of McDonald’s menus, the fries are certainly a lynchpin, but they aren’t the headliner.  New sandwiches, salads and coffee drinks steal the headlines and are the focus of the company’s menu-oriented promotions.

But because McDonald’s was paying attention, they realized that there was more lasting, ongoing enthusiasm for fries than for pretty much any other menu item, unless you’re this guy:

Bet he likes fries, too. #fryday

But I digress.

McDonald’s realized it had a unique opportunity with the approach of Friday, 11/11/11 – an aesthetically very French-fry appropriate date.  Using the palindrome as a hook , McDonald’s developed the Fryday promotion, offering fries for $.50 today.

In the Chicago area, McDonald’s is using billboards to promote Fryday, but true to the roots of the promotion, a lot of activity is happening on social networks, too.  The company’s Twitter team (follow them @McDonalds) is chatting up the deal online, and several franchisors are also getting into the game.   The Twitter hashtag #fryday is busy and the McDonalds New York Tri-State Area Restaurants have created a check in for the promotion on Four Square.  Is the suggestion of hot, crispy, salty fries powerful enough to get people in the door?

My guess is the answer is yes.   Not bad for a little promotion derived from simply paying attention to what people are talking about online.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Social media monitoring delivers quick returns

My favorite screen in PRN Media Monitoring shows top conversation topics within the social media monitoring results for the keywords I've selected. So cool. And dead useful.

A new report from IBM detailing the extent to which CMOs were unprepared for the advent of social media caught my attention yesterday.  Fairly stunningly, the report revealed that while most CMOs consider social media to be a key engagement channel, only a quarter of the large group surveyed were actively tracking blogs.  About half paid attention to different types of reviews.

Not surprisingly, the CMOs indicated that expressing ROI on social media is difficult. Furthermore, most of the CMOs surveyed indicated that developing their skills and understanding of social media was low priority.

Ignoring social media and its influence on customer buying decisions really seems like a risky approach to both planning a company’s communication strategy, and one’s own professional development.

I mused on this for a while and then opened up my PRN Media Monitoring suite, which I use to keep tabs on what’s going on in social channels.  I’ve used it for a while, relying on settings and parameters I set up months ago.  Frankly, it’s been a while since I set up a new monitoring profile.

In an attempt (albeit a biased one, I know) to look at social monitoring with fresh eyes, I set up a new monitoring profile and set about to see what I could accomplish.  In 20 minutes.

I bumbled around a bit, futzing with the keywords for my new search, before settling on the keywords “social media” with “press release” or “news release.”     And once my results loaded, I started having some fun.  Instead of following my “habitrail” and just looking at a handful of key metrics, I instead made discovery my opportunity.

  • I found a guy who’s blogging for a small business site on the subject of PR.  He’s new, but prolific.  We need to talk to him.
  • I admired the ripples the announcement of the PRN/Ektron partnership made last week, and spotted some coverage I hadn’t seen.  Cool.
  • I found a raft of people on Twitter to follow and add to some of my lists.  They hadn’t @messaged me, but they are talking about topics I care about.
  • And found a discussion on LinkedIn that I had managed to overlook despite my regular activity on that network.

All that, in just twenty minutes.

Any social media guru will tell you the first step you must take when considering developing a social presence for your brand is listening.   Understanding what your audience cares about is absolutely fundamental to social success.

Simply put, if you don’t listen, your programs won’t work, you will have a heck of a time defining any return for the time and resources wasted and you’ll probably think, “Eh, this social media stuff doesn’t work.  To heck with it.”  So why do folks skip the listening step?  I have a couple theories:

  • It’s hard.  Setting up the monitoring parameters can be an exercise in experimentation.  You may wind up with way too many fish in your net.   However if you spend some time tweaking your searches  (I personally prefer to have a host of smaller, more focused searches), you will find the input is not only germane, but manageable.
  • It creates more work.  True.  You will uncover opportunities that require response right now.   You will start to truly understand what people mean when they say the audience is now in charge.  And a lot of social media interactions are very high touch.   Blast e-mail doesn’t work here.

