Why “Social Media for business is” [not] “CRAP!”

I write this in haste and I am pissed. So watch out –

A friend just sent me this discussion on LinkedIn entitled:” Social Media for Business is CRAP! OK, I finally said it publicly, Social Media for business is Crap!”, written by a guy who has a digital agency – PPC, SEO, Web analytics – that sort of thing.

The article goes on for great length to say how social media is overhyped and not really useful for business. My first take was this guy was ignorant and he didn’t understand social media is just a tactic – not a silver bullet. If a business used it without success the goals were probably not clear.

I gave the article a second read. With a second look, I realize I had been too generous with the guy. He was not just ignorant; he is downright dangerous because he assumes that people are just robots – they can only be persuaded to buy when they are in “buy” program. Here’s the crucial bit upon which his argument of “why social media for business is crap” hinges:

Social media is used for entertainment and communication, ahh, socializing. “Socializing” people are not in the “consumer mode” when they are cruising the social sites. They are looking for friends, maybe a date, etc…you really cannot target potential consumers when they are out at their “buying behavior mode”.

In his view, if you’re buying you buy and if you’re not – you’re not – never shall the twain meet. So since social media can not lead to a direct sale (untrue BTW) it must be, therefore, useless for business.

What nonsense.  Aside from the fact that this POV does not account for the process of creating a customer, it does nothing to create a pool of prospects who may be future customers. But then he continues with what he thinks is proof for why “social media for business is crap”:

And yes, I have read the eMarketer predictions that social ad spend will increase by about 400% by 2013. But, these same groups are also publishing reports like today’s “Does Social Media Work for Small Biz?” where 88% of all small business owners say social media is not helpful to their business. Proof that most of us are not yet seeing the tangible benefits.

Uh – that’s one way to look at the data but that’s a distorted view to make his point. It would be far more accurate to understand these statistics by recognizing that most small businesses do not see the value of social media yet – because they have not yet done it! Social media is barely 12 months old and you have to wonder why small business is not relying on it yet? Come’on – .

Not until the end does he subtly reveal his agenda to the astute reader (let’s remember his agency sells PPC services):

Sure, you can start a dialogue [with social media} and maybe down the road they will recall your business, but the effort to generate business is much more ROI effective using PPC or SEO. The one bright spot for social media as a business tool may be list building, but my own results have been mixed (via measuring quality of opt ins).

So, according to him, the only way to get tangible results is to use the type of programs that he sells services for (hmm – what a coincidence). But here’s the rich irony of it all. As he disses social media for its lack of ROI,  who here wants to bet that traffic to his site quadrupled???? My take is if he can’t convert any of that extra traffic to paid customers – he is doing it wrong – not social media which did its job perfectly.

You may be wondering why this whole episode really ignited my fury. I got so angry because there was no intelligence in his article – no insight. He simply manipulated the social media environment by picking an obviously intense topic for his own blatant agenda.  It strikes me as shameless and without integrity. If an agency person wants to generate controversy – go to town. But be simple and direct and pick a topic that you can discuss with intelligence and honesty. Digital lynching of social media is so passé.

(I feel better now).

Judy Shapiro

Why Google Reminds me of AT&T – Take 2. Can you spell DOJ?

Many of you will remember the July 7 article in AdAge on Why Google Voice Reminds Me of AT&T, where I broadly outlined how Google, like AT&T before it, can be undone by its ambition to dominate a key “infrastructure” sector, like the web. I contended in the article that, much like AT&T’s quest to dominate information systems, Google’s quest to dominate web services can divert precious resources from core businesses leaving it weaker not stronger.

The article generated, uh, considerable conversation; some polite, some not – but most were incredulous that I could even dare to make such a comparison.

Now, a mere 3 weeks later, Fred Vogelstein of Wired Magazine chivalrously comes to my defense (however unwittingly on his part) with his article; “Keyword: Monopoly …Why is Obama’s top antitrust cop gunning for Google.” where he explores the Department of Justice’s newly launched anti-trust investigation of Google (see where this is going?).

