Archives for category: Social Business

Digital Crisis management is hard work. It’s complicated work. But it’s also not rocket science once you understand the mechanics of the process. Today, let’s break down crisis management into five simple components (or phases) and briefly explore the structure of each one. Understanding how to break down a digital crisis management model that way, looking at what types of tools to use and how,  and going through a few general observations in regards to best practices will hopefully arm you with helpful guidelines should your organization ever find itself having to deal with… an unfortunate circumstance involving a lot of very angry people.

To illustrate how this works, we will look at screen shots of what @KitchenAid’s recent PR crisis looked like on our own dashboard. If you aren’t familiar with what happened and what the crisis was about, you can catch up here (just remember to come back).

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Discovery

What the start of a PR crisis looks like.

One of the purposes of digital monitoring is to serve as an early warning system for PR crises. Every company should monitor social channels and news media for signs of a possible attack on their brand. The earlier a potential problem is detected, the faster it can be dealt with. It’s that simple. The question you want to ask yourself here is this: Do I want to be able to start working on fixing a PR crisis while it is still young, small, and easy to manage, or do I want to start working on it tomorrow, when it has already snowballed into a news story already being covered by CNN and the New York Times?

The more vigilant you are, the easier it will be to avoid major PR disasters. It really isn’t complicated. And thanks to modern digital tools, all it takes to set up an early warning system for your company is the will to do so, and a little bit of forward thinking on the part of your brand or product management team. (If you don’t want to do it internally, you can easily work with your agency of record to set something up.)

In the case of KitchenAid, the crisis was identified early. This allowed management to start working on it in that first hour, which is critical given that Mashable first reported on the incident about an hour after it happened.) Speed matters.

2. Analysis

The topic of conversation begins to change.

What does a budding PR crisis look like? What should you look for? How do you spot an avalanche before it starts coming down the mountain? It’s all actually quite simple. And… don’t think of it as an avalanche. Avalanches strike too hard and too fast. PR crises, for the most part, are more like waves. In regards to digital reputation management and crisis monitoring, fancy yourself more a surfer than an alpinist: along a timeline, crises look like waves. They’re swells. Your job, as a digital/crisis monitoring professional, is to watch the horizon for the next set of waves. Some waves are great. Some waves are dangerous. The trick is to learn which is which. (The metaphor stops here.) Here are some things to look for:

    • A sudden increase in volume of mentions.
    • A sudden increase in the number of retweets (RT).
    • A sudden change in sentiment (especially is the shift moves towards the red/negative.)
    • If you are using word cloud analysis alongside brand or product mentions to create context, watch for the appearance (and growth) of particular topics.
    • If one or more of your monitoring tools allow it, dig into the mentions, especially those that are negative, and see what people are talking about. On Twitter, pay particular attention to retweets. In the early phases of a PR crisis, people will be more likely to share a screenshot, a hyperlink to a blog post or a video than at any other point during the crisis. Chances are that whatever they are sharing will take you to the root cause of the crisis itself.

Note that in the KitchenAid example (see image above), blogs and social media channels were on to the crisis a lot more quickly than news organizations. The content window showing a Facebook conversation (orange circle) clearly focuses on the Twitter snafu, while the stream showing news item (green circle) still hasn’t caught up with the developing story. Multi-channel monitoring is key to spotting problems early and being able to dig into what is being said and why.

3. Response

A crisis hitting its peak. (Respond long before this point.)

How a company first responds to a crisis will set the stage for everything that comes afterwards. There is no room whatsoever for a faux pas. Incidentally, waiting to respond or not doing anything is a faux pas. The good old days of releasing a press release or statement in a day or two are gone. You now have under an hour to start responding to a crisis. If you really want to be on top of a crisis, you want to begin responding in under ten minutes.

Here is a quick primer on how to respond to a crisis quickly and effectively:

  1. Introduce yourself. Use your name and your title.
  2. Frame the situation for the public. State the facts. What happened? When did it happen? What is your position? Apologize of you need to. Don’t spin. Don’t lie. Establish trust and leadership.
  3. Communicate to the public what comes next and what they should expect.
  4. Communicate to the press the response schedule and structure, and the means by which they should obtain information from you.
  5. Communicate developments and milestones with the public as they happen (the frequency will depend on the crisis). Err on the side of giving them too many updates. Make them feel that you are dedicated to fixing the problem in the most expedient and transparent way possible.

To KitchenAid’s credit, this process is precisely the one that was used by Cynthia Soledad and the company’s crisis team, and it worked.

4. Management

Watching the crisis begin to slow down and deflate.

This part involves most of the heavy lifting. The crisis will hit its peak in this phase, so the volume of mentions will be higher than it has been in any of the previous phases.

How a company manages a crisis depends on a number of things: the crisis itself (type, gravity, potential market impact, etc.), its degree of preparation for such a crisis, its internal capabilities (technical, manpower, training, fluency), and its culture.

I should point out that it isn’t enough to take the pressure out of the balloon, so to speak. It has to be done properly, and in a way that makes sense for the brand. A simple way of looking at this: Say that Nike and Starbucks were to find themselves with a very similar crisis. And say that for the sake of argument, each of these companies had precisely the same degree of preparation, the same general guidelines, internal capabilities, fluency with crisis management, etc. One might expect that even with all of these similarities, Nike and Starbucks would respond their crisis differently. Why? Because each company enjoys a unique culture, a unique style of public outreach. Each company’s relationship with the public (some of who are fans and customers, while others are neither) is uniquely its own.

In that light, what is most important during the management phase  isn’t necessarily to have a crisis management plan (though having one would certainly help), but rather to have a thorough understanding of how to defuse public outrage, anger, criticism, even hatred, do so in a way that makes sense for the brand, and get through that process without antagonizing anyone. Companies have to walk a very fine line between defending itself and being in any way antagonistic. This requires that everyone on the crisis management team keep a cool head. No one can ever lose their temper. No one can get sucked into a public argument.

A note on internet trolls: Pay them no mind. As much as they may amplify negative sentiment during a PR crisis, trolls can only affect public opinion if they are given the power to do so. That power knows only one fuel: attention. The less attention a company’s crisis management team gives a troll, the less impact he or she will have on the direction, volume and duration of the crisis. It isn’t to say that trolls don’t, on occasion, need to be confronted and dealt with, but the management phase of a PR crisis is not one of those times. During this phase, a troll is just a voice in the crowd, trying to shout louder than anyone else. Try as they may, trolls can’t make waves in the middle of a storm. Remember that.

Control the message. Control the situation. Don’t get sidetracked by anyone whose aim is to distract you from your job.

There are essentially to main pieces to the management phase. The first is a continuation of the “update the public” function that began in the response phase. This can involve the creation of a crisis page and a Twitter account alongside existing communications channels. (BP did this during the Deep Sea Horizon crisis.) The second is the direct interaction between the company and the public across social platforms. That is where community management, the creation of discussion groups and tabs, the publishing of fact sheets becomes very important. In some cases, (like the posting of an offensive tweet) a quick explanation of what happened and an apology will do the job. In other instances, the problem goes far deeper than that and will require more work.

Examples: An investigation by a major news organization just uncovered that your company employs child labor in a number of countries around the world. A report from a global ecological watchdog paints your company as being a major source of air or water pollution. Your CEO has just found himself connected to a damaging corruption scandal. The batteries in your latest device can explode and injure your customers. (Things that won’t go away with an apology.)

