The Surprised Entrepreneur-Diary of new venture (Entry #4): A tale of two VC meetings.

For the last 3 months I have been very focused on sales of our Interaction Engine system and we are doing well on that score. As a result, though, I have not really shaped the business plan and the structure of our company for the inevitable VC round to come. Getting funding has not been an urgent requirement and it seemed far better to generate real revenue and then go for funding.

So as we are chugging along, our work has gotten the attention of two VCs who reached out for a meeting. This was my first introduction to the world of VCs and I confess, the meetings were startling and sobering; leaving me strangely ambivalent about the journey ahead on this front.

VC meeting number 1.

It was a rainy, NY winter day and we decided to meet at a coffee shop. I knew that this fund was more an incubator type which offered me the potential of being part of a startup community. It seemed like a good idea that I perhaps become part of the NY “Tech/ CEO club” since now, I am an outlier. I don’t hang out in Meetup sessions and I am not trekking across the country chasing the cool tech conferences (OK – I confess I am going to SXSW but only because they asked me to speak).

I enter the coffee shop with only the vaguest sense of what the VC looked like (his Twitter pix was decidedly not very useful). It took me a solid 8 minutes to spot him. As I approach I see this 30ish guy with a quirky winter cone hat that was just 2 degrees “off” – IMO wandering into “silly land.” It was hard not to laugh out loud at the effect – but I held my composure.

I sit down and we start chatting.  I was curious to understand his investing philosophy. His focus decidedly was on individual technologies – why Foursquare will be huge or how this new app model will revolutionize some trend or other. When I wondered with him about the lack of a clear business model which limits their practical use for marketers, he dismissed that concern with a wave of the hand. “Well, that’s won’t be a problem for long – once the old guard is gone.”

Wow. Clearly that meant me. I took his comment to mean that only the “newer” generation have the depth to understand new marketing technologies. I was dumbfounded and I was shaken. The gap between us was, technologically speaking, generational – perhaps never to be bridged. But mostly I was stunned at how immature his thinking was about how the business of marketing really works. I was shaken knowing his company was helping drive the evolution of marketing without a clue about what marketers really need.

The rest of the conversation was a haze TBH. I left traumatized and angry at how dismissive he was of the impracticality of his vision of marketing technology evolution.

VC meeting number 2

This CEO leads a well-respected large VC shop that does $2- 5MM deals. I had been introduced to this VC through a mutual colleague and we met at his office one snowy day.  He sat down in comfortable business casual attire that was in keeping with his experienced CEO role.

We started by talking about his company which was relocating to the East Coast from the West Coast. Interesting move and I asked him why. “Increasingly the smart money is coming to NY as this where many of the major new media and marketing operating business trends are evolving,” he said.

This was my dream VC – he understood the space and the problem my company was trying to solve – how to practically create the “many to many” marketing model. We compared notes on how the technology in this space was similar to CRM in the 1990s – full of possibility but lacking in coordinated systems to activate the technology. I suggested that we are a bit like what Siebel who, at the time, integrated all the telemarketing technologies into the system we now know as CRM. I feel that is what we are doing for the emerging “many to many” marketing model. We met for a solid 90 minutes at which point he asked me “What next?” Shockingly, I had no “ask.” I had been so traumatized by the first VC, that I had not really expected a question like that. I stumbled around and just admitted – “I don’t know.”

But then I turned it around and asked him: “How would you categorize my company? We are part system integrator, part content and media company. We are a “creative shop” in that we create customer interactions with technology. Are we a tech company, a services company?”

I could see he was sensitive to the dilemma of my question. Finally, he said, “I would put you in the digital media space.” I was shocked until he hastened to add: “You need to be defined somehow so people know to work with you and help you.” But in his gentle smile I could see his answer left him unsatisfied as well.

We parted agreeing to keeping up the dialogue. As I walked out of his office, I felt cautiously optimistic that the work we are doing is needed in the market.

One thing I learned from both meetings – the journey of starting a company will continue to be a journey of surprise. I never expected to have so dramatically divergent experiences as I tentatively start down the path of funding my company – even if I don’t know exactly what type of company I am creating.

