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4 Ways To Improve Your Social Media Content Strategy

Lots of people spend lots of time nowadays thinking about how to build up channels/audiences/communities (choose your buzzword as appropriate) through social channels. Relatively few, however, seem to apply similar rigor to the process of communicating with those people after the fact.

With a few degrees of variation, most people will suggest you look at around a 90/10 ratio of engagement to static content on social channels. That means, if you post 20 tweets (for example) per day, you have roughly two opportunities to insert your own POV into the stream.

Are you making the most of the static content you post on your channels? Are you using each piece as an opportunity to move towards achieving an objective, or are you just throwing words out there for the sake of posting something?

Here are four ways to begin to improve your social media content strategy.

Set Goals

Launching a new social channel, or campaign on a channel, isn’t the end of the planning process. You should know, clearly, what you’re trying to achieve through your social media activity, and bear that in mind at all times. Sometimes high-level business goals may be a bit abstract, so distill down from those:

Business objectives –> communication objectives –> social media objectives

Tweak these depending on where social “sits” in your organization, but make sure these ladder up, and make sure the content you’re posting does the same.

Optimize

Are you optimizing your content based on previous results? If not, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Content creation doesn’t just mean throwing out posts randomly. Just as media buyers analyze which versions of ads convert better than others, you should take the opportunity to look at the types of content that:

  • Generate more engagement
  • Lead to more click-throughs
  • Lead to more conversions
What type of content works best? Is it UGC-focused content? Links to third-party sites? Opinion pieces? What time of day works best? (Visibli and RowFeeder are two great tools for helping with this)

Think “Search”

What are you doing to ensure you “own” the first page of search results when you make an announcement? Think beyond your marketing terms, and towards what people are searching for. Create useful, interesting content that targets those terms, and publish it at the right time.
Why does timing matter for search? Because in today’s fast-moving environment, if other influential online sites get out of the gate with their content ahead of you, they’ll become the go-to source and they’ll claim your spot in the search results.
If you’re currently losing this battle, take a look at what the other sites are doing better than you.
Remember – you have the advantage – you know what’s coming down the pipe, and you know when it’s coming. That means you should *always* be able to beat them to the punch.

Use Multimedia

Multimedia is such a 90′s term… everywhere except search. Universal search is meaning that different forms of content are being displayed next to each other in search results. That means you’re not just competing for the top-ranked text; you’re competing for the top-ranked image too, and the top-ranked video. Not everyone has cottoned-on to that yet – take advantage of it and think beyond text when you’re planning-out your content.
There you have it – four tips for optimizing content. What other tips would you add?

Startups: No, You Don’t Need To Hire A Social Media Expert

My eye was caught this weekend by a post from Francis Tan, asking whether startups need to hire social media experts. His key points:

  1. First things first: Agreeing with Peter Shankman that startups should focus on generating revenue
  2. Customer satisfaction: Startups need to ensure customer satisfaction when people interact with your company, whether through social media or other means
  3. Align around goals: If you do outsource your social media, make sure they are aligned with your goals
  4. Trade-offs: Ask yourself: do you have time to establish relationships with customers online? On the flip side, are you willing to entrust that task to a third party?
  5. People, not robots: If you do engage online, ensure that you have real people out there rather than automating everything
  6. His conclusion: While it’s not entirely a bad idea to outsource social media, companies might be better off focusing on their product first.

As for what I think, my take is that it’s a little easier than Tan makes it seem although I agree with his conclusion.

Let’s face it – the startup stage isn’t the time in a company lifecycle when resources are flush. You’re not likely to be walking around with a large marketing team; you don’t have big operating budget.

In that context, each dollar needs to deliver maximum return. Why hire someone at a premium when you can bring someone in-house with multiple skill sets – who can drive customer support and handle online support too? Who can handle your PR or marketing and integrate that strategy with your online activities? Hell, you might not even be at the point of investing in outside marketing help yet – why would you consider an even narrower function?