By engaging with the public and listening to their complaints, a company can identify key topics they need to focus on. These topics will frame the conversation that the public ultimately wants to have with the company. The more focus exchanges have, the more likely it is that they can be shifted from pointless noise to purposeful signal.

Once a company has identified topics and themes, it can dig deeper and identify specific complaints that relate to them. Once these complaints have been clarified, the discussion process can now be shifted from conflict to collaboration. Remember that every complaint simply identifies a problem. Once a problem is identified, all the company has to do is acknowledge it, drill down into the details of the complaints around it, and ask the public how it would solve it. In doing so, the company’s relationship with the public shifts from one of conflict to one of collaboration.

The next step is to come to an agreement with the public as to what should be done about the problem, and how to move towards some measure of resolution that makes sense for everyone. Rededicate your company to fixing the problem, even if the best you can realistically offer is an incremental process that could take years. Make this a new point of focus for your company – an initiative. Pledge to work on this, and make it happen. Recruit the help of the public. Partner with them. Make them part owners of the solution. reward them for their help.

We could write a whole book on this topic, so it’s probably best to stop here… or this could turn into a VERY long blog post.

5. Post-crisis monitoring & advocacy

The crisis looks over, but is it really? (Make sure.)

This part is simply the follow-through. Now that the crisis itself has ended, it’s time to button things up. What did you miss? What did you learn? What comes next?

Don’t let the deflation of the wave of mentions be your only guide. News cycles are short-lived nowadays. People will grow bored of a scandal or PR crisis after a few short days, no matter how effective a company was at addressing and managing it. Just because people have moved on to another topic doesn’t mean that your troubles are over. Don’t mistake changes in the volume of mentions for resolution.

If the root cause of the crisis was not resolved, it will stick. It will become part of the brand’s story. It may even become the defining feature of the brand for years to come – a stain on its reputation that won’t easily go away once it grows roots. You don’t want that. A crisis can’t just go away. It has to be resolved.

What things look like two weeks later.

Drill down into the conversations. What do you see?

The only way to find out if it has been resolved or if it has just gone away for a while is to monitor conversations about the brand once the crisis has subsided. There is a short term piece to this, and there is a long term piece as well. You want to gauge the impact of what you’ve done, and make adjustments along the way until you can be certain that the crisis, its cause, and the expectations of the public have been worked through. Once that has been done, look for people who are not aware that you have resolved the problem, and politely, kindly engage them. Show them the progress you’ve made. Link to what you have done and what you are doing. Inform, inform, inform. Whom you inform, when, how and why can’t happen in a vacuum. Monitoring for specific types of opinions and conversations can help you target the right people at the right time with the right information. This allows you to get your message across quickly and effectively without requiring major media buys and hit-or-miss campaigns. Think major cost-savings, sure, but think also of speed and effectiveness.

To close our example, a quick look at the @KitchenAid crisis Tickr page two weeks after the incident shows no significant activity that might suggest a resurgence of the crisis. Digging a little deeper, we see that conversations have shifted from the incident to more routine, benign topics about the brand and its products.

How is that for using Tickr as a PR crisis overwatch platform? Not everything about digital monitoring and crisis management has to be complicated. We like to make things easier for everyone. It’s what we do,

As always, we would love to hear your comments, especially if you have PR crisis stories to share with us. What happened? What did you do? What did you learn in the process? Do you have any questions? Can we shed some light on anything? (Process, technology, best practices?) The comments section is all yours.

We’re also on Facebook and Twitter, so we can have that discussion there as well.

And if you aren’t using Tickr to monitor the web yet (social or not), you can start using the basic version for free in just a few minutes. (If you need more features or more horsepower, the Pro and Enterprise versions don’t take much longer to set up either .) Start here.

HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Image courtesy of Melissa Moseley/HBO.

Last night, I finally watched the first few episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” and something struck me about the first episode: All of the on-shift newsroom staffers are sitting around, working at their computers, and a story comes on the AP wire, which turns out to be the explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon well in the gulf of Mexico. The date is April 20, 2010. The rest, as they say, is history. What’s interesting though is that the camera gives us several closeup shots of the screen, and it basically looks a lot like an email inbox: each new story pops up on a vertically arranged list, probably arranged in chronological order. To make things easier or journalists, each story is tagged with a different color, yellow, orange and red indicating increasing levels of urgency and relevance. (Probably something along the lines of AP ENPS.) Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s a good system. It’s simple, it’s clear and it works. But being in the business of making things work better, something struck me about the limitations of that design: All it is is a whistle, a bell. Integrated into some basic productivity applications, sure, but my immediate reaction was to ask “what… that’s it? Where’s the rest of the info?”

The rest, of course, being something like this:

Remember that what we are talking about is a newsroom, which is to say the central nervous system of a news network. This is where almost 100% of the discovery, fact-finding, research, phone interviews and analysis take place. This is where questions are asked and answered, and where invariably, if journalists are doing their jobs properly, pertinent questions are quickly replaced by difficult ones.

Every story begins with simple facts: What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who was there? How did it happen? What were the immediate consequences? What is the situation like now?

As a story develops, the questions begin to change: What will the situation be in twenty minutes, an hour, twelve hours, etc.? Why did this happen? Who is responsible? What is the timeline? What are the ramifications of this event?

News stories are living, breathing things. As they evolve so do the angles from which we understand and analyze them. Now… sometimes, a story is just a story: Something happens, it gets reported, people react, the news cycle rolls on. But sometimes, a story doesn’t just come and go. Some stories stick around. The explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon didn’t end when the survivors were evacuated and the well sank into the Gulf of Mexico. The story changed. It evolved. On April 20th, we were talking about an explosion on an oil well. On April 21st, we were talking about Halliburton and cement. On April 22nd, we were talking about one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in history. On April 23rd, we were talking about the Minerals Management Service and the impact of inadequate federal funding on offshore platform safety inspections. In May, we were talking about BP CEO – Tony Hayward.

Some stories stick around for a long time. And those stories have long-lasting repercussions we can neither completely anticipate or understand until months later, when we look back on them and understand their timeline against the greater context of how the world changed as a result of an event that just started as a yellow, orange or red item on a news wire feed. Think of the financial collapse. Think of the Arab Spring. Think of the the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s secret compound in Pakistan. These stories are still alive. Each of them has already sprouted thousands of follow-up events, all stories in their own right. Some of them have become major news items of their own. From the latest US Presidential election to the violence in Egypt, Libya and Syria, these stories are still developing.

So here I was, watching that little screen in “The newsroom” with its black on white, email-looking design, wondering “is this how news organizations still monitor what’s going on?” It felt archaic, out of date, terribly limited. Coming from a multi-screen culture, one in which digital mission control centers are quickly becoming the norm, it was shocking to me to see journalists still discovering stories the same way they had for generations. The devices may have changed over the last few decades, there may be screens instead of paper now, but what I saw was still the old “wire,” the old telex, the old fax. Prettier, sure – the story pops up on a flat screen now – but the process is still the same as it was when stories were telegraphed from some Western Union office in the middle of nowhere to New York or London or Paris. It hasn’t improved a whole lot. It worried me, even, to learn that they might be so disconnected from the real-time world of developing stories.

