Jun 26

Beware snake oil salesmen.

Every new digital paradigm presents an opportunity for somebody to make money.

I was around at the start of the digital era – a lifetime ago. The new messiahs were the web developers. They practiced dark arts that few of us understood at the time. They charged a lot of money. This is fair enough, I guess. While specialist skills and knowledge are scarce resources, those possessing them can command a premium price. The window of opportunity would not be open for ever, and today good web development is understood by far more people and prices have bottomed out.

SEO – the web’s new clothes.

Next opportunity was presented by ‘search’. Those who explored the Google algorithm with gun and camera acquired knowledge and skills which they exploited. The new gurus flourished for a while. Made some handsome profits but eventually we all saw through the fog and most people started to handle their own SEO or employed a new generation of reasonably priced suppliers.

Social media measurers or purveyors of snake oil?

With the blossoming of social media, the opportunities were less clear. By definition, it is… well, social. We were all doing it. But, unlike the web or search, measurement, data collection (beyond counting tweets and likes) and analysis is rather more complex and muddy. Welcome on the scene the social media measurement companies.

As in the previous examples, those early on the scene gathered knowledge and honed their approaches and, quite legitimately seek to profit. When their wagons roll into town promising answers to all our ills, will we part with our hard-earned currency? Possibly… but I have a nagging worry about the approach.

The current business model seems to be:

  1. We will give you a slew of free (and very good) monitoring tools. You will be amazed by the data we can gather.
  2. But now, if you want the tools to make sense of that data, the analysis services to read those particular chicken entrails, we will charge a large fee.

As I said at the outset, I have no problem people profiting from their hard-won expertise. But at the moment, most honest suppliers of those services are saying that it is not easy. Goals are hard to define – success is a slippery measure.

I’m going to sit back and watch people drink the various elixirs and see who flourishes and who rushes into the bushes clutching their stomachs.

Jun 22

Accept social media complexity and stop looking for the measurement holy grail.

If I asked you to measure the performance of, say, four cars to tell me which was right for me, you may scratch your head for a while and finally ask me what I need from the car. Is it top speed, acceleration, economy, or maybe load carrying capacity? Depending on my needs you would establish the right measures.

Inevitably, we would be looking at a compromise, a hybrid measure. You would also remind me that this is a long-term decision: it relates to measures over time. What about cost of ownership, maintenance and ease of living with my choice. All of this would be contained within  framework of cost.

I spent a day at the SoconBuzz seminar in London, listening to presentations and joining workshops and roundtables on social media monitoring and measurement. And I came to three conclusions:

  1. All measuring is based upon a complex set of strategic objectives for the organization.
  2. There is no one ideal measure.
  3. We should not be looking for one ideal measure.

A great many people, coming from traditional marketing approaches, look for a cause and effect measure. But there may be multiple causes, many outside our control, and multiple effects, some developing over time.

Time to embrace complexity.

I was trained in social psychology and I remember a couple of qualitative research approaches that seem very appropriate to social media.

Ethnographic research: The ethnographer participates actively in the research environment but does not structure it. The approach is based upon discovery. The important elements are experience and observation, collecting whatever data is available and relevant.

Grounded theory: This takes the approach a stage further by going into research with a completely open mind and no pre-formed hypothesis. The hypothesis, it is trusted, will be emergent from all the data collected without pre-conditions.

The ‘C’ word – categorization.

What these approaches lead to is what I believe to be a key in social media measurement – categorization.

  • Don’t have too many preconceptions about what you are measuring.
  • Accept complexity, listen to the data and identify emergent categories.
  • Build a picture of the landscape from these categories and then establish relevant measures over time.

Remember that some of the important dimensions of social media include engagement, influence, loyalty and advocacy. These are not the products of simple cause and effect.

Social media is like an eco-system – there is no point looking at any one aspect in isolation, we need to develop an immersive method to see many dimensions at once.

Jun 15

Get a strategy, don’t be a social media bad guy.

Social media is one of the good guys, but it can also be a bad guy, because social media can be a thief – it can steal your time, and that means stealing you money.

Why we need social media strategy

It can be very tempting to listen to the bad guy and start using those great tools. In fact, they are so much fun it can become addictive. Before you know it you are spending hours on posts and tweets – but hold on, what good is it doing you? What are you achieving? Listen to the good guy – set an objective.

A strategy is not a big document that passes the caliper test – it can be less than one side of a sheet of A4. It simply sets an objective.

  1. What do you want to achieve?
  2. How will you measure it (to know when you’ve got there)?
  3. Is it a realistic and achievable objective?
  4. When do you want to achieve it by? Set a timescale.

When you have set the objective, then you can decide who you want to converse with, what you need to say, what response you want from them. Then it is straightforward to decide which of the plethora of social media tools will help you achieve your objective. You won’t waste time with the wrong media, talking to the wrong people and getting involved in the wrong conversations.

