Social Media Marketing Do’s & Don’t’s: Part 1

Hopping on the Social Media Marketing bandwagon? You’re not alone. Seems user-generated content and social media marketing are becoming as ubiquitous as the tacky inflatable snowmen with which my neighbors continue to pollute their yards.

The trick, my little sugarplums, isn’t to simply embrace the trend… but to master it.

Or in your case, not to make an ass of yourself the first time out of the gate! [sigh]

Lucky for you, I’m feeling rather generous today! And so, The Genius shall share her personal list of Social Media “Do’s and Don’t’s”—with the full knowledge that you’ll probably screw your program up anyway.

[sigh] It isn’t easy being so brilliant and flawless. But it’s my cross to bear.

Social Media Marketing “DO’s”:
1. For crap’s sake, please DO establish clear business objectives for your social media marketing efforts—before you even think about launching a campaign of any kind.

Seriously: If I see one more blog, podcast, or pointless viral marketing campaign launch with no clear strategy other than to satisfy the overgrown ego of some bonehead executive [who got their MBA when dinosaurs still roamed the earth]… well, I just might barf!

2. DO establish your metrics—yes, before you launch.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure, right, people? It’s Marketing 101.

Social media is no exception to this rule.

Now, I know that “goals” and “metrics” seem tedious and about as sexy as plumber’s crack, but trust me: it’s your only hope of having something more meaningful to say the next time your boss asks how the social media campaign is doing than, “Uh…”

[Side note: Why is it that so many businesses treat their marketing strategy like a leisurely drive through the country?

“No, we don’t have a map or specific destination in mind… but we’ll know we’re good when we get there…. Oh wait… I think we’re lost… and we’re running out of gas! Shit… I told you we should have asked for directions!!!!”

Don’t be stupid. And don’t be a wimp. ROI isn’t the only meaningful business metric, so don’t become a slave to it. Consider what’s most relevant, metric-wise to your company’s business objectives. For a cheat sheet on some of the best metrics for SMM, check this out.

3. DO your homework. (And I don’t mean “Do do your homework”, because that would be very messy.)
Social media isn’t rocket science, but it’s not your run-of-the-mill tool for broadcasting product features and benefits either. You’ve taken a great first step by reading this blog post; now go read a few others. This basic primer by one of my favorite marketing bloggers, CK, is another great place to start. If all else fails, I’m sure there’s a copy of Social Media for Dummies out there somewhere just waiting for a home.

Side note: If you’re a control-freak and can’t get jiggy with the idea of your marketing messages becoming a two-way communication, perhaps you’d be better off investing your correspondence-course education on something more suitable—like annoying pop-up ads or a nice, cheesy infomercial.

3. DO get to know the community before you ask something of them.
Like it or not, the same rules apply here as in the larger game of life, only amplified. Read: you can’t show up to a new school/office/neighborhood and immediately ask people for stuff. You’ve got to give a little first. Get to know them. Maybe even let them get to know you.

To do this well, you’ll need to a) actually spend some time observing and [gasp!] interacting with the communities that are relevant to your market segment(s).

I.e., What conversations are taking place? And who is shaping/influencing those conversations (and how)?

I know it may sound creepy, but you’ve got to do a little lurking before you barge in with your brilliant addition to the conversation. Get to know the topics, the people, and the tone of the dialogue. Remember the key word here is “ENGAGEMENT”—not broadcasting.

4. DO take an integrated approach to your social media efforts—particularly with respect to SEO.
Yes, yes, I know I’ve been bashing SEO since before the dawn of man… but the truth is, an integrated approach to search and social media makes a lot more sense than throwing either one under a bus. Social media marketing (and blogging in particular) can have a dramatic impact on organic search—assuming, of course, that you’re clever enough to pepper your blog with relevant keywords and phrases, and to keep the content fresh and the incoming links/comments/trackbacks a-flowing.


5. DO start small and “fail fast”.

The skeptics who poo-poo social media as an effective marketing tool do so because, well… the vast majority of social media campaigns are pretty big failures. After all, there’s a learning curve. Plus… few of the folks that have come before you were blessed with the marvelous wisdom I’ve bestowed on you here!

The question is, will you follow in their mediocre footsteps? Or blow them away with your strategic, iterative, and flexible approach that treads carefully [and cheaply] into new territory, all the while honing your strategy on-the-fly.

