Saturday, 19 December 2009

Raising £1,000 for The Rosemary Foundation

The last month has been a manic time moving into freelance world. My current Client projects and other commitments such as guest blogging for Econsultancy, I'm not gettting the time to dedicate to my personal blog to write content worth reading. As I don't want this blog to descend into the pits of content for content's sake, I'm changing its purpose.

Charity is something close to my heart. In 2009 i've not done any direct fundraising myself, having supported others instead. 2010 is the year I get back to fundraising and i've chosen the wonderful Rosemary Foundation (previously the Sue Ryder Home) to contribute to. This is a Charity close to my heart. At the end of 2008 my Grandad was diagnosed with lung cancer at the ripe age of 87. In Feb 2009 the doctors told us it had spread to his brain. The brain cancer brought a quick end to his life, in a matter of weeks. The Rosemary Foundation gave my Grandad and family incredible and selfless support during that time, helping care for him so he could bid us au revoir with dignity from the comfort of his own home, the home he had shared with my Nan for so many years. I can't thank them enough for the care and consideration they showed my Grandad and I know that he will be eternally grateful.

As with many local Charities, they are not-for profit and self-funded. Every penny counts and helps the wonderful nurses support families like mine. I've set myself the target of raising £1,000 by the end of 2010 and will be running several organises races to achieve this....more to follow.

I will be using my blog to keep tabs on progress and write about the events I enter and the joys of training through Winter.

I appreciate that there are many amazing Charities and solicitations for financial support are frequent. However, I would not be a serious fundraiser if I didn't ask for support so I would welcome any contributions, either donations (via my JustGiving website) or spreading the word to your connections and across your networks.

To find out more about the Rosemary Foundation please visit their website.

If you have any questions or suggestions for how I can hit my £1,000 target please drop by and say hello.

In the meantime, happy Christmas!


Friday, 6 November 2009

What is social media marketing?

The term "social media marketing" is now the buzz word du jour, with social networking taking a temporary back seat. But what exactly is social media marketing and what can you do with it?

My abbreviated definition is this:

"The integration of social media channels into your marketing and customer communication mix"

Yep I know that sounds very marketing lovey but it makes sense if you take it bit by bit. Social media provide a channel to market, another communication option for you to talk to and with customers. The culture of marketing is changing thanks to the community aspect of social media - dialogue and engagement take precedent over push marketing (i.e. broadcasting messages without interaction). This offers an excellent communication channel. Therefore, I see social media marketing as the creation of, participation in and nurture of communication, wherever that communication takes place.

The wonderful thing (in my humble opinion) about social media marketing is that the impact, whilst you can influence via intelligent planning and execution, is in the hands of the community. They either like it or they don't - the word of mouth element is determined by influencers who can help spread your message like wild fire or send it to an early grave. The difference from other online marketing like email is that the global reach is far greater and the share of information quicker - and the expectation for engagement is higher.

For me, social media marketing requires an understanding of the new rules of engagement, an appreciation of netiquette (the etiquette of social networks). It goes beyond selling something to someone. It relies on building relationships and helping people to find the information they need, quickly. If done well, it builds brand loyalty and reputation. If poorly managed, it will lose your potential customers and damage your brand.

There is a good article from Jay Deragon on the impact of social media on marketing communication. I like it not for what it teaches me but for the way it is expressed - social media marketing involves people and, therefore, emotion.

In summary, social media marketing:
  • Integrates social media into your marketing mix
  • Provides a platform for customer engagement
  • Supports offline and online marketing programs
  • Enables brand and reputation monitoring
  • Supports your customer service framework

What is your definition of social media marketing?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Wiggly Wigglers gets social networking

Nielsen Online research shows that blogs and social social networks are more popular than personal email and that the audience is spanning the age groups. Facebook has fast become one of the most influential social networks globally - according to Mark Zuckerberg, if it were a country, it would be the 8th most populated in the world.

So, with such a large audience and fan pages/groups to take advantage of, surely every business can reap the rewards of Facebook presence? Wrong. There are Facebook fan pages going to seed because the owners are passive and expecting their potential audience to do the work for them. That is not social media, that is lazy marketing. Ebuyer is the perfect example - their discussion board has not been updated since 30th Jan 2009 - what is the point?

However, amongst the chaff there are some good people building fun communities whilst adding commercial value via networking.

