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Novices vs. Experts

December 6th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve been doing digital strategy for a long time now (over 15 years!). I seem to have found a pretty good niche recently, specializing in digital strategy for the Canadian financial services industry. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel confident to call myself an expert. However, it wasn’t until recently that I got an inkling of what it means to be an expert in a particular field.

Then I stumbled across this excellent post from Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The line that tweaked with me was:

…novices sought and responded to positive feedback, and experts sought and responded to negative feedback…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have an ego as big as the next person’s (well… maybe a little bigger). I still like it when I’ve been told that something I’ve done has been helpful / useful / profitable . However, I get more juice from someone teaching me something or guiding my thinking into a direction I haven’t been. I’d like to say I like getting pulled out of my comfort zone, but like most people I get that little feeling in my stomach that resists the move initially. But I’ve gotten to where I am because I’ve been able to take the chance to do something I’ve never done before and figure out how to do it.

Of course, it reminds me of a post I saw recently on Joey deVilla’s Accordion Guy blog:

Categories: Basics, Management, Strategy

The 4 digtal laws

November 18th, 2011 Comments off

I recently read a great post by amazing folks at Digital Tonto talking about the 3 fundamental laws of digital technology and a 4th that has nothing to do with technology. The laws are:

1. Kryder’s law which states that storage capacity doubles every year

2. Moore’s law which states that processor speed doubles every 18-24 months

3. Nielsen’s law which states that bandwidth will double every 2 years (in practice, longer)

The fourth law is what they call the Caveman Law. This article doesn’t have a great explanation of it, but in my opinion, it states that no matter how big or powerful the technology is, if it can’t fullfil a person’s primitive desires, it’s useless.

The article goes on to eulogize Steve Jobs, but this is one of the few I agree with. Apple rarely talks about the first three laws. When they launch a product, you don’t often see specs on processor speed or storage. It’s all about how it fulfills your desires. Apple did a lot of things right, but this is probably the most important.

Categories: Strategy

Now smartphone friendly

November 11th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve recently started using the WPTouch theme for my blog. If you haven’t seen my blog on your smartphone, please check it out using your mobile browser. It’s pretty amazing and almost zero configuration!

Categories: Strategy

Simplicity

November 5th, 2011 Comments off

At my day job, one of the questions I get asked quite often is “How do I get my site to the front page of Google?” I usually have the same answer and it’s not one that everyone likes to hear.

“Write great content… regularly and consistently”

For the most part, it really is that ‘simple’. SEO techniques will only get you so far if you don’t have good, current content.

… Which is why when I came across this Salt and Pepper post from Chris Brogan, it really struck a chord with me:

Executing cleanly on simple efforts is far more valuable than pulling off something clever that gets you attention briefly, but has no lasting change.

Much of what I do is actually quite simple. It just stems from years of experience and learning from my (many, many) mistakes. What separates the wheat from the chaff in my line of work is this: The good ones can take something that looks complex and turn it into a series of simple steps. Or as Chris puts it:

And truly, if you want to know just one more secret, I’ll share it: complex is usually just a lot of simple things played out in a smart sequence.

 

Categories: Strategy

Free online services

July 9th, 2011 Comments off

As I was going through my Evernote files (did I mention I LOVE Evernote?), I came across this image that I had saved from some website. Unfortunately, I didn’t save the original site this came from. If you know where it came from (or if it’s yours), please let me know.

I’ve used this quote several dozen times in the past several months when I hear someone complain about a free service they subscribe to. They often complain about why that product or service doesn’t care more about their customers. People are generally a little shocked when they realize that *they* are not the customers.

Categories: Strategy

Creating a Digital Strategy (repost)

July 4th, 2011 6 comments

I’ve been asked several times how to create a Digital Strategy from scratch. I always point people to my digital strategy blog, but I’ve been getting the feedback that the original post is hard to find as it was written a while ago and has fallen off the main page.

As I’m on vacation this week, I thought it would be a good idea to repost the original article in it’s entirety here so that it comes back to the top of the list.

Enjoy.

__________________________

The most difficult part of formulating your Digital Strategy is staring at that blank screen and blinking cursor, trying to figure out where to start. What helps is starting with a “Cheat Sheet.” The basics that need to be flushed out before you can even call it a Digital Strategy. I’ve put together several Digital Strategies for various different brands. Through lots of trial and error, Google searches, and standing on the shoulders of giants, I’ve finally put together a basic template I use when I start. It consists of six headings with the questions I have to have answered before I can even claim to have a basic strategy.

OBJECTIVE:
When this Digital Strategy is completed and executed successfully, what will be the outcome? What are you trying to achieve? Increased brand awareness? A 5% reduction in calls to the call centre? A 2% increase in sales in your North East market? Or as simple as getting 10,000 followers on Twitter? Perhaps it’s a better connection with your audience by answering 100 questions per month via online channels? You have to know why you are putting together the strategy and how you will know if you’ve executed is successfully.