The article explains why the DOJ is going after Google now:

“Recently, Google’s size and ambitions have begun to obscure its halo. Advertisers watch nervously as the company’s share of the search-advertising market have jumped to 75% from 50% …Google’s largest problem isn’t what the company is today; its what is plans to become. Google aims to create a world in which web services replace desktop software.”

Does this not sound familiar?  The government gets nervous whenever one, very large, commercial enterprise wants to dominate any key infrastructure, whether it is software, information or the web. It was why AT&T and Microsoft were targeted in their day and it explains the DOJ timing now.

This investigation is yet another element demonstrating the parallel between the two companies. Sadly, the DOJ investigation changed everything for AT&T and it is likely to fundamentally change how Google does business, even if the case is not brought for years.  You see, once the government had a “virtual” seat at the AT&T table, the lawyers started running the show. It slowed us down, blunted much of our competitive bite and even restricted which technologies we considered. It simply took the life out of AT&T. Google seems prone to face similar constraints.

At this point, I hope most of you can at least understand why I saw and continue to see a pattern repeating itself. The real question becomes what’s in store for Google? What can Google do better/ differently than either Microsoft or AT&T when they were at this critical crossroads? Maybe nothing – I don’t know. Yet, that does not seem to sit well given Google’s well earned reputation for its Google genius. So for a moment, using history as our guide, let’s consider “out loud” some of their choices – together.

In the face of a potential anti-trust suit, Google can follow the path of Microsoft to fight to keep Google whole. It can use the legal argument of “anyone can go to any number of competitors with a better mousetrap” strategy. But that approach is not without peril if the lesson of Bill Gates’ now infamous court testimony with the resulting loss of Microsoft public good will is any indication. Poof – in a virtual moment, a decade of good will was gone. And the irony of following in Microsoft’s legal footsteps is rich given Google’s corporate culture of being as much anti-Microsoft (e.g. their “Don’t be evil” mantra) as it is “for” anything.

Google has another option; one that celebrates what Google what it does most brilliantly; innovate with new business models to create sustainable, profitable and ethically oriented corporate growth. It is an option that follows the contours of AT&T’s footsteps (read on before you all descend into an epileptic shouting fit), but avoids its failures.

Here’s what I mean.

AT&T ended breaking itself up into seven companies (the 7 Baby Bells of which three are still around) after a lengthy and costly battle which left AT&T very much weakened in the process. Maybe, just maybe, Google takes the first, brave step to focus on getting smaller and better – not necessarily around becoming bigger. Google can consider innovative ways to spin off smaller, more sustainable businesses via a consortium or community of like-minded companies. This community of companies model was first tried successfully by the Bell Labs New Venture Group in the late 1990’s. It operated with a structure that let connected businesses share basic, scalable overhead services like HR or marketing, but they remained relatively small to allow for innovation and ideas to flow freely. I was there that time and I can attest to the fact that with this model, we were able to more quickly assess and launch new technologies with successful outcomes.

While getting “smaller” may echo back to the AT&T “breakup”, that’s where the similarities can end. AT&T never really embraced the notion that smaller companies could be stronger and more profitable. Perhaps Google, by staying true to its very DNA to “be a force for good on the Internet” can free us from outmoded business models where bigger is automatically assumed to be better. Google can keep its cool by being a role model for a well balanced company that’s big enough to stay strong and innovative but not too big that it drowns in its own grandeur and bureaucracy.

It has not been done yet. In this respect Google reminds me of no one. And maybe this is what saves them.

Judy Shapiro

This is a reprint from Ad Age DigitalNext column.

Whatever.

Pity the poor agency person pitching me. I have actually felt sorry for them at times, until they start their pitch and then I remember why agencies infuriate me.

You see, I spent a dozen years at an agency before jumping to the client side. I know all the agency speak phrases that are meant to pacify clients that ask too many questions. I’ve been reminded of those phrases lately because I have been hearing lots of these phrases in lots of agency pitches in the past four months.

I miss the days when agencies prepared real proposals (“pitches”) with real tactics and costs. I don’t think most of these creative directors even know what a storyboard is anymore. Pitches nowadays seem to be have the “same” vague, unclear promises such as one promise that came from a social media agency where they claimed that “our article will be seen by 60 million people with hundreds of back links back to your site”.