Wiggly Wigglers is a great example of a brand that understands the culture of social networking and the need to build engagement with its customers. Its social presence is driven by the owner, Heather Gorringe, who adds a personal touch to all communication. This is why I think Heather and the Wiggly team have got the mix between strategy and passion spot on:

  • Heather's personal brand drives the social networking activity
  • Their Facebook presence is integrated with other channels including blogs, podcasts, Twitter and main website
  • The tone is relaxed, informal and open - it is not a corporate PR stunt
  • There is a genuine warmth and passion for the audience
  • There is interaction - comments are listened to and replies made, promptly
  • Heather sends a regular (almost weekly) newsletter just to her Facebook fans
  • The content in fresh, fun and engaging
  • There are frequent personal touches that give you a glimpse into the people behind the company - I love that they've named their choc Labradors Toast & Jam!
And guess what, it's on-brand and incredibly effective and making you want to visit the website and tell your friends about it. I know, I have.

Please share your thoughts on Wiggly Wiggler's social networking presence.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Social search and the information bubble

Google and Bing used the Web 2.0 Summit to lay down their social search markers. A long anticipated move, the search engines have been pushing hard to improve their real-time search capabilities. In a nutshell, Bing is doing some nice tag clouding of trending Twitter topics (US only currently) as well as including Facebook content whilst Google announced an agreement with Twitter and the altogether more intriguing Google Social Search. I’m not going to evaluate the two offerings here, this blog asks the question: “How will real-time and social search impact SEO?”

A brief history of SEO
Algorithms change. Frequently. Experienced website optimisers monitor these changes and decide what the next stage will be in the optimisation of the website(s) they manager. Most recently, Google Webmaster Central has announced the demise of meta keywords, once the obsession of optimisers, and raised the question about the long-term future of page rank.

Google has long been the market leader with a devout focus on the relevance of SERPs to drive user experience. They have market domination in the UK because their focus has always been on search results, not content. Google changes its algorithm to keep pace with the way in which consumers search for, access and share content online. Yes, they exploit their position for commercial gain. However, they do so by ensuring the search engine works for online searchers. Integrating social media into the SERPs was the next logical step.

Why is social and real-time search relevant?
People are consuming, moving and commenting on content at a micro-level. Look at how Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death hit the headlines through social networking.
It is logical that search engines want to find a way to index and display user-generated content so that search results mirror the real world. If there is a trending Twitter topic yet a traditional search results page shows none of this content, browsers will turn away to an alternative information provider.

Real-time social media owners like Twitter were never realistically going to topple Google for all our search demands. However, integrating social search with the power of the major engines’ algorithms provides an enhanced service to consumers. In the future, when we search Bing or Google we will have the content of private and commercial web owners as well as conversations taking place on social networks. We can begin to build up a contemporary view of individual topics and not just rely on historical commentary. If you add in blog updates and mobile to the mix, you can see a 360 degree information bubble emerging.

Imagine the education potential? Want to teach children about the impact of politics? Get them monitoring the Twitter conversation using search engines and correlate this with historical evidence. A great example would be the social coverage of the Iran Election (and the subsequent backlash against Habitat for breaking the etiquette).

SEOs need to adapt and increase their capacity for social media optimisation
Switched on SEOs are already planning social media optimisation (social network conversation management) as part of their overall website optimisation strategy. However, the importance this element now plays has increased as the major search engines place more value on social conversation. SEOs need to focus on:

  • The value of personal and commercial blogs
  • Registering the brand across social networks
  • Brand reputation monitoring and management
  • Generating relevant content via social profiles
  • Managing conversations effectively using cost-effective tools (such as Hootsuite)
  • Responding with a human voice to comments, questions, queries
  • Producing relevant and valuable content
  • Integrating social media planning with other marketing channels
  • Engaging with thought leaders, influencers and advocates

This list in not exhaustive but covers the key elements of social media optimisation. What do you think? Are you committed to the value of social media in your website optimisation? Do you think there are other areas that I have not covered above?

Please share your comments.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Social media and presentations - the speaker backchannel

Earlier this year I attended an event at which one speaker used Twitter to gather audience questions and then answer key themes at the end. He did not allow this to interrupt the presentation but it was made clear that questions would not be a 'hands up' affair. More and more speakers are now aware of and monitoring their presentation 'backchannel' (a new marketing buzz word for the bingo card).

