Web/Tech

Truth is elephants are not afraid of mice and traditional media is still more effective than digital age newbies. 

As context for our story, an early stage B2B service client was determined to test a comprehensive marketing campaign with significant emphasis on social media.  The premise was we would be effective in using Internet marketing along with traditional vehicles to build relationships with prospects in advance of direct sales meetings. 

This core effort was further supported by a significant free downloadable books and business evaluation guides, along with direct mail effort.  Traditional networking continued as well.  The target audience was top executives of middle market companies within a defined geographic area. 

The yearlong test failed to generate any new business for the client and thus was abandoned. While any failure is a composite of several elements, we conclude these are the five primary reasons for the outcome: 

  • The target audience was very resistant to the media used i.e. LinkedIn and Twitter. e-Mail drives and direct mail proved equally ineffective. Generational shift of business ownership may change behavioral disuse or distrust of Internet based campaigns. Further, the vast majority of the target market companies did not participate on either LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • Copy strategy and execution across all messaging was judged strong, tested well in advance of actual campaign but clearly missed the mark of being compelling. We conclude the media was the message, thus the copy failed to initiate a trusting relationship with prospects as expected.
  • While true social media as an advertising medium exchanges high media costs for high human capital costs
    • Operationally, finding and developing social media management required more time than allocated and longer continuity of effort than the client’s test plan afforded;
    • The cost of actionable lists of private company executives was the client’s budget limitations.
  • The comprehensiveness of the marketing campaign exhausted the time limitations of the client’s executive pool to execute consistently. Less may be more.
  • Even thought the test market was well funded, the expected efficiencies of using social media to reach a difficult to reach audience never materialized. Net, the cost of Internet marketing in a B2B environment is equal to or higher than the costs of traditional media campaigns.

 Do you have different stories to tell? Please share.

 

Business publications are by and large optimistic about the contribution of emerging technologies to growing healthier companies, work environments and even countries. For example, McKinsey Quarterly published a stimulating discussion of how advancing technologies are changing business models from linear to multisided ones, in Clouds, big data, and smart assets: Ten tech-enabled business trends to watch . What is important for executives to realize is that technology not only shapes the character of business but also the behavior of its employees and legal consequences that follow.

 

The first technology the authors, Messrs. Bughin, Chui and Manyika, discuss is the mainstreaming of “distributed co-creation” which is essentially the ability of communities to organize on the Internet to develop, sell and support products and services. For example, they cite P&G’s Vocalpoint network of mothers to share experiences with selected products with their peers that enables P&G to significantly increase market share vs. markets without the Vocalpoint network.

 

The authors also examine “making the network the organization” in which the Web forces companies to open the boundaries of the business allowing non-employees to offer their expertise in novel ways. They envision future managements seizing on these flexible networks to help manage volatile demands on assets through peak and trough periods.

 

Again examples are given like Dow Chemical using its own social network to help managers find talent in other divisions, even to external talent pools such as retirees.  Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk uses online labor markets external to the company to solve business problems. Thus, they conclude, that in the longer term, networked organizations will focus on harmonizing tasks to get things done versus focusing on the “ownership” of workers.

 

We arrive at the first trap new technologies sets:  New technologies need to be understood, analyzed and considered in business plans. To be competitive in an asymmetrical world (where physical boundaries or  historically unrelated businesses gave established companies a natural advantage) all top executives need to define strategies to identify where technology opens opportunities for them to create multifaceted revenues while creating threats that may not have existed before.

 

We get immediately to the second, blind, trap. Gene Killian , Esq. of The Killian Firm, P.C. found that new technology gives birth to new legal problems and, by extension, threats to the business.

 

In a cautionary newsletter (you may have to register to read), Gene questioned: “What happens, for example, if you have a restrictive covenant with a key employee? What if that employee is prohibited from "poaching" your current employees? What if that employee leaves your company? And what if that former employee becomes a "contact" of your current employees on LinkedIn? Or a friend on Facebook?”

 

He cites actual cases where the “what if” happened. Employees left one company for another and continued using social media based conversations to recruit past co-workers, clients and prospects from a prior employee. Digital networks, while a new technology, are also now indigenous to most relationships. Intentional or not, the use of these networks is a constant potential threat to business operations, from employment covenants, poaching employees, damaging brand good will, and publishing company secrets or plans.

 

Gene offers common sense pointers such as it is time to review employment manuals and standard agreements, giving clear rules when it comes to LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter and other social media. In the firm’s news letter he mentions Bayer Corp. having a 13-page policy that covers employee use of social media. It reminds employees about confidentiality and proper communication with customers or others online. The company also monitors its online reputation.

 

He says H.J. Heinz Co. has a written policy distributed to all employees. The policy specifically spells out that employees must be transparent when publishing material online that references the company or when speaking with bloggers, and reminds employees about not commenting on confidential company information.It is also important to state that post-termination restrictive covenants may be violated by contacting clients through social media "friend" or "link" requests.

 

So the double blind trap of fast emerging technology is that to stay competitive and grow, executives need to understand and selectively capitalize on technology.The second blind trap is forgetting to proactively manage the technology by understanding the unknown and unthinkable consequences on behavior these technologies create.