Another part of the objectives is the constraints. As much as we’d all love to hear, “Take as much time and money you need to reach the objectives,” chances are you have constraints. This is where you also lay out the timelines and budget as you understand them, as well as any assumptions you are making in the rest of the strategy

AUDIENCE FOOTPRINT:
Who is your audience? What are their demographics? Are they even digital people? If so, where do they congregate? Are they primarily email users only? Do they read blogs, or do they only read “real” news sites like CNN or New York Times? Are they actively engaged in social media sites? Are they Facebook / Twitter users? Would they actually subscribe to Fan Pages? You have to have a very good idea of where your audience is, how they interact in the digital world, and what they would find relevant and engaging.

AUDIT:
OK, so now you know where your audience is and what you want to achieve. Where are you starting? Start with an audit of the digital assets you already have on hand. Domain names, logos, videos, websites (active and old “cobweb-sites”), social media profiles, etc. What are your building blocks?

Next phase of the audit is to understand how your brand is already perceived and being talked about in the digital world. Start with Google searches on your brand names, your product or service sphere and your competitors’. Set up Google Alerts to notify you when you are mentioned. Look at your existing web properties and analyse the incoming links. Where are your visitors coming from? Monitor your search engine logs to see what they’re looking for. Consider using a free or paid social media monitoring tool to dig even deeper. I’ve used Trendrr and YackTrack on the free side with varying degrees of success, though your mileage may vary. On the paid side, you could look at VoxTrot, BuzzMetrics or Cymfony.

Now is also a great time to do a competitive audit. What are you competitors doing? What’s working for them? What sort of commitment are they putting into their Digital Strategy? Do all of the above for your competitors and gauge where you stack up in your market.

ROADMAP:
The $1,000,000 question. Now that you know what you hope to acheive, what’s already out there, what assets you have on hand, and what your audience wants, what are you going to do? In your audit, you may have found some low hanging fruit. Quick executions to start building some momentum with low cost and quick wins to put the wind in everyone’s sails.

First, look at your existing websites. Are they relevant? Do they even provide the basics? Do they speak to your targetted audience? Or to your shareholders? Or to new recruits? Maybe you want to look at a complete overhaul in one fell swoop, but often time, the existing brand sites may benefit from a phased execution. Do you need special sites  targetted to special segments of your audience or specific campaigns (also know as micro-sites). Is the content on your sites current? Are they optimized for Search Engines?

Second, look at your audience profile to help determine if and how you want to engage your audience. Does the CEO need a blog? Or the heads of various business or product units? What information will you share? Who will write the blogs? Your PR or Marketing group? Or the person in charge? What Legal sign-offs are required? How often will the blogs be updated? Do you need a support forum? Do you have Frequently Asked Questions that could be found in an FAQ on your site? What about connecting via Social Media platforms? Is your audience active there? Do you want to have one (or many) Twitter accounts? What about front-line employees? How engaged do you want them to be in your connections with your audience? These are just a few of the questions that come from the audience profile.

Third, look outside your own assets. Should you be getting engaged on other sites? Sites that specialize in your product or service area. Will you monitor the forums and respond to questions about topics about your product or brand? Will you comment on other blogs about topics in your area? In short, how engaged will you be in the so-called blogosphere?

And the final question… what can you accomplish in the time and budget you have, and what part of the roadmap is for future consideration for the elusive Phase II.

(I will write further about the execution of the strategy when I post about 2MCE)

COMMITMENT:
Wouldn’t it be nice if you put together a plan, executed it, and then were done? Sadly, it’s just the beginning. The Digital Strategy needs to outline what the ongoing commitment to the strategy will entail. If you are relaunching your main sites, who’s responsible for making sure that content is fresh, updated and relevant? Who’s responsible for answering email queries about products and services? Who is responsible for monitoring the web and tracking mentions of your company, your brand and your key people? What will they do with that information? Who will be monitoring the blogs for mentions of your sphere and be able to answer questions, complaint and concerns in the comments in a professional manner? Who will monitor your own Social Media properties and put a human, social “face” behind your brand? This is an on-going operational cost, not a project cost. If you can’t get a commitment on the commitment, it’s time to rethink your Digital Strategy.

MEASUREMENT:
How will you know if you succeded? There is a post coming soon about how to measure ROI on the web, but suffice for now to say that it’s not easy to find quanititive measures. What are your measures of success? Is it site visitors? Press mentions? Blog mentions? Followers on Twitter? Fans on your Facebook page? Or something more subtle such as level of engagement by your evangelistic base? Blog mentions vs. your baseline? Google PageRank? Revenue in the North East territory? Call volumes? Go back to your Objectives and bring it full circle by showing how what you measure will prove (or disprove) your success against your objectives.

There you have it. The 6 basic pillars of a Digital Strategy. Of course, you could have more (lots more), and in the coming weeks and months, I’ll elaborate on the Digital Strategy and discuss other pillars to a strong Strategy. But if you think through these basics, you’ll be well on your way to online success!

Categories: Strategy

25 Guys to avoid on Bay St.

June 28th, 2011 1 comment

Not much to add to this one… I renamed it a little bit. The original article is 25 guys to avoid on Wall St.

I’ve been heading up Digital Strategy at a few financial services firms in Canada for the better part of a decade now. My current employer excluded (everyone there really is amazing!), I’ve run across quite of few of these types in my day… and not just in my Bay St. jobs.