All I know is that the “smart investment money is going towards the business operating companies” and that’s me. Cool – right?

Judy Shapiro

Congratulations CES for becoming the hottest, consumer advertising buy on the planet

(Author’s Note: Originally written Jan 5, 2010 – but even more true today.)

CES has descended upon the psyche of the tech world so that it dominates most reports and tweets and attention.

We all wait with bated breath for the declared best new product, most innovative game, most outrageous consumer electronic gadget. We are, in effect, like kids with our noses up against the window pane of the biggest toy store in the world.

I should say that the hyper cool nature of CES is a fairly recent phenomenon. Back when I worked at AT&T, CES was an annual ritual that, frankly, rather inconveniently put a crimp on holiday festivities since many of us had to go the Las Vegas a week before to setup. There went New Year’s plans *sigh*. Sure it was fun to see what ingenious gadget was coming into the market, but make no mistake about it; CES was a serious B2B trade show where manufacturers worked hard to woo retailers into carrying their stuff. While there was some consumer coverage, mostly it was confined to the B2B press.

Then, somewhere in the last 4 years, I think driven by the gaming industry, Google, Apple and social media, it took on the glamour of the Oscars for tech set. If a product was even mentioned in a “from CES” report, that was cause for celebration (“I am so honored even to be nominated” kind of thing). CES went from being a B2B event to the event that plays itself out directly to consumers. That shift, in effect, caused CES to become the biggest consumer trade event of all time – even if every consumer is attending by proxy via social media.

But there’s more to it than that because at the current level of consumer exposure to the show, CES has transcended the trade show segment and was elevated to become a premier consumer media buy, kinda like SuperBowl. Think about with me. A media buy in SuperBowl was a strategy companies used to catapult themselves – think GoDaddy. This media buy cost a few million bucks, but if played right – you were made. I think CES has taken on that same level of media potential if you account for all the primary, secondary and tertiary coverage that live streaming and social media provide. And instead of a few thirty second spots, you get three days to strut your stuff. Make no mistake about – doing CES right is a multi-million affair. But the pay-off could be huge. In fact, it would not shock me if I learned that CES exceeded SuperBowl in the number of impressions delivered.

That’s awe inspiring. Never before has a trade show had that kind of reach and coverage. It seems cosmically fitting that new technology, e.g. social media, would elevate the very essence of CES itself.

Welcome to the year of living intelligently with technology.

Judy Shapiro

 


The Surprised Entrepreneur – Diary of new venture – Entry #3:

“Mama never told me there’d be weeks like this…”

It has been a while since my last entry and I am relieved to say it is mostly for good reasons. Over the last few months, this little venture has begun to take hold – to wit:

  • I have been on the speaking tour about The Interaction Engine capping it off with a spiel at ad:tech this month.
  • We have closed two new clients – one in the consumer electronics space and one in the mobile app space.
  • I am getting better at presenting our system in meetings – now I can kinda explain it in about 30 minutes. It still falls far short of the 2 minute elevator pitch – but hey – we are getting better.
  • A number of marketing and technology companies have contacted us to “partner” – not sure what that means though
  • We have done a few presentations to media buying agencies as they are challenged to “buy” social media. They are interested in working with us (again – no idea what that means)
  • Most important – revenue is beginning to accrue

Yet, despite the clear progress and momentum – I recognize the utter fragility of this venture. Of the dozen or so folks that are part of this company – most (but not all) are getting paid some compensation. No one is getting what they deserve – yet.

