Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Forrester says social doesn’t drive online sales, and why that’s fine

Research recently released by Forrester entitled “The Purchase Path of Online Buyers in 2012” indicates that email and search dominate the online space in driving online sales. Social media, says the report, drives less than 1% of online sales.

As reported by Marketing Pilgrim:

  1. Paid search matters most for new customers
  2. Email matters most for repeat customers
  3. Social tactics are not meaningful sales drivers

I can hear the howling from the rooftops now. This is complete anathema to those who argue that traditional marketing in its various forms is “dead”.

Last year I was sceptical about Forrester’s 2011 report given that the data was taken from the clients of a single marketing agency – and frankly most of my concerns remain around methodology and report scope. At the same time, there’s food for thought here. Here’s my take:

1. Social is media, not a medium

We need to stop thinking about social media as a silver bullet, stand-alone silo and approach communications as an integrated discipline where paid, owned and earned media all work together to drive results.

Edelman Media Cloverleaf

Earlier this year I suggested that transmedia storytelling is critical, and that we need to stop thinking of social media as a goal unto itself. A few months later, in my presentation on six essential shifts in social strategy at BlogWorld New York earlier this year, I argued that we (as digital communicators) have reached a point where “shiny objects dominate discussion” and that we need to start thinking about it as an enabler and partner to other communications functions.

Yes, there are specialized skills and knowledge that people require to operate effectively, but that doesn’t mean we should put social on a pedestal – we need to think about integration, not isolation.

Communications functions need to work together. Nearly three years ago, I obsessed over another Forrester report on the social media marketing ecosystem, which the pros and cons of paid, owned and earned media. A key “pro” of paid: reach. Relatively few companies have achieved any kind of reach in social media at this stage; those who have, have mostly done so by paying for it. The whole point of thinking of this as an ecosystem: the pros and cons of each element balance each other out.

2. Sales isn’t always the objective

Thinking of sales – and in this case, just online sales – is narrow-minded. Essential when it comes to effective research, but not in consuming it for broad communications trends. However, I’ve long argued that social media’s strong point isn’t in final point-of-sale, low funnel conversion.

What about long-lead sales (as I said in response to last year’s version of this same report, last-click analysis is very flawed - and much social traffic via apps often displays in web analytics as direct traffic, for that matter)? What about cost avoidance? What about driving people to sign up to receive information over time? What about customer retention, loyalty and advocacy? More broadly, what about organizational reputation (where PR plays strongly too)?

There’s a lot more to communications than just driving sales, and ignoring that as a communicator is blinkered.

3. Of course email matters

I hate email spam as much as everyone else. You know what I don’t hate, though? Email that I’ve signed-up for. As Marketing Pilgrim noted, Forrester’s report shows that 30% of repeat sales involve email in the process. I’m not at all surprised to hear that email is highly effective for repeat customers – they’ve said they want to hear from you.

 

4. Social can underpin and enhance other functions

Thinking of Facebook and Twitter as the extent of social is narrow-minded – on-domain blogs and rich media content, for example, can both live on-domain and drive traffic to those domains (not saying that content marketing falls entirely within social, but there’s a significant overlap nowadays), and in doing so can affect search. Meanwhile. studies have shown that positive reviews significantly increase the likelihood of people purchasing products online – fueling the comparison shopping engines in the chart above. Social can help to drive that – whether through advocacy programs or through tools like Bazaarvoice.

So is this study going to put the cat among the pigeons? Sure. Are the snake oil salesmen going to come out swinging? Oh yes.

However, those of us who work in the space and driving results at scale know that:

  • There’s merit to the picture Forrester paints here
  • This is one piece of the much bigger communications puzzle, and there’s more than meets the eye.

 

Blogger relations – you’re doing it wrong

I don’t usually write posts outing other PR folks, but a pitch I received this morning from another PR agency roused my blogging tendencies from their slumber.

