Advertising, design and public relations all have something useful to contribute to social media. But they come from very different worlds and they each have hidden biases. Customers just experience the end result, but the way a company builds their reputation can be secretly swayed by the type of agencies that a company hires to help out with their social media. Owned, earned and paid media all add up to an overall impression of the brand.
I arrived in London at the height of the global financial crisis. Back then no one was hiring for Brand Strategists because it’s not a good look to do a new logo when you’ve just laid off 10,000 people. And it’s definitely not a good look to do a management workshop about the meaning of life to then choose the colour of the new logo when you’ve just laid off 10,000 people. So brand strategy (and in particular, the management consulting style brand strategy that I was most experienced in) had fallen off a cliff.
As an entrepreneur, investor or advisor these days you need a professional looking blog to maintain your credibility. You need a place to showcase your thinking and participate in longer conversations than you can on Twitter or LinkedIn. Participating on a social networking site is like being a guest at someone else’s party. It’s nice, but you’re not the boss. You need a place to host your own party. You need a blog. But it’s tough to keep a blog going when you’re not in the mood to write.
A blog allows you to share your thinking and the lessons you’ve learned. Becoming a “thought leader” isn’t something that you can just put on a todo list and will magically happen. You need to do the hard work of thinking and then putting that thinking into words that others can benefit from. Over the years, I’ve been inspired by several writers that I admire and I’ve tried to learn from how they write.
Video is the most powerful form of storytelling medium in all social media. This month I’ve been experimenting with Social Cam as a publishing medium for short, punchy videos about design, business and social media. Video is powerful because you can tell a narrative and convey emotion. Even as a professional communicator it is still one of the hardest mediums to master but also one of the most authentic.
Social Cam, Viddy and Supr8 are part of a new trend towards more active video sharing using mobile devices. These apps allow you to shoot short videos in a stylised manner and share them quickly and easily. My camera has become like a mobile toast-masters exercise programme. I can now challenge my communications skills anywhere, any time.
In 2009 Forrester picked up on some discussions in social media circles from people such as David Armano and codified the classification of digital media into owned, earned and paid types of media. This structure makes a classification based on the nature of the media itself rather than the activity that you do on it.
MEC (part of WPP) see the different types of media in a sequence. First you get the message out with paid, then you feed people content in your owned media, then your story gets spread through earned media. Community management firm Temporo have a great blog post summarising the model. Nick Burcher notes that each of the types of media have an “Always On” aspect and a “Campaign” aspect.
I specialise in social media for brands and business, but Gary Vaynerchuk is the master of social media for individual entrepreneurs. He started as a baseball card collector and grew a multi million dollar wine business.
Gary’s presentation in 2008 at Web Expo 2.0 was a turning point in the discussion of social media in business. There are lots of other people who can give you advice about ‘how’ to use social media, but no one but Gary can tell you so forcefully ‘why’ to use social media.
The cutting edge of social media is offline. Businesses have become increasingly lost in cyberspace. They have forgotten that users are still walking around in the real world.
In my consultancy I see a lot of people forgetting the two most important things about social media: 1. Digital experiences can still be part of the real world. 2. Social media doesn’t have to be digital.
Social Media is a naked communication medium. There is no ad agency making your adverts, no journalist writing an article about you. It’s just you and your customer, staring straight into each other’s eyes. If you are growing your own e-commerce website then everything you do will be focused on increasing conversion rates, basket sizes and margins.
There are lots of practical things that you can do to improve these metrics. Many of which are ordinarily covered on this blog. But what I want to discuss today is how people are attracted to your site in the first place.
As social media and digital communication accelerate, the impact is being felt beyond mass-consumer advertising and bursting into all part of the business world. From large B2B companies to your local cafe.
In a social media and digital space there is nowhere for bad service to hide. I’ve long argued for the business value of design and creativity, but what does this mean in the new digital context? The answer starts with the increasing volume of your customer’s voice.
The traditional ways for a brand to communicate range between television, print campaigns, advertising and PR. All of these traditional communication efforts use design, language and flow through the normal communication channels.
Social media demands a totally different approach.
In essence, the traditional approaches to communication were one-way. A brand or business created content, infused it with key messages and expressed it through channels out to the customers. The new media channels are much more about two-way conversation.
Listening before talking
The way to encourage a brand to take the step from a one-way communication thinking into two-way communication is to really get the business and the brand to start listening. In fact, my preference would be for a brand to really become obsessed with listening so that it infused throughout the culture of the whole business before embarking on any new media.
I really want to see the senior management team, marketing team, communications, and PR all involved in listening to customers. Particularly, the new product development team, design and engineering all need to be really listening to users in:
informal ways through focus groups and end user observations
formal ways such as user surveys, feedback forms, and warranty claim analysis.
I’ve found that once you get a business listening to their customers (and to their end users) then starting to have a two-way conversation is much easier than asking a brand to go straight from one-way communication into two-way communication.
What can you learn from Apple, if you’re not Apple
Apple is often used as a case study for brand consistency, design identity and technological innovation and even for end-user centred innovation. The dirty secret of Apple’s brand is that they really don’t listen that well. Maybe they don’t have to (certainly no one can doubt their success), but as a model for other companies to learn from I would actually be looking much more at a company like Harley Davidson in terms of their engagement with their customers.
Apple has website feedback forms, they have user forums and they have the ability to provide feedback on their software built into the software itself. All of these are useful but they don’t get used, at least as far as we can tell, to drive new product development in the same way as a company like Harley Davidson which creates new products genuinely based on customer feedback and customer ideas does.
Apple regularly takes an intuitive leap beyond customer feedback, which is great if you have Apple’s design team. But if you don’t, then I’d suggest you start by listening to your customers more closely.
If you are going to be listening to your users, and observing their behavior to derive insights then you will need a new set of tools that go beyond normal market research. It’s likely that you’re going to need to adjust the culture of the whole organisation to be more customer centered. This may take some time but is almost always worth it.
Tools to listen
This really highlights the overlap between social media and new product development based on end-user centred design. A practical focus for your company could be to run through 3 steps when you start getting into social media:
The first step is to diagnose exactly where you are up to across the organisation in terms of your online presence.
The second step is to identify the key goals that you want to achieve using social media. Think in terms of consumer engagement, increased sales and/or increased customer retention.
And the third thing to do is to set priorities in terms of online presences and particular websites or web tools that are going to use.
Getting these 3 things sorted is going to help start off your brand down the track of building a conversation rather than a cacophony where only one side is talking.
Note: This post was dictated into my iPhone while having a coffee at one of the hidden cafes in Melbourne’s cobbled side-streets. It was transcribed in the UK by a virtual assistant from elance and the photo was taken by a local Melbourne DJ.