Ok, let’s cut to it. Here’s my take:

  1. Focus on your product/service: Get your product and experience right, first and foremost. If you invest in marketing before your offering is nailed, you’ll just accelerate your failure as more people find out that you suck.
  2. Democratize your social media: My colleague Steve Rubel says social media shouldn’t be 100% of one person’s job; it should be 1% of 100 peoples’ jobs. Democratize the responsibility throughout your team.
  3. Hire broad: If you do decide that the time is right to bring in a social media skill set into the team, make it part of a broader role – communications, marketing, support or similar. Specialization comes with scale — don’t pigeon-hole people into one narrow role when you need everyone to lend a hand broadly.
  4. The exception: online startups? Companies based online (or in social media), by their nature, on aggregate are going to focus more on online interactions than other companies. Still, I suspect that they will still get more mileage from investing in in-house experience, at least at a startup stage.
  5. Don’t fall for snake oil: For the love of all things holy, if you do decide to outsource your efforts then pay attention to who you work with. This is where I agree with Shankman – hire communicators or marketers who understand how social media fits into a broader approach. Don’t hire people who tell you Twitter will solve all your problems. They’re wrong, and whether it’s a deliberate lie or a lack of knowledge really doesn’t matter.
  6. Know agencies’ strengths: Agencies bring numerous several key strengths — a broad array of skills, ideas and experience; an ability to scale up and down  rapidly; existing relationships in the industry;(potentially, depending on the agency) geographic reach and so on. Play to those strengths and use them when you need them, but not before. Need a little bit of time, but not a full-time role? Need something executed in the short-term? That’s your time for outside help; not the start-up day-to-day.

There you have it. From my perspective, while you may want to engage online, I think hiring or outsourcing a “social media expert” in a startup is the wrong way to go — you’re better off focusing on your product/service, democratizing your digital efforts and hiring broad communications skills when the time is right.

I’m not a startup guy though, so my take is just an (un?)informed guess. If you come from the startup side, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

(Image: Flickr, via Peter Shankman)

SXSW 2011: Strong on Networking; Less on Content

I just arrived home from South by Southwest Interactive after six days down in Austin, Texas. Given that my voice has pretty much deserted me after numerous days trying to have conversations in overly noisy places, I thought I’d get some of my thoughts on the conference down on “paper” for you.

Networking Mecca

SXSW really is one of the key networking opportunities for people in the social space, and as attendee numbers continue to rise (more on that shortly, the opportunities are ever-increasing.

Yes, there are lots of parties at SXSW, but the people who get the most out of the event are those who use those events as a springboard for smaller, more focused conversations with other people.

While SXSW feels like a giant reunion to me, I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone and meet new people.This resulted in me meeting and begin to get to know people I’ve wanted to hang out with for a long time like Lionel MenchacaSusan BeebeChuck HemannLisa Grimm (way too much laughing ensued there), Aaron Stroud, Eric Schwartzman and Chris Baccus.

However, by forcing myself to meet new people, I was also able to enjoy serendipitous meetings with folks like Kendall AlimentRoger Dooley (neuro-marketing – fascinating), Patrick O’KeefeEric Kim (check out Twylah – it’s very interesting), Avesta Rasouli (founder of Coloft), Christel van der Book (Flipboard) and Andrew D’Souza (Top Prospect, a social recruiting site).

Foo Fighers show at SXSWTips:

  1. Don’t just hang out with people you already know. If you spend the whole time with people you could meet any day of the week normally, you’re missing out.
  2. Book meetings with people you want to meet well in advance. Breakfasts are often best, as days can get hectic and plans for lunch and dinner often change constantly.
  3. Look beyond the big parties. Sure, the big parties can be fun (the surprise Foo Fighters show was a massive highlight for me personally) but don’t spend all of your time at them. Grab a few people, grab dinner and get to know them better.

Size isn’t everything

I heard from a few sources that SXSW this year was about 30 per cent bigger than in recent years. This year it felt too big, with sessions spread throughout the city which provided a disincentive to attend. I think event organizers should consider whether bigger is always better, or whether they should cap the event size to prevent degradation of the event.

Content varies in quality

While SXSW, to me, is primarily about the people, the panels do still provide the main reason that people attend most conferences. Sadly, thanks to the panel picker system – which I think is a broken process that leads to catchy titles and popular people winning the day over interesting sessions – the quality is hit-or-miss at SXSW.

I went to some interesting sessions (Gary Vaynerchuk was again a SXSW highlight, while Angela LoSasso (disclosure: client), Adam Lavelle and Siobhan Quinn did a great panel on real-time marketing) but avoided many others. I’m glad I did, as I heard from many people that they fell more into the “miss” category, chiefly at the hands of moderators failing to keep topics on-track.