Ultimately, I think listening does make a company’s communications more efficient, and effective – simply because you know what your audience is interested in and where they’re gathering, and you can plan accordingly.

There’s no question the dynamics of attention have shifted.  Influence and information look far different today than they did five years ago.   The good news is that social media monitoring can reveal the new dynamics in your marketplace, enabling your brand to garner new insight and visibility.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Eight steps to building a connected brand

Ally Bank's friendly Facebook presence curates useful content focusing on personal finance.

Many brands are flocking to social channels, dipping into the streams of conversations, interactions and information that swirl around brands, industries and products, reflecting marketplace pain and desire.  But developing the truly connected brand – one that is in synch with its marketplace, involved productively in conversations with customers and generating meaningful business results more of an organization than the establishment of a page on Facebook.  Creating a truly valuable presence in social networks requires brands to recalibrate decision cycles, re-tool approval processes, hone listening on an enterprise-wide scale and essentially operationalize information creation and re-engineer the corporate comfort zone.

Ally Bank's Twitter presence is proactive and service-focused.

Vinoo Vijay of Ally Financial described the changes he and his peers faced as they managed the re-branding of GMAC and used social networks to support the new brand, which launched with Ally Bank.  Looking back at the process, he outlines eight key steps an organization needs to take to establish a successful social presence:

  1. Let go (in terms of your organizations’ approval processes) – gradually, but not entirely. Vijay suggests that creating an ecosystem to convey a unified voice across numerous channels is important.  It’s at this point that approval processes and trust in the communications teams will be most challenged.   Putting processes into place to determine what sort of comments can be made publicly without approval, for example, and gaining agreement on what types of content require different levels of oversight and approval will help the organization communicate more quickly, and comfortably.
  2. Understand that consumers are part of the process. Content and dialogue needs to be about what the consumers are interested in, and consumer interaction should be expected.  Monitoring social networks and listening carefully to what consumers are talking about, and keeping an eye out for response or questions from online audiences are new behaviors for many brands.
  3. Community management is crucial.  You have to be active on an ongoing otherwise you disappear.  Responding in real time is particularly important – if you don’t respond instantaneously, you don’t get heard.  Developing the framework and approval process to respond quickly (and efficiently) is a must for brands hoping to develop effective social presences.
  4. Develop relationships with influencers in your space.  They have credibility that can trigger significant attention from your consumers, and media.   An interview given to a blogger in the financial services space for Ally Bank resulted in an article in Time Magazine, which then sparked an avalanche of Tweets and significant visibility for Ally online.
  5. Weigh in on topics that are broadly relevant to your expertise. Publishing relevant and useful information your audience values is the cornerstone of building a connected brand.  In addition to building credibility for your organization, the content itself can be a powerful magnet for customers and prospects.
  6. The new world order has to meet old fashioned organizational change.  Your organization will need to learn to deal with an environment that requires the brand to be much more participatory.  One excellent tip from Vijay – look for the worst case scenario in the situation at hand. If it’s not there, let it be.
  7. Drive your agencies to collaborate. Common keywords and vernacular, creating content that can be repurposed and republished, and measuring results across the board are vital to a brand’s success.
  8. Remember you are never done.

Vijay’s tale of Ally’s rebranding from GMAC and supporting the brand’s new approach to the banking business by building a social presence that is truly connected with the marketplace is inspiring – Ally Bank was able to drive measurable results.  They changed the tone of online conversations, increased natural search results, and, ultimately, increased consideration for the new brand and got people to open new bank accounts with Ally Bank. But as Vijay stressed, learning how to play messaging out in actual dialogue with customers in social networks requires a new framework for brand communications.

SXSW Video Recap: TnT TV Episode 2

In order to keep tabs on all the SXSW happenings, Tom Miale and Thomas Hynes have been recapping their experiences at the end of each day. Watch them drive the points home as they try not to crash their rental car.

