In Pursuit of a Social Media Persona

social-media-marketingIn a prior post I made a few observations on the incredible proliferation of social media, and what a great thing this social transformation has been for marketers. Never before has it been so easy to reach out to a group of prospective customers (or clients, which are different according to Mr. Godin’s recent post) that all share a common attribute, interest or buying behavior. This exercise is a given for anyone writing a business plan or hiring a business plan writer today.

The next question is “what do I do next?” How do I take advantage of this built in community?

The first step is to identify a couple of top profiles or “personas” you are most interested in getting to know. Your objective is to identify what type of person is most likely to gain the greatest value from your product or service, and hence could become a future brand advocate. Ideally, this person will become so passionate about your offering that they become an influential reference to secure new business not only for themselves, but for others in their community – your target audience.

It might be helpful to consider where some of your best customers or clients came from in the past. Were these people that bought your service or product for themselves, or were they buying on behalf of someone else or the company they worked for? Was there a life event that triggered the purchase? Or, was their purchase tied to an entertainment choice? In all likelihood, you will identify several of these personas that make up 80 percent of your buyers, based on the 80/20 rule.

Once you have identified the first profile, the next step is to figure out where this persona “hangs out” in social networks. If they don’t, then social media may not be of much value for you. Assuming they do, your next task to join that community. Here is where a line must be drawn – don’t try to fool others that you are a potential buyer – full disclosure is necessary to build trust into your relationship. Deception might get you one sale, but it won’t build you a following.

Why So Many Social Media Groups?

social_media_choicesI remember back at the start of the 2000’s learning about Twitter and what it could do for marketing. I attended a marketing association meeting at the University of California, Irvine. Over 100 different individuals were in attendance, with each claiming that Twitter was going to change the world. I rushed home to sign up and secure my name (@gbenzie) before it was too late.

Flash forward 10 years, and Twitter has continued to grow and be relevant, even without a solid revenue model. Meanwhile, it seems like another 100 or so social media groups have formed on just about every topic you can possibly imagine. How do all of these sites remain viable and in existence? Who can read all of them?

The answer is “no one.” But, that isn’t such a bad thing.

My thinking on this topic is that social media has become a convenient platform to share a passion. If you have an interest and like to talk about it, then you will really like talking about it to many others. This helps folks to be involved, stay current and aware of changes as they occur. No one can be a member of all groups, and that is fine. Just pick the ones that are relevant to you, and then go after these groups with a passion and pursuit that will be noticed by your peers, prospects and customers. Quality trumps quantity in social media, but you still need both to be successful.

With the incredible efficiency that is now possible by creating a social media group, websites or blog, the cost of joining a new group, adding a new member or maintaining a group has plummeted. In essence, the bar to enter has been virtually eliminated, which has in turn opened the door for groups to form on just about any topic, with many new ones being formed every day.

The Need to Focus

Marketing communications professionals and public relations practitioners must make a decision on how social media should be applied to their marketing or activates mix. Part of this decision involves choosing what social media groups to pursue.

With only a limited number of hours in the day, how much time should be devoted to social media marketing, outreach and interactions? The answer depends on several factors, including where your audience is located and how active they are in these types of sites. Further, it is also dependent upon your own knowledge of social media and how much you are engaged in talking about and sharing the issues facing your target market. Let’s be honest … if you don’t have any interest in the issues facing your prospects and customers, then you might be doing more of a dis-service to try and “pretend” to be engaged. Curating a marketing or public relations program through social media can’t be “faked” very well.

In the end, I would argue that the incredible proliferation of social media sites is one of the best things for marketers that has come out of the Internet transformation. Now there is a way to reasonably and cost effectively reach your target audience in a non-threatening, advisor type of role – provided you are willing to make the investment of time and effort to get to know this audience and the challenges they face.