Oh my — such big promises. It would make any inexperienced marketer sign up. I would.  But when you pick apart what exactly will they do get this level of activity, well the vague plans become even vaguer.

“Ah” – you say – “but my big agency does campaign plans, strategies and analysis”. I bet they do. And I bet you have lots of great looking strategic documents with very little specific results to show for it. And worse, the cost actually makes you think twice every time you pick up the phone. Unfortunately, based on feedback from my friends at large companies like Siemens and Avaya, I know full well that big agencies simply move too slow, are too late in picking up new tech trends and cost too much. Pity – because Paltalk is exactly the type of client where agencies can do the most good.

So after hearing countless pitches, I have come to the conclusion that either agencies are too clever for me or they never encountered a client who is an “Industry veteran” (as Forbes described me when I started at Paltalk), who knows what she wants and knows that agencies should be able to deliver it. When I question proposals (gasp — how dare I), I keep getting a vague air of “Trust us … you can’t get it … you’re not cool … only we cool agency types can get it”. This attitude is what gets my blood boiling. To add insult to injury, they act like clients should be grateful that they (said agency) even agrees to service them at all!

So what’s to be done? I love this industry too much to leave well enough alone. I propose that agencies must do nothing less than change their business model and it involves evolving to mirror the business of marketing that clients have to confront today!

But how? Well, here are my top 10 things that agencies can start doing differently. They are specific and actionable. I propose them because in these tough economic times, agencies need to either evolve or many will die.

The Agency 10 Step Recovery Plan.

1) Never confuse desired outcome with what you will actually do.

Promising results is fine .. but be clear and specific how you intend to do it. Is it too much to ask for details so when you say, we will have a blog campaign, that you explain how much time will be spent on blog postings. Don’t just promise results and leave the details as a vague “whatever”.

2) Be honest.

Stuff happens in any campaign. But when things go wrong in digital campaigns it is too easy to blame the client’s infrastructure. At least come to the table about what happened but don’t just shrug and say “whatever” (yes an agency person actually said that to me recently when I asked them about a troubling stat.)

3) Know what you know and make sure your client understands that.

Too often in an effort to be efficient, clients ask agencies to stretch beyond their competence – to the frustration of all. Much of digital marketing is technologically challenging – so don’t set yourself up to fail. Passing on business short term will win credibility in the long term.

4) Don’t propose campaigns you know are highly unlikely to be technically feasible.

Ok – this is one of my pet peeves. I ask an agency pitch me on a program with a clear deadline. Yet they insist on presenting ideas that can not be executed within the time frame I have. When I ask why they presented this idea, the answer is often “so you can see our depth”. All I can think is “whatever”.

5) Think about the business end game.

Agencies always “talk the talk” but they actually rarely “walk the walk”. Remember, clients pay agencies to deliver tangible business results – not just to do cool interactive stuff that no one associates with your brand. I even had one large digital agency tell me that they thought creating a highly viral campaign with a strong branding component was not possible. The best viral stuff can not be branded, they said. Obviously, my reaction to this agency was thanks very much but “whatever”.  I kept looking.

6) Create a campaign that engages the entire interaction lifecyle.

For some reason, agencies seem to stop short in their campaigns as though their job is done once the person has clicked or registered or done whatever action the campaign required. I rarely see thinking beyond the direct call to action. I am suggesting that agencies need to consider the full lifecycle management of the prospect; even they don’t have responsibility for executing the full plan. It would be nice to see how the concept extends beyond the banner campaign.

7)  Be humble.

The arrogance of interactive agencies sometimes amuses me but mostly just irritates me, especially since there is often a startling lack of business results to show for their arrogance. Again, recent experience had one agency tell me that they wanted to advertise with a banner campaign an interactive viral promotion to encourage consumer usage of the viral interactive device. When I asked how could you “advertise” a viral campaign that relies on the unexpected nature of the “gag”, I was told I didn’t get it. Another “whatever” moment.

8)  Be a technology leader to your client.

