The social media management industry has reached an important inflection point. One where it must demonstrate, with real data, its ROI to the boardroom.

Back in 1999, in a document written by myself and Lizzie Jackson to justify investment in the BBC’s first audience communities, we suggested that online communities would increase loyalty, encourage return visits, and build deeper engagement with audiences. To demonstrate our progress, we created a “weekly message board health check” where we recorded the number of new user registrations, new posts, posts removed by moderators, and highlighted interesting quotes from participants. We had no targets – other than “up, up up” -  nor did we have a strategy beyond serving the needs of participants who we knew wanted spaces where they could interact with BBC brands, programme makers and each other.

Sound familiar? This is the same message, nearly fifteen years later, that many agencies continue to peddle to their clients.

In a recent post, Dachis Group Europe’s Lee Bryant quotes some insight from an Altimeter study of nearly 700 executives and social strategists, highlighting the disconnect between many brands’ social media strategies and business outcomes:

“… we found that only 34 percent of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and just 28 percent felt that they had a holistic approach to social media, where lines of business and business functions work together under a common vision. A mere 12 percent were confident they had a plan that looked beyond the next year.”

As Brian Solis and Charlene Li put it in the report:

“The crux of the problem is that many so-called social strategies are not innately linked to business goals. They are instead often guided by a peer- or competitive-driven “social for social’s sake” philosophy. And even where clear goals do exist, social initiatives face challenges in the form of a lack of defined strategy, governance, and funding.”

As I’ve written here before, where a void exists between social strategies and business outcomes, brands are destined to fail. Those clients still fixated on “up, up, up” in their numbers of fans and followers might not recognise that failure today but they’ll soon cotton on. Where, however, a brand sets off to deliver against identifiable strategic objectives, not only are they more likely to achieve a positive return on that investment, but they’ll also be able to measurably demonstrate that success.

I’ve benefited both personally and professionally from the rise and increased professionalisation of the community management industry over the years: a well managed community offers an undeniably better experience for participants than an unmanaged one, and I’ve built a career around my ability to bring people and brands closer together in digital environments. That, however, isn’t going to convince senior managers or shareholders that an ongoing investment in social media is justified.

If, like me, you make your living by helping brands engage with audiences online, now is the time to dig out your brand’s strategy and make an honest assessment of how your social media activities thus far have contributed measurably towards meeting strategic outcomes. If the answer is “I don’t know”, “not much”, or “not enough” it may very well be time – before your client comes to the same conclusion and jumps ship to another agency, or reigns in their social media spending, in response – to shift gears. Don’t let that client slip away…

Just about anyone who has looked at the website analytics for a corporate website will be aware that the percentage of visitors using the homepage as their landing point is on the decline. This is likely to be due to a mix of the following:

  • the inclusion of deep links in search results for a brand name (see screenshot below)
  • people are getting better at refining their search queries -  typing brandname careers for example
  • the long-tail of past content appearing in a myriad of search results
  • inbound social media links tend to go directly to content of interest rather than the homepage

Despite the data, many brands and organisations continue to assume their homepage as the entrance point for everyone. Because those visitors have not self identified, through the links they’ve clicked on (whether those are from search results or social), the challenge these organisations face is providing navigation and content to guide a users with a wide variety of potential interests to the content quickly, so the homepage ends up offering a little bit of everything.

There are now, however, ways of getting around this challenge:

1.Wrapping Site Visitors in Relevancy

The first, and obvious one, is for brands to think of every piece of content as a potential landing point. Assuming that users land in the right place in the first instance, it’s easy enough to figure out, editorially and perhaps with a bit of help automation guided by content tagging, what other content might be relevant to that user. Someone who lands on a careers page, for example, might also find it useful to find, on that same page, details of corporate investments in training initiatives, stories of people who work in different roles within the business, details of the application process, etc.