 

Future sustainable competitive advantage and wealth comes from the hard work of combining an understanding and the strategic use of technology with leadership that reinforces the legal and ethical values of the company among all stakeholders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marketing Executive Network Group (MENG) is a community of C level marketing and sales executives. It is a valuable resource for business leaders dedicated to building high performance careers and companies.

One of the outstanding characteristics of MENG is the unselfish volunteer-ism of professional support among thought leaders in the various disciplines that make up marketing and sales technologies.

In that context MENG launched a Social Media Counsel of Advisors. They collectively ran a (free for MENG members) webinar on business application of social media that focused on Twitter. The live program was insightful. However, one question I had concerning strategies small companies could deploy to deal with the probable damaging commentary from dissatisfied customers, competitors, former employees or even social activists. I Tweeted my frustration that this question was not answered and received a direct Tweet message from Lisa Petrilli a MENG member directing me to a terrific blog by another MENGer, Mack Collier on the subject.

That discussion focused on how companies strategically could use social media to redress real and substantial product or service issues, whereas my concern brought on by client presidents, was what to do with rogue comments.

This is when another conversation started with Amber Naslund founder of Altitude Branding switching from Twitter to e-mail due to the depth of the discussion. I want to share that conversation because it underscores the professional activism of MENG and the real ability of social media to sponsor meaningful conversations and healthy on line acquaintances:

Cal - Question 1:  Strategically, how do small businesses address inevitable spam messages about products / services that are inconsistent with the significant majority of facts and customer satisfaction ratings?

Amber - Reply: First of all, I'm glad to hear you say "inevitable" because they most certainly are something you cannot avoid, and can actually be valuable to you.  Here's a few notes on what I consider when evaluating negative comments:

1) Are they specific? Specific complaints can point to a shortcoming in product or service that needs to be addressed. If that comment comes directly from a customer using your service, you should treat it with the same timeliness, attentiveness, and seriousness you would if that person went through other customer support channels.

2) Are they owned? I'm not in support of allowing anonymous comments on things, mostly because if an attack is going to be mounted, someone should be accountable for that (except in the obvious cases of things much more serious than the online or business world, like being put in personal danger of harm). If you know who made the comment, find out some context about who they are, and address them directly and by name, providing full disclosure of your own identity as well.

3) Never feed a fire. Judgment prevails here. You have to be able to tell when comments are deliberately starting a war or trying to be inflammatory. In most cases, if those comments are being waged by someone identifiable, I simply respond and say something like "Thanks for sharing your concerns with us; I'd like very much to talk with you further and see how we can help. I'd be happy to reach out via an email address you provide, or you can reach me at amber@radian6.com anytime." This diffuses the situation a bit, takes the conversation to a more private channel, but demonstrates publicly that you're acknowledging it and addressing it.

Same goes for competitors. If the competition is openly making negative statements, you can choose to refute any factual inaccuracies, but do so with diplomacy and by taking the high road. Something like "Appreciate your comments, Jeff, but you have some misinformation about our product. In actuality, XXX...." If the comments are opinions rather than something you can address calmly and objectively, it's better to acknowledge with something like "Thanks for your feedback, Jeff. We appreciate having outspoken colleagues in our space and look forward to seeing your additional contributions to the industry." More flies with honey and all of that. The community can see who is acting like an adult, and who is slinging barbs for no good reason.

4) Have a comment policy on your own properties that allows for removal of comments that are defamatory, offensive, or otherwise libelous. Do NOT make the mistake of deleting all negative comments, but this gives some recourse if things are vulgar, personal attacks, or otherwise deliberately out of line.

5) When possible, for comments that actually have merit, round back with the individual in the forum where the comment was originally made, and let them know what you're doing to address it. Nothing impresses folks better than seeing not only that you heard their criticism, but that you took it to heart and are committed to doing something with it.

Cal - Question 2: How do small companies staff social media initiatives?

Amber - Reply: That all depends on what your social media effort entails. Are you just listening and gathering information or are you actively engaging and responding? Are you just centered around your brand or are you participating in industry discussion? Are you just conversing, or are you also creating content?

In general, your listening/monitoring efforts for an active brand should take a couple of hours per day. The amount of time you dedicate to engagement - say, conversing on Twitter or on your Facebook page or LinkedIn Group - is up to you, but I'm going to say that it'll take at least 2-4 hours a day of time, whether exclusive to one person or distributed. The more engaged you are, the more active your networks will be, and the more maintenance and cultivation they'll require.

You're definitely going to need at least one full time equivalent in terms of hours, maybe more, if you're serious about adding social media to the mix. I'd also recommend evaluating and auditing your current marketing and outreach efforts so that social media can be integrated, and not be a standalone element (they should all work together and in a complimentary fashion). And I would recommend that the people you delegate to handle this be mature business professionals with an understanding of your organizations goals, customer attitudes, brand presence, and the like. This is a business management role first, with a specialization or a focus in social media. But you definitely don't want to delegate this to your intern; it really demands a more mature, seasoned business person if it's ever going to become a well-oiled part of your business processes.

Social media is an ongoing commitment, like customer service. You're not "done" with it, you maintain your presence and adapt to how your networks and communities respond to you. That's why it's important to not only dedicate proper resources, but to be sure they're individuals that are personable, business savvy, and committed to the long-term health of your relationships with your customers, as that's what engaging through social media is all about.

Amber