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

Information vs. Confusion

October 25th, 2009 Comments off

I just returned from the Microsoft Sharepoint Conference in Las Vegas. So much information on collaborative technologies! However, out of all of the sessions I attended, one image stuck out from the rest.

We all know this intuitively, but it’s easy to fall into the trap when researching a new direction, or in the analysis phase of a project:

CvsI

Categories: Basics

The Pen is Mightier than the Computer

October 21st, 2009 1 comment

moleskinI still get people doing a double-take when they see my PDA. It’s light-weight, portable, never needs recharging and is instant-on. Yup, I use a Moleskine notebook and a pen. It’s always on me, I’m always jotting notes in it and it has (so far) never failed me.

David Hornik recently wrote a post on how he’s seeing more and more Senior Executives using real, old-fashioned notebooks and pens in meetings. Fewer and fewer are bringing out their laptops.

I concur. And I also find that people that are using laptops are often not listening to the meeting, nor are they taking notes relevant to the meeting. They’re using it to catch up on other work or responding to email. I’m guilty of that as well with my Blackberry. If I have it on the table during a meeting, I find myself constantly checking it and responding when I should be listening.

Once or twice (OK, more), I’ve been caught flat-footed when a question was asked of me. I have that blank stare, try to think of something, and often resort to asking the person to repeat the question.

So now, I’m a pen and paper person as well. My note book never fails me. Why:

  1. Instant on. Don’t have to wait for a boot up. Don’t have to find a power outlet. Don’t have to log in.
  2. Always connected. I don’t have to look for a signal. All of my info is right there.
  3. Rugged. I have a tendency to drop my toys. Not an issue with my notebook.
  4. Memory. I’m talking about mine. I find that if I write something down with pen and paper, I remember it. I almost never have to refer to my notes again. The very act of writing it down works well enough. I can’t say the same about typing a note.

So please don’t laugh at my when I bring out my notebook. I’m only following the example set by the movers and shakers!

Categories: Basics

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

How to Work Better

October 3rd, 2009 Comments off

workbetterI’ve had this image printed out and kept in the back of every notebook I’ve carried around for the last couple of years. It’s very simple advice, but if taken to heart, can literally change the way you go about your day-to-day. I think the image to the right of this post is the original photograph, but below is a much better rendition of the same content:

workbetter2

If you’re reading this on a small screen, here is the text:

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Know the problem
  3. Learn to listen
  4. Learn to ask questions
  5. Distinguish sense from nonsense
  6. Accept change as inevitable
  7. Admit mistakes
  8. Say it simple
  9. Be calm
  10. Smile

Allow me to highlight a few of these that changed the way I think when I’m working. The first one… ‘Do one thing at a time’ is a very important one. I don’t believe that human beings are capable of multi-tasking. There is a huge reduction in returns when you try to do more than one important thing at a time. I’ve tried. When I try to do two things, neither one is even 50% as good as if I had focused on it completely. Prioritize, concentrate on the most important item and either complete it, or leave it at a logical point where you can pick it up again.

(On a side note, I read a sage piece of advice once that works beautifully. If you’re going to leave something to pick up again later, leave it in mid-sentence. When you pick it up again, as you get into the flow of picking up that sentence, you’ll get back into the flow you were in when you left it… which is exactly how I left this article in draft for a couple of weeks.)

The next important one is ‘know the problem.’ I deal with it quite often. The first thing you think about is the problem. Usually, you’re wrong. There is an old saying that you have to ask ‘Why’ 3 or 4 times before you get to the heart of the problem, or the Root Cause. Until you know the problem, it will be difficult to work on the solution.

‘Learn to listen’ and ‘Learn to ask questions’ are related. Learning to listen means more than just keeping your mouth shut. It also means more than just sitting there silently waiting for your turn to speak. I relate it more to Stephen Covey’s line of “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Your questions should clarify the other point, not subtly drive the person to your view point.

‘Say it simple’ relates directly to an article I posted earlier about being able to explain it to a 6-year-old.

… and again, if you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know that when all hell is breaking loose, I’ll be sitting there with a calm smile (whether I feel it or not). I’m a big fan of the duck analogy. “Calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath!”

Categories: Management

Writing Renaissance

September 30th, 2009 Comments off

pen_and_paperThis post doesn’t have much to do with Digital Strategy, but I found the topic very interesting. Two somewhat unrelated articles this week. One talks about how kids are losing their cursive writing skills. The other talks about how kids today are becoming better writers than in any other generation. Interesting corollary.

Apparently, they’re not teaching cursive handwriting much in schools anymore as more and more writing is being done on keyboards now. Kids see handwriting as something you do when you put a note on the fridge. Block letter printing does just fine for that. Using a pen for long writing is not a skill that’s deemed necessary for long term employment.

So… kids can’t write with a pen… but apparently, they can ‘write’!

“I think we’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization,” she says. For Lunsford, technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.”

Contrary to popular belief, the writing skills of the young today are blossoming. With text messaging, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other communication platforms prevalent, young people are writing more now than ever.

“It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.”