2. Using Data on Inbound Users to Trigger the Display of Specific Content

Enterprise content management platforms are becoming more sophisticated, offering a way to wrap users in relevance not only on specific content pages, but also on what used to be a “generic” homepage. By integrating the CMS with an analytics platform, it’s now possible to trigger the display or priority of specific content to specific users based on what is known about them. Here’s a few scenarios to help illustrate what I’m talking about:

  • A website from Canada clicks on a link to a piece of regulated content (think finance or pharma) published on BrandX’s Australian website. The CMS recognises the geo-IP of the inbound user and flags the content as being non-compliant in Canada, or restricts the user from viewing it altogether, potentially replacing it with the relevant and compliant content for the user’s market.
  • A site visitor clicks on a link from a business or financial news site, for example FT.com or the BBC News Business index. The CMS notes the source of the referral and prioritises last weeks Quarter 4 results and investor relations content on the landing page, since that’s what the user is likely to be interested in.
  • A site visitor, who works at a leading competitor, searches for BrandX and clicks on the homepage link. They CMS recognises the IP range of the visitor and serves up content highlighting careers for experienced hires, in the market where the user is visiting from.
  • A user is a fan of BrandX on Facebook. According to their profile, they attend a technical university in Canada. When they click on the homepage url listed at the top of the brand’s Facebook page, the content they see on the homepage when they land highlights Engineering and Science careers in Canada
  • A user visits a website or Facebook of an opposition group. When the user clicks the link to the brand’s homepage, the CMS highlights content that addresses the concerns of the opposition group, and doesn’t display the stunningly good Quarter 4 results because those might inflame the visitor more, nor does it display careers information because the visitor is unlikely to want to work there

When I’ve mentioned some of these scenarios, all of which are possible to support today, the questions I usually get are around user privacy – “won’t people be upset that the brand already knows something about them and services up content based on that data?”

I don’t think so. To me, this type of functionality is all about reducing the number of clicks in a user’s journey to content they are likely to be interested in. That is, because it’s helpful to the site visitor, few are likely to be upset by it. Anyway, most if not all of the data being gathered is readily available to anyone who bothers to investigate the website’s analytics – the main difference is that in the scenarios above, the data is being used proactively, and productively, for the benefit of the website owner as well as visitors.

Many brands already do this sort of thing with search and social advertising as well as to target branded posts at specific fans – and about the only time one hears anything negative about it is when they get the targeting badly wrong. Now it’s possible to do this on the brand’s owned website.

There are several ways of delivering relevancy to every visitor to a website – through editorial decision making, by thinking of every page of a website a user’s potential entry point, by using tags or other meta data to display related content so as to wrap the user in relevancy, and to use the data available on inbound users to trigger specific content based on that data.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a wide variety of brands, both B2C and B2B. Due to my personal and professional interests, I prefer the latter and have turned it into somewhat of a speciality.

I’m often asked to, because B2B is something fewer people in the industry have had exposure to, explain the difference of approach between a B2C and B2B assignment. The reality is, there isn’t much difference between strategic B2B and B2C programmes, only the tactical targeting, tone of voice, and to some extent the sourcing of content, really varies.

So here are a few observations on the differences between B2C and B2B digital and social media programmes:

1. Most B2B clients realise they need to be highly targeted; B2C clients should

B2B in digital and social media, at least in my experience, tends to be more strategic and highly targeted. Rather than putting content out there in the hopes it will “go viral”, most B2B brands realise – whether they manufacture construction materials, aircraft engines, or chemicals – that there is little point in reaching and engaging with a broad audience when their real target is likely to be much more specialised.

Put simply, with the B2B clients I’ve worked with, there’s a much greater awareness that there’s limited value in building a collection of fans and followers – instead, it’s about building deeper relationships with the chosen few. Of course, there are some, albeit relatively rare, examples of highly targeted, strategic, outcomes focused B2C digital and social media programmes, but not as many as you might expect there to be.

2. B2B products and services often require more specialised explanation

Rather than focusing solely on a relatively easy to understand consumer product, in the B2B space it’s important to help business decision makers understand the applications for, and differentiators of, potentially complex products and services.

Because such products and services tend not to be bought off the shelf – to some degree requiring partnerships for their delivery and implementation – it’s also important to highlight the experience of partnership, and the expertise of those who will deliver.

Due to specialisation, the customers of B2B clients tend to be subject matter experts themselves, so it’s important they be presented with content from, and opportunities to engage with, their peers.

3. Both B2B and B2C require great content

This is one area where B2B and B2C are almost identical – they both require compelling content. That content will vary widely from brand to brand, as well as the tone of voice used, but there are some basic truths: it should be factual, relevant, timely and interesting to members of the target audience. Sure, the words, the images, the videos and infographics will all have a different tone of voice and visual representation, but it still has to be good, really good, to capture the attention of audiences.

4. B2B content sourcing can initially be a bit of a challenge, but it needn’t be

Nearly every B2B brand I’ve worked with has asked the question, “where do we find content?”. Part of the reason they find this more challenging than B2C brands is because they tend not to have a similar level of marketing and advertising resource – no pre-existing content engine – but with the right processes for surfacing great stories, this problem can be successfully overcome.

