What Does Data Tell us About the State of Corporate Social Media Programs?

MultitaskingThrough years of working with companies on their social media efforts, it has always been clear that the more human resources an organization puts behind its social channels, the more successful they will be. Typically, the better-run programs have had a person who, rather than multitasking across the communications departments, has the primary job of managing social channels, regardless of whether or not they had agency help. Why does this work? It’s a simple equation (to give all of us who work in social media a respite from some of the needlessly complicated calculations being thrown around): the greater the amount of dedication and focus to a task, the better the result. If social is thrown on the shoulders of an already-overburdened PR manager or marketing manager, then no amount of agency counsel and extra hands, and no amount of “social-savvy” on the part of the manager, is going to help them execute. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your belly constantly for 40 hours a week.

What brought this to mind was an article I saw at Ragan.com. The author cites a study that Ragan and NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions conducted; it showed that 65% of social media pros responding to the study juggle other responsibilities alongside their social media duties. I’m not sure that’s surprising, but it does indicate a long way to go in companies giving these important communications programs the attention they warrant. I would like to see how those numbers compare to last year, as a positive (or negative) trend would tell me more than a static one-year figure. Other downbeat figures from the study included a mere 31% being “satisfied” or better with their social media programs, and only 13% considering their company’s programs “advanced.”

The last figure alarms me a little, as if there is one thing true about social media pros, we tend not to be shy or downplay our accomplishments and affiliations.

One more figure: the study cites these organizations keeping flat budgets from social for the three years through 2013. That directly contradicts other studies indicating an upward trend in spending, such as this one quoted in eMarketer in September.

What are the takeaways? To me, they are:

  • Social Media Specialists Should Be in Demand: Social media has to have its own organizational “owner” – even if you are in good agency hands, an internal champion is key to advocacy and execution. If people try to juggle tasks or hand off execution to interns (or in the case of small businesses, the founder/owner) you could get horrific incidents like this most recent by the restaurant Pigalle in Boston.
  • Social Media Programs Have Room for Improvement: This is an opportunity for both agencies and in-house communicators. While acceptance of social media continues to spread and more companies and communicators become comfortable needing and even implementing programs, there is doubt about the quality of programs, even if these figures are off – and again, I have my doubts about the budget claims.
  • Be Suspicious of Data, Worship Trends: I can’t take these numbers and draw definitive conclusions. It’s one study, and even if you know the biases it is hard to adjust the real conclusions to account for them (for example, the Ragan/NASDAQ survey relied heavily on small businesses). If there is one thing we all learned from the 2012 presidential race (and the FiveThirtyEight blog), it’s that data rules only in aggregate, and even then with a wary eye and knowledge it could be wrong. Data Lies, Trends Don’t. 

Full Ragan/NASDAQ Report Available at: http://web.ragan.com/raganforms/Structuring_A_Social_Media_Team.pdf 

Photo credit: Multitasking by Katy.Tresedder, on Flickr


What is an Agency? Social Media and Corporate Voice

"Secret Agent", 1936For the last 15 years, I have spent most of my working time with agencies (PR, social media, communications). While in the PR world it was expressly the job, or so I believed, to stay in the background and “make the client famous,” the agency/client relationship has been more than that.

Let me back up a bit: the thing I, and I believe many others in my place, have struggled with over the years is the true definition of “agency.” The most important “feeling out” bit in agency life is figuring out where your authority as an external agent to act on the behalf of the client ends, and where the internal client needs to take over. In my early PR agency days, that tended to take the shape of setting up a relationship with a reporter, then fading back in the role of facilitator. Being an actual spokesperson was not only rare, but being quoted in a publication on behalf of a client was high on the list of work nightmares.

Social media comes along, bringing the role of the agency into question once again – how far to go in being an actual “agent?”  The early fights were over “ghost-blogging” which, put simply, was hiring someone to write blog posts for you , in your voice, just as you would hire a speechwriter. Much of the disapproval was misplaced, as the crimes in these instances were not in actually doing it but doing it poorly. No matter who puts finger to keyboard, the voice has to be accurate. This was true back in my journalism career; a bullpen of producers would write copy for anchors to read and the copy had damn well better be in the voice of that day’s anchor (heaven help you if you wrote the word “particularly” for Steve or used too folksy a style for Bob). In other words, yes you can write words on behalf of someone else.