That is very true. When I was in high school, I remember many of my friends complaining (ok: I was complaining) that the essay writing that we had to do over and over again were never going to be useful again. Most would probably never write a long piece of text again until they got an email address some 10 years later.

An interesting point the article makes is that students today not only write more prolifically, but they also have a innate understanding about the audience for their writing. Unlike previous generations, these writers understand that their words will probably be transmitted for tens, hundreds, thousands of people to see and may be around forever. They also know that different forums require different levels of vocabulary and communication. Something that earlier generations would have never considered. An essay in high school was read by your teacher, and then probably trashed.

“We think of writing as either good or bad. What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.”

After hearing so much about the illiteracy of today’s generation, it was refreshing to see that we may have entered a new renaissance.

Categories: Basics

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

Quote of the Week

September 22nd, 2009 Comments off

My favourite quote of the week:

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher

Categories: Management

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

Advice on creating a Great Website

September 12th, 2009 Comments off

websiteThis one’s an oldie, but a goodie. Seth Godin (Marketing Guru Extraordinaire) gives a simple 10 point plan on how to create a great website. I can’t argue with any one of his points. Some of my favourite points:

  1. Fire the committee. No great website in history has been conceived of by more than three people. I completely agree. I’ve found that the more people involved in creating (or strategizing) a website, the more watered-down the ideas become and the more ‘standard’ the website looks and feels. If you’re trying to generate interest, buzz or Google Juice, you’re not going to do it by taking a consensus of dozens of different opinions.
  2. Get the best people possible. He makes a great point that’s been made over and over again. Ten mediocre people can’t do the job of one great ‘rock-star’.
  3. One Voice. One Vision. Similar to point 1. One person needs to lead it with their vision, and have final say.
  4. Don’t Settle. You get one chance. Every details matters. Every detail.

See also: How to create a Good Enough website.

Categories: Basics, Strategy

Theory and Practice

September 9th, 2009 Comments off

I can’t remember where I’d heard this quote, but if you’ve ever worked with me for more than a few weeks, you’ve probably heard me say it out loud:

In theory, theory and practice are the same
In practice, theory and practice aren’t

Going back to a post I wrote earlier, this ties right into Point 4 in Seth Godin’s “How to create a great website.

Categories: Management

Centralized Web Strategy

September 7th, 2009 Comments off

bullseyeLee Huang wrote a post on centralizing the Web Marketing function in a company. He describes the things that he feels need to be taken into account when centralizing this function:

  1. The “What’s in it for me” questions that will inevitably arise from the business units that were used to owning and controlling the direction of their individual web presence. He’s nailed it when he says that getting the buy in early from the affected business units is key to succeeding.
  2. Being responsive. One of the worst things that can happen (and I speak from experience) is taking the web marketing function away from the business units, and then bogging down all requests with slow processes and high dollar amounts. They key is to show value-add early with quick wins and high-value consultation into more than just the mechanics of web marketing.
  3. Prioritization of projects. Transparent prioritization may not be a big issue early on, but needs to be in place early on. Again, from experience, at the beginning, work will be simple and trickle in at a pace that can be easily handled. However, if you do things right and are successful in your strategy and campaigns (you do have a Digital Strategy, right?), the requests will start flooding in. At that point, the key stakeholders from the various business units need to be a large part of prioritizing your team’s resources and budget. Favouritism will come back to bit swiftly

The point that Lee doesn’t make, but I have found just as important is “What skills are you going to staff this department with?

Are you going to transfer the “web” people from the other business units? The pros to this approach are getting the business knowledge that comes with these people. But the big con is that there will always be some loyalty to the previous business unit and it will be hard to prioritize without undue influence.

Are you going to hire people to do the work in-house? Or out-source the execution and just have strategy kept internally? Out-source to your internal IT team, or completely outsource? Again, three different approaches, each with its pros and cons.

Having a one-stop shop in-house allows you to get work done quickly and control the team that works on it. However, you are “stuck” with the skillset you you in house. If you have all Java developers, everything is an enterprise Java solution. Also, you’re at the mercy of internal policies on how quickly you can get work done.

In-sourcing the development to your internal IT team has the advantage of keeping you arms length from the execution, while still having the internal influence and power derived from the relationships normally formed by people in close proximity, and by the normal management interactions. However, IT has processes that may not work at the speed of web development, and when major corporate initiatives occur, your “silly little web projects” can take a back seat to the “really important work.”

Outsourcing the execution usually gives the most control over execution. You can pick and choose different agencies for different executions based on expertise and workload. You can get more work done faster by spreading the work around. But you are at the mercy of hard dollars instead of soft, internal dollars. You are also at the mercy of an agency where the only true relationship you have is with the Account Manager. And we all know that Account Managers say “yes, of course we can do it,” to everything, right? You lose the day to day, looking over a shoulder to see how it’s going. And again, that can come back to bite hard.

If you are thinking of centralizing your Web Marketing function, think about how you’re going to set it up, how you’re going to sell it internally, and how you’re going to handle the fire hose when you succeed!

Categories: Strategy

Relevance

September 4th, 2009 Comments off
Categories: Strategy