And stay tuned for more TnT TV from the Toms, reporting live from SXSW!

Opportunities & Elbow Grease: Getting Visibility for a Start-Up

Breathless reporting from SXSW 2007 - Twitter hit 60,000 messages per day at the event.

A discussion over on Quora about generating visibility for a start ups has garnered answers from some heavyweights (the founders of Twitter and FourSquare have weighed in.)  But no magic wands or silver bullets were revealed – at their heart, the launches are tales of savvy tactics that recognized (and capitalized upon) opportunity – and hard work.

Evan Williams of Twitter noted that the company launched in mid-2006, “….to a whimper.”  In March of 2007, the company went to South By Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) and got creative.  Williams, noting (correctly) that the action at this event isn’t on the exhibit floor, it’s in the hallways (and indeed, on the sidewalks, at the parties and in the BBQ joints) sunk $11,000 into flat panel displays in the hallways that showed a “Twitter visualizer.”    In addition, the company ensured a positive and interesting experience,  enabling attendees to send a text that would pop up on the screens.  And they took it a step further – those who sent a text would be automatically following a group of ambassadors who were also at SXSWi.

This story is interesting in its own right – the Twitter team created a totally new experience for SXSWi attendees.  However,  Evans also noted in his answer that they had noticed that seemingly all of their users were going to SXSWi, and that’s how team Twitter decided to double down, as Evans said, in Austin.

Listening to your audience and knowing where they are (in this case, SXSWi) is a critical component to successfully building visibility for a small company or a start up.  As another commenter in the Quora thread noted,  SXSWi isn’t the place to launch enterprise software.

Dennis Crowley of FourSquare also related his company’s experience at SXSWi, which was just as inspired as Twitter’s approach, but different in every way.   From getting FourSquare live before SXSWi (they were coding at the airport and on the runway, and flipped the switch on FourSquare just before SXSWi opened), the FourSquare team hustled.   How did they get the word out?  Simple – word of mouth.  Simple, but not easy.

” Start telling friends and stranger to try out your app, ” Crowley advises. “You can do this via word-of-mouth, stickers, flyers, etc.  FYI – We spent $0 on marketing and only did word-of-mouth.”

Crowley also noted that the FourSquare team was all over Twitter, searching for what people were saying about the app, and replying directly to them.  In particular, he advises relying to as many Tweets about features and support requests as possible.  “Get people to spread the love.”

FourSquare turned SXSW 2010 into a giant game.

Providing great customer service is a tactic for start up that more than one marketing pro I queried recommended.  Creating delight is a good way to spark positive online commentary from your new customers.

But what if you’re not unveiling a groovy new social network at SXSW?  Many I spoke to said don’t forget traditional PR, and they’re right.  Well done, a good  PR campaign results in credible publicity that reaches your target audiences.

Reid Neubert, owner of Reid Neubert & Friends, a Bay Area marketing agency, recalled his experience with a successful software start up.  Public relations was a key part of a strategic mix that also included advertising and direct marketing.

“We built relationships with journalists and editors as resources for them (rather than always pitching something,) he continued. “We were often contacted for information and referrals when they needed industry information or expertise, and as a result always included in or quoted in related stories.”

As a result of the PR campaign, coupled with the active and focused trade show and marketing efforts, Neubert noted that within six months of product launch, the company was seen as a major player within its vertical.

“We all hear stories about companies that seem to have come out of nowhere and become overnight successes, he noted, “But usually there is an incredible amount of work that went into those successes. There aren’t any shortcuts.”

The approach Neubert relayed was disciplined and focused. Discipline was also a recurring theme in other conversations that led to this blog post. And building some discipline around goal-setting and planning is also a key piece of the puzzle.

Paul Weber, CEO at Entrepreneur Advertising Group, related details of his own company’s disciplined approach to launching, which started with the number of new clients needed, and then focused on filling the funnel with prospects.