But my biggest challenge is that as we get more noticed, there are far more opportunities that need to be assessed and prioritized. Fundamentally, these opportunities run along three basic lines:

  • Technology Partnerships – there are 4 companies that we are talking to now in the marketing technology space. These companies are anxious to partner with someone like us because often these tech companies have no easy distribution channel. A cool recommendation engine is nice – but it’s hard selling a “stand-alone” technology to a big brand or agency. As a quasi “system integrator” of social media technologies – they see our Interaction Engine as solving this major channel issue for them.  thsi is not a pr 
  • Funding Options – my initial plan was to sell the Engine we have now (does not require any development) to generate about $500K in revenue. While that plan is still in play – I realize that getting to that sales threshold might take longer than I can wait to begin the second phase of this company – to develop/ sell “self-serve” integrated social media programs to SMB via web hosts. I am encouraged by experienced colleagues who tell me I can go get funding now with what we have. TBH, I am still unclear whether any VC would consider this investable. My colleagues are so confident that this can get funded that they are willing to spend their own time over the next few months to work on this. On the one hand, that’s a funding gift that I would be crazy to reject. But on the other hand, it will still require my time for an exercise that I’m not convinced will have a successful outcome. Getting VC funding is a huge time hog – not matter who helps you. I keep wanting to put it off or get a traditional loan to ease the short term cash crunch. this is since this is not any way understand how to make this spaceing this work. it is frustating to say the least but this need
  • Media Alliances – Unlike most other marketing technology companies, I focused on the technology platform but I built it within a holistic system that includes an organized set of content assets from a diversity of publishers. To me, content is not king – but rather the juicy bait to start the engagement process which is why I had to collect relevant content assets. So while I spend a considerable amount of time building these alliances – there are many more people looking to partner with us because so many content producers and writers have been caught in the tumult of “freep” (free and/ or cheap) digital content distribution. In our system, these folks have a voice and a stake, so we solve a problem for them too. The problem is deciding who we can take on.

Most interestingly (and yes – it is a surprise), it seems that our Interaction Engine System (a coordinated, tech mashup of a monetizable “community of interest”) is an approach that can integrate disparate marketing activities into an operational program. In essence, instead of pitching an individual program to a client where I have to plug into their operations – we are being seen as our own ecosystem and other marketing programs and/ or technologies have to plug into us. I won’t say I planned it that way – but I am loving how this is playing out.

Now on to my biggest “what’s keeping me up list?” for this entry:

  • Knowing which contacts are worth pursuing on the tech front, on the funding front and on the editorial front. The response to my presentations has been great – but overwhelming actually.
  • Keeping the pressure up on the sales front –  our issue now is too many great leads and not enough time to follow them all up.
  • Keeping the team motivated and monetized – always a struggle whether you are a new company or an old one

The next four weeks tend to be intense because marketing budgets are being finalized so we need to keep the pressure up – yet people’s mind are on the holidays. This requires an elegant and thoughtful approach to sales (I hope we are up to it).

Day after day, it seems the ride I am on gets more thrilling, more scary and more substantial. As the stakes keep going up, Mama never told me there would be weeks like this where too much is happening too fast. But I guess that beats the other option: too little happening too slow; by a mile.

“So dear Mama – I am grateful you taught me to appreciate a good ride when I see one which is exactly what I am doing  – even though it feels like I caught a tiger by the tail.”

I don’t intend to let go now.

Judy Shapiro

The Surprised entrepreneur – Diary of a new tech venture – Entry #2

The roller coaster ride feels thrilling and yet …

Last week I had some ups and downs. I was happily surprised to be asked to speak at ad:Tech NY this November and I got my press credentials approved for the Clinton Global Initiative. The Social Media Technology Resource Guide is coming along and the team is working hard on creating the Sports Community of Interest for a few properties. On the sales front, we closed a small client that is doing interesting things with their mobile site. On the product front, our CTO – Louis Libin ideated for a way to provide an “overlay” to existing sites using a combination of social media technologies that we put together. It’s a great way to capture our “systems” approach to social media within a marketing environment. This is all good :)

On the down side – I have to cancel a Sept 28 Meetup event we scheduled to launch the Social Media Technology Resource Guide site. We are delayed by about two – three weeks :(. I developed this free guide as a directory of social media technologies since I could not find one anywhere (and my apologies if one exists – I could not find it). I am more bummed about this than I should be. After all, the delay was because we are pitching some really excellent clients. That is always good. But I am disappointed that I am delayed nonetheless.