From the digital command centers used by NASA and military commanders in the field to the ones used by brands like PepsiCo (client), Dell and Edelman Digital, I have come to expect banks of screens feeding data into intuitive graphics. I have come to expect information from a plethora of sources telling different facets of a same story on adjacent screens. As an information junkie, and being in the business of deriving insights from business intelligence, I have come to expect an orgy of data. And the thing is, it isn’t hard to do this. The tools exist now. They’re out there, dozens of them. Hundreds, even. It isn’t that difficult to build a modern, intuitive monitoring center for a newsroom that can quickly give journalists not just a sense of what is going on in the world but will also give them a better field view of how a particular story is unfolding over time.

Have you ever wondered how it is that when an earthquake hits Tokyo, you know about it via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram a full 40 minutes before you will hear about it on CNN or the BBC? It isn’t just that professional news organizations need time to confirm stories with reliable sources. Their discovery process for news stories may also need an upgrade.

There’s a new breed of journalist out there doing amazing things with social media. One of them is NPR’s Andy Carvin (@acarvin on Twitter. I recommend that you follow his feed so you can see him in action). I first noticed him during the “Arab Spring.” His coverage on Twitter was better than all of the news organizations’ coverage combined. Why? Two reasons:

1. He was able to point his audience to live updates from eye-witnesses and participants. Citizen journalists, if you will. The raw, unfiltered tweets, photos and videos of people in the middle of the story sharing what they were experiencing, using only their cell phones.

2. He was able to verify his sources in minutes. Part of it was instinct, part of it was validation from other trusted sources, but it worked. When foreign government agents tried to feed him false information, he was able to spot the subterfuge immediately.

What Andy Carvin did with social media, his style of reporting, was one of the most exciting things I have seen in journalism in a long time. It was fast, it was fresh, it was effective and professional. But more than anything, it was bold and clever, and no one else out there was doing it. This is a guy who wasn’t just relying on the AP wire to find out about a story. He understood that by monitoring social channels, which is to say real-time, first person publishing channels, he could find himself in the middle of a news story anywhere in the world and report on what was going on there more clearly and effectively than if he was there himself.

I want to show you something. Below are two graphics. The first shows you the speed of news before Twitter. The second shows the speed of news after (since) Twitter. It will help put the changes taking place in the news business in perspective. Pay particular attention to the left side of the graphic.

Do you think that in five years, the world’s most trusted news rooms around the world will still be relying on a color-coded news wire to discover unfolding news? Do you think that they will be operating without a real-time, multi-channel information control center? If so, think again. Technology will never take the place of solid journalism. It will never replace good instincts, thorough investigative work and the responsible, professional reporting of facts. But technology is already changing the speed, depth and breadth of discovery, research, reporting and analysis. Before long, monitoring control centers will be standard in newsrooms, and that is a very good thing.

On a side-note, though the focus of our upcoming release (the details of which are still super double-top secret for now) is brand management and monitoring, it occurs to me that the applications for news organizations are… well, it could be a bit of a game-changer. I can’t wait to be able to show you what’s coming. You’ll get it as soon as you see it.

Soon. Soon.

Until then, even if you aren’t a journalist, check out Tickr’s free trial version. Use it as a keyword search tool. Use it to follow a story or topic. Get familiar with how it works and how easy it is to use. From news and chatter about the US Presidential debates to the latest PR crisis, you’ll get an appreciation for how powerful this kind of monitoring overwatch app is, as well as how much it already simplifies discovery and monitoring. I think you’ll like it.

Check out all that Tickr has to offer.

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Last week, Mashable’s Lauren Indvik published an articled based on a study by Forrester Research which states that only 1% of online purchases are driven by social media. (You can purchase the full report for $499 here.) The piece’s title, naturally, was “Social media Influences Less than 1% of Online Purchases. [STUDY]

If you find that statistic surprising, don’t worry. Your gut feeling isn’t leading you astray. We’ll come back to that. First though, let’s dive a little deeper into some of the claims made in the piece:

“Ecommerce businesses should concentrate more of their efforts on traditional online marketing tactics like search and e-mail than social media. That’s the conclusion of a Forrester study released Tuesday, which examined 77,000 online transactions made between April 1 and April 14. The study found that less than 1% of them could be traced back to social networks like Facebook or Pinterest.

Determining how web activity influences purchases is tricky; although many often credit the last touchpoint for a sale, Forrester found that half of repeat customers and a third of new customers touch multiple touchpoints prior to a purchase. As such, certain funnels, like display advertising and e-mail, may be undervalued.

Nevertheless, ecommerce websites still convert more highly than any other channel, accounting for 30% of transactions. Thus it’s smart for retailers to promote their domain names as much as possible.

Following direct visits, organic search and paid search are the two biggest drivers of purchases from new customers, accounting for 39% of new customer transactions. That’s because the web continues to be a useful tool for what Forrester calls “spear fishers” — consumers who know what they are looking for and find it through search.

For repeat shoppers, e-mail is the most effective sales influencer: Nearly a third of purchases from repeat customers initiated with an e-mail. As such, businesses should up their efforts to collect e-mail addresses, and tailor their e-mail marketing messages to each recipients’ device and prior purchase behavior.

Social media’s potential as a shopping portal has yet to be realized. Less than 1% of transactions from both new and repeat shoppers could be linked to social networks, Forrester found.

That said, the researcher believes social media can still be a powerful marketing tool, and that social media’s influence on purchase behavior likely can’t be measured in the 30-day attribution window the report examined. Forrester also asserts that social media is a bigger sales driver for small businesses, which were not included in the study.”

The study was also picked up by several other media outlets, including Business Insider, which quotes Sucharita Mulpuru – the author of the report. Her conclusion:

Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers. While the hype around social networks as a driver of influence in eCommerce continues to capture the attention of online executives, the truth is that social continues to struggle and registers as a barely negligible source of sales for either new or repeat buyers. In fact, fewer than 1% of transactions for both new and repeat shoppers could be traced back to trackable social links.” (Source)

“Trackable” social links.

Has you brain caught up to your gut yet? If not, let me throw a few thoughts your way:

1. The study is based on flawed assumptions: There’s a problem with the study’s understanding of social media’s role in the customer journey (paths to purchase). The study, for instance, states that direct visits to e-commerce sites drive the most sales. Really? All right. Here’s a question: How did people initially get to the e-commerce site? Before we can talk about paths to purchase, can we at least consider their path to discovery? Was the site recommended? Did it turn up on a search? How and where did retailers promote their domain names, exactly (which the article suggests they should do)? Beyond discovery, how were shoppers’ purchases influenced by peers and other shoppers, via social networks, digital or not?

The study doesn’t look into any of this. It obviously is just working backwards from a purchase by tracking clicks, and probably no more than 4-5 deep. Sorry, but except for impulse shoppers, that isn’t how things work. Shoppers don’t typically follow robotic, linear paths from discovery to transaction. So that’s one problem already, and the numbers reflect it pretty clearly. Perhaps the clearest way to explain the first problem with this study is that it doesn’t seem to measure the “Purchase Path of online Buyers” in 2012. Instead, it appears to just measure the final sprint.

2. The study is based on flawed methodology: The study’s attribution model is wrong. If you have been in the business of selling things to human beings for a few years, you probably know that it takes more than just one “touchpoint” to convince someone to become a new customer, especially online. The study, however, would have us believe that 67% of transactions from new customers were the result of just one touchpoint. (20% of those being a direct visit to the e-commerce site.)