Delivering a traditional ad campaign is well understood by agencies and hence they often do a good job on these campaigns. Its all falls apart when the clients need integrated digital marketing campaigns. Then it gets messy. Very messy. Agencies do not integrate new technologies into their business model easily. Why? Because technology proficiency comes with depth, experience and time. Agency fee structures never ever supported this level of depth.

Clients always had to push agencies to adopt new technologies and nothing has changed. But clients need more guidance than ever – like what to do when PPC effectiveness really does start to decline. When will agencies finally step up to the plate and start leading their clients through the increasingly complex technology marketing game.

9) Clean house.

Start improving the level of skill and experience you hire to represent your agency. Stop hiring “children” who can talk the cool talk but who never lived through a tough business cycle. In the “old days” only the best MBAs from the best business schools were in account management. Real clients deserve real business smarts, not kids.

10) Execute!

Good ideas are nice … but execution is paramount. It is amazing how often campaigns are not to be completely executed. There are hitches, glitches and hiccups. Often, it is the result of a lack of homework and project management on the part of the agency. I find this the most baffling, largely because there is no excuse for it.

I am tired of feeling”whatever” when dealing with some marketing agencies. I want to be inspired. I want an agency to move me. And I have not found the right partner.

But take heart. I usually get what I want. I just have to work a bit harder at it.

Judy Shapiro

Top Ten Marketing Disappointments for 2007

 

How quickly 2007 seems to have blitz’d through my visual frame. One minute I am just throwing out the New Cards joyfully wishing me a great 2007 and hark – here’s the new crop of cards for 2008! Time to take stock and recount what started as promising marketing approaches that either fizzled or were badly executed.

So here new years revelers is my top ten list of marketing disappointments for 2007.   

1) Beware the Google machine – are you scared yet? They are into radio buying, TV ad space, wireless, software and what next? Companies that get too big too quick implode. Think Time Warner/ AOL.  Everywhere I turn I bump into them – feels like invasion of the Google machine. I am getting scared.  

2) A second life for Second life? Typical. People thought it was the next “big” thing and next thing you know – people start dissing it. Advertisers cry – “is no one there?” and start back peddling. Oh grow up. New ideas take time to jel – learn how it works and use it right and well. 

 

3) A rose by another name is still called affinity marketing. Ok – today it is called viral marketing a.k.a. social media a.k.a. community marketing and on and on. Let’s remind ourselves – that this is just a new name for what 15 years ago we called affinity marketing – described as “birds of a feather flock together”. Today, the basic “birds of feather flock together” concept has not changed but the ways we can deliver the message has increased substantially. The good news is that now we can reach an affinity group cheaper with a lot less lead time or fuss. The better news – you can start this type of program with just a little smarts and even less cash. The best news – it is interactive. The “many to many” model is an engagement model that is ongoing and can be sustained over time. A marketers dream, but don’t let the buzz of “viral marketing” scare you. You can do this type of marketing yourself – and don’t let any social media agency tell you otherwise. 

 

4) SEO can’t get no respect. SEO is one of those unsung heros of the marketing world. But it is often overlooked and underappreciated. Why? Because it is so misunderstood and worse lots of folks out there selling the digital version of snake oil. “Get to first page ranking – guaranteed in 30 days”. We’ve all seen that ad. But find a credible technology provider and you’ll see real results. Better yet. Read up on it yourself. You won’t have to do it – but you’ll know better what to expect. 

 

5) Mobile marketing – like trying to catch a cloud in your hand. I worked on 802.11 back when wireless penetration was barely at 40%. Now that there is near virtual wireless penetration – everyone and his brother (I think I mean that literally) is doing wireless marketing – pushing content, ads whatever to people on their phones. Enough already!!! The backlash will surely hit hard and heavy. Worse – many of these ventures doing wireless marketing are not well developed. If you want to play in wireless marketing – watch your step – 

 

6) Blogging is no silver bullet. Hey I love blogging (ya think J) but don’t think it is a silver bullet to replace good marketing strategy and execution. It is seductive to put all your eggs in the bloggin basket. Resist the temptation. Blogging is a tactic that should be part of a well developed plan.

