Saturday, October 23, 2010

Say What?! Both free and priceless at the same time

Earning Our Earned Media

So after much ado about something we are finally on Facebook and Twitter.

In our walled cities analogy we have invested in the farm, we have created the business and have established some owned media- namely our website. We have produced fruit, okay well in our case it is not technically fruit per se, but we have produced a product worth purchasing. We have sold the product to the customers who happened to stop by our farm. They have overwhelmingly liked the fruit and business has been good. Now we want to expand our business. We want to open a farm stand within the walled city of our customer and their network.

So we set up a stand outside the walled city. This is where we are currently at. We have a Twitter account and a Facebook account, but so what? There are two issues we have encountered with this recent foray into leveraging our owned media to get to the all coveted earned media. First and foremost we are still ultimately outside the walls of the city. Secondly now that we have a platform to start a conversation, what do we say?

We are still outside the walls of the city. With our website we learned early on that launching a product is not simply as easy as posting something on the web. Initially we had this idea, as many do, that if you build it they will come. With all the hype about online e commerce conventional wisdom was not only would they come, but they would come in droves. Yes, post a website, and suddenly you would have more business then you could handle. This of course was not the case. Then came Google. Conventional wisdom steps in again with a new claim- buy a Google add- a simple few click and few cents here and there and then they will come in droves. You can sit back, relax and watch the customers roll in. This, of course, was still not the case. Now we have progressed to social media.

Twitter burst on the scene. You could reach large groups with 140 characters and one little click. You could have industry input from the best minds in the industry. You could have instant access in real time to the innovations and inner workings of those you admired, those who inspired you, you could ‘follow’ those who you wanted to follow. Couple Twitter with Facebook with half a billion users is a gold mine just waiting to be tapped. Imagine if you had a fruit stand in that city, more fruit than you could ever produce could be sold. Plus, with the platform being based on customer recommendations and networks, and customer recommendations being the highest driver for other customers, we are assured instant success. Get a Twitter account, build a Facebook page, friend a few friends, and voila, customers for all. Only, of course, this is not the case. Not entirely surprising given that neither paragon of social media business has yet to turn a profit themselves.

Not that our fruit farm isn’t still doing well, it is, and we continue to sell our fruit to those stopping by the farm. But business at the fruit stand hasn’t picked up just yet. We are still outside the city shouting at the walls. We have a Twitter account with no followers. Mind you the Twitter account for An Entrepreneur Accidentally gains followers daily, while the business account remains stagnant. The Facebook page is followed by friends and family, but no customers yet from either social media channel.

Which leads into the second problem of our social media world- what do we say? The crux of the social media is that it is supposed to be a conversation. At the moment we are a bit like the shy person on a date, or the crazy person at the fruit stand shouting at the walls. We don’t have much to say and what we do have to say isn’t yet part of a conversation. It is simply us shouting. So how do we start the conversation?

The success of a social media campaign is defined by engagement. Normally a media campaign would be defined by ROI but the metrics simply aren’t established for how to directly determine the ROI of a social media campaign yet. Or if they are established (as some like HP claim) they aren’t being shared with the rest of us just yet. So how engaged are our customers? I had reviewed all the analytics for our website, which were impressive for engagement, and for our social media campaign, which were dismal. The gap was substantial. When customers came to our website they were engaged, spending what in the web world is considerable time, and were ultimately being turned into purchasing customers. So what was the gap? Where were the social mentions of our product occurring? Starbucks suggested listening to the conversation before joining in. Before trying to force the conversation with your customer listen to what they were saying first and let that be a driver. So I visited and did some searching as to what was being socially said about my particular product.

A bit surprising to me was that people overwhelmingly want to see videos of our product. That is where the conversation is occurring and the social media is happening. Having been in this business for so many years the product seems pretty self explanatory to me. But apparently that is not the case for our customers. The customers take the video of the product as a virtual experience or interaction with the product, and with our company. One of our competitors is excelling at entering into the conversation with customers. The social media buzz is concentrated around this competitor although they don’t even have a Facebook page or a Twitter account. They do, however, have a YouTube channel. We had discussed as part of our social media strategy a possible novelty video using our product in a unique way. The thought never occurred to us that our customers would just want to see the product itself in a video format. Obviously now, in addition to coordinating, creating and maintaining the other social media, we will need to enter into YouTube to enter into our customers conversations. I do think having established our other social media will give us a distinct advantage in integrating the videos into a comprehensive digital approach rather than a single channel of digital engagement.

Not only is social media an amazing technological advancement but it is ‘free’. With all the previous media waves you had to pay someone for the possibility of infinite wealth. But now it is all available for free. Only it isn’t really free. It is time consuming, and your time as an entrepreneur is one of your most precious resources. Time is a bit like Word Press’ slogan is both free and priceless at the same time. Like your customer endorsements and earned media, both free and priceless. One of the challenges of the social media campaign has been how to coordinate the media. There were multiple accounts and pages to log into. Why couldn’t we just post one to one account and have the information circulate throughout all the accounts? There were of course costly social CRM software that would accomplish that fact, and eventually we will need to invest in one of those programs, but there had to be a simpler (and cheaper) immediate solution. I wanted software solution that saved time and resources facilitating the upkeep of this social media campaign. Of course, as it turns out, there are multiple solutions. The two I found most user friendly were for multiple twitter accounts and for multiple social networking platforms. Now on my dashboard I can see the news feed coming in from the various accounts as well as post to the accounts simultaneously. Now I just need to figure out what to post.

Coming next…
Who are we talking to? How do you get an invite into the walled city?
The fruit stand of the future, how business models need to change in the new economy

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