Not likely. Even more puzzling, the percentage attributed to single-touchpoint sales remains precisely the same for returning customers: 20%. Think about that for a minute.

Again, the study appears to mistakenly assume that paths to purchase are linear and can be measured simply by backtracking clicks. That’s what the mention of “trackable social links” was all about. We have known for some time that “last click” attribution is a flawed model. For the same reasons, “last 4-5 clicks” is also a flawed model. I suspect that the methodology behind this study was as influenced as it was limited by the technology it relied on to collect its data.

From where I stand, the methodology used in this study is completely wrong for what it attempts to do. Take a look at the graphic below and give it some thought. What do you see?

3. The authors of the study misunderstand the relationship between social content and search: The impact of social media on search (and therefore discovery) is utterly ignored in this study. Given what we know of social content’s importance to search, this is a bizarre and inexplicable oversight. Social drives sales directly AND indirectly by greatly impacting search. This isn’t news. And yet…

4. The study’s scope is limited to the enterprise… but isn’t particularly forthcoming about that: As stated by Business Insider, “Mulpuru didn’t study small businesses, which she said do disproportionately well in social commerce.”

How about that.

Two questions come to mind:

First, why wouldn’t the study also look at small businesses? Surely… if you know that they “do disproportionately well in social commerce,” there must be data that supports that statement. Where is it? Why wasn’t it included in this study? Why does doing well in social commerce disqualify small businesses from being part of this study? Was the intent of the study to… convince businesses that social channels aren’t effective? I don’t get it.

Second, why would the study not make it clear in its reporting that it only looked at enterprise sized businesses? Where in this language is the general public given the slightest indication that the study’s conclusions only apply to the enterprise? Here it is again:

Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers. While the hype around social networks as a driver of influence in eCommerce continues to capture the attention of online executives, the truth is that social continues to struggle and registers as a barely negligible source of sales for either new or repeat buyers. In fact, fewer than 1% of transactions for both new and repeat shoppers could be traced back to trackable social links.”

Hmm. “Hype” versus “truth.” Okay… No bias there, obviously.

However, to be fair to the public, should the statement not look more like this instead?…

Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers for enterprise e-commerce sites. While the hype around social networks as a driver of influence in eCommerce continues to capture the attention of online executives, the truth is that social continues to struggle and registers as a barely negligible source of sales for either new or repeat buyers, at least in the enterprise space. In fact, fewer than 1% of transactions for both new and repeat shoppers for enterprise-class businesses could be traced back to trackable social links.

That would be a more appropriate way to phrase all that.

Furthermore, why was this enterprise distinction not mentioned in the study’s title? “The Purchase Path of Online Buyers in 2012” isn’t exactly indicative of the study’s focus on large businesses, is it.

If you think that is just a minor detail, see item 7, below. You will understand the full impact of this “oversight.” But first, this:

5. The study fails to understand the relationship between time, discoverability, and trust when it comes to the social customer: The study states that “Forrester partnered with GSI Commerce to examine 77,000 consumer orders made over a period of 14 days in April 2012.”

The study only lasted 14 days.

The nature of social media being what it is (relationship-based), leaving yourself only 14 days to track a social customer’s path from discovery to purchase is not an appropriate, realistic timeframe. This screams of automation and basic linear click attribution fallacies. So much for the development of online relationships, organic social integration, word of mouth, etc.

6. The study fails to take into account overlapping fields of influence in a shopper’s decision-making process: Paths to purchase are typically impacted by multiple, sometimes concurrent experiences. Some may be prompts (like an email promotion or a banner ad – which the study takes into account), but others may be recommendations from friends (online and offline), a preponderance of positive brand or product mentions on social channels, reading user reviews, social validation in the form of product or brand “likes” by trusted friends, and even direct interaction with a brand’s social channels, not to mention offline influences as well.

A study that attempts to understand and map “the purchase path of online buyers in 2012” cannot ignore those factors. Not if it hopes to be taken seriously. By putting “trackable links” ahead of actual purchase paths, the study completely missed the mark on the role that social media plays in the customer journey – not only when it comes to mapping the path from discovery to first purchase, but also in regards to customer development as well (the path from first purchase to measurable loyalty). Poorly done.

7. Questionable reporting: Although the study is titled ” The Purchase Path of Online Buyers in 2012,” Forrester decided to market it by leading with this headline: “Less than 1% of online purchases come from social channels” (source). How did the most flagrant red flag in the study’s methodology become the study’s principal selling point? Your guess is as good as mine. The best i can come up with is that controversy sells.

The result:

Mashable covered the story using this title: “Social media Influences Less than 1% of Online Purchases. [STUDY]

Business Insider’s Title: “Forrester: Facebook and Twitter do almost nothing to drive sales.

BizReport: “Forrester: Facebook will never be a retail sales channel.

Internet Retailer: “Social media posts don’t lead to sales.

You get the picture. And so we come full circle to Mashable’s article, which gives business executives the following advice:

“Ecommerce businesses should concentrate more of their efforts on traditional online marketing tactics like search and e-mail than social media.”

This kind of nonsense gives me headaches. It really does.

Now don’t get me wrong: at the end of the day, it may very well be that social channels only contribute to 1% of online sales for many businesses. Most of us have seen strong evidence to the contrary in our own ecosystems (mostly double-digits from where I am sitting, except for category leaders in mature markets), and companies like Burberry might even disagree about that, but all right. For the sake of argument, let’s say that for the corners of the business world that we haven’t had any contact with, the number is indeed 1%. But even if that were the case, this study’s methodology would still be wrong in the way it arrived at that number. It’s just bad science, poor analysis and not particularly responsible reporting.

Most of us already know from experience that more often than not, the only thing standing between a company and its success is access to actionable market insights. Bad data or flawed analysis can lead to poor strategic decisions – from bad investments to completely missing the mark with a product or a campaign. Likewise, accurate data and insightful analysis can lead to terrific strategic decisions and score game-changing wins for a challenger or emerging brand. This stuff is important. It’s vital. There is just no room for bad science and poorly managed studies. Not when trust in your studies and market analysis comes with expectations of thorough expertise.

So the lesson here is this: Do your homework. Don’t assume that a “study” is accurate and factual just because it was done by a reputable company. Do your homework. Look for flaws, for red flags, for insights that ring a little wrong. Better yet, go find your own answers. Write your own case studies. Join our growing community of companies for whom social media is responsible for a lot more than just 1% in net new sales revenue. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for sticking around until the end. If you want more no-BS information and insights…

Check out our market intelligence feed on Facebook.

Follow the fascinating info we share with our community on twitter.

Test-drive Tick for free – and engineer your very own social media wins. (You won’t be the first.)

And as always, we would love to hear your comments. Well… read them.

Guess what: Today, we aren’t going to talk about our own product. Instead, we are going to introduce you to a few pieces of social media management software we have seen used alongside Tickr in digital mission control centers (and a new one that focuses more on measurement and reporting). We’ll just assume that Tickr is already on your radar since you’re here.