At a more philosophical level, though, this set-back triggered one of my bigger challenges — managing the extreme highs and lows. Good things taste almost too wonderful – disproportionate to their “real” good news-ness. And inevitable bumps that occur feel more extreme than they should. I know not all CEOs suffer from this – they are more even-keeled. Some compartmentalize to keep things in check. I see why that might work – but it’s not me. Still groping around on that one.

But on the positive side,  more than anything, this time of year is special to me. Yom Kippur is just over and with it comes a potential for a new start. It is a time for refocused purpose, re-organized thinking and re-energized gratitude for all the people that are helping/ rooting for me. It is incumbent on me to hang onto to the intense feeling of positive potential that characterizes this time of year for as long as possible. I hope to rise to the occasion but I credit myself with a fair amount of talent in that department.

Now – onto the “what keeps me up” list:

  1. Creating a simple way to communicate what we do -this is a carry over from last week and it remains a top priority. Some good progress on one hand but nothing substantive yet.
  2. We have quite a few follow up conversations coming up soon. This is good news but they want to see “under the hood” which leads me back to point #1.
  3. I see an undercurrent of “downsizing” already going on in the social media space. Bigger companies are buying up smaller companies if they are in any way related to social media, especially on the technology side. On the one hand – these roll ups don’t worry me at the moment because they lack a cogent system for integrating the technologies (programmatically if not literally), but I worry that there will be too much consolidation too fast leaving just really big guys and then lots of tiny fish. Hmm.

Now, how am I doing against the milestone list I posted last week:

  • 3 page executive summary of engageSimply with financial outlook – some progress but not as much as I would like.
  • 1 signed client using the entire new Interaction Engine platform – new “sports” channel may be first one to launch or Trust Web – but tantalizingly just out of reach (a note of frustration intended here).
  • Initiate discussions with at least 2 possible funding partners – no progress
  • Get website up to date – no progress
  • Expand sales funnel to having 20 active leads in pipe – added 2 more
  • to write in this diary a minimum of once a week or 8 entries (hey – I need some wiggle room J) – so far so good.

OK – all. I am off for now. As always your comments are welcome.

Judy Shapiro

This is post #2 in a series on the life of a new tech venture (and its CEO). Wish us luck. .

In the data business – stuff can go really wrong.

Here’s an ironic but sad way many marketing efforts can go awry.

Take a look at this picture.  This email blast from a tech company (left unnamed to protect the stupid) was offering “A deduplication guide.”

See my inbox :)

The dangers, difficulties and disasters of database management.

Is it possible for agencies to embrace marketing “complexity”?

The ad business is going through a change not seen in 3 decades.

For 3 decades there were three chairs at the marketing table — agencies, brands and the media. All 3 parts technologically evolved in a symbiotic “one:many” model to grow the business. Agencies “produced once and ran many times”; brands (one) had a message to get out to many and each media property created its media content for many people.

But Internet was a fourth chair that came to the table. It started to dominate the other three chairs utterly disrupting the “one:many” efficient, profitable marketing model in favor of a “many:many” model brought on by social media and mobile technologies.

As technology continued to evolve much faster than the other chairs at the table, the result of this disequilibrium was first felt by the media which suffered a near fatal blow. Agencies, now are feeling the full brunt of this dynamic largely because the “complexity” of social media is taking more and more of the traditional ad budgets.

So while the business has gotten more complex, agencies are trapped in an old “one:many” business model and have no clear way to evolve. Clients do not pay often for agency’s’ technological learning curves (how many agency folks were at TechCrunch Disrupt for instance???). And agencies can not charge $10,000 for a bunch of twitter updates (if you want to sleep peacefully at night).

That’s why in this new scenario even agencies that want to embrace complexity — can not because the profitable “one:many” marketing business model does not support the “many:many” business model. Case in point. Digital media buying agencies are paid as a percentage of billings, but since there are few billings in social media — they do not create those types of programs for their clients. There is no incentive for a digital agency to develop a program with no/ low billings and high complexity – now is there?

So before agencies can embrace marketing complexity – we have to figure out how to make money at it. Talk about complex.