Yesterday, I read an interesting article from Jeremiah Owyang outlining how speakers should integrate social into their presentation. Whilst I don’t agree with all of Jeremiah’s points (I will elaborate), I think speakers need to be aware that the penetration of social apps on mobile devices is making real-time commentary increasingly relevant.

What is the presentation backchannel?

The backchannel is the discussion about you or your presentation that takes places in other media, whether that is online or offline. The most direct channel where this is happening is on social networks like Twitter.

This backchannel is real-time. Social media has expanded event dissection from the general hubbub of physical event networking spaces into online communities.

I have direct experience of this. At Internet World, when I was not on the exhibition stand or attending seminars, I tweeted live from the event. I talked about the organisation of the event as well as the content of presentations. Included was constructive criticism of issues that made the event experience less than ideal. So, is this backchannel part of the future of presenting or is it a passing obsession of the attention deficit nation?

To read more on my thoughts about the relevance of the speaker backchannel and what you can do, please join in the debate on my blog on the Econsultancy website.

I would be interested to read your comments.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Do websites need a social media landing page?

Social media is all the rage. Everyone and their dog is on Twitter, even if over 50% of profiles are ghost towns. The older generation is growing on Facebook more rapidly than the teens and content sharing has become a la mode. If you're not bookmarking (AddThis, Stumbleupon, Digg etc) then you're so last year.

However, it is dangerous to assume that just because your website now has a social media angle, your customers will flock to it and engage like never before. Wrong. Why would they? Just because they use Facebook doesn't mean they automatically want to join your fan page. The world is crammed with stuff to do, networks to join, content to read, links to follow. If you want yours to get to the surface, you need to give your customers a compelling reason to join in.

With this in mind, I started thinking about how landing page optimisation could benefit social media activity. I don't mean the main page of your community section or your Twitter account background, I mean a page on your main website that communicates your social media presence and explains how customers can interact.

The logic is clear - social media is marketing, so to drive conversion (Twitter follow, Facebook fan page sign-up, YouTube views etc) you need to target customers with a relevant landing page. That landing page then needs to be optimised over time to drive click through and conversion. If you want the benefits of social media then be serious about marketing it to your customers.

What content do I think sits on this page?
  • Explanation of what you are doing and why - convey your passion
  • List of benefits to customers e.g. If you have a customer service query, use our Twitter account to get a faster reply
  • Bio of each social media profile you manage - what, where, why, how, who etc
  • Links to each profile
  • Integrated into your analytics package - track links and page performance to enable benchmarking & optimisation
  • Main navigation back into core pages of your main website - keep consistency

Take away thoughts:
  • Get your customers excited about following you via social media
  • Clearly communicate the benefits
  • Ask for feedback
  • Encourage people to get involved and share their thoughts/ideas/content
  • Enable people to bookmark your pages and share your content easily
  • Look at the stats - how does the page perform?
  • Test different ways to improve the page and keep asking your customers' advice
What do you think? Is landing page optimisation missing from social media presence? Do you know a company doing this well?

Please share your comments. Thanks.

Friday, 11 September 2009

BT using Twitter as a customer service support tool

Twitter is becoming increasingly popular amongst retailers as a customer service tool. The likes of ASOS and Debenhams have embraced this angle, the former having a dedicated ASOS account for customer enquiries. This adds another feather in the bow of the micro-blogging service when it comes down to challenging the criticism that Twitter offers no viable commercial value.

This week I was nodded in the direction of @BTCare by @GeoffreyB, Marketing Director at BT Retail Solutions and someone whom I follow on Twitter. So, I took a look round....

First impressions are good - @BTCare has a branded backround and has added some key profile info such as web address and location. The bio could do with some work though, very friendly but says nothing about who/what BTCare is and who is behind it. Nice links on the left to other BT Twitter accounts, good to see joined up thinking.

What about the level of engagement and content?

This impressed me. There are a lot of replies to individual users, with a positive and helpful tone. There seems to be a genuine desire to help, it certainly does not come across as a “me too” attempt to leverage Twitter’s popularity. The #followers is testament to this – currently at 1,978. Yes I know that BT is a huge brand with a customer database of millions but I think the follower base is a reasonable size.