The session situation needs to be addressed. Too many people seem to submit panels just so they can get free conference passes, then fail to prepare anything of value to audiences. It must be near-impossible to coordinate so many sessions, but when the sessions at a conference become a laughing stock, there’s an issue that needs addressing.

Tips:

  1. Plan-out your conference schedule ahead of time, so you don’t have to spend time poring over the conference program and missing out on other opportunities when you’re there.
  2. Focus on quality over quantity. Don’t just follow the cool titles; look for people who have expertise in spaces relevant to you and make an effort to attend those sessions.
  3. Decide on the topics you want to learn more about (for me: location-based marketing, influencer identification and marketing in streams – three key trends this year) and focus on them, both in the sessions and outside.
  4. Don’t feel that you always have to be in sessions. As I mentioned above, take advantage of the opportunity to get out, meet new people and make new connections.

No breakout companies this year

Twitter got its big break-through at SXSW in 2007. Foursquare arguably did so a couple of years later. At this point, though, the noise from companies vying for attention is so overwhelming that it’s very hard to break through and get significant attention without either extreme creativity or extreme spending.

This year I didn’t see any big winners, but I would agree with Jeremiah that “intimacy” was prevalent as a trend, with group SMS companies like Beluga and GroupMe getting attention from the early adopters.

Conclusion: Worth it

While I have serious concerns about the ever-expanding size and hit-or-miss quality of the sessions, for me the pros of SXSW still outweigh the cons. The blogger lounge alone provided significant value for me through the opportunity to meet and learn from new people. Meanwhile,  the smaller meetings and get-togethers provided the opportunity for me to get to know key people in the space and get in-depth on topics that are most relevant to me.

While it’s easy to get swept away in the hype, if you resist the crowds and clear your own path, SXSW is still a must-attend event in the social space.

5 Take-Aways on Social Media and Politics

Discussion around my recent post on some alleged unethical social media use during Toronto’s mayoral election got me thinking around some broader topics that have emerged recently.

Without further ado, here are five thoughts on themes I’ve seen recently.

1. People who try to tie social media success or failure alone to campaign results are nuts

I’ve said it many times, communications is evolving away from silos and towards integrated campaigns. As this continues, we’ll see fewer and fewer stand-alone “social media” successes and more and more multi-channel successes – for example, owned properties supported by earned media, paid ads and social channels.

People who continue to produce analyses of whether social media drove the success of a candidate, or whether better social media would have improved the odds of a candidate, are missing the bigger picture. We should be looking at the overall communications approaches of campaigns, and how they communicate the selling points of candidates and parties.

Take-away: Consider the bigger picture rather than analyzing artificial silos.

2. Buzz is very different to mobilization

The volume of online chatter about a candidate may say something about candidates, but is very, very different to activating those people to take action. The fact that people are discussing something doesn’t mean they are going to do anything about it. That’s especially the case when the online discussion is passive – that is, that it’s happening about offline activities but isn’t backed-up with online engagement or a call to action.

Take-away: Share of voice is only one metric. Look at other metrics alongside it, and analyse those metrics to provide useful insights and recommendations.

3. Social media doesn’t reach everyone

…and neither does the Globe and Mail. Neither does cable news. That’s why organizations – political and non-political – need to adopt communications approaches that integrate multiple media to reach people, multiple times, with consistent, simple and compelling content.

Take-away: Bring marketing, media and PR together to create integrated plans for optimum results.

4. Crises CAN emerge online

Crisis communications is a fascinating topic nowadays. There are plenty of scenarios where a situation can emerge online and translate into a critical election issue. For that reason it’s critical that organizations monitor online channels – and not just about themselves, but about their key issues – on an ongoing basis to identify issues early and provide additional time to mitigate them.

Take-away: Monitor before issues emerge, rather than after they hit, to create additional opportunities for issues management.

5. Communications can only solve so much

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Communications can’t solve everything. If your policies are poor, good communications won’t help. If your product or service is poor, or your customer service is awful, good communications is likely to draw more peoples’ attention to that.