It is for this reason that Social Media is a pretty important factor that should be a part of every marketer’s arsenal of tools and resources. Likewise, it should be no surprise the popularity Twitter now shares with reporters, writers and public relations professionals … even if they haven’t quite mastered the revenue model. If there is a news story that is breaking, somehow it manages to be trending on Twitter before anyone else has figured out that there is a story!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

What Role Does Social Media Play in your Marketing Plan?

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop and the way we share these experiences. Consumers would rather buy from someone they know. Absent this type of referral, a product or service review by an independent third party is deemed as nearly as valuable and certainly more credible that what a company says about itself.

According to a recent McKinsey research survey, “Social technologies as a group have reached critical scale at the organizations represented in our survey. Seventy-two percent of the respondents report that their companies are deploying at least one technology, and more than 40 percent say that social networking and blogs are now in use.” The below charts published in the McKinsey report demonstrate the consistent growth social media has experienced within the business world.

 

There are two ways you can leverage social media as a business tool: As an internal means to improve productivity and efficiency, and as an external means to further engage with your customers.


As an Internal Tool

Social media can be used as a collaborative platform to better share ideas and solve customer issues faster. Here social media is being used as a shared IT application, no different than the use of browsers for web surfing or applications for word processing. As a collaboration tool, it should be centrally managed with a set of agreed upon usage guidelines to encourage appropriate behavior that isn’t offensive and makes good business sense.

 

As an External Tool

Here is where inflated expectations sometimes lead to unrealistic lead generation, branding or awareness assumptions. The likelihood of acquiring a million users that want to use your product after reading your twitter feed is probably unrealistic, unless there is a highly compelling event that can give you the exposure for such traffic volumes. A more likely scenario is one where your customers reference and, ideally, praise your product or service within their existing social media sites and usage patterns.

The critical question to ask consider is “How easy are you to work with?” How difficult is it for one of your customers to extract data from your service and upload it into their social media sites? If it is easy, then social media might indeed have a role in your future growth. Also, what content are you providing? Is this information that will be helpful for them as part of their purchase decision and evaluation? What is of primary importance, however, is that you think about it now, and that you realize that the way we use social media will likely change over time. Today we are in the middle of a communications transformation. This means you have to be ready to make the time, effort and financial investment to stay current and learn with the rest of the other companies.

Just in the same way that every marketing and business plan should have a competitive review and a strong positioning, companies today writing a business plan or marketing plan must now have a Social Media component. Businesses must now recognize that this is not a trend that will quietly go away. Social media is an important communications vehicle that should ideally be used both internally and externally as part of your marketing and communications plan.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

The Age of Communications Transparency

Often the true impacts of technology innovations are not immediately recognized or understood. It took decades for the discovery of electricity to widely impact how we live in a world where electricity and light is readily available. The Internet is no different. Still in its infancy, new social behaviors have already been embraced and adopted, including how job searches are conducted, travel arrangements are booked and social networking through sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Another not so obvious change involves the ownership and privacy of information, specifically our own identities and reputation. Today it is much harder to have privacy or lead a “secret” life. A recent example is the congressman Anthony Weiner twitter scandal. Another is the photo showing Michael Phelps taking a bong hit nearly three months after he wrapped up a record haul of eight gold medals in Beijing. The list goes on and on. Today’s social media venues coupled with smart phones that all now include cameras have made privacy more difficult to maintain.

Marketing communications transparency is a smart choice in today’s world that lacks privacy

This lack of expected privacy has a big repercussion for marketing communications, business plan writers and investor prospectus authors, among others. In just the same way that the truth has a way of getting out to the public, unsubstantiated or exaggerated marketing claims will most likely be discovered or revealed. Today it is critical to communicate with complete transparency. Spokespersons for companies and their products must be genuine. Product claims must be documented and proven.

Third party recommendations have always been important to drive sales. The challenge, however, is that it used to take a bit of effort to find someone who has just purchased the product or service you were contemplating. Often the effort didn’t justify the work, so purchases were not necessarily “qualified” by a third party reference.