Without approaching BT with a genuine customer query/complaint, it still looks like BTCare is doing a good job as a customer service channel. I love replies like “@edwardlamb I do not think we can gain the information you require, however if you DM us your account details we can have a look for you!”. The tone conveys knowledge but also offers to investigate the enquiry further. This communicates authority, reliability and genuine care. I really like this.

And what of the commercial benefit to BT?

Using Twitter as a customer service channel can help answer queries in real time. This will encourage customers to use Twitter, reducing the demand on other inbound channels such as email and the call centre. We all complain when faced with a complicated IVR: we don’t want to wait, we don’t want to press 1 then 2 then 1 etc, we want a real person immediately. If this is what we want, then we should start to embrace Twitter as a communication channel and be grateful that retailers are putting the resource into providing this service. It is not a right, it is a bonus.

There are other benefits too such as raising brand awareness and managing negative comments.

What do you think of BTCare’s uses of Twitter? Do you have examples of other retailers using Twitter as a customer service tool? Please share and leave comments.

Friday, 28 August 2009

How social media can support your affiliate program – a concept

I’ve been putting together a proposal this week for affiliate management services. At the heart of the proposal is my belief that affiliate management revolves around communication and relationships. Yes, strategy and delivery is important but without the relationships your strategy will not be implemented effectively. This got me thinking (the mice have pushed the wheels!) about how social media could play an important role in building sustainable partnerships with your affiliates.

In its Internet Stats Compendium 2009, Econsultancy estimated the UK affiliate market @ £3.82bn in 2008 (22% year-on-year growth) with an estimated £227m paid out in commissions. According to the UK Affiliate Census 2009 (in association with Affiliate Window), 13% of merchants claim affiliates generate at least £600k in revenue per annum. That level of revenue makes Directors pay attention and the commission potential excites affiliates.

However, at the same time, many affiliates feel that merchants need to be more open and honest in their communication and flexible when dealing with problems, such as commission queries. The most significant reason for promoting a merchant is the quality and quantity of links and marketing support they provide to their affiliate partners. With 34% of affiliates doing this as their full-time job, it is obvious that they will focus on the merchants who give them the best chance of generating revenue.

Communication is king. You need to keep affiliates updated with product/service developments so they know what they should be promoting. Then you should identify top performing affiliates and give them a bonus scheme that rewards their support of your website. Don’t see them as reference numbers on a report, see them as an extension of your marketing team, people who can positively influence your end customers and grow your business. Make them aware of the rewards you offer them. It is a numbers game and your ‘super affiliates’ need to understand what their potential is – talk to them, encourage them and tell them what they could earn with a little more focus – send them projections to whet the appetite. Then give them the collateral and promotions to achieve this for you.

How can social media play a role?


It is not practical to be on the phone all day talking to your entire affiliate base. Twitter can provide a direct communication channel, enabling affiliates to post questions and requests that you can respond to quickly. This could help reduce your inbox burden and enable affiliates to support each other with answers/suggestions, increasing engagement with your program.

If you set expectations for response times from the start, you could find that your affiliates get value from the Twitter exchange. There are spin off benefits – other potential affiliates can find you from your Twitter activity and every tweet with your company name builds brand conversation.

Social Networks e.g. Facebook

A closed Facebook group for affiliates would enable you to update your affiliate base with information and enable them to discuss your products/services amongst themselves. The more enlightened affiliates will see the benefit of sharing tips with others to learn from experience and help each other increase conversion and revenue. They will also identify common problems and flag them up for your action.

Ratings and reviews

Why not ask your affiliates to post reviews of the promotion and campaign collateral you provide? The best way to find out why campaigns are working/not working is to get feedback from the website owners using them. This could help your strategy and planning.

If you offer customer reviews on your website, send affiliates a weekly list of the best rated products to help them promote these on their websites. Research proves that products with reviews have a higher conversion rate (Argos experienced 10% increase), so get your affiliates shouting about them as well.

Take away thoughts

Affiliates feel that communication from merchants is limited – social media can provide one tool to help address this sentiment and increase the level of engagement across the program. If affiliates believe that you take them seriously and are working with them in partnership to benefit both parties commercially, they are more likely to promote your campaigns ahead of their other merchants.