Here’s how it read:

From: [...]@gmail.com
Sent: Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 3:02 AM

PR Firm [...] Sends Small Businesses to the Top of Social Media for $790 Per Month

On Monday, August 13, [PR agency] announced three new SEO / Social Media / Press Release Packages starting at $790 per month, bringing an affordable solution to businesses needing a strong online presence via Facebook, Twitter, WordPress blog and press releases. The smallest package which includes a number of posts, tweets, articles and press releases each month, costs little more than sending one press release through a service.

To view this release on PRWeb, click the link below:

http://www.prweb.com/releases/[...]

______________________
If you would rather not receive future communications from [...], please go to [...].
[Address]

Let’s see…

  1. Pick your audience: If this person had done any research they’ve have known from posts like this or this that I’m not a fan of spray and pray tactics or services. If I’m going to write about something like this, it’s not going to be in a positive way, and I’ll firmly argue that $790 per month will not get you to the “top of social media”. It’s not going to get you to the top of anything, in fact.
  2. Don’t spray and pray: They sprayed and prayed. At least I was in the “to” line, but there was no effort whatsoever to address me personally – even a “Dear Blogger”, which still triggers the “delete” button for me, would be a step up from this. There’s  absolutely no customization, either, or even an effort to do anything beyond copy/paste the first paragraph (I assume – I didn’t click through) of the release.
  3. Offer a call to action: I have no idea what this company wants from me. Do they want me to write about their announcement? Do an interview with a spokesperson? Try it out? Offer a trial? It’s not clear, which means most people will do nothing.
  4. Avoid free email services: The email came from a Gmail account; one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less. You’re a PR agency and your pitches are coming from a Gmail account? And one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less?
  5. Don’t make me opt-out when I didn’t opt-in: How did I make it onto this list of yours? Why do I need to say “no, I don’t want to automatically receive your pitches”? If you were researching and tailoring the emails to me I’d be much more open to it, but signing me up for your automatic spam? No thanks.

This really is the worst kind of PR – the kind that actually makes me angry about people who claim to work in the same space as me. It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional and, if it’s anything like the way this company goes about conducting PR activities for its clients, it’s not a great testimonial for the firm.

Six essential shifts in social media strategy

We’ve reached a critical point in the evolution of social media as a business tool. Gone are the days when the GMOOT (Get Me One Of Those) approach will get you anywhere – simply having a Twitter account, or a Facebook Page, isn’t enough. We’re at the point of social media saturation, and something’s got to give.

So began the session description for my recent presentation at BlogWorld New York. The crux: that the days of social media as an experiment are over – it’s time for a more mature approach to social media within companies in order for social media to be viewed as a sustainable communications and business function.

Unfortunately, we’re also at a point where pursuit of the shiny object has reached an extreme, and that this pursuit is conducted within an increasingly transparent fishbowl while armchair critics circle, waiting for the next “fail” from companies.

In this environment, where transparency and scrutiny are paired up with a shift in focus from experimentation to results, and yet where the allure of “the next big thing” persists, companies need to structure and approach social media differently.

My presentation focused on six essential shifts that I see in how many businesses approach social media strategy. Of course, not all companies are in the same situation. Some with mature programs have evolved beyond this stage; some face just a few of these shifts; others face them all:

  1. Moving away from shiny objects and towards social business
    1. Asking “why” to understand demands
    2. Building a social media infrastructure to support the social brand
    3. Taking baby steps in implementation – from crawl, to walk, to run, to fly
  2. Setting better objectives for social media
    1. Setting SMART objectives
    2. Tying back to broader business goals
    3. Staying clear of the “how” and “what” when setting objectives
  3. Measuring effectively against those objectives
    1. Focusing on the right numbers for the audience
    2. Understanding what numbers really mean
    3. Avoiding made-up numbers
    4. Measuring to drive insights alongside determining results
  4. Breaking down silos and integrating across functions
    1. Approaching social media as an integrated function
    2. Breaking-down silos through day-to-day tactics
    3. Integrating through reporting structures, governance and social media organizational models
  5. Planning and executing content more strategically
    1. Considering content objectives
    2. Identifying appropriate content sources
    3. Fine-tuning execution via appropriate content volume, mix and format
  6. Engaging effectively to build relationships and communities of interest
    1. Embracing negative and neutral conversations
    2. Establishing processes to minimize risk

How about you – have you seen companies needing to make these improvements to their social media strategy?