Particularly the following:

  • Avoid the guy who calls you ‘Chief’.  He doesn’t remember your name.
  • Avoid the dim-witted back-slapping managing director. He’s not as smart as you are—but he’s been throwing guys like you under the bus since you were in grade school.
  • Avoid the girl who cries at her desk. (You can ignore my advice on this one—but either way, you won’t make that mistake twice.)
  • Avoid anyone who tells you to ‘take one for the team’. He got where he is by convincing dopes like you to jump in front of an oncoming train.
  • Avoid anyone who is ten years older than you are—and is still more junior in the reporting structure. He hates you more than you could ever imagine.

Especially the one about ‘Taking one for the team…” Learned that lesson the hard way.

Categories: Strategy

Life Lists

January 30th, 2011 Comments off

<WARNING: This post has absolutely nothing to do with Digital Strategy.>

Today is my birthday. Approaching my birthday, I started thinking about making a list of things I still want to do, but haven’t for whatever reason.

I came across several sites that had sample lists, but the one that really caught my eye was from Esquire from some time back. The post is called “75 Things Every Man Should Do” However, I think that most of them would equally apply to both sexes.

I strongly suggest reading the entire thing, but there were a few that stood out for me and are now on my list of things to do in the coming few years:

No. 6: Fast for three days.
Drink water. Not talking about a juice fast. Not an induction diet. Just a pure nothing-in-your-mouth fast.
No. 7: Drive the Great Ocean Road in southern Australia.
Or the Pacific Coast Highway. Or the Ring Road in Iceland. It doesn’t even matter if you stop. A two-day-long drive next to an open body of water is among the twentieth century’s most meditative gifts to travel.
No. 11: Do a flip off a diving board. Nail it.
No. 12: Leave yourself a letter in a library book.
Look for it twenty years later. Pick an obscure biography in a college library, since no one there wants to insult obscurity by decataloging a book, and the library will most likely always be there. One page. Be discreet. Type it on erasable bond, tuck it in the back, and hope that no one ever notices. As for content, skip the hopes and dreams. Mention the weather, tell yourself what you ate that morning, make a list of your friends, note how much you weigh and whether you feel fat, remind yourself of a secret you want to keep.
No. 22: Carry a totem in your pocket.
A watch, a badge, a medal, a poker chip, a silver certificate — for one year. Then give it away. My dad, whose brothers were tailors, carried a thimble on his key ring for forty years. In our house, where keys were constantly interchanged and lost, it marked the set as his. Several years ago, he gave the thimble to me. He’d had several strokes by then, and he was afraid he was going to lose it. I told him to put it away instead, to leave it on his dresser. He shrugged and asked me why. “I can’t remember anything,” he told me. “And you can. That’s the point of a thing like that.”
No. 26: Throw a real party.
Memorable for something other than cake, party favors, or strippers.
No. 28: Start something that scares you.
Deal with your most gnawing fears, the kind that have been present inside you so long that you deal with them mostly by avoiding them. Public speaking, that gut, the drinking thing, money. Make a plan.
No. 54: Give a panhandler all of your money.
Most of us spend the early years of our adult lives walking straight by the people standing on street corners or at freeway exits asking for money. Probably with good reason. There’s a cautionary tale for every moment of real charity. Now clean out your pockets. Do it when you have some money on you. Empty the wallet. Pick it clean. Just give it. Make no demands. Expect nothing. Not even a thank-you. Then you’ll understand that you may not even deserve that much.
Hopefully you’ll find one or two that you want to try. Onwards to the next phase of my life!
Categories: Strategy

Congratulations! You’re in charge!… Now what? (Part 2)

June 12th, 2010 Comments off

In part 1, I discussed the initial tasks when taking over the digital strategy for a company. As you start getting the analytics, interview your stakeholders and devise a plan for the quick wins, it’s time to start assessing the overall infrastructure. So, what’s next?

1. Get a list of all domains:
Chances are high that your company owns more domains than your main website’s name. Go to your IT group or your hosting provider to find out which other domains you own. There were probably several campaigns that had URLs purchased and are currently sitting unused or have outdated content. Also find out if you have any micro-sites or vanity redirects (i.e. www.yourcompany.com/campaignName) that are still live and have outdated content. In many instances, you’ll find sites that people have long forgotten about that have old prices, old logos and are still crawled by search engines.

If you don’t already own them, try to purchase as many mis-spellings of your main company name, as well as defensive names (CompanyNameSucks.com).

2. Internal Assessment:
Find out how the sites get updated. Who has to approve the content? Who writes it? Who creates the artwork? How long does it take the change a comma on the live site? To update a graphic? To create a new page? To create a new vanity redirect? Is it all done in-house? Do you rely on external people? Are you beholden to just one or two? The best way to do this is not to ask what the process is, but to live through the process. Make sure you have actually updated all of the above on your website(s) within the first two weeks to truly understand the processes. Chances are, the real processes are slightly different than what you’ve been told they are.

You also need to understand the reliability of your websites. What has the uptime for your site been for the last 12 months? What is the escalation process? When the sites go down, who finds out and how? Is there an automatic notification? Who’s on pager support? Do you get called? Do you have to take action, or is it automatic to get them back up?

3. Budget and ROI
How much money do you have to play with? What are your monthly costs for hosting? For resources? Do you have internal billing for IT help? For Legal sign-off? What is the process for justifying more budget? How will the executive level determine if you are making good use of your budget? What level of sign-off authority do you have? Can you pick your contractors and vendors, or is there a preferred list?