My key thoughts are:

  1. Use social media to increase discussion with your affiliates
  2. Use social media to inform affiliates of product/service news and latest offers
  3. Reduce the need for phone & email support by offering customer service via social tools
  4. Promote your top rated products to your affiliates
  5. Increase conversation about your brand to attract new affiliates
  6. Give affiliates the tools to become brand advocates

Not sure your affiliates will embrace social? Ask them. Start with the big players and gauge the level of interest.

What do you think? Will social media play a role in your affiliate program? Let me know your thoughts, would be interested to develop this idea with your input.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Why social media makes Customer Service more important

I spoke to a friend last night who visited Iceland for his first wedding anniversary. He had treated his wife and splashed out on the Hilton which is apparently the second best hotel in Iceland.

On arrival he was greeted with the news that the hotel manager had upgraded their reservation to the executive suite, on one of the top floors, affording spectacular views over Reykjavik. The reception staff wished my friend and his wife a happy anniversary and told them to shout if they need anything to make their stay more pleasant. When they got up to the room, there was a greeting card congratulating them and a bouquet of flowers.

Now that is what I call customer service. The hotel knew about the special occasion because my friend added this to the comments field when booking online. However, the fact that the manager made the effort to give them something for nothing and that the hotel staff were all aware of the importance of the occasion is testament to a company that takes customer service seriously.

As a result of this kindness, my friend has recounted the story to almost everyone he knows. He added an update to his Facebook account when he was over in Iceland saying how happy he and his wife were. That message instantly reached hundreds of people. Following a conversation in a pub, I'm now writing about this and will link to it across my social networks.

Why? Because it illustrates the point that positive customer service can have a ripple effect. One of the positive effects of social media is the ability for individuals to influence decision making via user generated content. This content could be on a social network like Facebook, in a Twitter tweet or in a review posted on a website. The fact is, with people sharing information (in some cases instantly) freely, the impact the actions your business takes can have a significant impact on your brand reputation.

If you look back to the problem United Airlines created for itself when it damaged a customer's guitar, it provoked a chain reaction from the video posted to YouTube which amassed over 2m views from July 7th to July 12th after the story broke. The company's reputation was tarnished and they had to respond, eventually providing positive customer service. Social media provided the tools for an individual to express his frustration by the inept customer service he was provided. This social commentary influenced the opinions and actions of thousands of people globally.

For brand marketers and PR, I think this concept is proving hard to handle and also quite daunting. No longer can you rely on press releases to spin a positive line, you have to monitor brand conversations across the social space and learn to engage with people on their terms and in their networks. Communication is more pervasive than ever and companies have to respond by taking customer service seriously across the business; the adage that the customer is always right is truer than ever and how business deals with its customers is wonderfully visible.

Why has social media changed the requirements for customer service? Because an individual can influence people globally which in turn can have a significant impact on a business. Perhaps investors will take stock and impress the value of good service on their management team because ignoring it could affect the value of their investments.

Do you agree that social media is making customer service standards more visible and more important?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Investment in social media needs to be measured and not treated with kid gloves

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked the same question by different people, assuming it’s not the voice in my head again. The question is, “How can I prove that social media is profitable?”

I don’t like this question – what do you mean by profitable? Do you mean net profit after all costs (including labour) have been deducted? If so, how do you calculate the involvement of all the departments in your social media activity, such as the Customer Service team that fields an email/call centre enquiry generated off the back of your Twitter updates?

I much prefer the approach of measuring the impact of social media investment on your commercial goals. How you measure success will differ to other companies, so you need to establish your success criteria and then learn how social media works in conjunction with other marketing channels to support them.

Establish goals and measure outcomes

What I do advocate is defining your success criteria and then putting the tools & processes in place to measure outcomes against goals. At the heart of this has to be a web analytics tool (Google Analytics, Omniture etc). Behind this has to be a carefully constructed tracking program that ensures that every link that appears anywhere across your social networks includes a relevant tracking code. These tracking codes need to be logically segmented to ensure you can evaluate the impact of Twitter v blogs v forum presence v social networks etc. An example would be to set a goal in Google Analytics that targets increasing revenue for Category X on your website – monitor what % of the revenue increase is contributed from social media activity via the tracking codes.