That process needs to focus on point two above – giving specialised audiences insight into, and where appropriate direct access to, business critical people and processes. A process we’re working with several clients to implement involves the use of internal collaborative platforms to run staff story-telling competitions. Other clients have internal facing magazines or newsletters that are already mining stories from within, so encouraging the people involved in those activities to share their output via digital and social media offers yet another rich vein of content. Another approach, and again one we’ve worked with clients to plan and implement, is to actually create a purpose built digital and social media newsroom to source content.

Whilst B2B organisations tend not to have “creative” and “marketing collateral” they can simply repurpose for digital and social media, with a bit of looking, they can find content.

5. Follow the audience

Another area where B2B and B2C are almost identical is that, in either instance, it’s important to understand where the audience chooses to participate in digital and social media, and to identify the motivational triggers – both internal and external – for initiating that participation.

Tactically, this means that if you’re, for example, a leading asset management firm with pension fund trustees rather than consumers as your clients, you’ll probably want to focus on using LinkedIn, and maybe blogs, twitter, Slideshare and YouTube for marketing your services, but when it comes to Graduate Recruitment, you might need to focus on Facebook. First, find your audience, then follow them there – don’t start with a particular platform in mind.

The same is true when thinking about devices – whether you’re targeting commuters, frequently traveling business people, or teenagers with busy social lives, you’ll probably want to consider mobile and tablet access, whereas other audiences might be more likely to be desktop based.

 

Whilst I set off hoping to highlight five key differences between the strategic delivery of B2B and B2C digital and social media programmes, I’ve ended up highlighting more similarities. And that’s the reality – B2B and B2C really aren’t that different when in comes to strategic approach, it’s only when it comes to tone of voice, sourcing of content, and specific target audiences and platforms where there’s any difference at all.

McKinsey Quarterly has published the results of their survey on the Evolution of the Networked Enterprise. Buried in the results are some interesting benefits, reported by participants:

McKinsey's Networked Enterprise Survey Findings

McKinsey’s Networked Enterprise Survey Findings

A couple weeks ago, I spoke at two conferences – DMX Dublin and Marketing Kingdom Zagreb. Because the two were back to back – with a handful of missed flight connections in between – I used essentially the same set of slides for both.

My main point? The “social media strategy” of most brands are really just tactical approach that generate social media specific measurements rather than measurable progress towards pre-defined business objectives.

 

 

Cybersoc - screenshot from Feb 2003

Cybersoc.com: February 2003

Last Sunday was the 8th anniversary of this blog – which I started on the 24th of March, 2005. I’d had a website for a long time before that, however, with versions captured by the Way Back Machine going all the way back to 1996.

It looks like I began posting regular updates, in reverse chronological order – blogging – in around 1997 when I started publishing photos and stories from my travels. I also, around the same time, created a page called “dress Robin” where visitors to the site could help me choose what to wear. It was a strange time.

The fact that I was one of the few people I knew who knew how to make a simple web page encouraged me to put the following strap-line on my pages:

As well as being a starving student, Robin Hamman is also an experienced web publisher. If you would like more information on low cost web pages for yourself or business, please contact Robin. This page was created using Adobe Pagemill for Macintosh. Until recently, this site was maintained using a Macintosh Powerbook 520c. We are now using a Macintosh Performa 6400 PowerPC. Demon Internet and America Online provide the web space for this site.

I guess use of the word “we” was an attempt to make it sound like I wasn’t a one man band. In the mid-90′s, I only sold one website, and that was a simple one page site for the estate agent who rented me a room in a shared house in Liverpool. I think he gave me a few months free rent in exchange for building and maintaining the page.

Here’s a screenshot of my homepage in 2003 which, you’ll have to believe me, was a dramatic improvement on previous iterations:

 

So what was the internet like in the mid 90′s? Well, here’s a glimpse of what, back then, was the future…

Over the past week, I’ve participated in three marketing and social media conferences, as a speaker at two and moderating a panel at the other one.

Digital and social media has, of course, evolved significantly since I first started out in the industry over 13 years ago. The creativity expressed in brand activations has, over that time, lept forward significantly, just as the technologies that support them have evolved into sophisticated platforms for managing content, building participatory frameworks, and tracking behaviours.

But there’s still, I feel, too often a gaping void where strategy and measurement of progress towards meeting strategic objectives should be.