For more on the topic, check out this excellent write-up of my presentation over at SmartBlog for Social Media.

Thanks once again to Rick, Dave, Deb, Shane and the rest of the BlogWorld team for the invitation to speak. This was my fifth BlogWorld presentation, and I always enjoy it. 

Trust in 2012: 4 Implications for Social Media

Edelman recently released the results of its 2012 Trust Barometer survey. Given the events of the last year, it’s hardly surprising that trust is decreasing pretty much across the board.

That is, except in Canada.

Results of the 2012 Canadian Trust Barometer

Today we announced the Canadian results of the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer at an event in Toronto. A few highlights from the Canadian survey:

  • “A person like me” and regular employees both saw the biggest increase in trust in Canadian Barometer history. “A person like me” in particular has re-emerged as one of the four most trusted spokespeople behind academics and technical experts.
  • Trust in social media increased by 175 per cent in Canada, and trust in other online sources rose by 20 per cent. These increases are consistent – but larger – with those in the US.
  • CEOs are now the least credible spokespeople in Canada. While trust in business as an institution remained steady, business is not meeting the public’s expectations when it comes to building trust in companies.
  • Unlike in other countries, trust in media remains steady; in fact it was the only institution to see trust rise in the last year in Canada; possibly partly because the definition of “media” is changing and because the media is beginning to be seen as leaders in breaking news, rather than followers in reporting it.

Implications for Social Media

So what do this year’s results mean for companies in Canada, and those using social media in particular? Here are four social media implications from the results of the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.

1. Transmedia storytelling is critical

The continuing rise of trust in social media and online sources is a clear signal that companies need to think beyond text when it comes to communicating. However, trust also increased in the Canadian media (and remains higher than other sources) – a signal that proclamations of the end of traditional media were very much premature.

Companies need to consider the complete media cloverleaf – traditional, owned, social and hybrid media, and to use them together effectively in order to communicate effectively.

2. Social media is not the end goal

While trust in social media has increased, and in Canada has more than doubled, it still lags well behind that of other sources. However, trust in “a person like me” is through the roof. There’s a dichotomy here, quite possibly because “social media” means different things to different people – plenty of people think of Twitter as a bunch of people talking about their lunch; I think of it as my industry peers discussing trends (and the occasional LOLcat).

The dichotomy of trust in social media means we can’t think of social for its own sake. Gaining new fans on your Facebook page, or followers of your Twitter account, won’t solve your business problems. Companies with a primary social goal of adding new fans/followers, or of gaining views on a video, are missing the point. To drop a cheesy line, it’s not the size of your community but what you do with it that counts.

3. Use social media as a conduit and a connector

If trust in social media, although on the rise, is still low, what does that mean for us? It means we need to think of it as a conduit rather than a destination.

Just as search engines are a conduit to useful information, social media is a conduit to connecting with other people – both those inside the company (e.g. regular employees) and to “people like you.” As a starting point, stop thinking about social media in the same way you think of traditional marketing campaigns, and start thinking in terms of bringing people together around a common interest. However, that’s just the beginning. What do you do with (and for) them? What do you enable from that point forward?

4. Enable and amplify advocacy

Experts and “people like me” are among the most trusted sources of information. One of the most interesting uses of social media is in enabling and amplifying the advocates of your company. Become the enabler – provide your organization’s fans with the information they need to speak in an informed way about the things they’re passionate about, and provide them with the opportunity to do so. The recent partnership between Bazaarvoice and Buddy Media is a great example of a key piece of this puzzle.