Yes, poor communications can ruin even the best policies – the best policy in the world is no use in a campaign if no-one understands it or knows about it – but communications can only do so much.

Take-away: Make sure the underlying fundamentals are good before pointing the finger at communications.

Book Review: Engage!

When I put together my reading list for 2010, I included Putting the Public Back in Public Relations by the prolific Brian Solis as one of my 2010 “must reads.” Surprisingly, though, it turned out not to be the first of his books I read this year. The good folks over at Wiley sent me a review copy of his latest book, Engage!, which I’ve just finished reading.

Engage! leads the reader through a pretty comprehensive look at the ins and outs of social media-based public relations. How comprehensive? Well, after a two-chapter introduction, Solis launches into an 11  (count ‘em) chapter “new media university” course going from defining new media, to intros to a large number of tools, to the social media ecosystem as it currently stands. This fits with the target audience – Engage! is firmly targeted at people those who are new to using the tools for business. Other people can safely skip these 120 or so pages, or dip in and out as needed.

Once you’ve completed your “new media university” education, Engage! then explores some core basic facets of business social media covering:

  • The social media mindset
  • Basics of listening, engagement and audience/influencer identification
  • Developing a corporate social media approach
  • Current developments such as location-based tools, social CRM and VRM (vendor relationship management)
  • Practical pointers including measurement approaches

Together, these topics provide a good run-through of all of the foundational elements of social media that you’ll need to know when you’re starting out. Not only does the book cover a wide range of tools; it nonetheless manages to avoid taking a tool-centric (which would almost immediately be out of date) and works in sound elements of communication strategy and broader social media principles.

For those of us who are already familiar with the basics, the book also offers some interesting content later on, with the sections on emerging practices such as social CRM and measurement being highlights. The measurement section, in particular is useful, not for any original insights but for combining a variety of measurement approaches into one place for easy reference.

If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that the book needs a good editor. Engage! is an overly lengthy tome – while most books come in at around 240-280 pages, this one runs to 348. Solis’ blog posts are often lengthy affairs, so this won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with his work. However, it feels like there’s a normal amount of content within those 348 pages. The book would have been a more useful and enjoyable read with the benefit of this.

Good editing would have also solved the other primary problem with the book – that there’s no discernable flow or narrative throughout the book. Some other recent reads like Chip & Dan Heath’s Switch and Daniel Pink’s Drive lay out a clear path that makes it easy to know where you are in the book. There’s no such signposting here, and no noticeable path to follow. This can be a bit disconcerting at times as the book ping-pongs back and forth between topics.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy reading Engage!. Having read all 348 pages, I can happily recommend that anyone familiar with social media skip the first half of the book; however you may well find some useful resources in the latter half. If you’re new to social media for business, however, Engage! is as comprehensive a guide as I’ve seen.

Mobile Commerce On The Rise… Fast

Electronics marketplace Retrevo this week released a new study suggesting that mobile shoppers have doubled since February. According to the company, 20 per cent of US consumers have purchased something from a retailer using their cell phone.

While this isn’t a surprising trend, the fact that mobile commerce is growing so quickly is somewhat surprising. If nothing else, it would seem to indicate that the ever-increasing prevalence of smart phones is having a very noticeable impact.

I’m excited to see how this trend continues over the next few months. It’s hard to name an industry that isn’t affected at some level by the growth in smartphone technology, from fast food (Pizza Hut iPhone app, for example), to television content (Rogers On Demand Mobile). With the popular launch of the iPad, which has already drastically increased the amount of content I consume each day, I think there’s even further to go.

Interestingly, the company suggests that credit cards might be getting in the way of mobile commerce growing even faster than it already is, saying, “if you want more sales from mobile customers, make it easy for them to store their credit card info…” They link that to the question, “if retailers can’t get the credit card out of the way, how about the carriers?” In Canada, the cellphone carriers have put their weight behind Zoompass – a joint venture of the main telcos which is working on the evolution of the mobile wallet on a platform that works across the carriers .While this has also happened out in Japan, I’m not aware of any such move in the US.

Other statistics from the study:

Have you ever purchased something from a retailer using your cell phone?

  • 20% Said yes
  • 27% Said no, but that they would purchase something from their cell phone eventually
  • 53% Said no, and that they don’t ever plan to

What would make you more likely to purchase something from a retailer using your cell phone?