4. What is the importance of Online?
Finally, you need to determine how important the online properties are in the overall strategy. When new products are launched, is the online group part of the planning process? Or are they brought in when the strategy is already determined? Or worse yet, are you just given the collateral and asked to put it online with no input? Do the sites generate revenue (directly or indirectly)? Or are they just seen as a cost centre with no impact? If they are not seen as important, is that because of historical issues? If you show value, is there an appetite to change perceptions.

If the answers to question 4 are not encouraging, then your tenure may be frustrating and short-lived. However, if you sense there is an appetite to make the digital strategy an important facet of company strategy, you’re well on your way to making a significant and measurable impact to your company!

Categories: Management, Strategy

Congratulations! You’re in charge!… Now what? (Part 1)

May 27th, 2010 7 comments

Congratulations! You’ve been hired or promoted to take charge of your company’s online strategy and execution! At some point, the elation will fade and you’ll confront the same question everyone faces when they’ve been put in charge… “Where do I begin?” There are many different places you can start, and many would be correct. But if you are stuck in indecision, maybe this can be a path to get you moving.

First things first, and this has nothing to do with digital strategy. I suggest you read “The First 90 Days” by Dr. Michael Watkins. It is an amazing guide to getting up to speed in a new organization, helping you survive the transition and come out at the other end with solid momentum and a strong reputation.

Assuming you’ve read the book, here are a few things to get you started on your digital strategy:

1. “In God we trust, all others bring data.” — Framed plaque from the ‘60s at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
First, get the analytics. Very soon into your first week (and ideally, your first day), open a corporate account at Google Analytics. Throw the analytics code into the bottom of every page (ideally in a common element of all sites like a footer).  As well, get an account at Google Webmaster Tools, put the confirmation file on your root and start collecting the data. If you don’t know how to do the above, your IT group should be able to help you. Don’t worry about the data for at least a month. Let it collect.

While you’re waiting for that month of data to accumulate, you need to understand how to interpret the data you’ll be collecting. To do that, you must read one book. “Web Analytics 2.0” by Avinash Kaushik. I’ve been looking at Google Analytics stats for years and thought I understood what the numbers meant. After reading Avinash’s book, I realized that I had no idea what I was looking at. It changed my entire outlook on analytics.

2. Understand the needs of your internal stakeholders:
Most likely, the reason you were hired or promoted to that position is that some powerful people within your organization realized there is potential online that the organization is not tapping effectively. The power brokers probably have an idea of what they’re expecting to see online (and what you need to accomplish to be considered a success). Don’t guess at what that is. Ask! If you want some great guidance on how to find that out, I again direct you to Manager Tools and their excellent podcast on “Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships.”


3. Find the ‘Low Hanging Fruit.’:
Based on your data and the remarks from your stakeholders, you probably have a sense of some low hanging fruit or things you can execute and launch quickly to build momentum. Momentum is often overlooked. Early wins help everyone see that ‘something’ is happening and it’s not going to be all talk and analysis. It also helps spark conversations. As the old saying goes, “It’s far easier to critique than create,” so give the stakeholders something small to critique. It provides low-risk feedback and helps hone your longer term strategy with minimal effort.

This advice will probably get you through the first week. In Part 2, we look a little longer term and talk about how to get an assessment of your team, understand your corporate culture and how to define your own measures of success.

Categories: Management, Strategy

Following the Social Media wave

January 27th, 2010 Comments off

Peter Kim wrote a fantastic article on the dangers of following the latest Social Media trends without understanding what you’re doing. The article is called ‘The Marketer’s New Clothes‘ and it highlights what I’ve seen happen a few times.

Four things strike me as lessons from the article:

1. Make sure you know what you’re getting into:
If you don’t ‘get’ digital media, no worries. Do your research (starting here, of course). Go to industry networking events. Find other marketers that have run digital campaigns. Learn from their successes and their failures. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t just get your information from an agency or a ‘Digital Strategist’ that has a vested interest in getting you to buy what he’s selling. If you are talking to an agency, don’t let them baffle you with jargon or make you feel stupid for not understanding. Remember what my motto:  ‘If you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old…

2. Question everything:
Don’t let the latest trends get in the way of a proper strategy. Whatever shiny new thing is being developed for you, ask how it is going to contribute to your bottom line. What measurements are going to be used? What’s the baseline? How are you going to measure the ROI? Again, if your agency or your strategist can’t answer these questions off the top of their heads, you may want to start asking even more questions. That should be considered a huge red flag.

3. Beware the herd mentality:
Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should. You have to know who your audience is, where they live online (if they even do) and what they are looking for. It has to be relevant. But even more important, beware the herd mentality inside your organization. I’ve been in the situation where the CEO of the company walked into my office and told me that we need to be on Facebook! Every other major company is on Facebook, why aren’t we?

(Sidenote: When the CEO walks into your office and says we need to do ‘X” right away, do not say ‘NO’, unless you want me to introduce you to a couple of fine recruiters I know. Figure out a way to do it, put together the plan on how to do it right and the cost/benefit. When you’re discussing the plan, try to find the opportunity to inject your thoughts on the feasibility for the company if the cost/benefit isn’t there, along with alternatives to achieve a similar end result).