 

7) Public Relations activities still stuck. PR agencies are stuck somewhere in the 1980’s. They still think that their main goal is to get NYTimes coverage. That’s nice but it does not actually build business anymore. It is far more productive to evolve how PR works. A few “big” announcements deserve to get news pick up but far more often you should focus on what’s news to your prospective customers who can generate revenue. If you plan these two levels of PR – you can get the front page of BusinessWeek and more revenue from customers. That’s the way to unstick your PR.  

 

8 ) Is the shine coming off the PPC model? It is true dear friends and if Google could hear me now they would no doubt disagree. The Google PPC machine has peaked and now is the time to understand how to minimize costs while optimizing revenue. Try this experiment. Reduce PPC by 10% – and track if you see a difference. I bet you won’t. You may even be able to reduce by 20% before you see some drop off.  I suggest you use some of the new tactics to augment what was your PPC budget. You may even see more revenue. 

 

9) eMail marketing – don’t open till you see the whites of their eyes. This is a tough one but email marketing effectiveness is harder and harder to achieve. Between fear of fraud emails, SPAM filters and all else – emails have even less of a chance of getting through. Stick to emails that are to your own customers with real offers. That works better than ever before and focus on other tactics to gain new customers.

 

10) Security in digital marketing. It is a battle many are losing and it is sad to report that even if a site has all the security in the world it does no good if a user’s PC has been compromised. The key is to help your customer stay safe online. If you can, offer them digital safety tips. Better yet – you can offer them great free security software – like Comodo Firewall. It’s free, it works and your customers will appreciate the tip. They stay safe and you can be assured that they will remain secure customers.

 

So here’s my wish to you all for 2008 – may your marketing be fruitful and frugal – and to all a good night.   

Judy Shapiro

It’s all about share of mind

There are lots of ways to reach people online – blogs, podcasts, social networks, YouTube. You name it and a new tactic seems to come out of the woodwork every other day. And sure – everyone wants to get noticed but in business, getting noticed is nice but getting lots of quality attention is even better and that’s the name of the game.  

Getting noticed by people who can advocate your product or service is the secret sauce to successful PR and viral marketing (a.k.a. PVR – public + viral relations ). From social networkers and customers to the press, Trenchwars is all about fighting the visibility battle & winning!  

Here are some practical steps you can take to start your own PVR trenchwar campaign.   

1) Start simple.

Set realistic goals that you can achieve.  A starting goal for instance might be to just identify the big bloggers in your segment and track them. Respond to their posts and if appropriate submit content to them. 

2) Track your progress.

Sign up for Google alerts about your company, your competitors and your industry. See who’s making noise and how. There are valuable lessons. This service is free and it is chock full of insight. 

3) Incrementally add tactics.

Once you are comfortable in the blog-o-sphere – add one tactic at a time. Maybe you do a fun YouTube schtick. Post and experiment. Learn how get traction. Then be more aggressive – add more tactics as you master their value to your business. 

4) Create a User Forum. 

This is a powerful way to engage your customers (and competitors). Get social networkers to be moderators. They will be happy to play as it gives them a platform too. 

5) Work the Press Release Angle.

Create a PR engine by sending out lots of releases (and I mean lots). If you can stand it – try and do one a week. There are tons of free distribution channels out there so the only cost is your time to create the release. Your goal should not really be to tempt the New York Times to print a story – but rather to gain visibility to your target. What is news for the media and what is news to your prospective customer is entirely different. Recognize that distinction and play it up. As an aside, remember releases are usually written in a “neutral” third party voice. Stick to that – it sounds more credible. Again – you will see how you are doing via the Google alerts. 

Finally – be patient. It can months of work before you start seeing results – just like farmer can not reap the wheat without first doing the prep. With patience, your crop will come in :)  

Judy Shapiro

The sales behind the search

 Emergent iContent —  What it is? 

Using content in all its digital forms to increase of search volumes to affect sales increases. This requires a coordinated content distribution approach across diverse digital media.

A historical perspective.

Companies have long understood that increasing public awareness increases sales. From the 1960 – 1980’s, the largest companies like Procter & Gamble, Gillette, AT&T built their companies through the strategic use of distributed awareness content, mainly delivered through TV, newspapers and in-store promotions. The key was a coordinated approach within a fairly limited set of media channels.