Also posted on the Edelman Canada site.

Search Engines Are A Conduit, Not A Source

Let’s get this out of the way: Search engines are a key part of communications nowadays. Take a look at your website analytics and it’ll be clear – there’s no avoiding it. Search engines usually drive a significant proportion – if not the majority – of traffic to companies’ websites.

However, I’m tired of seeing “studies” showing that “search engines” are a source of information for consumers.

Search engines are a conduit – a step along the path – not a source.

Think about it – when you look for information on something, you go to Google (or Bing, or Ask.com, or whoever…) and type in your query. The vast majority of the time, you don’t sit and look at the results page – you click through to a result. You do that because the results pages have the information, not the search engine.

Yes, there are exceptions – Google News, for example – and sometimes you’ll find the information you need in the title or description shown in the search results, but the majority of the time you pass straight through the search engine and on to your destination. Search engines understand this – Google optimizes its page to get you off its site as quickly as possible.

Why does this matter, and am I just being pedantic?

Because the nodding and agreement that comes from headlines about search engines as an information source interferes with the push to answer more important questions:

  • Do consumers in my market niche, rather than generic consumers,  use search engines to research their products?
  • Once my consumers have searched (or not), where do they go?
    • Do they go to product review sites to check out other peoples’ reviews?
    • Do they go to corporate sites to read-up on specs and options?
    • Do they go to news sites to see what’s going on with the company or the product?
    • Do they go to blogs to check out discussions there?

This is the sort of information that’s useful. This is the sort of information that lets my team figure out where to prioritize its efforts in order to drive search engine optimization (driving consumer reviews; publishing product-focused content; driving earned media coverage, etc).

Also, there’s a big difference between customers of different industries - preferences along these lines are what we should be digging into (note: this is another report that cites “search results” as an influential channel). We need to be thinking more closely about that.

I get it. Search is important. Companies need to pay attention to search (and invest more in optimizing both organic results and the paid media around those results). Etc etc. And yes, some companies aren’t paying attention.

For the rest of us, though – those of us trying to do the best we can, and who really want to optimize based on useful insights – let’s move beyond the “search results are an important information source” nonsense and get down to the business of finding useful insights that can fuel our communication strategy.

Fair?

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)

Is Share of Voice a Useless PR Metric?

This is a guest post by my Edelman colleague Rob Clark

Sometimes you say a word too many times in a row and the word slowly begins to lose meaning for yourself. It becomes foreign gibberish and you begin to wonder if you’re pronouncing this thing correctly or if it was ever really a word at all. Which is all to say that I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to share of voice (SOV) and I may have passed the threshold where it ceases to hold meaning.

Why do we measure?

We measure because there is a decision we have to make and we are lacking the data needed to take action. So I would like to ask what information does share of voice provide the PR practitioner that guides an action?

In marketing – where all is a funnel down from eyeballs to wallets and the space and time is finite – SOV provides insight into whether your message is drowned by the competition’s. But the real strategic advantage comes in that the cost of the ad space is a known quantity. Knowing what your competitor’s SOV in a market is, let’s you know what kind of resources they are pushing forth. You know which of their products is getting the thrust and in what markets. It shows you some of the cards they have on the table.

But in PR we don’t buy coverage by the pound. We can’t translate ink on the page (or pixels on the screen) into dollars spent on PR. So that set of data is lost to us from a SOV measure.

Editorial – though not infinite – is open to expand and contract. Your amount of coverage can remain consistent but your share contract tremendously as a flurry of write ups about your competitor come out. Let’s say that our client is Widget co. (makers of fine hypothetical examples since 1912). Widget co has a 20% SOV and their nearest competitor has 30%. The following month Widget co is at 18% and their rival at 37%. What decision will this info drive? What action is needed?