Jun 15

Brand value isn’t about controlling social media

I was attending a digital marketing conference last week and I heard a speaker talking about social media say, and I quote, ‘The value of a brand is diminished because we, marketers, have less control.’ That’s right – I did a double-take too, but he repeated the same incendiary statement. I struggled to understand what was being said. In my view, the value of a brand has nothing to do with levels of control. Its values are intrinsic, and there is more likelihood of them being damaged by heavy-handed attempts at control. There is a high measure of arrogance on behalf of marketers who overestimate their own influence upon a brand. Ultimately, a brand’s value is the product of transactions between the brand and its audiences – marketers may act as stewards and facilitators, but controllers is overstating their role I would suggest.

There are aspects of the brand, mainly in terms of communications, over which marketers may have a degree of control, but in the final analysis it is how the brand performs in its direct relationship with the public that matters.

In the early days of social media one of the biggest issues (and the greatest misunderstanding) was around ‘control’. Managers were fearful of relinquishing or losing control of the communications media. The truth was that their measure of influence was already far less than they believed. Conversations were already taking place around brands with or without their intervention. The great quality that social media can deliver is engagement, which is almost in inverse proportion to control.  Engagement is about listening conversing and responding – not about control.

Jun 15

Medicine is the most social activity and a natural for social networks.

Doctors, dentists, opticians and similar professions are deeply embedded in communities, yet seem somewhat behind in adoption of social networking.

It took a while for the professions to embrace the internet. There are many good reasons for this: most practices have traditionally been small and the manpower resource for building and maintaining websites was at a premium. For those within the NHS, the lead for providing web-based services was driven from Whitehall. Times moved on – some practitioners recognised the value of web-based services, others embraced it only reluctantly.

We became involved with a number of practices, particularly those with significant private practice, including specialist clinics, cosmetic dentistry and surgery and clinical specialists. These professionals recognised the value of interactivity and the great cost efficiency.

From internet to social networks

So where do we stand in the new social networking arena? Well, we are all learning. Just remember, this is a discipline that just did not exist a few years ago and now infiltrates most areas of life. What does it hold for the medical and therapeutic disciplines?

  • It’s not just communication but conversational – you can communicate with your community, but they can also tell you easily what they think.
  • Most work comes from referrals. Recommendations come by word of mouth. Build a community and they talk to each other, not just to you.
  • Social networking is quick and easy. There is no need to build complex websites – Facebook and Twitter pages, LinkedIn accounts – they are quick and easy to set up.
  • The medium is mobile driven. No need for clients or patients to sit in front of their computers.
  • Social is becoming increasingly visual. What better way to share information on cosmetic treatments than by pictures and videos. Facts and data are much more accessible by using infographics.
  • There is a universe of information out there. All practitioners need to do is identify and share appropriate knowledge.

Just watch a waiting room – no longer are people reading the well-thumbed and outdated magazines. Today they are as likely to be sharing on their mobiles. It is a relevant and accessible resource.

The communities of patients are already there. Practices have authoritative knowledge and information that the communities want and need. People already talk and share experience. When I moved house just over a year ago, I needed to find a doctor, dentist etc. My first port of call was friends’ recommendations then a search through websites (not a brilliant experience). If I could have just widened that activity across networks it would have been a much more informed experience.

Time to get social. It’s good medicine.

Jun 11

Will the bio kill the CV?

BioNeil Hopkins pointed me to this interesting, if contentious, post by Michael Margolis, entitled; “The Resume Is Dead, The Bio Is King.”

As Michael says: ‘Gone are the days of “Just the facts, M’am.” Instead we’re all trying to suss each other out in the relationship economy. Do I share something in common with you? How do we relate to each other? Are you relevant to my work?

That’s why the resume is on the out, and the bio is on the rise. People work with people they can relate to and identify with. Trust comes from personal disclosure. And that kind of sharing is hard to convey in a resume. Your bio needs to tell the bigger story.’

This is an interesting view and one that chimes in with the way admissions teams at universities advise students to focus on the personal statement. Their view is that virtually everybody applying will have the necessary qualification and the differences between them present no fair basis for selection. The personal statement however, tells a story: it tells about what sort of person they are and indicates their personal qualities and potential.

As an employer, when looking to fill a vacancy, I used to pass the mountain of CV’s to an assistant to do the first level triage – the box ticking exercise. Then I would read through the resultant short list trying to read stories between the lines. How much better if the narratives had been on the lines.

The resume or CV will never die: we have to do our due diligence in terms of training and qualification. But the suggestion of the article is that the stages may be reversed. Look for the story first, then check out the supporting facts.

The ‘Brand as Person’ story

I assume all of this builds upon the current fad for storytelling and narratives. What particularly interests me is that in branding work I spend a lot of time helping clients to construct and articulate their brand story. Interestingly I am a great proponent of the ‘Brand as Person‘ model which is why this article had such resonance. We rarely check out the resumes of products and brands we choose – we make choices based upon the brand narrative – the emotional chords that it strikes. What we should be creating is a ‘brand-bio.’

This article certainly gives a good deal of food for thought in terms of how we construct personal stories, build corporate profiles and brand ‘bio’s. I’m looking forward to some fascinating ‘bio-diversity’.

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