  • 24% Said, not having to provide their credit card info
  • 13% Said if their credit card was stored with the retailer
  • 16% Said they’re comfortable making purchase from their mobile phones now

What about you? Do you already make purchases via your mobile phone? If not, what would make you more likely to start?

(Disclosure: Rogers and Zoompass are both Thornley Fallis clients)

Does Online Customer Service Encourage Dissent?

One of the highlights of South By Southwest for me so far was the Customer Support in a 140 Character World panel with Caroline McCarthy (CNET), Frank Eliason (Comcast), Lois Townsend (HP), Toby Richards (Microsoft) and Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter). With a wide-ranging conversation tackling many different aspects of online customer support, I found it fascinating.

One of the most interesting lines for me came from Owyang, who said (forgive me if I’m a word or two off here):

“Responding to people on Twitter is encouraging them to yell at their friends when they need your support.”

Running scared

This is an issue I’ve run into several times with clients, especially those who want to maintain a divide between their traditional customer service channels and what they sometimes see as promotional online channels.

Companies have a (perhaps justified) fear that if people see them responding to online complaints, they’re going to take their complaints online first – publicly – before calling customer support. That leads to:

  • More negative online chatter
  • More work for online reps
  • More potential for others to jump onboard with the complaint

Online reps are customer service reps

The flip side, though, as Jeremiah also pointed out, is that customers don’t care what department an online rep is in. As far as they’re concerned, the company rep is customer-facing so they expect a response to their concerns about that company.

Instead of trying to funnel everyone through your channels, how about helping them in the place they are already inhabiting? In the process, you can go a long way to addressing their issues before they become a support ticket number.

Frank Eliason mentioned that each day his team of 12 people at Comcast go through:

  • 6,000-10,000 blog posts mentioning Comcast (although most are due to Comcast email addresses)
  • 2,000 tweets
  • 600-1,000 forum posts

All of this, with the aim of improving customer experiences.

What’s the ROI of ignoring the phone?

David Alston of Radian6 has a good way of referring to online customer engagement. He asks conference audiences who ask about the ROI of this kind of engagement, “what’s the ROI of you not picking up the phone?” After speaking to someone tonight who mentioned that her organization shuts down their online communication during big issues because their PR folks are scared of peoples’ reactions, I’d throw that question out to them too:

Have you considered how much you lose every time you ignore someone online?

Many companies know exactly how much revenue they generate from the average user. Those companies therefore know how much revenue they lose every time they drive a customer away by ignoring their pain points. Those same customers often volunteer information about those problems online proactively, yet the organization responds with unhelpful canned lines or doesn’t even respond at all.

Eliason also mentioned an obvious but salient point – sometimes you just need to agree to disagree with people. Transparency doesn’t mean agreeing with everyone – it means that you help those you can and explain honestly why you can’t help the others. That very act of explanation might not make people happy (and, yes, let’s be honest, it may upset some) but with the majority, it’s enough to know that someone is listening and acknowledging their concern.

So, there’s my take. I acknowledge that public-facing customer support is scary, for a variety of reasons. However, the potential repercussions of ignoring people, anywhere, is so large that to do so is irresponsible, both towards them and towards your company.

What do you think?

Why Autofollow on Twitter?

Ever wondered why do people use automated services to follow people back on Twitter?

I have. 

I’ve heard lots of different reasons given, almost none of which make sense to me:

  • They feel some kind of obligation to reciprocate when someone follows (do you subscribe to all of your blog subscribers’ blogs?)
  • They want others to be able to DM them (if you’re a business then fine; otherwise can’t they just say they want to DM you, and ask for the follow?)
  • They want to get to know more people (this has some validity, although once you’re past a certain number it’s hard to really get to know everyone)

One of the underlying ones, though, which I suspect few people admit, is that they think that by following everyone back they will maintain more followers.

Until recently, the people who auto-followed were easy to spot – they were the ones complaining about receiving large volumes of auto-DMs (messages automatically sent when people follow some accounts). 

I’ve written before about my approach to “following people back” on Twitter. To summarize – rather than automatically following back, I look at a variety of factors:

  • Occurrence @ replies to me;
  • Use of a real name in the user name or bio;
  • Relevance of bio to my interests;
  • Relevance of website to my interests;
  • Relevance of recent posts.