4. It’s ALL ABOUT the ROI:
At the end of the day, we’re all in this for one thing. Money. Yes, I’m sorry to break it to you, but every company is out to make money. And if any activity you do doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, chances are that you won’t be doing it for long. So if you’re getting into digital media, make sure you know how you’re going to prove to the higher powers that the $100,000 you’re spending are going to make or save the company $100,001 very soon. And the person or group putting your digital media strategy into action had better have the answer for you as well.

Categories: social-media, Strategy

Quote of the Day

December 12th, 2009 Comments off
Categories: Strategy

Executing a Digital Strategy

November 27th, 2009 1 comment

dsSo you’ve started getting your strategy together, figured out who your audience is, where they live online and what your target metrics are. Now what? How do you go about actually getting your message to your customers, and more importantly, how do you engage them in a way that is relevant to them.

One of the most lucid examples of this process I’ve come across in my travels is a method called 2(MCE). That’s a geeky mathematical way of saying “Monitor, Measure, Create, Communicate, Engage, Empower.”

Monitor: First things first. You have to know what the current state of your brand is. At it’s simplest, it’s setting up Google Alerts to ping you whenever your brand (and probably, your competitors’ brands) are mentioned online. If you have the money and know-how, you can also use monitoring tools like BuzzMetrics or Radian6 to paint a better picture.

Know where you currently stand. Are you being mentioned in a positive or negative light? What are the key messages from your audience? What success stories can you build upon? What issues do you need to address? What are your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses?

If you have an MBA or have been in strategic planning sessions, you may recognize the above as a process similar to SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths / Weaknesses / Opportunities / Threats . Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to your organization. Opportunities and Threats are external. Strengths + Opportunities = huge possibilities. Weaknesses + Threats = immediate action needed. Of course, SWOT is *much* more than that, but this is the jist of it.

This is also a great opportunity to find out where your audience lives online. What kinds of sites are generating the most content? What’s around the mentions of your brand? What is relevant to your audience? Does it jive with what you expected? If not… you may want to re-examine your assumptions.

Measure: Look again at the metrics you are going to track. How will you know when you’ve successfully executed your strategy. What measures need to tick up? What measures need to tick down? Establish your baseline. Know how you’re currently performing, otherwise you won’t be able to see any trends.

Another key point about measurement is establishing your timeframe. I recently had someone contact me via email asking how they could re-arrange the products they sell on their site to see a significant and measurable increase in sales within one month. I’m sure it’s possible, but I also think it would be either a fluke, or a short-term gain. To have a significant, long-term and measurable impact on sales via online channels, you have to take a significant and long-term approach to strategy. Quick fixes and quick measurements may lead to quick results, but perhaps at the cost of long term loyalty, trust and engagement.

Create: This is probably the most difficult part. Creating the content that your customers will find relevant. Hopefully, knowing what they already find relevant is helpful. Your research in the ‘Monitor’ step should give you a good indication of what kinds of sites and what kind of content elicits the responses from your customers you desire. Some possibilities (though these are just abstract examples):

There are many other types of content you could publish. It all comes out of your research earlier on.

Communicate: “If you build it… they will come.” Right? Umm, no. With billions and billions of web pages out there, how would anyone know that you have content specifically relevant to what they are looking for? You have to communicate that the content is there. Luckily, this step is easier that it sounds. You don’t have to take out thousands of ads on other sites, radio and tv spots. Not even word of mouth.

The easiest and most effective way it to go back to your monitoring homework, look at where your audience is, and meet them there. Make the URL of your site part of your signature. Post a link to your content on Twitter. Use a Facebook Fan Page to link to your content. Use the LinkedIn account of your employees (with their permission, of course) to broadcast your new, relevant content… and of course, engage your customers where they are. Which leads us to…

Engage: You know where they are and what they are talking about. Respond! If you see a question about your product or your industry, respond publicly. If you see positive mentions, thank the person publicly. If you see a negative comment, respond the the person publicly and humanly (i.e., not PR spin), and if you can, offer to make it right.

Make sure every response comes from a real, live human being with a real name and real account. Their signature should have their name, the company they work for (yours), their title, the web address, any any social media contact info from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

(Caveat: Others may argue with me, but I believe that the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account need to be the ‘professional’ accounts of these employees. If they choose to have a separate private account, that’s fine. But the Facebook and Twitter accounts that are linked in the sig to responses representing the company should not have anything that could put the company in a bad light.)

The ideal response to any of the above would be a short response, followed by a link back to your site to the relevant content that addresses the customer’s comment. If you make the text preceding the link and the text within the link relevant to what the issue is, you will have performed a better job of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) than any company you could pay to fiddle with keywords and tags.

Of course, if you don’t have content on your site that will address the issues and questions raised by your customers on other sites… CREATE IT! There’s free market research for you!

Empower: Now that you have driven users to your site, you don’t want them going away. You don’t want them going back to the original sites you found them to carry on the conversation. You want them to start congregating on your site, talking about your products and your services (and other company’s products and services) in a forum that you can monitor, measure and react to instantly… and with your logo on every page.