I’m not the only person to observe this. Back in January, Robert Philips, former EMEA CEO of Edelman and an astute observer of the PR and Marketing industries, wrote:

“I suffered some sobering moments recently, while judging a clutch of industry awards. There was so much ’stuff’ (aka output) but so few genuine ideas. Worse still, the essence of PR had become badly polluted: here was a blancmange of ad campaign amplifications; phony product launches; ’news’ stories around, well, news; and a clutch of celebrity embarrassments. There was a sad but noticeable lack of original thinking – no genesis the likes of a Marks & Spencer Plan A, an Eco-Imagination, a Nike+ or a Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, conceived by PR folk – and a weird disconnect persisted between the commercial need (awareness, loyalty, sales etc) and the idea itself. We seemed to have grown ourselves into a vacuum. The PR industry – our profession – needs to think about where have all the big ideas gone and what is now closing our minds to their generation? We must re-connect the big idea with commercial need.

Philips describes, in that same post, from which I’ve selectively quoted from below, what he refers to as the Four Heels of Achilles:

1. Outcomes over output: “PR needs a unified and coherent measurement system. It must be Outcomes based. This should be urgently adopted as a global standard and endorsed by all the professional bodies. The measurement must be scientific, provable and defensible. It must be delivered to scale and speak to convergence. Advertising Value Equivalence and/ or Opportunities To See should be banished forever…”

2. The truth of data: “…(readily accessible) data must now become the foundation stone for fresh insight and for the evolution of analysis for the always-on conversation; it must speak to communities and to networks and should be used in real-time in order to drive relevance and resonance…”

3. The imperative of organisational design: “…No PR campaign will therefore be complete without strong and sensible guidance from experts in organizational design – as businesses turn themselves inside out and as both states and industries begin to look at themselves, if not from the bottom-up, then certainly through a more relevant and democratic lens…”

4. The triumph of ideas: “…We have mistakenly grown to see platforms not as ownable sources of creative energy and monetisable idea flow, but either as transient technology channels or as confluence points for otherwise random tactics. Innovation has become more about a rush to market with piecemeal thinking, than about building a sustainable programme for competitive brand or corporate advantage….”

Perhaps 4-5 years ago, I expected to see brands shift from rolling out tactical “activations” towards using digital and social media to make progress towards a set of defined strategic objectives – not social media objectives, but the grown up stuff coming out of the board room – and measuring progress towards meeting those. But far too often, I’m still seeing social media “strategies” that go something like “launch lots of channels and, over a period of time, increase the number of fans and followers”.

That’s not a strategy.

In the presentation I gave at two conferences last week, I used an analogy to try to illustrate the point. “Eating something” is a tactic. Following this tactic means that, on the way home from a boozy evening in the pub, you stop in your local takeaway and get something greasy to soak up a bit of the alchohol and alleviate your immediate hunger. It’s seems like a great idea at the time, but the next day you start to wonder if it was a great idea afterall. If you follow this tactical approach – eating something – as if it’s a strategy, so pop into that same take away with regularity, the effects will, over time, probably be negative to your health and wellbeing.

“Living a long and healthy life” is a strategic objective. To meet it, you need a strategy that includes things like eating a well balanced and healthy diet, getting regular exercise, etc. Your success, attributable mostly, but not entirely, on following your strategy, is measurable in terms of your sense of physical well being, the comments of others about how well you look (your “brand reputation”?), and the length that you live.

Many brands are, when it comes to social media, still merely counting their collection of a gazillion fans and followers, notching up new retweets and likes, and tracking sentiment. Creating a whole new lingo for measurement and reporting does no one any favours – and is likely to, eventually, erode the confidence that the boardroom has in the ability of these activities to drive progress towards tangible and organisationally meaningful objectives.

It’s about time for those of us working in the digital and social media industries to start being more strategic, focus on real outcomes, and develop measurement and reporting mechanisms that have meaning in the board room. Awareness and reputation are, of course, important outcomes, but we also need to focus on demonstratibly impacting sales, driving applications from high value recruitment targets, reducing the number of customer care calls fielded, increasing customer satisfaction, and gaining insights that lead to new product and service offerings. That’s all possible, but only if we start with a strategy rather than a tactic.

 

[The views expressed in this post are my own. In my next post, I'll describe how Social Business provides a process to help brands and organisations become far more strategic in their approach to digital and social media.]