Everyone’s natural inclination is to demand more output. More ink. They have more and we have less so spit out more. Business is geared to numbers continuously going up. You can throw as much explanation and caveats around a dip in a chart, but all the client will see is that it’s going down and down is bad. The competition is going up and up is good.

“But what if the rival’s boost occurred because their CEO drop-kicked a puppy?”

But what if the rival’s boost occurred because their CEO drop-kicked a puppy? What if their product was suddenly uncovered to be dangerous? What if their factories just burned down and there is endless discussion as to whether they will be able to survive the quarter? Would we recommend our client to seek more coverage just to match this?

Of course we wouldn’t. So that brings me back to the question, what information does share of voice provide that guides an action? What action can you take based on a SOV metric alone? And if SOV alone can’t guide a decision the way sentiment, or quality of coverage, or even volume of coverage can … then is it a metric we want to be using prominently?

The more I examine it, SOV as a metric distracts from the outcomes, is potentially misleading in and of itself, and provides little information value relative to the resources required to collect it.

What our clients are not properly asking for when they say “show me our share of voice” is “mindshare” or what they truly care about which is “share of wallet.”  They want to know what the perception of their brand is in relation to other brands. This is not data that you can collect through counting volume of clips or mentions. This is not volume of coverage but a measure of top of mind awareness. A measure of how much of a family’s resources get devoted to our client’s offerings. A research effort in and of itself.

It would seem to me that SOV as we’re currently looking at it is useful only in situations where we know a PR spend was on par with the competition (say in a sponsorship situation) or as part of an initial audit of the landscape to see how people are discussing brands relative to one another and where media bias towards one brand or another may exist.

But I would appreciate input and thoughts; the wisdom of the crowd. What say you all? Am I tampering with forces man was never meant to tamper with? Will they call me mad at the academy?

Comments or angry tweets below, or to @theelusivefish.

[About the author: Rob Clark is the Director of Insights and Measurement in the Digital practice in Edelman’s Toronto office, a wearer of funky ties and all-round smart guy. You can follow him on Twitter at @theelusivefish.]

How To Engage On Sites Using Facebook’s New Commenting Plugin

Facebook recently introduced a new version of its Facebook Comment Box Plugin, allowing website owners to integrate their commenting functionality with their Facebook presence.

We’ve already looked at the pros and cons of the Facebook commenting plugin for businesses considering implementing the plugin on their sites. Today, let’s take a look at what the implications are for companies running engagement programs.

The new plugin poses a conundrum to those working in engagement programs – specifically, around how they engage in the comment streams on sites using the plugin:

  • Do they comment as a Facebook Page, assuming they have one (and deal with the lower personalization and effect on Page content)?
  • Do they personalize responses more by using commenters’ own Facebook accounts (does that cross a work/life boundary)?
  • Do they just avoid commenting on sites using this plugin?

Here’s my take on five clear options for people running social media response programs. What’s yours? Let us all know what you think in the comments below.

Option 1: Individual employees comment using their own profiles

Have company employees log in and comment using their own Facebook profiles.

  • Pros:
    • Transparency of person’s identity
    • Avoids potentially negative comment streams being pushed to the company’s Facebook page
  • Cons:
    • Requires employee to use a personal account for business purposes. Could be considered to cross a work/life divide
    • Company-related conversation aggregated on employee Facebook profile
    • Possible that some company spokespeople may not have Facebook pages
  • Conclusion:
    • As transparent as this option is, the cons and the risk of violating work/life boundaries outweigh the benefits
    • Lost opportunity to aggregate relevant conversation and to activate advocates on page

Option 2: Comment as company-owned Facebook page

Company employees log in to their own accounts, but use the new person-like features of Facebook Pages to leave comments as the company’s Facebook page.

