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Leveraging Social Media in Your Business February 22, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Business, Marketing, Social media.
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In my last post I explained that before you embark on using social media for your business, you need to first determine your objectives and define your strategy. And this strategic planning does not and probably should not involve any specific social media channel at the outset.

A good article that outlines the steps for the planning and strategic upfront work is “10 steps to a practical social media business strategy” by Allen Bonde, where he describes the fundamental and basic steps that must be done upfront, such as creating a mission statement and a marketing plan, assigning ownership and defining policies, all before getting to specific social media channels.

Now assuming that you have done your strategy homework, let’s take a look at how we can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.

In the previous post I referenced a number of blog posts and articles from others on this topic that provide good information. Another good article is “30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business” published in Inc. It also includes examples for each tip of how specific businesses use social media. It also points out the caveats and pitfalls of misusing social media and how it can harm the reputation of a business or even get it in legal trouble. What I have here is somewhat different and in a way complementary to what is covered in those articles.

Website

Needless to say that it is critical to have a good up-to-date dynamic website as most other elements (including social media) plug into it. To be able to easily change and expand the website, it may be best to invest in a web content management system. There are numerous providers for such software from small business to enterprise. Such systems may also include blogging module as well that can be used to host the company blogs.

In a large organization with multiple product lines and several content providers it may be necessary to implement processes and workflows for review and approval of the content before it is published on the public site. Such software may provide the means for implementing customized edit/review/approve/publish workflows.

This website becomes the primary container for various other social media elements that I will discuss below, such as blogs and Twitter feed. These may get plugged into the home page, product pages, or the news page of the corporate website.

Blogs

Having active blogs with one or more subject matter expert (SME) writer is of utmost importance. Blogs should not be commercials for the offerings, but they can provide thought leadership and news about the relevant markets and industries. There may be dedicated blogs to each product line and industry in the target market. Again, it may be necessary to implement marcom and legal review and approval workflows to ensure that what is written is in line with corporate and legal guidelines, before they get published.

Twitter

Having presence on Twitter is a must for any business. You may in fact want to have multiple accounts for various products and services or even various departments (e.g. customer support) depending on the size and the nature of your business and offerings. Cisco Systems has over 30 Twitter accounts dedicated to various product lines as well as departments such as support. For effective tweeting it is also important to create the right hashtags associated with the brand names, product lines and other topics. For example if your company has its own conference or public event, you should create a hashtag dedicated to that event. Those tags then should be used with the appropriate tweets consistently.

The tweet streams (feeds) should be pushed onto the appropriate pages of the website.  For example if you have a dedicated Twitter account for a particular product line, then tweets from that account may show up on the corresponding product page. While tweets from an overall corporate Twitter account should go to the news page.

Facebook

I am a big fan of Facebook and am actively on it with well over 1,000 friends. But I primarily use it for personal and community social networking and not for business use. My primary social media channels for business and professional use are LinkedIn and Twitter.

However nowadays even serious large high-tech companies like Cisco,Oracle, and Intel have fan pages on Facebook. Some host multiple pages that may be dedicated to particular organizations or specific products and services. I think this make sense for companies with consumer products. For B2B companies it is questionable how effective it is, but it doesn’t take much to set up a fan page so why not do it?

Cisco main fan page has over 38,000 members and provides continuous updates and news about its products and services. Oracle main fan page has over 27,000 members and it includes the latest news from Oracle. I just viewed Larry Ellison’s video talking about the closing of Sun’s acquisition on that page.

Facebook presence may help with establishing and promoting the company brand name and recruiting good top young talent. I venture to say that more people know about Cisco and Oracle because of their Facebook fan pages than they would otherwise.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the premier business networking site. There are two primary ways that a business can use LinkedIn services. One is creating and managing the appropriate Linked groups as well as having presence and participating in the relevant industry and technology groups. LinkedIn groups have many features such as subgroups, news and discussions that may be utilized. LinkedIn has also emerged as a serious job site. If you want top talent for your business you probably should use LinkedIn job services.

Youtube

It is a good idea to set up a Youtube channel under the company or product brand name and populate it with videos that can cover various product and industry related topics. For example the videos may be product demos, talks, or interviews. The Youtube channel should then be linked to the website.

Enable syndication & social bookmarking

It is also useful to enable your customers and visitors to easily share and receive content from your website. For example you can facilitate setting up a feed for your press releases so that one can receive them in their Google Reader. You may also want to use page sharing and bookmarking services such as AddThis so that a visitor to your site can easily bookmark and share a particular page of interest using social bookmarking services such as Delicious.

Let your customers participate and listen

So far all I have covered are various methods for broadcasting, publishing, and sharing information with your audience. But social media is not just about you telling others about yourself and your business. It is conversation.

The important and differentiating factor in social media is the notion of community where participants (you, your customers and partners, and your employees) are enabled, empowered and encouraged to participate, collaborate, share information, and help each other. And Web 2.0 technology has readily enabled this notion of community. Concepts such as rating and comments are available for most of such social content.