1) Brand Integration: Mass Relevance

First of all, this is Sam Decker’s baby – and Sam is a very smart guy – so the company was on solid ground from the get-go. Second, the company offers a range of different products that work pretty well together and complement more complex suites of social media management products extremely well. Here are some of the things that Mass Relevance has to offer:


Some of Mass Relevance‘s plug-&-play products are pretty sharp in terms not only of data collection and engagement capabilities, but brand integration as well. The platforms are slick. They’re web-ready. In many ways, they knock down the fourth wall of social (is there really glass between us?) and allow brands to create environments in which the communities they interact with can play, discover, share, discuss and contribute.

Mass Relevance‘s stand-alone products are also pretty helpful. We won’t cover every single one, but they fall into three specific categories: amplification products, engagement products, and interaction products.

To give you an idea of how cool they are, they also provide analysis and data visualization products for CNN. Go browse what they have to offer at MassRelevance.com. Tell them we sent you. 😉

2) Social and Mobile Channel Analytics: Webtrends

These guys tend to fly under the radar when it comes to the general public, but in social business management software circles, they are one of the most solid players. We keep bumping into their software pretty much everywhere we go. Their offering is so rich that we could devote a whole week’s worth of posts and product reviews. (No, seriously.)  Even if we only stick to the basics, we can tell you that they have four categories of products to pick from (social, mobile, web and optimization), and that across these four categories, there are 15 sub-categories of solutions to pick from. Here is a sampling of screen shots:

You’ll need an hour or two to get through their entire product lineup, but if you are more focused on the social media management and analysis tools, you’ll be off to a pretty good start. They’re also pretty cool to work with, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them: WebTrends.com

3) Branded Social Sharing Pages: Mass Passion’s Intefy

 The idea behind Intefy is simple, and one that we can relate to: combine a variety of social feeds or discussion topics around a theme, topic, product or brand. It is sort of like one of the things that Intefy does, but lighter, more accessible to small businesses, and with a little more emphasis on peer-to-peer social content. (It even makes sense to use Intefy and Mass Relevance side-by side.) Here is what some Intefy pages look like:

If you noticed that these three examples lend themselves pretty well to events (twitter chats, town-hall events, conferences, summits, press conferences, news programs, Google hangouts and even webinars) you aren’t wrong. You can easily plug in twitter discussion threads (hashtags), videos, photos and live-streaming into a page, all wrapped in your very own branding.

Speaking of branding, the Mass Passion folks come from the brand management and experience design worlds, so their ability to help you make 360°design decisions on the fly is something you should take full advantage of. Here is their overall product development and client service approach:

As with all the other companies featured in this post, the Mass Passion team is pretty friendly and a pleasure to work with. Nothing but thumbs-up as far as we can tell. MassPassion.com

4) Social Activity ROI Measurement: Ohtootay

We’ll keep this last one short and sweet. Ohtootay allows brands to track the impact of their social media activities on actual sales, even if the path from social discovery to purchase is not direct. (In other words, Ohtootay doesn’t fall into the “last-click” attribution trap.) If you can assign a specific investment value to a particular social activity, the software will not only identify the connection between investment and transaction, but calculate ROI for you.

Can you say “game-changer?”

While Ohtootay is still a young product, doesn’t necessarily measure offline transactions (though it probably could be made to) and doesn’t seem to focus on the cost-savings piece of ROI, it does solve a pretty important problem for most social media program managers. With… you know, real math. Business math. Stuff that CEOs and CFOs and Sales executives will be very happy to see.

Check them out at Ohtootay.com.

Okay, that’s it for today. We hope that short list was helpful. Our experience has been that the more educated social media teams are about what tools are available to them, the better. The more platforms you know about, the more likely it is that you won’t only select the best ones for your needs, but the best combination of platforms to best help you manage your social media efforts – from monitoring and day to day management to internal collaboration, measurement and reporting.

And don’t be shy. Engage us in the comments, ask us questions on twitter and FacebookWe’re always here for you. 🙂

Big, BIG thanks to Jure Klepic for bringing up Tickr as an example of effective data visualization in social monitoring on HuffPo’s Tech blog this week. It’s always nice to hear that we’re on the right track. (You should see how big our grins are right now.)

Here’s a taste of his piece, titled Today’s Visualization Tools Help our Brains Understand Social Monitoring:

My last post, “Taking Multi-Dimensional Marketing to the Next Level,” touched on the amazing capacity of the human brain for learning. Through the process of plasticity, we can interpret more complex messages and make decisions faster than we ever believed was possible. With the amount of input coming at us from all ends of the social universe, tools are being developed that can help our brains quickly sort through this information. Tickr is a visual monitoring tool that helps process information and makes it easy to understand. Similar to a stock ticker that provides information needed to make investment decisions, Tickr provides social media information needed to make marketing decisions.

In its teacher’s guide on the brain, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that plasticity relates to the brain’s ability to change and reorganize in response to some input. Our brains can form new synapses or strengthen old ones if nurtured and engaged, but can also lose brain functioning if not exercised and challenged regularly. Plasticity is the ability of our brains to change with learning. Social media, when used properly, can keep our brains engaged so we continue to grow and develop. The story changes somewhat, however, for those who are trying to monitor social media for the purpose of brand marketing. Currently these companies and agencies have a number of platforms which are constantly providing information and updates. While their brains are learning to sort through this information avalanche, Tickr points out the crucial bits of information they need to make decisions relating to their product, service or brand.

Companies engaged in brand marketing use Tickr to filter social media mentions in real time and display results in sync with their performance metrics. Case studies show that PepsiCo Gatorade uses Tickr to identify key online influences while Global Financial Services uses it to see the impact of real-word news. Banks of computer screens may have information from other platforms, but often the one displaying the Tickr information is the one that receives attention first.

(Read more…)

Thumbs-up.

If you haven’t checked out Tickr (or tried it), click here.

2007 – 2011: Adapting to the new complexities of social business

Five years ago, when businesses – from the enterprise down to small mom & pop retailers – started using social media to enhance their business processes, things were simpler than they are today. You had your blog. You had your Facebook page. Maybe you had your Youtube channel and your Flickr account. If you were really ahead of the curve, you were already using this new thing called Twitter.

Back then, it was already becoming obvious that social media might be a bit of a time-suck. Not only were you supposed to manage your business and take care of customers, now you had to be a multi-platform publisher as well. You had to write stuff. You had to take pictures of stuff. You had to make videos and edit them and put them on the web. If you were really ahead of the curve, you were spending parts of your evenings looking for forums and discussions, watching, listening, taking notes, maybe even participating.

Already, it became clear that managing a social media presence for your business – or rather, managing the digital aspects of your transformation from a traditional business to an increasingly social business – would soon become a full-time job. You can almost trace the early discussions of social media ROI to that point in social business’ early evolution. It wasn’t really the “should I be on social media” question that did it. It was the “should I pay someone to do this instead of what I know will help my business” question, because it quickly became obvious that social business could never be an after-thought or just a part-time thing.