As social media platforms took various forms, managing the content for companies has become an industry. People expect companies to be “human” now and respond, or at least communicate, one-to-one and in real time (that expectation could be its own topic). That raises the stakes of the conundrum; when you speak to a company online, to whom are you really speaking. Of course, that’s where things get complicated – and is the source of the Twitter conversation captured below.

My take; an agency can certainly help perform the voice of the client when it comes to executing a social media program. The idea of agency as counsel is important and vital – helping a client define and express its voice, instructing it how to use it – but many still need help delivering on that promise. And with the strict proviso that it is done within parameters and mistake-free, then the public shouldn’t care where the social media “voice” they are talking to on a particular day is drawing their paycheck from.

One last thing: The Merriam-Webster definition of agent, as applied here, is thus: “One who is authorized to act for or in the place of another.” This is a great reminder of the fact that an agency’s role isn’t merely counsel, as important as that is. The role of an agent is based on trust to act on the client’s behalf. If you have that trust, there are a lot of things you can do.

Here is the conversation referenced above. Chris’ issue is a valid one; if the person representing the company is not doing their job, then it is a bad experience all around, and his impressions are probably common to many average “consumers.” However, the person doing their job poorly could just as easily be an internal person as an agency rep: and the lack of results could be the result of a larger problem: a poor business and communications philosophy.


The Social Media Marketer’s Burden: On Leaving Platforms

roofI saw it again today.

Every once in a while, someone I know professionally grandly announces that he or she is leaving a social media platform because it does not fit their needs. For some reason, that always bothers me. Why would someone in social media marketing – why would I – abandon a popular social platform, let alone announce that fact?

First, why should we question that? How each of us uses social media is personal. In the case of the post I saw today from Geoff Livingston, he decided to stop using Facebook to market himself because he felt it was, for him, a personal platform that should remain just that. I can respect that, I suppose, but I can’t see myself abandoning any platform I use with clients. I also am not trying to pick on Geoff (he writes, as he picks on Geoff), as I know there is more to the post than saying “Hey, a social marketer quit Facebook, that’s stupid.”

It did make me think, though – why not question it? By this measure I should abandon Google Plus because I get little to no traction there, or stop using LinkedIn because I represent a competitor (true, I refrain from talking about them publicly with this notable exception, but it is still part of our professional tool set); but I do neither.

Why? Here are the factors I consider as a social media professional using social media:

  • My Personal Use of Social Platforms is Experimental: Even if I felt Facebook were irrelevant in most cases, I would still feel the need to keep a presence there, to know what makes it tick in case it works for someone. By that same token, we keep accounts on more obscure platforms and tools, to find things that work, or even to save a space – and know how to use it – in the event it becomes big. I can’t fathom leaving something behind unless it is truly dead (just don’t get caught being the one pronouncing something “dead”).
  • Shiny Object Syndrome Turns Us All Into Dopes: Having just got through saying we should be on everything as communications professionals, we should also be wary of chasing shiny objects – and yes, I know saying that is old hat at this point, so stow it. That goes two ways: the first is not getting caught pronouncing something is big before it is just to declare yourself innovative (hello, Google Plus); the second is not dumping perfectly good tools chasing the new. I recall people declaring that LinkedIn- oops, there I go again – was dead and were abandoning it for Facebook. there is some tattered symmetry in Geoff’s pulling back from Facebook for exactly the opposite reason.
  • As Marketers, We Must Use the Tools: We are often judged by how we wield the tools ourselves. Would I expect a potential client to take me seriously if I declared self-hosted blogs to be dead because Tumblr is cool? No more than I would expect them to appreciate my shunning Tumblr because I think it is stupid (I don’t, by the way).

I appreciate that someone like Geoff has already shown an ability to use Facebook and will likely do so for clients. I also recognize that there are no (none, zero) absolutes in what I say. But for me, I’m not going to hop platforms in opposition to the logic of my work any more than I would hop lines at the supermarket because I think the next one is going faster (oh wait, I do that – see? No absolutes).

Photo: Michael LaMartin on Flickr

You Won’t Need a Web Site in 2015! Unless You Do

I understand the need for provocative statements (heck, my last post here led off with “Experts are Useless), so perhaps I should not be quick to judge the statement “You won’t need a website by 2015!” However:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ShannonEastman/status/265758239604473856″]

A friend brought this Tweet from the recent  Inbound Marketing UK Summit to my attention. As someone who preaches, along with my colleagues, that owning your own online content platform (such as a Web site or blog), this statement seemed patently ridiculous; a bold, unprovable statement made by someone trying to get attention, à la the folks five or six years ago who claimed that “print would be dead in five years.”