Understanding sales attribution online

Another important step is to ensure your campaign stacking is working. What do I mean by campaign stacking? The ability to see which campaigns have influenced the final click. Your last click secures the sale but earlier clicks influenced it. Very much like raising brand awareness via TV advertising, a sale generated by email might have its origins in PPC or Affiliate. Prior exposure to your brand could have driven email sign-up and subsequent conversion when the time was right. Multiple channels working together to drive your revenue base. Therefore, you need to ensure your analytics reports can deliver the granularity of reporting needed to identify these interactions; otherwise you will end up making the wrong investment decision based on partial information.

What should my success criteria be?

You tell me! I am a strong believer in setting both financial and non-financial goals. Why? Very much like a holistic PPC strategy, there is the short and long tail impact of social media. The short tail is activity that immediately generates website traffic and purchases, such as a special promotion to your Twitter followers (Accessories Online does this very effectively). This can be measured by key metrics like visits / orders / revenue / average order value / conversion.

The long tail is the increase in customer engagement that builds brand loyalty and drives elements like newsletter sign-up and word-of-mouth. In the long-term, these elements can lead directly to generating new orders and driving incremental revenue. An example of this is using the Facebook fan page tabs to incorporate a newsletter sign-up option for your main eCommerce website. What monetary value do you assign to a newsletter subscription from your social media presence?

Measuring social media is never 100% accurate

Why? You can’t track everything. For example, just before Christmas I found a tweet from a fancy dress/jokes/games retailer about Space Hoppers. We loved these at school, so I posted the link to my Facebook wall using Add This. Next time I met up with some school mates who live locally, Jimbo brought up the post on Facebook and we started talking about how cool Space Hoppers (and other things like Pogo sticks!) were. A few of them shared the link with other contacts in their social networks. I turned up at Jimbo’s New Year fancy dress party in my Superman outfit and was handed a surprise gift. Inside was a brand new Space Hopper! He had gone direct to the website but he did not use the original Facebook link to click through.

The retailer could not have associated that sale with their Twitter activity. They could run a post purchase question for “What brought you to the site today” – still no guarantee it would be filled in accurately or you could effectively cover all options.

My summary

From an evaluation perspective, treat social media the same as any other investment: define your goals and success criteria, implement a measurement program and regularly evaluate performance and fine tune your program to focus on what drives the most value (however you define value).

But do me a favour – make sure you enjoy it. Social media is more than brand marketing, it should be exciting, fresh, engaging and most of all, you should have a real passion for this, not just treat it as the next great thing for online marketing. It’s not a toy, it’s a community waiting for your involvement, step in and say hello!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Will Facebook shops be a new dawn for monetising social media?

The question of how to measure & monetise social media investment has been a hot potato throughout 2009. Many brands are either embracing or interested in adding social media marketing to their mix but struggle to define how this investment can be planned, measured and analysed to ensure it 'adds value'.

Over in the US, retailer 1-800 Flowers (can you guess what they sell?!) has taken a bold and innovative step forward in the race to commercialise social media activity - they've worked with advertising network Alvenda to launch a shop within their Facebook fan page.

The big leap here is that customers can shop and buy without having to leave Facebook. Whilst the current storefront is Flash based, it is an interesting step towards evaluating the cash potential of engaging customers via social networking sites. 1-800 Flowers currently has a low fan base, 2095 fans as of July 31st @ 10am (UK time!). Imagine though the potential of selling to a niche audience as that number grows. Provided they continue to engage with customers on Facebook and provide relevant content and contribute to discussions, perhaps there is a viable commercial model in play.

Why do I think this could work? Firstly the user interface is quick and easy - you don't need to be web savvy to order. Check out the screen flow below - clear navigation, buttons & calls-to-action:

Secondly, customers demand convenience. There may be a % of your audience who only use Facebook for communication, conversation and information. If you do not have the right presence in Facebook, you might lose the opportunity to convert them into a paying customer. I'm not saying this is going to work for everyone but it is logical that this eCommerce channel has potential.

Some might throw up the criticism of cannibalising online sales and losing margin by paying fees to Alvenda and/or Facebook. However, would you rather take a sale at a lower margin than your main website to gain a new customer who can then fall into your retention cycle, or potentially lose them to a competitor? The same argument applies to marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, affiliates and price comparison sites. Having been a Head of eCommerce for a retailer using marketplace and affiliate programs, I know that without them the net sales and contribution from the online channel is lower than with them, even if your margin % point is diminuished. I guess the investment decision relies on whether commerically you target margin instead of net profit. If you have a limited stock base, this becomes a more pressing concern.