But this isn’t a post about ROI or social business evolution. This is a post about complexity – specifically, social business complexity. Perhaps more to the point, this is a post about managing that complexity. From the very beginning of this shift to social business, one of the biggest problems business owners and department managers have had to deal with (independently of assigning resources to the task) was simply information overload. Over the course of a very short time frame, businesses went from being disconnected from market intelligence and consumer insights to being flooded with both. Where in the past, organizations could expect consulting and market research firms to act as a collection agent, filter and translator of data, they were now confronted with a volume of information they simply were not capable of managing on their own. Social media monitoring seemed like a great idea. It looked great on paper. In reality, it was a very difficult thing to execute on. Too many sources. Too many hours in the day. Too many platforms to track. And even if it was possible to make sense of it all, then what? What did you do with it? It was hard enough to come up with content and respond to comments and tweets. The entire web had to be monitored and managed as well? Operationally, the task seemed gargantuan. Worse yet, it didn’t scale. (No worries. Scale is a topic we will cover soon.)

While some companies dove into the process of figuring out how to do this all on their own, it wasn’t long before a chunk of the market threw up their hands and decided to outsource the process rather than taking care of it themselves. And for a while there, it was rough for everybody. But then, something cool began to happen.

Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

2011-2013: the rise of social monitoring ecosystems

After a few years of experimentation with various social media dashboards and monitoring tools, it became clear that managing a social media program was not an either/or equation when it came to hardware and software. The question began to shift from “what’s the best tool for social media management” to “what else should I be using.” It was clear that certain social media tools, when used side by side, could not only increase the overall effectiveness of an entire program, but also amplify the value of each individual tool. If the word popping into your head right now is symbiosis, you’re on the right track.

Symbiosis:

1. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.
2. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

Let’s geek-out a little and get a little more specific, because symbiotic relationships come in three types:

Commensalism: A symbiotic relationship in which one organism derives benefit while causing little or no harm to the other. (Good.)

Parasitism: A symbiotic relationship in which one organism (the parasite) benefits and the other (the host) is generally harmed. (Bad.)

Mutualism: A symbiotic relationship in which both organisms benefits from their relationship with the other. (Best.)

Needless to say, you don’t want parasitism. At worst, combining several social media management tools together falls into a commensalist symbiosis scenario – one where some of these tools (and associated) functions will benefit from the utility of other tools, while the utility of these stand-alone tools will not be affected. At best, combining several social media management tools together will create a mutualist symbiosis scenario – on in which every one of these tools will see their utility and value enhanced by the others.

Walk into any company’s digital  “mission control” center today, and what you will find is an illustration of one or the other of these two ecosystems – and sometimes a combination of both.

Simplifying Digital Mission Control centers: too little vs. too much

So now that we are talking about digital mission control centers (a topic we will revisit often in the coming months), let’s look at them from the perspective of trying to minimize the complexity of social media management.

Remember how we got here: the shift from traditional business management to social business management drove us to figure out ways of capturing, corralling, funneling and sorting through swells of disjointed information and noise so we could find the precious gold nuggets we refer to as signal. Signal can come in the form of a new business opportunity, like identifying a lead; it can come in the form of customer retention, like a well-executed customer service response; it can come in the form of business development, like discovering a whole new community of hobbyists who could help you alter an existing product to suit their specific needs; it can also come in the form of reputation management, like identifying a potential PR crisis long before it snow-balls into a news item, and responding to it early and effectively. The faster you can sort through oceans of data and information, the faster you can identify these opportunities. And the faster you can identify these opportunities, the faster you can respond to them – which is to say leverage them.

Complicating the process of sorting through that data and information doesn’t speed it up. Simplifying it does. If your choice of hardware and software (and processes – like workflow) isn’t simplifying your organization’s social media monitoring, management, response and reporting functions, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s a litmus test: If you take a tour of a digital mission control center, and the guide’s explanations make it all sound more complicated than you expected it to be, that isn’t a good sign.  But if during that tour, you understand how each screen serves a specific purpose, and that purpose is to simplify the company’s overall monitoring, management and response process, then you know they’re on the right track.

In any digital and social media monitoring program, there’s a balance to be struck between not enough and too much. Relying on a single “do it all tool” is just as ineffective as using as many as possible. You don’t just want two or three screens any more than you want thirty. The ideal set-up will vary from company to company, but you are looking at no more than 6-8 screens per person. Anything less, and you aren’t covering enough ground. Anything more, and you are overloading your people with data. Likewise, the amount of information you display on each screen has to strike the right balance between too much and too little. What it means, is that in designing (or re-evaluating) your mission control center, you need to make every screen count. The question at this point shifts from “could this tool help me” to “which of these tools would be the most useful to me here.”

Remember that the idea is to simplify. It is never to complicate.

That’s where data aggregation comes in. Any piece of software that aggregates information from relevant sources and organizes it for you simplifies the entire process. If the tool allows you some measure of customization (in terms of sources, organization and specificity of searches), that’s even better.

Engineering the ideal mission control center: specificity, adaptive aggregation, and mutualism

Not all tools do the same things, by the way. Some tools, for instance, are exceptional at helping you scan across an ocean of search terms and menus, then drill down into very specific, granular activity – like Radian 6 and Hootsuite (you might have spotted them in the graphic up there). Others are also amazing when it comes to helping you get under the hood of specific platforms or channels – like Webtrends and Salesforce (also in the graphic). And then some tools – like Tickr – help you see the entire field at a glance, by organizing relevant data so clearly that it brings it all together for you. All of these types of tools used in concert create an ideal balance of breadth and depth that can allow organizations to at once grasp data trends and macro insights, and dig into them as far as they care to. At the core, that’s what adaptive aggregation is.

Every client we work with tells us the same thing: Tickr makes (insert more complicated monitoring tool here) easier to use. We love to hear it, but we doubt that’s what is actually going on. What they probably mean is that we complement the other tools they are using well. Tickr simply offsets the complexity of other, heavier tools by injecting their social media monitoring ecosystem with clarity and simplicity. As we continue to increase the functionality of Tickr and bring our users some really cool, handy new features over the course of the next few months (details soon), our objective will be to stay true to what drove us to create Tickr to begin with: simplifying the monitoring function. That means not only having the simplest, clearest, at-a-glance screen in the room, but having the most instinctive user interface as well. The biggest challenge for us as we keep adding cooler and smarter functionality to Tickr, is that we have to be careful not to make our product more complicated. That’s a hard thing to do, but so far so good. As we start to unveil our upcoming upgrades, you will have to let us know if we’re on the right track.

Tangent. Sorry. Back to the post:

If you are in the process of building a mission control center (or in the process of evaluating a current one), definitely make a deliberate effort to continuously discover new tools, then test them. Stay up-to-date on existing tools’ new releases and updates too. A monitoring tool that was perfect for you a year ago might not be the best one for you today. Likewise, a monitoring dashboard that wasn’t robust enough for you six months ago might have grown into the perfect solution for you since then. That’s the first layer.

The second layer is this: test these tools side by side. Think of them not as stand-alone solutions but as solutions to be used in conjunction with other platforms. That’s where the real gold is. If you can clearly understand how to combine tools like Radian 6, Webtrends, Spiral 16, Alterian, Tickr, Hootsuite and more (there are tons), then you will find yourself a few steps ahead of the vast majority of businesses out there – including most digital agencies – and you will also be on track to simplify your social monitoring and response functions as well, which is no small feat. Caution though: the rate of adaptation in the area of mission control center design is increasing fast. Ever since PepsiCo/Gatorade (client), Dell, Edelman Digital and others have showcased their centers, the demand for similar MCCs has accelerated. A year ago, there were just a few dozen of them around the world. By this time next year, there will be hundreds. The year after that, thousands – if not tens of thousands. The sooner you dive into this, the better. Early adopters of the MCC model won’t keep their first-mover advantage for very much longer. In 8-12 months, the game won’t be whether or not you have your own MCC; it will be whether or not you designed it properly and are making the best possible use of it.