Ooh, that’s so Web 2.0!

Tune in next week for “Part 2: The DONTs.”

Search vs. Social Media Smackdown, Round 2

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job with a popular travel search engine. The VP of Marketing was looking for an experienced online marketer to manage the company’s SEO/SEM programs—which, for a bonafide genius like me, is child’s play. In my cover letter, I told him upfront that I wasn’t interested in a search-only marketing position. In my characteristically brilliant way, I explained that my talents would be wasted on a search-only marketing strategy and that I had infinitely more valuable capabilities to offer.

Whether he never read my letter or simply found my insubordination irresistible, I’ll never know… the point is, he invited me for an interview.

Once in his office, he asked me about my experience with SEO/SEM as a marketing tool.

“Feh,” I said. “Search is dead to me.”

As the color drained from his face and his fists clenched in his lap, I dove into an impassioned monologue about why an online marketing strategy that leads with SEO/SEM was doomed to fail:

“It’s too narrow, too tedious, and frankly, it’s too 2006.”

I proceeded to tell him that to achieve his company’s lofty goal of becoming the #2 travel search engine in the world (first of all, who sets their sites on becoming #2?), they’d need to broaden their focus to include all that Web 2.0 has made possible—and all that Web 3.0 promises:

Sophisticated search + User-generated content + Social networking + Contextual/demographic/behavioral targeting + Portable personalization = Genuinely relevant content that I trust in whatever media format I prefer.

Simply put, SEO/SEM just ain’t gonna cut it.

He didn’t throw me out of his office… but I could tell he wanted to.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand why Mr. Fancy Pants is so attached to his beloved Search. It comes down to one word: Measurability. As a direct response medium, Search is tough to beat. Experienced search marketers know they wield a lot of power in their SEO/SEM campaigns; they can deliver top-line metrics to their CMO or their CEO or whatever yo-yo is in charge. They can control their CPA and their ROI (had enough acronyms yet?) and make adjustments both large and small with the ease of a keystroke. And though it’s getting harder to produce big, fat results very quickly or without a big investment up-front (search ain’t the new kid on the block anymore!), Search is still King with many online marketers.

And dinosaurs once roamed the earth. So what? Change happens. It’s happening right now.

“Search is a unique proposition — this is why Google is Google and many Googlers are rich. However, search does not exist in a vacuum any more than television or direct mail does. A search engine is no longer the exclusive point of entry to the Internet for many people. Social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook have become portals to a huge number of Web users. If the goal of the marketer is to reach the most potential customers online, thereby maximizing return on investment as a whole, it is critical to engage users throughout their online journey which, as we all become more sophisticated Web users, is increasingly not always begun at a search engine.” —excerpted from The Challenges of Measuring The Performance Of Emerging Media For A Search-Centric Advertiser by Nancy Adzentoivich, Friday, Nov 9, 2007

Here, here!

But don’t just take Nancy’s word for it, or mine for that matter… look at some of the data:

  • WOM ranks highest in driving consumers’ purchase decisions—above TV, Internet, print, and radio [source: BIGResearch, simultaneous media usage study, 2005]
  • Americans engage in 3.5 billion(!) brand-related conversations every day [source: Keller Fay Group]
  • Two-thirds of marketing/communications professionals are planning to increase their investment in conversational marketing within the next twelve months; 57% project that in five years they will be spending more on conversational marketing than traditional marketing [source: TWI Surveys, Inc.]
  • A whopping 96% of 9-17 year olds are connecting to a social network at least once a week [source: Alloy Media & Marketing]

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the next big wave is coming… and fast. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening… or you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps and learn how to take the reigns.

[Or you can see how many overused metaphors you can string together into one meaningless sentence…]

If you’re still quaking in your boots at the thought of exploring the Brave New World of social media, allow me to assuage your fears about its measurability: You can, in fact, measure the impact of your efforts. Here are just a few of the possible metrics you might plug into your neat little dashboard:

  • Number of uniques
  • Returning vs. new users
  • Referring traffic
  • Google Page Rank
  • Technorati authority
  • Time spent on site
  • Page views
  • Conversation index (ratio of blog posts to blog comments)
  • Tone of conversation, comments, posts
  • Speed or velocity of spread, viral

(above list excerpted from Kami Huse’s enlightening presentation on Measuring Social Media)

There’s also the soon-to-be-well-known Net Promoter Score, ideally-suited for measuring social media campaign efficacy:

NPS = % of Promoters – % of Detractors.