Note: To be clear, as I’ve said before, I absolutely appreciate every single person who chooses to follow me on Twitter and I’d be delighted to have conversations with each of them – just send me an @ message to say hi and let’s chat!

Two weeks ago I decided to start an experiment – I decided to find out whether auto-following people did have an effect on follower numbers. So, I signed-up for Tweetlater and set up my account to automatically follow-back people who followed me.

The result:

Auto-following back had no effect on the number of people following me.

The math: Over the last three months, according to Tweetcounter my average number of new followers per day was 26. Over the last two weeks, the average number was 27.7 – a marginal difference, even despite a big jump of over 100 on one day. 

I’m not going to start telling other people how to go about choosing who they follow. As far as I’m concerned that’s a personal thing and, while I’ll frown on people trying to game the system to generate a big following, as long as you don’t hurt other people I think it’s largely up to you. 

With that said, if you’re auto-following people back in the hope of driving-up your numbers then think again.

It doesn’t work.

I’m curious – do you use an auto-following service on Twitter? If so, why?

(For the record, I’ve now turned auto-following off on my account. While I try to check-out my new followers as much as I can, if you would like to connect, send me an @ message to say hi!)

Related posts:

Q&A With Marcel Lebrun – Part Two: Radian6 And The Marketplace

Yesterday I posted the first half of my Q&A with Marcel Lebrun, CEO of Radian6. Today I’m giving you the second half, looking more generally at Radian6 and its place in the “listening platforms” market.

Q: What features do you think set Radian6 ahead of the competition?

A: It really depends on the client since there are many areas where we differentiate.  The foundation of our platform is that you can trust it and that it is very fast & flexible.  We invest a lot of R&D to make sure we have the broadest content coverage and fastest discovery time in the industry so you can trust that you will find the conversations and you can respond quickly.  Adding comment tracking, for example, was an important addition to this.  

Customer also love our pace of continuous innovation and our unique features tailored around social media’s unique characteristics.  Something as simple as social profiles where a user, with a single click, can see a complete view of a author’s presence on various social networks saves certain people hours per day in doing this manually (just one example). 

Our workflow enhancements, for example, were designed and tested in collaboration with the brands who are leading in this area so that they are designed to meet real world needs of people using the platform.

Last but certainly not least is our customer support.  Our culture is very customer centric and we work hard to provide the best customer support (online and offline).  I’m encouraged when I hear positive feedback from customers about the service they receive from us.  This will remain a priority as we grow.

Q: What’s your most requested feature from users?

A: The feature set we just added was based on these most requested features.  Adding indexing of comments was a top request.  Real-time as-it-happens email & IM with integrated workflow was another.  Our new topic analysis widget was based on customer requests to be able to quickly visualize the content by media type, region, language, and on the data entered through workflow (segmenting by engagement stage or source tag for example).

The customer requests are quite varied and numerous, in fact, and we do our best to prioritize.  While our priority is customer requests, we also continue to drive innovations based on our own vision so we can delight/surprise customers with features they have not thought of.    

Q: As time goes on, have you come to view social media monitoring differently from how you saw it initially? How have you seen the field change over time?

A: Yes, definitely.  The impact and importance of the social web has broadened and now we are seeing it move into several business functions across the enterprise.  

While the primary focus (in 2007) was PR, we are now seeing the social web become an important communications channel for sales, customer support, product management as well as PR/Comms & marketing.  This is also blurring some functions and we are seeing PR’s role grow as they provide some coaching across the other disciplines given the public nature of the social web.  As such, enterprises and their partners (agencies, etc.) need to figure out how to effectively bring listening into the whole of their organization (I call this a listening grid, where each person plugs into the slice of conversation that is important to them). 

A second change/development is the growing importance of engagement.  Listening isn’t a one-way activity (I wrote  about this recently - http://www.mediaphilosopher.com/2009/02/12/the-practice-of-conversational-listening)

In fact this is why I call social media, “the social phone”, because it has really migrated into a multi-purpose communications medium (much like a phone) and it will be an important tool for every business function.

Q: You’re a small company, but you’re widely dispersed, with people working remotely from as far away as Chicago. What challenges have you had to overcome with this structure?