Here’s to efficiency and results.

Cheers.

By the way, if you haven’t tried Tickr for free yet, click here.

One last thing…

If you are already using multiple tools together (either in a formal mission control setting or a more traditional monitoring and management “dashboard” model), we would love to hear what they are and what you like about how they complement each other. Have you found any ideal pairings yet? Have you found any annoying gaps in functionality? Do you have a wish list of functions or specs you would like to give voice to? The comment section is all yours.

(continued from Part 1)

Here is how the question usually comes up:

“We’ve created our blog, our Twitter account(s), and our Facebook page. We have dedicated monitoring and workload management tools. We’re staffed, funded and ready to go. But… no one is talking to us yet, and judging from the Tickr page we built for our brand, not many people are talking about us yet either. Where do we begin?”

Great question. If you’re in that social media program start-up phase and your main objective is to establish yourself in existing communities and grow your own, there are several things you can do to help yourself. Last week, we looked at the first four (check them out here). They were:

1. Start with your analog networks.

2. Hunt for conversations.

3. Read, watch and listen more than you publish.

4. Share other people’s content.

This week, let’s look at the next four:

5. Comment on other people’s content.

This is perhaps one of the most underrated of all the social activities, and ironically one of the easiest ones to manage. Think about the progression of your tactics until now: You’ve hunted for conversations. You’ve read, watched and listened a significant amount of content, and even shared it. Almost every video, blog post, news item or presentation on the web has a comments section now. Why not engage with that content there? Did you like it? Tell the author why. Did you disagree with it or dislike it? Tell the author why. Is there an aspect of the conversation triggered by that piece of content that intrigues you? Jump in and say your piece.

Every comment you leave behind is an opportunity to make a connection. If that connection is positive, human, and touched by some sense of value, it could help open doors further down the road: discovery, collaboration, lead generation, etc. These comments also act as a trail of crumbs that can lead other commenters, visitors and even the content publishers themselves to visit your website and discover you.

“Build it and they will come,” doesn’t work for most fledgling blogs. “Comment and they will come,” however, does. If you aren’t leaving at least 10-20 comments across a variety of channels each and every day during your blog’s first semester, you are doing yourself an enormous disservice.

“How do I find content to comment on,” you ask? Easy. For starters, you can search pretty much every social network for topics and keywords. You can also use search engines to locate news stories and blog posts relating to those topics. If you want to save time though, and you want to search discussions that are relevant now rather than a week, a month or even a year ago, you could use Tickr as a search tool. Try it out and see if it makes things any easier for you. The process is easy. Just log into your Tickr account, enter a keyword or topic, and create a page for it. That’s it. Tickr will then automatically bring up mentions of that search topic for the range of channels it monitors (news, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), and you can then drill down into the blogs, tweets, stories and even image updates at will. Pretty handy.

6. Join discussions.

Deliberate, structured discussions are different from typical comment threads in that they tend to be more focused, more concise, and often more constructive right from the onset. One of the best places to find them is on LinkedIn, whose groups engine is essentially fueled by discussions. These can be searched for and joined pretty much any time, so there should be no shortage of opportunities to contribute your two cents to pretty much any topic.

Another place to find healthy discussions is Twitter (in the form of #chats). You will also find them on Facebook, Google+, and branded community portals – in instances where brands create their own digital community hubs.

The point is, find discussions that are of interest to you and join them. Participate in them. Put them on your calendar and make a point to contribute, interact with others, thank the hosts, and so on. Every opportunity to make new connections and drive attention to your company is a function of organic community building, and in many cases simple lead generation as well.

7. Start and host discussions.

Once you have gotten the hang of participating in discussions, you should create one or two yourself. Don’t rush it. Take your time. Wait until it feels right. But when the time comes, do it.

Don’t just duplicate an existing discussion though. There probably isn’t a whole lot of value in redundancy. Find an angle. Make it more or less specific. Find some unique way of approaching it that will bring value to your community. It could be a conceptual discussion on LinkedIn and Facebook, like “What are some of the biggest problems that plague HR today,” or something more specific to your industry like “how do you think mobile commerce will affect candy-makers in the next 2-5 years?” On Twitter, it could be a weekly customer service chat, every Thursday at 8pm Eastern for instance, where your customer service team answers questions from users and would-be customers. It could also be a virtual town hall meeting via Google Hangout with your CEO or key managers inside the company. It doesn’t really matter what the focus of the discussion is. What matters is that you create these events, make them valuable to your community, and establish a leadership position both within the community that you have created and across the communities that you are also a member of.

This is how community leadership begins, by the way.

8. Create compelling content.

Obviously, content matters. By now, you’ve heard the battle-cry of content strategists and content marketers: “Content is king.” Well, we won’t put to fine a point on that notion here, but it’s true that content is absolutely essential to any kind of social marketing program. If you have a blog, you are going to need to fill it with content. Your tweets, Facebook updates and YouTube videos are content as well. And while most of the content that you share, like, retweet and comment on may have been created by someone else, you are going to have to create content of your own pretty regularly.

The rate of publication will vary depending on a number of factors – availability of resources, value to your community, demand for content, etc. Some businesses will find themselves publishing two to three blog posts per day while some will find that two or three blog posts per week will be the ideal frequency. The best you can do is play around and see what your community seems to respond to best. But ultimately, what matters more than frequency is quality. If you want to provide value, each and every blog post or video or bit of content you create must be valuable to someone (ideally, a lot of someones).

We hope that helps. We’ll be back with more. In the meantime, if you have any questions about Tickr, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re also on Facebook, so like us there if you want to find out what’s going on in the world of social media monitoring, big data and brand management. We would also love for you to also follow us on Twitter (our feed there is pretty fly… or so we’re told). We’re pretty good about answering questions there too. @TickrUS. That’s us.

And as always, if you haven’t taken Tickr out for a test drive yet, there’s a trial version just waiting to go out for a spin. Check it out and tell us what you think. It’s free and super easy. Don’t be shy.

Until next time, cheers.

If you’re a global superbrand, chances are that a ton of people are already talking about your company and products on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. If your products or stores can be photographed, there is also a good chance that pictures tied to your brand will turn up on Instagram and Flickr. Starting a social media monitoring program will be easy. Crank up Google and Tickr, and you’ll immediately start to see how many people are talking about you, where they are having conversations, and what they are saying. Your social monitoring team can then brief PR, customer service, product management and marketing, and help coordinate real time responses, campaign messaging and targeting, etc.

But what if you’re a small company? What if you’re still a young startup? Or what if you’re a B2B organization and haven’t yet grown into a household name? Then what? Where do you start? I won’t lie to you and tell you that building a community from scratch is easy. It isn’t. You simply aren’t going to get 100,000 twitter followers overnight. You won’t be enjoying long comment threads on your Facebook updates and blog posts for months. Building your social media program, then scaling it again and again is going to take time. But if you incorporate these tactics into your new social media / social business program, you will start to see results a little faster than if you just went with a “build it and they will come” strategy.