Of course, I don’t know the full context of the statement this Tweeter gushed about, so I won’t be too harsh without that knowledge. However, the statement taken alone is, of course, silly.

On the other hand, there is one way to predict you don’t need a website in 2015 – perhaps you don’t need one now.

Sure, non-owned platforms are a great place to put “owned media,” the content you create. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube work wonderfully; but what happens if any of those go away or become undesirable? An acquaintance in one of the Facebook groups I frequent asked that very question recently, as he wondered about old MySpace content in an age where he is focusing on Facebook. If he can do that successfully, what then when there is no Facebook? Move everything again?

Taking this to a higher level; what you do need is a place you own– maybe not your web site (or blog), maybe it’s something else – but it’s something that you own, where you have control. Here is a quick, not-at-all well thought out list of things you might need:

  • Web site (let’s keep that here, shall we, even though it’s 2015 and everyone has flying cars, orgasmatrons and food synthesizers)
  • Online store (maybe you don’t call that your “web site.” I love semantics, bring it on)
  • Your bank account (this may or may not be via an online store, but getting people’s cash directly? Who needs a web site, content or even a product? Well, ok,  a product might be necessary)
  • Your ego (There. it’s ok to use Blogger)
  • Your phishing database (see: “Bank Account,” above)

OK, I got silly there. Possibly even funny, but I doubt it. The serious conclusion: if you need a web site today, you will most likely still need it in 26 months. I’ll bet my domain on it.
Horse and Buggy Crossing Road Sign

Photo Credit: Arthur Chapman on Flickr

Experts are Useless, Experience is Where It’s At.

expertThis past week, a friend asked me to lend my expertise on charity fundraising, based on my long-time participation in the Pan-Mass Challenge to fight cancer. While she didn’t use the word “expert,” a call for advice reeks of leaning on someone for “expertise.” I don’t consider myself an expert in charity fundraising – there are many people who raise more money for that event than I do. But here’s the thing. I have done it. I had some real, practical advice on what has succeeded, what hasn’t and things I have thought about trying – but haven’t – that my friend might consider.That’s real “expertise” – something, based on experience, that others can use.

There is a lot of pressure on people in the consulting industries to be considered “experts.” The problem with that is it either encourages people to stumble outside their real area of expertise, or it forces people who would rather not lead with their ego to call themselves such against their will, even if the credentials are in place. I address the latter in the first paragraph; you can relate expertise without placing yourself above others.

In early blogging days when I was more prone to write these “how you blog” navel-gazing posts, I might write something about swallowing self-doubt and plunging in the deep end with the rest of the self-professed. Another thing: attending conferences over the last several years, I have seen a reliance on the “experts” as speakers; these people may have real-world experience, or they may be “professional speakers” far removed from what got them there – and what you need to move forward. I’m still for marshaling the confidence to show your skills, but am more likely to temper that with a “show me” request. Don’t rely on opinions, tell us about your experience.

Back to the conferences: what I crave when I go are case studies – research too, but I really want to hear how people are doing things and how they solved problems. What’s the state of (in my case) social media in your industry? Tell me what you did. The generic “motivational” speaking (and book writing) isn’t doing it for me any more.

How do you use experience to show true expertise? I keep these things in mind:

  • Experience: As stated above, base what you say  on what you did – what worked, what didn’t, and the roads you didn’t travel
  • Trust: I don’t trust merely on name recognition and perceived celebrity. I want your calling card to be accomplishment. You didn’t have to start a social media program at a Fortune 500 company from scratch, but just show me what you did and how you did it
  • Humility: I’m not saying you shouldn’t tout your accomplishments or not say your are great at what you do. I’m just saying be relatable. Don’t be a celebrity, even if it’s among your co-workers, your community, or your industry colleagues. Be  a resource, and be willing to her counter-arguments (Note: I’m not talking about false humility; if you use the term “humblebrag” I’ll probably tune you out as there is no such thing).
  • Willingness to Help: Your reputation as someone with expertise or experience is measured by how much you use it to help others. Lend an ear, donate time, teach a class, go out for that coffee. People deserve your help just as much as you deserved that of others.
Now go ask someone for their expertise – or give yours.

What are your thoughts on experts and experience?

Photo Credit: bondidwhat on Flickr