You can for example comment on blog posts and Youtube videos. On Facebook you can flag any content with Like/unlike and comment on it. Your support/help content should include means for the reader to rate the usefulness of such content. You should monitor what people are saying about you and your offerings on the internet at large beyond your website. For example you should monitor sites such as Twitter and Yelp about your business and products.

Putting it all together

As you can see there are many elements and channels to social media. Needless to say that it is important to have an orchestrated and coordinated effort on using them. You want to have a consistent and timely messaging across all these channels. The frequency of tweets, updates to the relevant LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan page, blog posts, etc. all must be appropriately timed and coordinated. For large companies like Cisco with major social media initiative, it is necessary to have full-time people dedicated to social media to successfully implement and execute their social media plan.

Social media guidelines & policies

It is also a good idea to define, publish and socialize a social media policy and guidelines to ensure proper usage, avoid misuse and ensure consistent messaging. Many companies have already defined their own and some are in fact public so you can view them and base yours based on their best practices. For example here is IBM’s “Social Computing Guidelines”. And here is Intel’s “Social Media Guidelines”. There are numerous other examples of such guidelines and policies online. In “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy“, Sharlyn Lauby discusses general elements of such a policy.

Using Social Media in Your Business: Strategic or Tactical? February 8, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Business, Marketing, Social media.
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A while ago I read a blog post from a marketing executive who wrote that he had prohibited the use of certain words in his strategy and planning meetings. Among those words there where many popular social networking and media words such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Though that might seem odd at first, it makes a lot of sense. The point is that while social media may serve as an effective method of promoting your business, it is only a set of tools and channels that you may use to execute against your business plan and strategy. It is part of the tactical stuff that you do after you have figured out your strategy.

This may seem in contrast to all the talk on “social media strategies”. Well, one can certainly strategize on how to use social media for a business. But it remains a fact that social media is a vehicle to carry out business or marketing strategies. Here are a few relevant articles and blog posts on this topic.

In “The 10 Stages of Social Media Business Integration” Brian Solis refers to social media as “transformative”. That certainly is true. He outlines insightful stages of adoption and guidelines for social media in business. Some are strategic such as “finding a voice and a sense of purpose” where he highlights the importance of “strategic communication and engagement” as opposed to “chatter” or “aimless broadcast”. He also points out under “social Darwinism” that social media is only one part of an “overall integrated strategy”.

Sharlyn Lauby in “HOW TO: Implement a Social Media Business Strategy” discusses some strategic work that must be done before implementing specific social media methods. She outlines five steps (such as “determine your objective” and “find an internal evangelist”) that are in fact general and equally apply to any large project across a sizable organization. For example implementing a business application or some infrastructure software such as BPM or SOA in an enterprise also requires the same disciplined rigor.

In “5 Advanced Social Media Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses” Samir Balwani discusses several social media based marketing strategies. These are essentially techniques and approaches on how to use social media to execute against the marketing strategies.

Edward Boches in “10 Ways a Start-Up Can Use Social Media to Market Itself” outlines useful advice for small and start-up businesses (who may have limited resources) on using social media. They range from fundamental and general marketing advice such as “craft a brand position rooted in a customer benefits” (which is independent of social media) to basic tactical stuff such as “get on Twitter and use it actively” to an interesting concept that he calls “crowdsourcing”.

And in “13 Tactics to Make Social Media Work Harder” Heidi Cohen provides sound advice on using social media, such as providing content that meets your customers’ needs and allowing them and your employees to share content and take part in social media. I like her explicit use of the word “tactics” as opposed to strategies, even though her advice is mostly general and not specific to any particular social media channel.

So before you start tweeting away on your business, loading up videos to Youtube, creating groups on LinkedIn and fan pages on Facebook, etc. it is advisable that you do some strategic thinking and come up with an overall plan that may (and should) include social media as channels but it does not (and should not) include specific mentions of any of the above.

In a follow-up article, I will discuss how you can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.

How do I tweet? Let me count the ways … January 16, 2010

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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One of the great and unique things about Twitter is that it is a fairly simple and easy service to use. From an end-user perspective, setting up an account at twitter.com and starting to tweet, is a couple of minutes of work. I can describe the concept of Twitter and its features to any internet-savvy person in 5 minutes. The basic functions on twitter.com can be summarized as follows:

  • Create an account/profile
  • Search or look up users
  • Follow/un-follow a user
  • Tweet — post an update
  • Send a direct message to a follower
  • Reply to a user or mention users

I suppose Twitter will evolve and may become more sophisticated as more features are added. For example, Twitter recently added a couple of new features. One is Lists where you can define a global list (accessible by twitter.com/<user-id>/<list-name>) and add to it anyone that you follow. For example, I have lists such as “enterprise”, “socialmedia” and “friends”. And twitter.com/farshidk/socialmedia is a public link that shows tweets from the people I have in my “socialmedia” list. You can easily configure a list to be private.