Judy Shapiro

How can it be OK that 1,000 PC’s are lost in the malware wars every time a bad ad is served up in ad networks?

I admit a certain hyper sensitivity to all things security when it comes to Internet. I worked at CA and then Comodo – both heavy players in the online security world. I learned about the scary things that can happen if you go online alone. It is not a pretty picture.

So it’s no wonder that I tend to have a zero tolerance to bad online security practices – among my friends, my family, my peers.  I have even less tolerance (is that possible?) for online security industry practices that can allow 1,000 PCs to get infected before an ad is checked for malware.

That’s right! I recently learned that all the ad serving platforms check ads in their networks after it has been served. In the case of Right Media I am told an ad is served 1,000 times before it is checked. If the ad is malware – oh well – 1,000 PCs are likely to get infected. I was shocked TBH. And I was even more shocked to learn that according to all the large ad serving platforms it seemed perfectly OK (at least the 4 large ones) to check ads after they have been served already.  I had the chance to press a rep from Right Media for an explanation about why are ads not checked before they are served. It was explained to me that the sheer tonnage of ads would make checking everything before it ran impractical.

That answer seemed pretty lame actually. And one does not have to look hard to see how this causes problem up and down the ad market value chain. Recently, TechCrunch and The Drudge Report were hit with malware on their sites served up by an ad in the network. http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20000353-245.html. The backlash was felt by the likes of Michael Arrington who had to explain the issue to his audience. I felt his pain, more keenly felt because I knew there was little he could do to make it better. It is likely to happen again – the only question is when.

Here we see most blatantly the bad things that happen when you detach consequences from accountability as is the case here. The ad server networks are the ones who serve up the ads, good or bad, but if there is fall-out, it is largely felt by the site that delivered the ad. That ruptures the basic laws of accountability and consequence which ultimately leaves at least 1,000 PCs infected with malware every time there is a virus outbreak.

Now I really do not understand the technological limits of checking ads within an ad networks – but how can it be OK to permit ads to be served before they are checked? Could it be that 1,000 is too small a number to worry about? And as the number of ads being served grows, will a higher 10,000 threshold be OK? Then maybe 100,000 will be a tolerable number?

Here is a challenge to the industry. Elinor Mills’ article on this subject mentions Bennie Smith, a vice president of exchange policy at Yahoo’s Right Media who I invite to respond here. Maybe I it got it wrong. Set the record straight – please – I really want to be wrong.

Better yet – I would love to start a dialogue to solve the problem – between agencies, ad networks, advertisers and the security industry. Sometimes talk is not enough. An alternative is needed – an alternating current. But more on that coming…

Judy Shapiro

Why did social media become so urgently important right now?

Nowadays, I sometimes feel like the doctor who is often asked his advice “off duty”. Once I say I am in marketing, the inevitable questions begin. “How can I launch a product with just social media?” (You can’t). Is social media really free? (No). Can I be successful at social media without an agency (yes…but). This is not just mere curiosity; there is urgency to the questions I have not encountered before.

Now aside from the inconvenient truth that I am practitioner of marketing and perhaps not an “expert”; the other inconvenient truth is that there aren’t many experts to found anywhere because social media has barely been on the corporate radar for 24 months and it is very fast evolving category of marketing that is growing in importance. This expertise gap understandably makes companies scrambling for advice with a frantic energy approaching panic.

So with that perspective, let’s return to our initial question; why has social media become so urgently important right now?

There are two primary factors driving this laser focus on social media worth exploring. First, I think it’s safe to say that from a purely demographic perspective, social media has just now reached the tipping point, a critical mass of adoption led by key demographic segments like women, baby boomers. (read: More women than men on social networks for more). But the second, equally important reason is that social marketing is emerging as a company’s worst marketing nightmare – it is where a company’s most important branding battles are waged and it is also largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It gets worse. It became very apparent that the old corporate branding rule book needs to get tossed out! Gone are the days when a core branding platform was centrally created and communicated to the various stakeholders groups in a coordinated way. In the new social media branding paradigm, the community now creates the brand positioning for companies – like it or not.