“Literally, with no clients and little money to spend we calculated the number of events we needed to attend, the number of people we needed to meet, the number of direct sales meetings and the resulting close rate of new clients,” he said. “From that point on it was all about discipline in following the plan.”

The kind of elbow grease that really is the key to making or breaking a campaign.  Taking the time to target the right journalists and bloggers with relevant, personalized pitches takes time, but it works.  Observing and listening to your audiences online takes deliberation and patience – but reveals the pain points and opportunities that, when answered, can fuel success.

Have you hit a PR home run with a start up? Let’s hear the details!

Authored by Sarah Skerik, VP social media, PR Newswire.  See you in Austin at SXSWi March 10 – 15.

Follow the Quora discussion: http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-process-involved-in-launching-a-start-up-at-SXSW

Are you building a plan to publicize your start up? Earlier this year, PR Newswire launched the PR Toolkit for Entrepreneurs, an affordable service that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses effectively promote and publicize their products and services online.  The toolkit combines information on  how to write press releases, work with the media, raise your profile as an expert and plan an economical PR campaign with a set of low-cost online visibility services.

Social listening done right

I had the privilege of attending the “Pay Attention! Social Listening Done Right” panel at this year’s Social Media Week in New York. As the title of the session conveys, this was a discussion about how brands and marketers listen in on conversations happening on social media channels, separate noise from meaningful signals and properly respond to the information they glean. In the company of about 120 fellow attendees (by my rough count), I enjoyed the free-flowing conversation that touched on a handful of intriguing topics and first-hand tales of the trade.

Michael Learmonth (@learmonth), digital editor at Ad Age, was the moderator of this five-man panel:

Kyle Monson (@kmonson), senior technology editor, JWT

Shiv Singh (@shivsingh), head of digital, PepsiCo Beverages

Brian Clark (@gmdclark), CEO, GMD Studios

Ed Sullivan (@ed_sullivan), vice president of strategic alliances, Radian6

Michael Jaindl (@jaindl), chief client officer, Buddy Media

Instead of typing out a play-by-play of the discussion, I’ve rummaged through my notes and have spotted four main points that I’ll recap below. If you would like to watch the entire session, head over to Social Media Week’s Livestream video of the event.

The panel was kicked off by Learmonth, who noted that though big brands are now listening to conversations happening in the realm of social media, “any 2-year-old” can do that. The real question, he asked, is: “What do I take from all of this information and how do I act?”

This led to the discussion of the following topics, among others:

1) The challenge of separating noise from meaningful signals: Singh was first to offer his thoughts on this, the “heart of the challenge we face.” He said that the information gathered through social listening “only makes sense when it’s put in the context of other information.” Digital dashboards that help his company track how they’re faring against their competitors in the social space are interesting when they’re placed beside volume data and brand-health data so correlations can be observed. Singh added that while his company listens to conversations on a daily and hourly basis, “The challenge continues to be separating the noise from meaningful insight, and then data that can be actionable and data that we can respond to in a real-time sense.”

Sullivan, whose company makes software and analytics to help deal with this issue, added, “The good news is that as more money is being invested into social media as a medium, as part of a fabric of a company’s strategy, there are really cool tools that are coming out to actually help that entire process of finding the right piece of information, the right nuggets, and getting them to where they need to be.”

Monson (who, funny enough, was monitoring the tweets about the panel with his laptop) added that the trick is putting the right person in front of all the information who can interpret the data and make the right decisions in a timely manner, an inherently risky task that might go against a marketers’ nature.

An easy way to discern the noise from the signals, according to Jaindl, is to start paying attention to anything with a question mark: who, what, when, where, why and how? This is a good place to start if you want to know what you should respond to.

2) How companies should respond/act: Once you identify the important signals, the issue becomes how you should respond to them, if at all. One of the more intriguing points of the conversation occurred when Learmonth brought up an example of Virgin America sending a traveler a $200 voucher by way of a direct message on Twitter because the traveler’s flight was delayed. Monson contrasted this with an airline responding to an angry tweet with just an apology and explanation, and drew the “common sense” conclusion that brands shouldn’t get involved with a customer’s moment of despair unless they can actually do something about it. “If you can’t do something, you’re just reinforcing the negative perception that I already have of your brand because my flight’s delayed.”