Here is how the question usually comes up:

“We’ve created our blog, our Twitter account(s), and our Facebook page. We have dedicated monitoring and workload management tools. We’re staffed, funded and ready to go. But… no one is talking to us yet, and judging from the Tickr page we built for our brand, not many people are talking about us yet either. Where do we begin?”

Great question. If you’re in that social media program start-up phase and your main objective is to establish yourself in existing communities and grow your own, there are several things you can do to help yourself. Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Start with your analog networks.

You have customers. You have colleagues. You have vendors and partners and employees. You have friends and professional peers. Start there. Find them on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on Twitter, and invite them to like your new Facebook page, follow you on Twitter and read your blog. These customers, colleagues, vendors, employees, partners, friends and peers have networks of their own. Over time, their networks will become your networks, and the new followers and fans you will recruit from those networks will introduce you to their networks, and so on.

Initially, you will see your community grow one person at a time. It will feel like watching grass grow. You will wonder if you are doing something wrong, if you aren’t doing enough… Don’t stress out. Things will begin to speed up. Relax. The first few months are 90% work and 10% results. You will eventually see 10% work and 90% results, but not yet. The process here is a lot like moving to a brand new town where you only know five or six people. One event at a time, one coffee, meeting or luncheon at a time, you will start to meet people. They will in turn introduce you to more people. Over time, 10 people will turn into 100, then 1,000, the 1,000. Be patient. Focus on attracting quality connections, not just collecting as many fans and followers as you can. If you do it right, less is more.

Start with people you like and trust, people who already understand the value of your company and product, people who are already evangelists for either you, your brand, or your product.

2. Hunt for conversations.

There already exist communities around professions, industries, hobbies, product categories, social objects, cultural trends, and so on. What you need to do now is find them. Look across all social channels you intend to use for discussions about topics that are relevant to your company, products or industry. You make hipster jeans? Search for “hispster” and “jeans” on Twitter. (Twitter Search is one of the most powerful tools on the web, believe it or not.) Look up “hipster, community” on a few search engines and see what turns up. Set up a Tickr pages for “hipster” and “jeans.” See what turns up. Then radiate outward from these obvious keywords. Think about some of the attributes of your ideal customers. Think of some of the overlapping interests they may have: what kind of music do they listen to? What artists do they like? What shoes do they wear? What types of discussions might they have? Discuss it internally, dive into your customer data, get out on the street and in stores if you have to, poll your customers… do whatever you have to do to map out their interests and understand them better. Then do the same thing online and look for those micro-communities or overlapping interests online.

Tip: know your channels. For a denim company, Pinterest, Facebook, Spotify, Foursquare and Instagram might hold some clues. For a business services company, LinkedIn, Twitter, G+, Quora and Slideshare might yield better results.

To give you a completely different type of example, if your business is ball bearings, think about who you sell ball bearings to now. What do they make? What do they sell? Write those keywords down and search for them. See what turns up.

Identifying the right sets of keywords might take a little work, but keep at it and you’ll eventually turn up a few that will open the gates to new communities, discussion topics and social connections online.

3. Read, watch and listen more than you publish.

Once you’ve identified channels, communities, digital events (like #chats on twitter, for instance, or discussions on LinkedIn), start following people who seem interesting and relevant to your search. Could they be customers? Are they already customers? Could they help validate your brand to their network or help share your message? More importantly though, do you like them?

This might seem a strange thing to say on a business blog, but the more you like someone online, the more likely it is that you connect with them on a human level. Given that the fuel of communities is passion (for products, brands, topics, etc.), human connections and relationships are vital to both communities’ health and your relevance within them. So while “liking” someone on Facebook may only require the click of a button, liking someone online, for who they are, is also a very big part of this. It’s easy to get caught up in the mission of identifying and cataloging social media denizens (even using services like Klout and Kred to rate the extent to which they might be influential in certain circles), and that is part of the work, but keep it human. The analysis piece should be secondary. Make friends. That’s a lot more important.

At any rate, the ratio of listening to speaking in your first month should probably be 50:1. By your third month, it could ease up to 25:1. By the time that your social media presence comes of age, you might be able to  hit 5:1, if you’re lucky (when 80-90% of your “publishing” online consists of responding in some way to a mention, comment or question). Until that time comes, listen. Read. Watch.

We look at the amount of time community managers spend listening and reading other people’s content (blog posts, tweets and chats, for instance) in the first few months of their programs versus the amount of “content” they produce, and the extreme nature of the ratio is always striking. Even though community managers are doing a lot of work, in terms of content, it rarely looks like they are all that prolific. Don’t be put off by it. That’s normal. There are two simple reasons for this:

– If you only have 50-250 likes on Facebook and 100 followers on twitter, your community may not be large enough to warrant hourly updates, daily blog posts, and tweets every ten minutes. If you publish a lot of content now, no one will ever see it. It will get buried in an increasingly full timeline. Save your energy and your insights for when you have an audience.

– Too much talking and not enough listening won’t teach you much about your community or what it cares about. Your community manager’s job for the first few months is one of research, acclimation, fact-finding, analysis and social insertion. There will be plenty of time for a heavy publishing schedule later.

So at first, keep the messaging, content creation and publishing light. Growth comes in phases.

4. Share other people’s content.

A good deal of the content you will share on social networks won’t be yours. Why? Two reasons:

– It doesn’t have to be.

– Sharing and retweeting are potent forms of social currency.

One of the obvious advantages of sharing other people’s content rather than creating your own is that it takes a lot less time. In the time it might have taken your community manager to research, draft, write and publish one blog post, that same community manager might have identified, read, liked and shared someone else’s article, blog post, presentation, video, podcast, infographic or white paper twenty times over.

Another advantage is that it brings a breadth of value into a) the community that you are building and b) the communities that you are becoming an integral part of. When you share someone else’s content, you are helping people in your network discover that content. If you pick the right types of content, that adds a lot of value to a community’s activity.

Compare that to a company that spends all day creating content about itself. Sure, it’s work, but is it really interesting 24/7? No. By spending a lot of time researching content and sharing it, you become an active participant in your community’s information ecosystem. You become a source of not only relevant information but valuable insight. Do that well, and more and more people will start to not only notice you, but find your presence valuable.

A third advantage is that by sharing someone else’s content, you are shining the spotlight on them instead of yourself. That usually makes them appreciative. Everyone in a social setting likes to get a little attention and validation. Every time you share someone’s content for the right reasons, you are making a deposit in the social bank of good will. It’s a nice way of making friends. (Just don’t forget to include proper attribution in your tweets and updates. Mentioning the author of the content, even the person through whom you discovered it is the right thing to do.)

Leadership in a community often begins by frequently casting a favorable light on others. Don’t forget that.

If it seems that searching for content about a topic is too daunting at first (search engines aren’t necessarily the best real-time aggregators of news and blog posts), Tickr can obviously come in handy: set up some pages for a breadth of topics and check on them from time to time. Although it is supposed to be a brand monitoring product, it’s a very powerful real time search tool as well.

Another great place to go to find news is Pulse (a more traditional news aggregator, but with a similar format as Tickr, which is easy on the brain). Between Tickr and Pulse, your real time search needs should be pretty much covered.

Build, scan, sort, share. That should be 90% of your social content strategy in the beginning.

We hope that helped. In Part 2, we will explore the final four more tips (at least for now).

If you haven’t yet created a Tickr account, now’s a good time to give us a try.

Return to Tickr’s home page.