  • Pros:
    • Clear that responses come from company’s official presence
    • Avoids using personal accounts for business purposes
    • Drive additional traffic to appropriate Facebook pages
    • Aggregated conversations provide additional content for Facebook pages
  • Cons:
    • Potential lower transparency, as company name shows as the comment author (although can be mitigated via comment content)
    • Conversations aggregated on company page may not be positive in tone
    • Dilutes official content on the company’s Facebook page
    • Requires wider group of employees to have admin access to the company’s Facebook page, meaning less control over activity on the page
    • Potential for accidental comments as Facebook Pages on non company-related conversations, if employees forget to change their commenting profile back to their personal accounts
  • Conclusion:
    • Clear benefits over using personal profiles, but increases the level of risk on company pages via increased admin access and unpredictable content. Depending on the company, this approach may be viable.

Option 3: Create new, business-only Facebook profiles for commenters

Company employees engage in the comment streams under their own names, but via  profiles created purely for company use.

  • Pros:
    • Separation of personal and business profiles
    • Avoid additional admins on Facebook pages
    • Maintains engagement on sites with Facebook commenting plugin installed
    • Avoids diluting content on Facebook pages
  • Cons:
    • Violates Facebook terms and conditions – risk of accounts being deleted by Facebook.
    • Lost opportunity to aggregate relevant conversation and to activate advocates on page
  • Conclusion:
    • Risk incurred from violating Facebook terms and conditions is not advisable.

Option 4: Create Yahoo! accounts for commenters

Company employees comment on posts themselves, but do so through a new integration in the plugin – a Yahoo! login.

  • Pros:
    • Works within Facebook’s rules
    • Avoid additional admins on Facebook pages
    • Avoids diluting content on Facebook pages
    • Maintains engagement on sites with Facebook commenting plugin installed
  • Cons:
    • Less credibility of commenter profiles – Facebook profiles perceived as more credible than Yahoo! accounts
    • Lost opportunity to aggregate relevant conversation and to activate advocates on page
    • Could be perceived as easy for anyone to claim to be a company employee
  • Conclusion:
    • This option minimizes risk to the company and maintains the ability to engage. However, this option also loses the opportunity to curate conversations on the Facebook page, and the lack of identity verification that Facebook provides may reduce spokesperson credibility (although no more than via other commenting systems).All-in-all, this provides a viable option for companies looking to engage on these sites.

Option 5: Avoid commenting where Facebook Commenting Plugin is used

Avoid the pros and cons of all of the other options by refraining from engagement on sites using the new Facebook commenting plugin.

  • Pros:
    • Avoids risk of accidental cross-posting
    • Avoids diluting Facebook page content
  • Cons:
    • Lose opportunity to participate in relevant conversations via comment streams
    • If adoption of Facebook pages increases, lose broader opportunity to engage
  • Conclusion:
    • This is the “do nothing” approach. Frankly, it’s a last-resort if a company is already engaging in conversations on third-party sites.

Conclusion: It depends on your culture

Facebook has thrown a bit of a wrench in the works for companies engaging in social media response programs. None of these options is ideal from a company perspective – each comes with draw-backs in terms of risk, transparency and credibility.

Many companies may want to use Facebook’s new ‘company as a page’ functionality (option #2) to benefit from the ability to aggregate conversations on their own Facebook pages, and to do so credibly while providing interesting conversations for fans of their pages to participate in – and a way to leverage the advocates on your page to weigh-in on relevant topics.

However, for those carefully tailoring the volume and type of content posted on their pages, this makes life difficult. Dan Zarrella, for example, has shown that if you post too often to your page, you may lose fans. By throwing comment replies into the mix, companies may run the risk of saturating their page with content, to the detriment of people on the page. What’s more, your comments are unlikely to always be positive, so you may end up aggregating negative conversations on your page.

Meanwhile, logging-in via a Yahoo ID (option #4) offers a good balance of maintaining work/life separation for empoyees, influence over Facebook Page content, and risk mitigation from avoiding additional page admins and reducing the risk of accidental comments “by the company”. The downside of this, though, is the lost opportunity to bring these conversations to your fans, and the lack of identity verification that Yahoo IDs provide.