That means you have to provide the means to for users to continue the conversation. Forums, support areas, product information, and a list of *real* contacts for people to ask questions and receive responses. Empower users to engage with your company, evangelize your products and services, and eventually, even moderate the forums. If you want people to register (a great way to get a handle on demographics), give them a benefit.

DO NOT make people register just to post and engage. You will drive away too many potential users by throwing hurdles in the way. But a real benefit such as occasional sneak previews via email, or special coupon codes are just enough to get people to register.

There you have it. Taking a digital strategy, and using simple tools to figure out what to execute and how to drive visitors to your site. Good luck, and feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions:  silu.modi@digitalstrategist.ca

Categories: Strategy

Online ROI Revisited

November 4th, 2009 Comments off

ROISome time back, I posted a lengthy article on how to measure your Social Media ROI. That seems to have become a big topic recently, so I decided to revisit it.

Several recent articles have varying thoughts on the topic, from Sysomos blog that states that there is no ROI to measure in your Social Media campaign (and I blatantly stole the image on the right from their post) to Oliver Blanchard’s fantastic presentation on how to measure your ROI.

I’m more in agreement with Blanchard. Mostly for the reason that I’ve done exactly the same type of measurement in the past and it proved, without a doubt, that our primary web visitors were spending more with us than non-web visitors.

In a past life, I had to prove that our website was actually delivering value to the company. And there was no buying into the old stand-bys of ‘increased brand recognition.’ The powers that be wanted to see one thing… dollars.

Fortunately, I had our entire customer database at my disposal. We decided to set up an A/B/C comparison. We knew who our frequent site users were (frequent meaning visiting at least once per week), and who our non-visitors were. We started built a baseline to show what our sales were with visitors and non-visitors. That chart showed a clear pattern. Site visitors were more valuable than non-visitors. However, we didn’t have a control group. We didn’t know for sure that it was the website that made sales increase among that group. We had to set up a control case.

We started a campaign to recruit 1,000 new visitors and watched their sales patterns over a year. Using the baseline previously established, there was a clear inflection point in sales once those new recruits started using the website more frequently. Without going into numbers, you could see with the naked eye an inflection up in sales (and other measures) once users registered for the site and started using it more often.

Key Steps to measuring ROI:

1. Establish a Baseline: Understand the objectives you are trying to measure, measure them today for as far back as you can, and establish a baseline. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea if you’re reaching your goals.

2. Keep your time line: Every time you do something of significance online, add it to the timeline.

3. Control for other actions: If other outreach actions are happening in your organization, control for them as they will also impact your baseline measurements. If possible, look at the impact during similar campaigns in the past and establish a way to discount for those impacts when measuring yours.

4. Keep measuring: Keep an ongoing tally of your stated objectives and metrics.

5. Look for the inflection: Don’t be disappointed if the inflection doesn’t come quickly. It takes some time to see a real financial impact from your digital strategy. You’re looking for something like the following slide, copied from Blanchard’s presentation:

roigraph

6. Adjust: If the inflection doesn’t come, or it’s not as big as you had hoped, adjust. Don’t just sit there with your fingers crossed. Look at your qualitative measures to see if they are adding up. They don’t always correlate into dollars, but if they aren’t where you expect either, you may need a larger adjustment.

As much as we in the digital world would love to believe that our qualitative measures are the be all and end all, eyeballs and positive sentiment don’t pay the rent. Our strategies and campaigns, at some point, have to translate into real $$$.

Categories: social-media, Strategy

What are your goals?

October 18th, 2009 Comments off

whuffWhen I wrote about the Basic Pillars of a Digital Strategy, the question I received most often was ‘What goals can I start with?’ It’s difficult to answer as the goals are usually internal to the needs of your company and your brand. I outlined in my post about measuring your ROI about how you can turn qualitative goals into quantifiable measurements. But there are some qualitative goals you may want to keep in mind that you may not want or need to measure. They are goals that should be part of your strategy, but only if you truly believe in Social Media as a way to keep in touch with your customers:

  1. Listening
    Before doing anything, listen to what’s going on. Use any sort of paid or free monitoring tools to find out what is being said about your company and your brand. These are your customers, your potential customers, your peers and competitors, your evangelists and detractors. Use their unsolicited feedback to help shape your strategy and improve your business.
  2. Caring
    Listening won’t do much if you don’t care about the response… and show that your care about the response. Before telling your own stories and pushing your products, respond back to those who took the time to comment about you. Give thanks for positive feedback and help turn your detractors into evangelists.
  3. Sharing
    Those who care about your company, your brand and your products love to get the inside scoop on what’s going on. Share stories of real people inside your organization, real trials and tribulations you’re facing, real success stories.
  4. Speaking
    Get involved in the conversations taking place all around the internet. Get engaged with your audience and talk where they are listening. The response received when a person from a company responds to a user on an open forum is usually positive, if it’s done with a human voice, with genuine caring and without spin.
  5. Building relationships
    Building strong relationships with influencers online is one of the most effective ways to keep building positive social currency, or ‘Whuffie‘ as it was coined by Cory Doctorow and used by Tara Hunt.

These goals are hard to measure, but they should be part of any Digital Strategy as they are the currency that enable your company to truly engage with your audience.

Categories: social-media, Strategy

Controlling the conversation

October 13th, 2009 1 comment

megaphone“… But what if people say something bad about us? On our own site? How would that look?”