Today, one can think of the Internet as the new mass media of our age (TV, newspaper and promo’s all rolled into one uber-medium), however with a twist. It has far more options AND it has been democratized. No longer is there a cost to play – in fact many vehicles are no/ low cost. The trick is to use that medium effectively and the challenge is to be efficient even as the technology evolves.

  What’s not working today.  

Companies are spending lots on content creation and distribution in all its forms – email, press releases, websites, CEO blogs, webinars, user groups and on and on. Typically, all this content is created and distributed in silo’d programs driven by the respective subject matter experts; web design agencies, web optimization agencies, pr agencies and online agencies.  This disparate activity creates fragmentation not allowing a strong presence to be felt where it really counts – within the dominant awareness vehicle of our day – search volumes and search visibility.   

  So what’s missing from this model?

Plenty!

What’s missing is a strategic emphasis on using new content serving vehicles into the existing marketing communication mix … and managing it to drive search volumes and hence sales. Using the Internet’s architecture of 1:1,   1:Many and Many: Many structure which incorporates blogs, podcast, PR,  widgets, social networks and  user communities, as a sales generator, one can create an enhanced model to get more impact from all activities.

 Why do it? 

Search volume has a direct correlation to sales velocity. At a basic level, the more you can direct and increase search volume in a focused way – the more sales will increase.

 How it works. 

The Internet is a content serving engine and increasing search volume is a key sales generator. Therefore, it is well worth the effort to strategically optimize search volume but it requires the efficient distribution of all digital content – from press releases to corporate blogs. 

This model was developed to optimize content distribution along a specific architecture as mentioned above; One to One; One to Many and Many to Many. All content distribution vehilces fall into this architecture rather neatly.  

  Why it works:

Today, the Internet has democratized content delivery to anyone who understands how to distribute content efficiently. Huge upfront buys are not required, heavy spending in banner advertising is not required. What is required is a smart approach to how to gain awareness in this new world.

Sounds good – but prove it.

 Stats from Jupiter Research.  Top Forms of Content Delivery  Among top 2500 Advertisers

2006 versus 2007

 What’s hot:

1. New Blog – used by 39% of sample and up 22% from last year

2. Forums – used by 33% of sample and up 18% from last year

3. Video on social networking site – used by 26% of sample and up 24%

4. Podcasts – used by 26% of sample and up 37% from last year

 What’s not:1. Traditional promotional advertising is used by 38% of sample but is down 19%

2. Microsite is used by 26% of sample but is down 4% from last year

  Real World Success Stories 

  • Private Internet security company that spends virtually no money on advertising is now the most searched security brand beating its primary competitor — a $3 billion mega security company. During this period, overall sales activity increased 28% while marketing expense was reduced 36%.
  • Using widgets, an online retailer selling maternity clothes had acquired 10,000 new customers and a step change in their conversion rates
  • A medical technology company coordinated its corporate blogging strategy with it’s public relations activity and search volumes went up 5x. Sales experienced an incremental 12% due to increased Internet visibility.

 How to measure.The traditional model was based on a granular level view of specific tactical level actions – open rates, downloads rates, conversion rates and on and on.  All good measures – but these offer a shortsighted understanding on how to drive sales. The trap marketer should not fall into is the temptation to measure each vehicle rather than looking to measure business impacting metrics. Here’s how measuring individual components can lead a marketer to the wrong conclusions:

  • Company A pays for a booth at a trade show – show generates 20 leads
  • Then company sends email to leads to follow up – but no deals are closed
  • Three months later, the company creates a white paper discussing their solution and sends out a press release
  •  Two months later, the company sells 4 solutions

 The BIG question – what drove the sale??? One can not exclude all the touchpoints that lead up to the sales because one can never know what is inside the head of the customer. The Internet is far more measurable than any mass media in the past so the lesson here is to assume all touch points contribute to sales and work to coordinate content for maximum search impact. While one can measure specific actions that a marketing tactics may have caused – the real and only metric is sales volume. And today, the good barometer of that is how visible you are in search volumes. Happily, that is an easy metric to capture.

Judy Shapiro

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