A: Frankly, being dispersed is more of an advantage than a challenge.  We have become very good at collaborating online and our different locations provide us with better opportunities to connect with people at industry events (with less travel) and plus into local communities.  The bulk of our communication, however, is still online and so location is increasingly less relevant. 

Q: A Forrester report released at the end of January pitted Radian6 against some big-scale monitoring companies like BuzzMetrics, Dow Jones and TNS Cymfony. While they acknowledged that Radian6 is an emerging contender and that it is tailored for PR folks, the report was fairly harsh towards Radian6 in the area of sentiment analysis. Any comments on the report?

A: I was pleased to see Forrester acknowledge a market shift by changing the name from Brand Monitoring to Listening Platforms, but I was disappointed to see that the underlying report is still based on the previous brand monitoring perspective.  The market is now much broader than brand monitoring, but the fundamental market shift toward listening platforms is not yet reflected in the report.

For instance, we really don’t compete with BuzzMetrics, TNS, Dow Jones, etc.  Brands perceive these companies more as consulting and research companies (that do great work, by the way), but they are not listening platforms.

Customers like Dell, for example, need true enterprise scale listening platforms to engage in customer conversations.  It is a fundamentally different need from brand monitoring.  It is like the difference between buying a phone system for your company so you can have conversations with customers or hiring a third party to survey your customers to see what they want.  Both have value, but they are not the same thing.  Companies are recognizing that the social web is not only a passive medium that you measure at a distance.  Your customers are calling you on the “social phone” and brands need the platform to listen & engage.   This does not diminish the value of the research services, but they are just one piece of the pie.

In terms of the comment that we are tailored for PR folks, we do have a huge focus on PR agencies and we are proud of that.  We see them as partners in helping brands mature in their use of the social web.  PR has an critical skill set to apply across all the business functions now (including customer support, etc.) because of the public nature of conversations on the social web.  However, a deeper look at our customer traction amongst leading brands also shows how our product has become the leading enterprise scale listening platform.

In the end, we were the new guy in the Forrester report and they position us as “the contender” – I don’t mind that.  The report also shows that we are the fastest growing in terms of customer numbers so we are really pleased with that too.

Q: What’s next for Radian6? Any upcoming features you can give us a hint about?

A: We release new features every 4 weeks on average and we will continue with this pace of innovation.  We highly value customer feedback and we have lots of very practical enhancements in the works based on customer requests. 

One of the features that you asked about, automated sentiment analysis, will be added next quarter, although we don’t see this as game changing – it does have value for certain clients. 

We are also working on some game changing innovations that we are quite excited about, but I can’t yet reveal the details just yet.  

Thanks to Marcel for taking the time to share his thoughts on these questions. What do you think of what Marcel has said? Leave your thoughts in the comments – we know he’s listening.

If you haven’t already, check out the first half of this Q&A. Normal programming will resume next week :)

Why Podcasting Is Like Photography

Daniel Steinberg‘s guest post on Chris Brogan’s blog this Saturday got me thinking. He noted: “we don’t know what podcasting really is any more than we know what photography really is.”

When you think about it, podcasting as a communications medium has a lot in common with photography.

  • Niches - while they don’t need to by definition, many podcasts serve narrow niches – they focus on a tightly defined topic. Photographers often focus on specific niches – Caralin, for example, focuses on portrait and wedding photography. There are plenty of other forms out there, but she’s decided to focus. Your podcast is more likely to succeed if you do the same.
  • Comments after the fact – unlike Twitter, for example, podcasts don’t involve a rapid free-flowing conversation. Comments are possible, but they are submitted after the current content is posted.
  • Large or small audiences – most photographers have a relatively small audience for their photography. The vast majority of photographs aren’t taken by people who would consider themselves ‘photographers’ but who take photographs anyway. Meanwhile, a small number have very large audiences for their work. The same goes for podcasts. Most have a very small audience. Others enjoy large followings. Both are fine. Don’t expect your podcast to go nuclear just because you produce it.
  • Perfect for some means, limited for others – as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. However, in some cases photographs just can’t capture the moment effectively and a different medium – perhaps video – would work better. The same goes for podcasting – just like any other communications tool, it’s not suitable for every occasion or every audience. Pick your use effectively.

What do you think? Are these comparisons on-target? Way off-base? What would you add?