Today, a referral is as easy to find as going to Yelp or launching one of the many different smart phone applications with an interactive “rate this” or “comment on this” feature. Buyers don’t expect every review to be perfect … in fact, they might suspect a lack of transparency if every review is perfect. They want to see who had what issues, to then make their decision accordingly to pursue the purchase, or not. The point is that there is now a very efficient, active venue for voicing concern or issues with a product … a “horror” story could take on a life of its own and spread like wildfire.

There is still a role for preparing corporate collateral, but its role should not be to try and “sell” the product, but rather, provide details that a company can prepare best, such as specifications, product performance as well as documentation on what can be realistically achieved.

But, it better be accurate and current, as a fair representation of your product’s capabilities. If not, it is now a reasonable expectation that you will be found out, and you will pay the price with a loss of brand integrity for not practicing transparency in your marketing communications.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

In Pursuit of Effective Communications

While discretion may dictate speaking “on the QT,” the most effective business communications tend to include more of an open dialog and, ideally, a feedback loop for clarification.

I would propose that part of the reason why social media has made such a rapid impact on the marketing world is because it has helped to facilitate more effective communications, both from a content perspective as well as from a “trust” point of view.

Take, for instance, the list of top 100 PRs on Twitter that Liliana Dumitru-Steffens put together on her blog. If this list were published on traditional media, it would have been printed and distributed to her readers, as a static list soon forgotten. This online social media list, however, has taken on a life of its own, being modified and updated based on feedback she has received from her many readers. In the end, this feedback loop has increased the accuracy of her communications – a luxury afforded this type of communications medium. If only some of our verbal conversations could be updated after the fact, to better communicate what our actual intent was at the time!

Marketing communications is a challenging task. It isn’t that speaking or writing is hard – but getting the right message of what you meant to say is where the challenge lies. There may be times when you are speaking to an audience that does not understand what you are saying. Often, however, they simply won’t tell you their confusion, contributing to a poor communications feedback loop. While it may be easy to blame your audience for just “not getting it,” in reality, it is your responsibility to communicate your message.

In fact, these challenges exist in personal communications as well.

As a marketer, I would propose that there are only two media communications “vehicles” to convey your message – the spoken or written word. Each medium has unique challenges. Address these challenges, and your messaging accuracy will improve, helping you to be a better marketer.

The Spoken Word

Here the issue is consistency … how can you be sure everyone at your organization will say the same thing and speak in the same language or tone? An engineer, for example, may talk about your product’s benefits differently than an executive. Both must be able to speak comfortably, on their own, when telling your corporate message.

We can’t control what others will say. But, we can provide guidance. As new products are launched or new customer values are identified, it is critical to invest time with each of your stakeholders to coach and train them to get it right. Practice makes perfect.

One approach is to provide visual clues or “cheat sheets” to your teams, as a handy reference that can be viewed to help remember the key points of your company’s messaging strategy. For example, a placard hung in a customer service support center explaining the benefits of a recent product launch might help function as a reminder to the team.

The Written Word

The written word offers greater consistency of message. Collateral and other content can be prepared and distributed to your employees, customers and prospects. However, without a feedback loop, it can be difficult to gauge understanding. As mentioned previously, the growing use of social networking websites now offers this capability to help address this challenge, by offering readers the opportunity to post comments and replies. Of course, if no one finds your message, then you won’t get any responses!

One way to address this potential communications challenge is to seek feedback on your marketing collateral, business plan or other written marketing communications prior to distributing to the general public. While it may be obvious to you what you were intending to say or speak, you would be surprised how often ambiguity exists, especially when your message is heard by someone from another “walk of life,” such as a different department, country or culture, or even someone that reads or speaks English as a second language (assuming your communications are primarily in English).

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you meant to say … prospects, customers, investors and others will come to their own conclusion, based on what they thought you said – what they heard you say – and make their decision accordingly. Take ownership for this action and recognize that the responsibility for accurate communications lies on your shoulders, mouth and arms!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.