This is probably the number 1 fear from executives about opening up the corporate or brand website to user-generated content. And they have a good point. What if you build it and they actually do come? To complain?

I’m here to say that not only is that a possibility, it’s probably going to be the reality. Probably not what the executive wants to hear. But the real questions shouldn’t be ‘What do we do if…’ but ‘What do we do when…’

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. If you have a product or service that holds a promise that you don’t deliver, you have bigger problems than the comments on your website or public forums. You have a bad, unsustainable business model. But let’s assume that you have a good product or service and you strive to deliver value to the customer. You’re still going to have some people not happy and they may vent on your site. That’s not a bad thing.

“What?”

That’s right. It’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, this is a perfect opportunity to turn it to your advantage. Everyone knows that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. How you respond to those issues makes a big difference.

  1. Allow comments on your site and your postings:
    First things first. If you want to be true to the ‘social’ part of your social strategy, you have to let your customers be heard. Their comments are the voice you’ve been wanting to hear. Unfiltered by your staff. Again, if you are holding your end of the bargain, you will have good comments more often than the critical ones, but encourage both. Use the comments as an opportunity to get market research from the people that took the time to come to your site. But that doesn’t mean you have to let anything through.
  2. Have a visible and permissible moderation policy:
    You do have to moderate your comments. But your moderation policy has to be clearly posted and fair. Criticism must be allowed, and even encouraged. However, language must be civil. No spam, advertising, link bait, personal attacks or off-topic comments. Otherwise, even if the criticism seems unfair, it stays.
  3. Respond to your evangelists and critics alike
    Let people know that you’re listening. That doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every comment. But comments that are critical or evangelical deserve a nod of acknowledgment. As simple as “Thank you” or “Much appreciated” for good comments is enough.
  4. Respond with a human voice
    For the critics, you have a choice. For simple customer service issues, a comment from the company stating, ‘Please contact Joe directly at this email address and he’ll make sure your issue gets the attention it requires” is remarkable. Not only are you helping to resolve an issue for one of your customers, but you’re doing so in a public way, letting everyone else know that you do, in fact, care about your customers. In other words, do not have all responses to your customers come from your PR department. Do not regurgitate the marketing speaking points. If you do it correctly, you may turn customer complaints into kudos as @comcastbill has been able to do for Comcast.
  5. Allow SMEs through the company to respond on the company’s behalf
    SMEs stands for Subject Matter Experts. If there are questions or concerns about a specific product, let the people in charge of that area respond with a human touch. Answer questions clearly and directly. Again, not just with a marketing line, but as if you actually *do* care about what the respondent is saying.
  6. Spiral out. Respond on other sites, not just your own
    Use an alert tool, such as Google Alerts to monitor your name in the news. BlogPulse, or Radian6 to monitor what’s going on in the Social Media space. If you see mentions (good or bad), go to those sites and respond. Let the world know that you care about your customers, where ever they are talking.

Building loyalty and evangelists comes from not just having a good product or service, but making sure that your customers feel like they are being heard.

Categories: social-media, Strategy

Picasso

September 25th, 2009 7 comments

picasso_selfport1907There’s a great story about Pablo Picasso.

Some guy told Picasso he’d pay him to draw a picture on a napkin. Picasso whipped out a pen and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, “One million dollars, please.”
“A million dollars?” the guy exclaimed. “That only took you thirty seconds!”
“Yes,” said Picasso. “But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds.”

Some time ago, a friend of mine that was working as a writer for a TV show asked me how he could go about setting up a basic website for himself. I pointed him to a cheap host and a where he could get a free 30-day trial version of Dreamweaver. He wrote me back a few days later with a link to his website. He also (jokingly) said that he’s amazed people pay me to help them with their websites when, with a copy of Dreamweaver, he was able to do it himself for next to no cost. I replied that most people have a copy of Microsoft Word. Why would anyone pay him to write when they can do it themselves?

The tool, or the end result of using the tool, is not special. I use the same tools anyone else does. It’s starting from a blank screen, knowing what you need to do, knowing what your audience wants and delivering it with consistency and quality that make the practitioner more valuable than the tool.

Having hundreds of friends on Facebook, thousands of followers on Twitter and dozens of cool iPhone apps does not make one a Social Media expert. Being able to solve a business problem and deliver the results a client requires, perhaps using social media as one of the tools, makes one an expert.

Categories: Strategy

The POST method for Digital Strategy

September 22nd, 2009 Comments off

postJosh Bernoff, one of the authors of Groundswell, posted a great article on another approach to creating a digital strategy. I posted earlier on the 6 Basic Pillars of your Digital Strategy. Josh sums it up in 4 pillars, which he calls POST. POST stands for People – Objectives – Strategy – Technology. From his post:

P is People. Don’t start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you’re targeting college students, use social networks. If you’re reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don’t start without thinking about it.

O is objectives. Pick one. Are you starting an application to listen to your customers, or to talk with them? To support them, or to energize your best customers to evangelize others? Or are you trying to collaborate with them? Decide on your objective before you decide on a technology. Then figure out how you will measure it.