Clark pointed out that sometimes people will tweet in anger without wanting a response. He added, “The novelty of, ‘Oh look, the brand actually is listening to me,’ I think, over the next few years is going to be replaced by a sort of creepiness about, ‘Oh, the brand is listening to me.'”

The recent Wheat Thins commercials, where consumers who tweet about the brand are visited by a yellow van and a film crew, and given a pallet stacked with boxes of Wheat Thins, was used as a possible example of this. “Now, at some point that novelty’s going to wear off and that’s going to be creepy,” Clark said. He then told members of the audience who partake in social media listening that they are “professional voyeurs,” and that there are creepy ways to use the information gathered from these activities. Clark warned that every brand that messes things up will change the landscape of consumer reaction, forcing brands to be more sensitive to this matter of privacy.

Later in the discussion, Singh brought the conversation back to gray areas when he called out “the elephant in the room,” which was Facebook. While the giant social networking site clearly houses a wealth of valuable conversations for brands and marketers to tap into, the problem is that only a small slice of that is open to viewing and listening via brand pages and public profiles. Monson dubbed this walled-off information the “holy grail.”

“And that’s the big missing thing,” said Singh. “Listening is never going to be totally scalable until we can listen to that, or we can at the very least model out the impact of what’s happening on those pages.” He stopped short of saying whether Facebook should actually be opened up to this extent or not, but did say he thinks what keeps Mark Zuckerberg up at night is the decision to make Facebook profiles private instead of public by default, which is the opposite of what Twitter has done.

3) Determining who brands should respond to: While it’s easy for brands to respond to customers who are either big supporters or detractors, “How do you find the normal people out there?” asked Learmonth.

“Normal people don’t make footprints in social media,” said Clark. After some laughter, he continued, saying, “People who make footprints are having an extreme reaction. They either really love the brand or they really hate the brand.”

Monson added that brands often respond to sentiments not held by the larger community. Nevertheless, Clark noted that by responding to extreme reactions, brands are showing that they’re actually listening.

During the Q-and-A time later in the session, when the panelists were discussing the concept of influencers, Jaindl made the point that brands might want to worry a little bit less about who their influencers are. “Everybody has a little bit of influence, and I think people like brands that are genuine and treat everybody equal,” he said. “So if someone’s looking at a brand and they say, ‘OK, that brand is only responding to who they think has ‘influence’ — that comes across as a little bit insincere.” Jaindl’s bottom-line suggestion was, “Stop trying to figure out who the influencers are and start responding to everybody.”

4) The perils of using Twitter as a focus group: “There’s a danger in putting too much stock in what Twitter users are saying, I think, because they’re not always going to be representative of the audience,” said Monson regarding the idea that social media conversations may offer a glimpse into the future for brands.

“You end up with ‘Snakes on a Plane,'” Clark added.

Learmonth added that listening to what consumers are saying online led to the failed attempt by CBS to bring the show “Jericho” back on the air.

“It’s so tempting to use Twitter as your focus group because it’s free, it’s pretty easy to mine what people are saying and it’s easy to throw those results into a PowerPoint deck,” said Monson. “But I think you still need to actually talk to humans because…humans talk in different ways than they do on Twitter.”

My takeaway: While many subjects were covered in this discussion, the overall sentiment that I walked away with was, well, more of an image — an image of a child on a quest, trying hard to wield a large sword. While it’s clear that social listening is a potent new tool that can benefit brands and marketers, there’s a distinct tension between that and the cost to the unknowing consumer. As it stands, there’s much to be learned about listening, responding and balancing this task in the grand scheme of bigger strategies. The path to the holy grail might be blocked, but it doesn’t mean people will stop searching for other ways to that prize, no matter how many times they might fumble their weapons along the way.