The other new feature is Retweet where Twitter provides you with a single click retweet of a tweet that you are viewing. I don’t particularly like this feature because it is a single click operation that doesn’t allow you to edit the tweet or add anything to it. When I reteweet I often like to edit the tweet and use “via” to acknowledge the source.

Compare this with setting up a complete account on Facebook or LinkedIn, where to have a complete profile one must provide a great deal of input data. Even in terms of feature set of Facebook once the account and profile is set up, there is a lot to learn.

Furthermore, to properly and thoroughly be able to use Facebook, you need to use facebook.com. Though there are mobile clients for Facebook, they mostly provide limited functionality. On the web, when you want to use Facebook, you pretty much have to go to Facebook.com.

On the other hand, Twitter is an open system in the sense that it provides well-documented APIs in just about any programming and web scripting language that you can imagine. See http://apiwiki.twitter.com/. You can see (http://apiwiki.twitter.com/Libraries) that Twitter provides API libraries in languages from C++/C# and Java to JavaScript, to Perl, Python, Ruby, to VB.NET.

What this means is that there is a proliferation of Twitter clients from providers other than Twitter itself that you can use to interface with Twitter. From thick clients such as TweetDeck to thin web-based clients such as HootSuite to mobile and smart phone clients such as Tweetie for iPhone and UberTwitter for BlackBerry, there are many options. You can also tweet via basic text/SMS to 40404; that is, post updates to the cell phone you have registered with a Twitter account.

And if you don’t like any of these options and can program, you can always write your own Twitter client using the Twitter APIs. Any active Twitter user most likely has his or her own favorite ways of tweeting. In fact if you look at any tweet, it shows how it was sent, such as TweetDeck, web, and txt. Below I cover the two Twitter clients that I like and use often when I am online.

TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com)
TweetDeck is a thick Twitter client for tweeting with link shortening, viewing tweets from the people you follow (i.e. your timeline) as well as mentions and direct messages, defining and managing groups, and more. It provides support for multiple accounts so that you can manage several accounts from a single tool with a single login so you do not have to log in and out for different Twitter accounts. This is very important for people like me who have multiple Twitter accounts for various purposes. I have three accounts and without a tool such as TweetDeck that supports multiple accounts, it is not practical at all to tweet actively. Keep in mind that from twitter.com you can only work only with one twitter account at any time.

TweetDeck recently broadened its scope and reach by adding support for Facebook and LinkedIn, so you can configure columns for Facebook and LinkedIn, receive updates from your friends and connections and post updates to those channels. Figure 1 below shows a typical TweetDeck configuration with simultaneous access to two Twitter accounts.

Figure 1: TweetDeck with access to two twitter accounts

The window scrolls horizontally so you can add columns for various purposes. For example I have columns showing tweets from people I follow, direct messages, and mentions, for each account. There are also columns for my groups. Or you may define a column for a particular search term. One can easily add and remove columns.

One potential problem with TweetDeck is that it is not web based. What that means is that you cannot use it on a public computer. Also if you have multiple machines (e.g. a home laptop and a work computer) and have configured your TweetDeck clients with multiple accounts and columns) then you will have to do the same on every machine you use. Otherwise they will have different configurations.

At the same time TweetDeck has interesting features that I like. For example, it runs on the background and pushes tweets with an optional chirping sound to a corner of your monitor with in a temporary pop-up. Some may find it annoying, but whether I am in front of my laptops or not, I usually have it running and almost take comfort in hearing the sound of tweets coming in.

HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com)

HootSuite is a very flexible and extensible web-based social networking client in the sense that in addition to using it for Twitter, you can also connect to your Facebook and LinkedIn accounts via HootSuite. It has similarities to TweetDeck in terms of user interface and it provides many of the same features such as multiple account management and groups, and more.

HootSuite provides Tabs that consists of columns. A tab represents a Twitter account, as well as Facebook or LinkedIn accounts. For example I have a tab for each of my three Twitter accounts as well as my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. A tab may also be used for Groups, or as a Tracker. A tracker takes keywords including hashtags and monitors tweets with those terms. For example I have a Tracker with the search criteria “BPM or e-discovery”.

If you configure Facebook on HootSuite, then you can view the posts from your friends, and you can post updates to your wall and status. The same holds true for LinkedIn. That is, if you configure LinkedIn on HootSuite then you will get status updates from the people you are linked with, and you can push updates to LinkedIn right from HootSuite. Figure 2 below shows a particular HootSuite configuration with two accounts, and four tabs.

Figure 2: HootSuite configured for two Twitter accounts

HootSuite also provides stats and reports for how often your tweets are viewed and clicked on. Another interesting and unique feature of HootSuite is that it allows you to schedule a tweet or post for a particular time in the future.

If you know of other interesting Twitter clients, let me know. Thanks.