S is Strategy. Strategy here means figuring out what will be different after you’re done. Do you want a closer, two-way relationship with your best customers? Do you want to get people talking about your products? Do you want a permanent focus group for testing product ideas and generating new ones? Imagine you succeed. How will things be different afterwards? Imagine the endpoint and you’ll know where to begin.

T is Technology. A community. A wiki. A blog or a hundred blogs. Once you know your people, objectives, and strategy, then you can decide with confidence.

The interesting thing to note here is that he puts technology as the last part of your strategy. That’s the right place. The technology is just the tool to achieve your objective. It is not an objective in and of itself. I hear that quite often… ‘We need a blog,’ ‘We need a Twitter account,’ ‘How do we get a Facebook Fan Page?’

None of those matter unless you know what you want to do, who you want to reach and how you’re going to reach them. Putting the tool first is what Jeremiah Owyang calls “Fondling the Hammer.”

Start with the objectives, the audience, the assets and the metrics, then figure out how you’ll build it.

Categories: Strategy

Tracking the eye

September 20th, 2009 Comments off

eyeSome years ago, I sat behind a one-way mirror as a research organization attached contraptions to volunteers as they viewed our websites. These contraptions tracked the user’s eye movements as they surfed our site trying to accomplish tasks we had outlined. The findings from our private study were surprising and made us reconsider some basic assumptions we had made about our audience.

There have been several eye tracking studies published on the web. While the specifics of our study applied only to our site, this study discusses some general principles to keep in mind when designing your sight for maximum impact. Some key findings from the report that I found interesting:

  1. Lists (such as this one) hold attention longer. If you are talking about several related points, a bullet list or numbered list will help draw it out.
  2. Show numbers as numerals instead of as text. 600 is easier to read than six hundred.
  3. Large blocks of text are avoided. Break your content into smaller, more digestible paragraphs instead of large blocks. Ignore the grammar rules.
  4. Big, clear images get a lot of attention.
  5. Users focus on the top-left corner first. Make it impactful.
  6. The bottom portion of your page is usually scanned. Only if something truly stands out, will it be read.

The most interesting part of the study was the eye tracking heat maps. They overlayed eye movement on several websites and found that the eye moves roughly in an “F” pattern. Top left -> Across -> Down and right -> Down -> then maybe gone:

More detail on these studies and more actionable suggestions can be found here. Keep these design ideas in mind when you are designing your next website, or re-evaluating your current site. (Bet you almost missed this line because you just scanned over it.)

Categories: Strategy

Social Media ROI

September 15th, 2009 2 comments

measure-300x225“How do we measure our Return on Investment from our Social Media efforts?”

That question will eventually be asked by Senior Management. Unfortunately, that question is usually asked after the strategy has been planned, executed and in the wild for some time. At that point, the teams usually scramble to find any stats and data that show an up or down trend in… something before and something after the launch of the strategy. But how should you measure the ROI?

Good question.

The Problem:
The tough part is figuring out what you’re going to measure. First, to get the obvious out of the way, if you have an eCommerce site, and you have a campaign that has specific targeted links to your shopping site, you can easily measure your ROI from increased sales through those links. We’ll leave that out of the discussion for this post.

In a social media strategy, your execution could potentially be free (not counting soft or brown dollars). If your campaign relies on internal Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) communicating and engaging with your audience using free channels such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, your incremental cost of the strategy can be close to $0.

On the flip side, you may have invested considerably into your strategy. What do you measure to see if you’re reaching your objectives? The answer ties back to your Digital Strategy. When you discovered your objectives in your Digital Strategy, you decided what you were going to measure, right? If only life was so easy.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative:
The problem usually comes down to the old “Qualitative vs. Quantitative” issue. You want to achieve qualitative results, but measure them in a quantitative, unambiguous way. Typical objectives of a Social Media campaign may include:

  • Increase customer loyalty
  • Provide better customer support online
  • Encourage brand evangelism
  • Increase trust in our company
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase the influence of our brand

All reasonably valid. The tough part is finding the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure them. A common suggestion is, ‘Double (or Triple) the number of followers we have on Twitter.’ Achieving that is not too difficult if your execution team is actively engaging people on the right platforms. But the question is, ‘what does that achieve’? Is it better to get 1,000 random new followers on Twitter, or 100 targeted new followers that are qualified leads, in the right places, that will lead to one of your qualitative objectives? The goal here is to lay out your qualitative measures and make them quantifiable. They need to be defined at the outset, to avoid the tendency to measure any statistic that is going up as a sign of success!

What to measure?
Examples of KPIs from qualitative success criteria include:

  • Reduction in support calls and emails from baseline
  • Number of blogs relevant to our industry that posted something about our brand (good or bad)
  • Number of influential Twitterers that tweeted something about us
    • those influential blogs and Twitterers have to be identified in your Strategy before you execute the campaign
  • Number of repeat visits to our main site or micro-site
  • Increase in average session length or page views
  • Number of new comments on our blogs / posts / support forums
  • Number of comments on other blogs / posts / forums made by our team that elicited a positive response from others
  • Increase in Google PageRank against baseline

Of course, there are many more things you can attempt to measure to see if your qualitative objectives are quantitatively achieved. These measures also give you something to hang your hat on as you continue to refine your tactics to achieve those goals.

Good Luck!

Categories: social-media, Strategy