Authored by Jason Hahn, editor, Profnet.

Need to get your ear to the rail? PR Newswire Media Monitoring gives you insight into how your organization, product, service, competition and industry are presented in print, online and social media channels. Media Monitoring tracks comments on more than 40 million blogs, 5 million forum posts per day, and 30,000 news sources, social networks and microblogs, including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Our flat-fee subscription pricing model ensures you always stay within budget no matter how many article clips we find – and the ability to change your search terms keeps your media monitoring relevant.

Social Media: Driving Business Transformation

When it comes to transforming your business with social media, Jay Baer, author of the Convince & Convert blog, said companies must do more than be on Facebook.

“Having a Facebook page isn’t transforming your business,” Baer said. “That’s Yellow Pages 2.0. And having a lot of Facebook fans has zero ties to business success. It requires exactly one click of one finger.”  Amber Naslund, vice president of social media strategies with Radian 6 and co-author with Baer on the book, The Now Revolution: Transforming Your Business with Speed, Smarts & Social Media, agreed.

But you also can’t “wing” your social media strategy either, they said. There must be a policy in place.  During their keynote address this morning at the Online Marketing Summit, Baer and Naslund pointed to stories of business transformation influenced in part the changes in customer behavior and expectations social media has wrought.   Among them:  Fairfax, Va.-based ThinkGeek.

Recently, someone posted a question in binary code on ThinkGeek’s Facebook wall. Within seven minutes, a company rep responded in like type.  Baer said it’s that kind of interaction and cultural alignment that makes for ThinkGeek’s success.

They are geeks, and they hire for geekiness,” he said. “Their first interview question literally is: Star Wars or Star Trek? They have Dungeons and Dragons night. ThinkGeek hires based on cultural fit, and that voice of culture is baked into every employee.”

When it comes to social media, Naslund said it’s not enough for companies to respond only to positive social media conversations.

“One of the things we fear is that we’re going to get into the social media conversation and we’re going get a negative complaint,” she said. “All information is positive. We as businesses have the ability to sniff out negative issues as they’re happening.”

The process to address social media conversations must be tactical, they said. Every company must designate teams: coaches, booths, and players.  Coaches decide on the overarching social media strategy. They direct and call the plays.
Booths are the folks behind the scenes. These are people in HR, for example, who are impacted by social media so they can make decisions within their part of the business.  Players are the front lines people. These include a company’s public relations specialists and customer service reps.

In most companies, social media is literally someone’s job, Baer said. Soon, it’ll be designated a skill, and a company will not only handle problems through social media, but capitalize on its opportunities.  Employees must be empowered to join the conversation, he told the group.   Enterprise-wide empowerment requires a significant cultural shift.

Finally, listening to social media conversations must never end, the duo said.
“Social media doesn’t close at 5,” Baer said.

Christine Cube manages media relations for PR Newswire and tweets through @PRNewswire and @PRNAlert.

The Now Revolution has influenced other posts on Beyond PR.  See more references on these posts:

The Enterprise and Social Media Ownership

People, Content & Measurement

Location, location: Finding the right social media home(s) for your brand

Interesting new networks & tools

A lot of brands – PR Newswire included – made their first foray into social media for one reason  – just to “be there.”   And while many of these hastily contrived presences in social networks have thrived (@prnewswire today has more than 40,000 followers on Twitter), there’s no denying the fact that many other organizations sunk a lot of time and resource into regrettable presences in Second Life, ill-conceived pages on MySpace and boring pages on Facebook no one in their right mind would “like.”

The good news is that the concept of looking (and listening) before leaping is pretty well understood today, and that initial urgency to simply do something has largely passed.  On the other hand, new networks crop up each day, ranging from discussion forums launched by niche industry sites to the next big thing (potentially) like Foursquare, Gowalla or Quora.