It’s not a pure ROI calculation, but it gets to the root of whether a customer/reader/community member would recommend you—or not—as a percentage of the total activity on your social media platform.

So to those of you who—like Mr. Fancy Pants—fear social media because you think you can’t measure it, I say, Feh! You most certainly can. The only reason why there’s so much squabbling over the measurability of social media campaigns (vs. that of SEO/SEM) is that most of you boneheads are still struggling to understand what the heck social media is let alone how it can help your brand.

Whiny, frightened Brand X says, “But what if they write something bad about me?”

Yeah, what if? Sticks and stones may break your bones…

Or in other words, get over it. They will write something bad about you, because you can’t possibly please everybody. And you’re not perfect. Put on your big girl panties, then get educated about how to make social media work for you.

As for measurability: it ain’t rocket science:

Set your objectives. Pick the metric(s) you feel are most relevant to those objectives. Benchmark against yourself (and/or your competitors) over time. Measure. Analyze results. Repeat!

The Genius will now take your comments…


Search vs. Social Media

First, an apology for yesterday’s rant. I’m not one for apologizing, given that I’m a bonafide genius and all, but… well, I may have been a bit harsh on those poor, inexperienced CEOs who are blindly burning through their investors’ foolish generosity with a cockamamie “all things to all people” marketing strategy.

What was I saying?…

Oh right—I’m very, very sorry I was so hard on you. Fuck Walk it off.

Now, on to one of my favorite heated debates of late: Search vs. Social Media. It seems that every marketer worth her or his salt has placed their eggs in one of these two baskets. Interestingly enough, the split often follows the left brain/right brain phenomenon which divides marketers into the “creative” and the “analytical” categories. But I digress…

Let’s talk data:

According to IDG, traffic coming from organic search has dropped 7% as a percentage of total traffic in the past year (actually April 2006 – April 2007), while direct visits (from bookmarks and type-ins) increased 4%. Even more meaningful is this bit of data: according to IDG’s research, 70% of traffic to web sites does NOT come directly from organic search.

Meanwhile, social networks are driving more traffic than ever to targeted shopping and classified sites (data on this point ranges from 45-85%, depending on the source). Add in the greater sophistication of Web 2.0 tools and a markedly more experienced, savvy pool of users… and you’ve got yourself a juicy opportunity for creating a deeper, more direct relationship with customers—assuming, of course, that you deliver a satisfying (ie personalized, user-friendly, don’t-make-me-think-just-give-me-what-i-want) online experience.

My point? We’re seeing the first marked shift away from search (since Google reinvented the idea of it) and toward the slightly creepy [but certainly more convenient] future of personalized, interconnectedness that social media and Web 3.0 (that’s not a typo) promise. And I’m betting it’s just the beginning.

Should companies stop investing in search? That depends… on the type of business, industry, and audience, as well as on budget, access to search expertise, and competitive environment. A solid organic search program aimed at landing your company page 1 ranking on Google or other major search engines [for those of you who still believe there are any] could take 6-9 months; perhaps 3-6 if you’ve got the talent and expertise in-house. And by the way, page 1 organic search ranking only matters if your product or service correlates to common and [if you’re lucky] inexpensive search terms (meaning people actually KNOW what they’re looking for). Meanwhile, a solid social media campaign can yield measurable results in a matter of days/weeks and typically costs a whole lot less.

Aside from the advantages of speed and savings, there’s a lot more value to social media programs than simply the number of clicks generated or transactions completed online. It’s about connection, loyalty, transparency… big words that tend to scare big brands… yet those who embrace them will undoubtedly trounce their competitors. Denying what’s right in front of you isn’t what I call “strategy”. I’ll quote CK, one of my new favorite marketing bloggers to drive this point home:

“One must modernize (or face irrelevance). In using the British monarchy as a metaphor for social media…find out why it’s important to modernize, and why it’s critical to reach out to your constituents (if you want them to like you) right here.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see the benefits of hedging your SEO/SEM bets with low-cost social media as just one of the many tricks in the bag. Do it right and you’ll build your brand, strengthen direct-navigation traffic, and possibly even put an end to the Search Engine Monopoly once and for all.

Sorry, Google. (Although if you’re hiring… I’ll gladly reconsider this post 🙂