 

The other morning, whilst waiting on a plane for over an hour when my departure was delayed, I realised that at some point I'd become a "business traveller". Here's a few of the signs I came up with in a series of early morning tweets:

1. You've added +44 and knocked a zero off all the UK numbers in your mobile contacts

2. You know exactly where the taxi should set you down for fast access to T5 security (far end. close end opens at 6am)

3. You know your Avios balance and how many tier points you need by yoir renewal date

4. You committed your passport number to memory and carry pre-completed Landing Cards

5. You note a pre-5am spike in your tweets

6. You hit level 8 of the jetsetter badge on FourSquare and are surprised that equates to only 36 different airports

7. You know how to get around IP address enforced limits on free airport wifi

8. The person at immigration says see you next week

9. Duty free becomes your local wine retailer

10. You call destinations by their three letter airport code

11. You have suitcases specially for for one night, three nights and holidays

12. You foursquare friend request people who are checked in to the same airport lounge

13. You speak warmly of the shopping at CPH and ICN because you saw nothing else during your visits

14. You have a packing "strategy"

15. You keep spare mac dongles in each bag

16. You've reread this months HighLife 4 times

17. You avoid conversation with neighbouring passengers at all costs

18. You decant your shampoo into hotel shampoo bottles of no more than 100ml

19. You avoid buying shoes with metal in them

20. Most of your text messages are warnings from your mobile networking warning you of roaming charges

21. You avoid following people holding folders full of papers when in the immigration queue

22. You avoid families with children at security checkpoints, particularly if they have a pushchair

23. You mark the page stamped by immigration on the way in so as to speed your exit on the way out

24. All your devices are showing the time in different time zones

25. You say thank you in the wrong language when leaving a restaurant down the street from your own home

 

Feel free to add you own…

 

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of giving a rather personal presentation at the Vircomm Conference – a potted history of online community management, from 1985 to present, as lived from my own perspective. Some, but not all, of the stories I ended up telling can be found in the notes – although you miss out on the one about Beatrice the World Service “pool typist” and the Gay or Not themed chat we did post-watershed for BBC3′s That Gay Show. Really.

 

 

The past few days, I've been working on a presentation for the Vircomm Summit, a gathering of the online community management industry, which will take place in London this Thursday.

Rather than showing a whole bunch of industry folk stuff they already know – strategies, models and case studies – I've decided to deliver what can best be described as a Potted History of Online Community Management.

In the presentation, I'll cover the:

  • pre-internet days of dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs)
  • wild frontier of usenet and IRC
  • walled gardens of the mid-90's
  • early days – and challenges – for audience interactivity at the BBC
  •  launch of the BBC's web chat service
  • investing in community management training and roll out at the BBC
  • the first (??) multi-domain community management platform we developed at G-Wizz.net
  • what "twitter" looked like in 2001
  • BBCi chat studio at Bush House and the professionalisation of online community management at the Corporation
  • expansion by the BBC into building engagement on third party social networkign and content sharing services
  • the state of the industry today – grown up strategies, approaches, platforms and measurement frameworks
  • my thoughts on the source(s) of competition to the online community industry in the future

Although my narrative and most of the screenshots are in place, I've yet to tidy up the visual presentation – stay tuned, I'll post the slides as soon as I can after presenting them at Vircomm on Thursday.


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About Robin Hamman

My website predates Google by three years and I am somewhat nostalgic when I think about the command line entries I had to learn to control my 300 baud modem. For me, the internet, like the peer-to-peer dial-up BBSs that proceeded it, has always been social. We just lost sight of that for a decade or so when most people thought it was all about "internet shopping malls", inexpensive flights and cheap books. In internet years, I've been here a very long time so you'll have to forgive me if I repeat myself from time to time.

With 14 years of professional experience in the digital and social media industry, and a client portfolio that includes some of the World's most recognisable brands and organisations, I've built a reputation internationally as a leading practitioner in the industry.

In January 2014, I joined Fleishman Hillard as Director of Social Business for EMEA. Previously, I've held a variety of roles including Managing Director of Dachis Group Europe, Director of Digital at Edelman, Head of Social Media at Headshift, Acting Editor of the BBC Blogs and Executive Producer at ITV.

I hold a BA in Education, MA in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a PgDip in Law. I've also been a Non-Residential Fellow at Stanford University Law School and a Visiting Fellow of Journalism at City University, London.

Why cybersoc.com? In 1995, I tried to register, for the purposes of researching "ordinary users", the username Cybersociologist on AOL. They truncated my name and I stuck with it....

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