Determining whether or not to participate or establish a presence in a social network requires thoughtful consideration – because the decision has undeniable costs, and risks.  Creating and maintaining a presence in a network, even if one is just participating as a member of a community – requires real time and resource.  That investment becomes greater if one decides to establish a branded presence in a network like Facebook or Twitter.   Conversely, if the decision is made to bypass a network, that doesn’t mean that you can ignore it completely.  A competitor may stake out a presence, the demographics of the network might change, making it more relevant for your business, and conversations will happen within its confines.  A modicum of attention is still needed – your social media monitoring plans need to encompass the networks in which you do – and don’t – actively participate.

So, as communicators face the already daunting task of listening to and monitoring social conversations, and managing in-network presences, we also have to ask ourselves whether or not the next big thing warrants our attention, and to what degree – will listening suffice, or do we really need to “be there”?   And ultimately, the question we need to ask is the same we should be asking at the start of any communications campaign – whether you’re targeting media for a press release or developing a social presence  – who are the target audiences, and where can they be found?

“The first question I ask about any new network is: Are the people I need to reach there yet and are they active?” says Brian Nizinsky, online marketing manger at Kodak.  “Take Twitter for example, it was around for a while before I decided to open an account for the B2B side of the business. When I started searching profiles I found more and more of our customers and potential customers with accounts. I also saw that our competition was not there yet and I wanted to be ahead of the curve.”

Erica Friedman, president of Yurikon LLC, offered a slightly different take, noting “There has to be an emotional buy-in from me, and some relevance. For instance, I came to Twitter because people I wanted to communicate with were there. As a result, I could throw myself at it, and have productive, interesting conversations right from the first moment.  Every platform has to fill a need for me, from my mailing list to my blog, a platform that wouldn’t be useful or interesting or give value for the time spent won’t be chosen.”

When looking at new social outlets, it’s also important to ask what’s different about this network or tool – does it have broad lasting appeal, does it offer audiences something useful or different? These questions can help determine whether or not a network will be a flash in the pan or have staying power.

“For me it comes down to where I see broader adoption, said Mike Merrill, director of marketing at ReachLocal. “I like to test out new platforms to understand their appeal. For example, with Instagram, I saw the appeal right away as a way to share photos across a number of platforms and at the same time check-in and communicate to Twitter/Facebook. While the ability to customize the look and feel of an image is interesting, I also see the jump in productivity as a real boost and one of the reasons I enjoy it.”

So, when surveying the social media landscape, don’t panic when it shifts right before your eyes.  (Get used to that.) Instead, consider your audience, and the value the network you’re evaluating offers its audience.  If your people are there, and the network solves a problem or offers a gain in efficiency, it probably warrants a bit more of your attention.  Applying these simple filters (and any others specific to your business) can save you time and ensure the social presences you do develop deliver lasting value to your brand.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, vice president – social media, PR Newswire.

Links to the interesting new tools and networks featured in the image at the top of this post: Quora, Prezi, Paper.li, Shopkick, Xtify, Flipboard.

Social networking: it’s like dating

In their race to “leverage social media” some organizations make the mistake of rushing in, establishing a presence … and then are disappointed by the results when their Twitter stream doesn’t generate sales leads, or their Facebook page flops.  In my mind, the real problem isn’t the efficacy of social media to create traction for brands online. The difficulty lies instead with connecting social media programs to business outcomes.  What outcomes will be tracked needs to be carefully considered.  The benefits brands will derive from building solid presences in networks will be found in the realms of mindshare, awareness, visibility and reputation, versus hard sales leads.

However, before any social media metrics can be tabulated, one first needs to develop a successful presence in social networks.  And that requires tact and effort.  In reality, social networking for brands is a lot like dating.  You have to click with a person, and cultivate the relationship. One doesn’t walk into a bar, make eye contact with a likely looking prospect across room, decide to get married, acquire the house with the white picket fence, 2.5 children and a dog all in one go.  It’s simply not reasonable to expect this outcome from a solitary visit to the local dive.