The reality is that people have wanderlust online, they are promiscuous and shopping habits change. Presence is essential, as is grabbing attention in an attention deficit world. It is feasible that Facebook shops will add another channel to the online mix and help retailers monetise part of their social media investment. What interests me is the fallout of the 1-800 Flowers PR - how many 'me too' retailers will jump into a Facebook shop and how many will sit on the fence until there is evidence of the results?

Thanks to Econsultancy's blog for a helpful write up of what 1-800 Flowers has done and the ensuing discussion.

I'd welcome comments on my blog - what do you think of this move, will is start a footrace for the next frontier of social media? Alternatively, join in the Econsultancy blog discussion - I think this is an exciting move and would welcome other people's views on it.

Friday, 24 July 2009

How can your business start to make sense of social media?

I woke up on Thursday morning with a nagging question in my mind. I don't know why, perhaps it's because my mind has a mind of its own. The question that snapped me awake was how can a business make sense of the seething metropolis that is social media? I've been guilty of adding to the commentary and not putting enough suggestions to paper. I've tried my best but I do tend to get distracted and add my thoughts to the latest story, albeit in an attempt to add value and insight.

So this week I'm going to put down a simple plan with the sort of questions you need to be asking yourself and the actions you need to take. This is not an authoritative and exhaustive list, it is simply my recommendation to help you get started and not simply sit back and drown in information. It is written for someone who is new to social media and has had no experience of working with it and struggles to understand how it works alongside traditional marketing.

Below are my 9 steps to getting started:

Step 1

Define the goals and objectives of your social media strategy?

· Why are you investing time & money?

· What do you want to achieve?

· Create SMART objectives and ensure that any activity is tied back to at least one of these objectives

Step 2

Plan the resource requirements

· How much time can you afford to dedicate to building your social media presence?

· Who needs to be involved and how does this need coordinating?

· Define how you will respond to feedback (positive, negative, general enquiries etc)

· Establish what tools you will need to use to monitor your presence effectively

Step 3

Understand the culture of the social networks you wish to explore

· Evaluate competitors and other companies using the networks and learn from what they do

· Immerse yourself in the social media and get to grips with the etiquette and how people interact

· Read relevant industry blogs and articles to improve your knowledge

Step 4

Create a measurement plan

· Define what your success criteria are – are they soft or hard targets, are there financial objectives?

· Define how you will measure each success criterion

· Set-up the tools that you need to measure these (web analytics, voice-of-customer, call centre etc)

Step 5

Understand your customers' needs that do not relate to a purchase

· What will make people interested in what you have to say and engage in conversation with you?
What information will satisfy the needs of online researchers who don’t want a sales message?

· What subjects areas related to your products & services drive the greatest conversation?

· What knowledge base do you have that you can communicate to add value to the community?


Create an integrated communication plan

· Define how you will use each channel to promote both conversation and sales orientated messages

· Define how your social media presence will work with your other marketing channels

Step 7

Build relevant content – content is king

· Plan what content you can produce that is relevant and adds value to your community

· Integrate this content with your primary website to ensure that your traditional customer base benefits as well

· Integrate content creation with your SEO to ensure content is optimised and beneficial to site visibility


Identify brand ambassadors and key contributors

· Monitor your networks and identify people who get involved the most – talk to them, find out more about them and encourage them to become brand ambassadors

· Use other people to spread your message – give them the tools to share your content across their networks

· Engage with them directly using more personalized 1-2-1 communication


Monitor, evaluate, respond, adapt & evolve

· Social media is not a fixed entity, communities are evolving every day as people’s needs and desire changes – make sure you stay in touch with the mood

· If your audience is shifting to other social media sites, move with them; if they are demanding more interaction, learn how to satisfy this

· Regularly evaluate performance against the objectives and goals you set – how are you doing?

· Use all sources of information to identify ways to improve your engagement

· Above all, monitor your brand reputation and act when there is conversation happening that you can both influence and add value to – never stop listening.

Have I missed anything obvious? I am not claiming to be an 'expert', I don't believe in that word. These recommendations are based on my own experience of using social media. Please share your comments and suggestions.