And the days when visual branding standards were created for distribution are dismantling in favor of a model where affiliate communities re-invent the identity of companies to suit the needs of their members.

In the end, the systems that companies used to pump out the corporate messages are caving under the more credible corporate branding connections happening in social networks outside corporate control.

So what’s a corporate marketer to do? This can be a tough one to answer, because this is still evolving. But a few principles will help ease the transition to this new model.

1) Develop a learning path for your people to understand the nuts ‘n bolts of social media.

Often, the mystery of social media reduces seasoned marketers to passive observers to these new branding dynamics. Change the dynamic by encouraging active exploration of this media.

2) Launch a secondary branding experiment using an “ignition point” topic.

Nothing instills confidence than real world experience. A way to accomplish this without risking the corporate brand is to find a topic that your users or prospects have passion for. Launch a mini social media campaign and start explore the tools, play with the networks, participate in the community and experience it just for the sake of learning. Agencies and consultants can only take you so far since nothing beats hands-on experience. Learn for yourself how the machinery of social marketing works and that’ll be invaluable in how to create the new corporate social branding paradigm for your brand.

3) Deploy a reputation measurement platform that tracks your social media visibility.

It is crucial to monitor the conversations going on about your brand and there are great platforms our there to help you do that. There are companies that measure Twitter influence, social networking topic trends and specific corporate conversation in social networks. Some platforms are free while others do not cost a lot.

4) Get serious about community creation and management.

Too often companies start a community but quickly realize that maintaining it is far more difficult. Commit the necessary resources to do community management well. If that is not an option – it’s best not to start at all until you can commit the necessary resources. But a well done community will deliver benefits ranging from engagement marketing to an early warning system should the brand falter.

So if social media seems to be taking over your marketing conversations – it’s useful to remember that it is going through a growth spurt. It has not yet matured into a systematic, predictable set of technologies and processes. Until it does, it helps to be brave and jump right in even if you seem to be splashing around. You’re not alone.

Judy Shapiro

Two new candidates for the Ad World Hall of Shame

(National spots that make me mad)

While I write a lot about marketing, I rarely diss specific ads. The life of an agency is hard enough and it’s just too easy to criticize someone else’s work. So I fight the urge to point out really bad spots – most of the time.

Till now.

There is a new class of low in the annals of advertising and that takes some doing. These are not local spots often touted as the worst spots ever because of their lack of production value. Rather these are national ads that are running a lot! Professionally produced with significant budgets behind them. That’s what makes these ads all the more reprehensible. It is why they deserve to be in the Ad World Hall of Shame.  I intend to name names if for no other reason than perhaps teach other agencies not to do the same thing.

1) van de kamp’s fish stick spot.

This is the spot where a “precocious” 6 – ish year old girl chastises her mother for serving fish sticks with minced meat rather than fish stick with non minced meat (whatever that might be). Aside from the boring, over played “kid as young adult” schtick we have seen dozens of times, I found this kid’s obnoxiousness unacceptable. I found myself yelling at the TV wanting to tell the Mom not to give in. This child’s level of mini autocrat takes kid obnoxiousness to a new level. I wanted to smack the child. More than that, I found myself almost hoping the Mom would. I am horrified that the agency allowed this clichéd spot ever to be released. It is an embarrassment to the ad industry for its lack of intelligence and insight. Clients deserve better. Kids deserve to be represented more honestly than that. Really badly done.

2) Debt Relief spots.

Unfortunately, this covers at quite a few companies running essentially the same spot at the moment. In essence, these debt relief companies promise to “slash” their customers’ outstanding debt by 50% or more. We see pictures of respectable looking people happily telling us that they were able to reduce their debt by $14,000 or $20,000 or even $30,000.

I find these spots bordering on immoral. These commercials are basically telling people. “It’s OK to charge too much and spend too much. Heck DebtRelief.com can get you out of paying your obligations. Sure, your credit score may take a beating for a while – but you’ll likely be back on your good credit standing feet in no time at all. After all, you understand that over spending is the American way!”