And likewise, it’s not reasonable to believe that just because an organization packages all their messaging into a fire hose of information, and then turns said fire hose upon their audience – that the audience is going to open their collective mouths and guzzle greedily.  Nor is it reasonable to think this newly-drenched audience is going to cheerfully shuffle dripping in the direction the organization suggests, happily clicking on links, submitting lead-capture forms and ultimately buying what’s being sold.

In reality, the organization with the fire hose of content will achieve one thing if they turn on those jets of information and aim them at their audience.  They will scrub the decks free of life, creating an environment as sterile and inviting as a surgical suite.

Simply put, social networks, for the most part, aren’t efficient lead-gen machines. But efficiency hasn’t ever been what any social media expert or advocate touts as a key benefit.  In my mind, the key benefits of developing a successful presence in social networks include:

  • Developing relationships with clients, and transforming some among them into true advocates for your brand.  These are the people who jump to your defense against trolls, and who amplify your messages.
  • Creating a continuous feedback loop that reveals what your clients like, need and value – and what concerns them.
  • If you’re lucky and have managed to do the first two well, you’ll also increase visibility for your web site.  The social layer strongly informs search results, and user-generated content frequently makes it to page one of the SERPs.

As I said before, social networking is kind of like dating.  You have to be attentive, present, listening, transparent, trustworthy, witty, funny, entertaining and open.  But most of all, you have to care – and that has to be clearly evident to the people on the other side of the conversation.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, vice president, social media, PR Newswire.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hipposrunsuperfast.com

Hearing vs. Listening

Last week I attended and spoke at PR & MKTG Camp East in NYC.  I participated as one of the session panelists on Establishing Business Impact Metrics and Analytics. This afternoon session sparked a lot of conversation about social media monitoring applications and approaches,  but I wonder if through all the talking, was anyone really listening?

It’s often said that one of the most important things companies and organizations can do today is listen.

A whole new industry has risen up with multiple products to help us listen to what is being said in the many ways consumers and investors are today communicating.   There are countless stories and case studies about the results that we can expect if we are truly tapped into the conversation. BusinessWeek even speculated on the practice in their article Wanted: Social Media Sifters last week.

But I ask again, are we really listening?

There are many dashboards to help us, but they can also make us lazy.  They help us to decipher if our message is being heard by the masses or the niche markets we are trying to reach.   They help us add a new metric to our arsenals of graphs and charts that we can hand to our bosses, showing our good work.  But, are we listening or are we just hearing the noise?  Too often stories bubble up that become case studies to be discussed in blog posts and presented at conferences, where companies were burned because they weren’t listening.   This happens because someone got caught tuning out.  But, I’m not sure they weren’t hearing, they just failed to listen and act.

There are arguments that say it doesn’t matter what everyone is saying, only what the “influencers” have to say.   I’m not sure that I agree with them. Look at the story of Bob Golomb in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.  The story is about the philosophy of the best sales person at a car dealership.   He didn’t judge a person on looks, age, or profession.   He treated each person like they were his best customer.

Do we do that online today with what our audiences are saying about us?

There are times when we cursorily hear our audiences.  They make mention about not being happy with a product or service issue, but often their voices go unanswered in social media. It’s not that we weren’t hearing them, but listening also implies action. I was always taught that when you are in a conversation with someone you need to be an active listener.  Active listening is what we must do today.  This implies that you are acknowledging what’s being said, and that acknowledgement offline is much easier than online.

Online, active listening means that we must acknowledge the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly.   Most of the time, someone just wants to know they were heard, even if there wasn’t necessarily an answer for them. Some of you might say that you’re from the PR team, the marketing team, etc. and that the response must come from sales or customer relations.  However, today because of speed, all of our activities within a company are tied together.

Bad customer service can cause a bad reputation and make the job of communicators much harder.  As I recently heard Frank Eliason – formerly of Comcast and now with Citibank – say at the BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, Customer Service is the new marketing.

Authored by Michael Pranikoff, director, emerging media, PR Newswire.

Image courtesy of Suchitra Prints via Flickr Creative Commons.