This horrifies on a few levels. When did we lose our sense of personal obligation? Where did our sense of right go, after all we DID BUY THIS STUFF? How can we so blithely ignore the fact that this is a debt we entered into knowingly and willingly? How can our promises mean so little?

The worst part of these services that is lost on most people is that these credit freeloaders are riding on the back of someone who probably lost their job. After all, someone had to pay for that 52” TV that they got out of paying. But these spots make it look to upstanding, so respectable.

As marketing pros – we should boycott doing these spots. It may not stop these spots from being done – but no agency with any moral standing should touch it. Just say no!

Is advertising just a mirror or do we create the need? When I see these spots, I just want to break the whole damn mirror.

Judy Shapiro

Top 5 social media marketing mistakes clients most often make (but can be avoided)

Companies are quickly ramping up to integrate social and digital media effectively into their marketing plans. Unfortunately that has been a tricky proposition given the already complex and fluid landscape of the technology behind digital media. And a recent Forrester study confirms how tough it really is; “The complexity of the interactive landscape is creating a fragmentation of interactive agencies, which in turn is creating a whole new set of challenges to marketers,” said Forrester analyst and the report’s author Sean Corcoran. “Interactive marketers should prepare their organization for even more agency partners…” http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=118779.  

This reality makes the already steep learning curve even steeper with lots of perils for marketers. In my experience, here are the top five typical mistakes marketers make (present company included) that absolutely can be avoided.    

1) Assume that great content alone will create buzz and go viral. This is such a typical mistake and yet it is probably one of the easiest to avoid. First, no agency should promise that content alone can go viral, it happens so rarely that I bet the odds are better at winning the LOTTO. So don’t fall for the “your content will go viral” promise. You are setting yourself up for disappointment.  

2) Put all your buzz eggs in one social media basket. The expectation that people have about social media is way out of proportion to what it can deliver. No self respecting marketer would put all their media weight in just one vehicle for one day (unless maybe we are talking Super Bowl – but even then). Yet, so often I hear that an entire digital marketing plan just includes a Facebook promo. Digital and traditional media work similarly in one important way – you need a diversity of outlets to achieve critical mass in reach and frequency to break through. Diversification is the hallmark of well developed digital plan.    

3) Diving into social media without a clear monetization plan. When I talk to business colleagues who are starting social media programs, I ask them, “What are your goals for the campaign?”  The typical answer is “Oh I want buzz…” Then, when I poke at that and ask, “Well what does that do for your business”, the answers get quite fuzzy quite fast. I wonder why it seems acceptable for social media to be held to a different set of performance standards than traditional tactics. Any seasoned marketing pro understands that marketing programs need clear performance benchmarks whether it be an email campaign or a new site. Why is it that marketers do not demand similar performance objectives for their social/ digital efforts?  Don’t fall for the buzz hyperbole. Instead be clear about what you want the campaign to do.   

4) Expect immediate results. Here too social media seems to live in a parallel universe where the rules of common sense marketing principles are suspended. No one expects traditional media plans to work overnight, yet people hope, even expect, social media to magically launch a brand overnight from a cold start because it can go viral. It does not work in any marketing program and social media programs are no exception.  

5) Be sure your agency walks the walk and does not just talk the talk. Here’s a true story that just happened to me a few weeks ago. The CEO of a large IT company was telling me how his social media agency included him as their case study right there on the agency’s blog which was featured on their home page. Way cool I thought. So I decided to comment on the case study on their site. Ya’ know what – I submitted the comment on the agency blog only yo see that it was posted a full month after being submitted. It left me scratching my head. I don’t expect an agency to spend all day long managing their blog – but I do expect that if they bother to have a blog then it should be managed as a reflection of their philosophy to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.    

It’s all too easy for companies to be convinced that social media is some magical marketing mystery. It’s not. In fact, much of what applies in traditional applies in social media too. Keep that in mind the next time you are seduced by some “sick” social or digital marketing tactic; feel free to fall in love – just don’t lose your business head in the process.   

Judy Shapiro

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