Ultimately, this is likely to come down to company culture. Is your culture more risk averse? Then you may want to go with Yahoo IDs. Are you more accepting of slightly higher risk? Then commenting as your company’s Facebook page may provide the greatest benefits without usurping employees’ personal accounts.

What do you think? Would you come to the same conclusion? What would you add to the mix?

Trust Barometer Reveals Need For Mature Social Media

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the Toronto launch of the Canadian results of Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer survey with my employer, Richard Edelman.

This year, even more than in recent years, I find the results of the survey fascinating from both traditional and digital communications standpoints

Trust in 2011

The broad findings of this year’s survey are themselves interesting:

Credentials Count More Than Ever

  • Trust in experts rose over the last year — and after years of being at or near the bottom, CEOs saw an increase in credibility, rising from eighth (bottom) to fifth in the rankings.
  • 99 per cent of informed publics find academics and experts — long the front runners — “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” credible.

Trust in Canadian Businesses

  • Canadian headquartered companies maintain high levels of trust, at 75 per cent.
  • In Canada, trust in NGOs exceeds trust in business.
  • When a company is not trusted, 63% of people informed publics will believe negative information after hearing it 1-2 times. When the company is trusted, that falls to 22%.
  • When a company is trusted, 40% of people informed publics will believe positive information after hearing it 1-2 times, compared to just 7% if that company is not trusted.
  • In general, 65% of people informed publics need to hear something 3-5 times before it is trusted.
  • The new trust framework involves profit with purpose, engagement with stakeholders and transparency around the company’s activities.

Social media and trust

Deeper within this year’s results, there are some really interesting findings for people in the social media space:

The fall of “people like me”

Trust in “people like me,” which peaked in 2006, fell 11% this year. While it’s still high – 80% of Canadians informed publics trust ‘people like them’ as an information source – it fell to the bottom of the rankings, below CEOs, regular employees and technical experts

For companies engaged in social media activities, this is a clear pointer that they need to incorporate a range of spokespeople in their activities. Relying purely on ‘word of mouth’ is not enough. Combined with the findings about the number of times people need to hear something, this points to the need for integrated communications approaches using a variety of sources and spokespeople to reach companies’ audiences.

The credibility of online news

Online search engines are Canadians’ respondents’ number one source for news and information about a company. Social media comes in at the bottom of the list.

Frankly, this isn’t too surprising, from a couple of angles.

Social media is increasingly moving to bite-size chunks, and taking on a role as a portal to company news. As such, there’s less room for context and for fact-checking, leading people to look elsewhere for information about a company (Richard did make a point that the research looked more at company information for considering stock purchases, for example, than at information for consumer-level purchase decisions).

Secondly, as outlined in my 2011 trends presentation, search strategies are becoming increasingly important to digital activities – not just from a content development perspective but at a strategic, cross-channel level.

Thirdly, the lines around “social media” are becoming blurred. For example, company websites may make a resurgence, as companies integrate the social graph into their owned media (see Etsy, Levi’s (client) for example). Does that count as social media? Is the Huffington Post a blog or a news site? It’s not a black and white distinction.

Fourthly, there’s much more to social media than just reaching consumers. Key influencers, stakeholders and mainstream media can all be engaged through these channels.

Social media needs to mature

This all speaks to a broader need for a more mature approach to social media. It’s not enough to just be there any more – those times have come and gone (good riddance). It’s not enough to just tweet something out and expect everyone to believe it. It’s certainly not enough to let your social media channels operate in a corporate silo, detached from other communications functions.

To continue to approach social media in this immature way is a recipe for failure.

It’s time for a more mature approach to social media and trust – one that integrates different media forms; one that engages people over the long term and one that takes a more considered approach to generating trust among audiences.

What do you think?

Here’s the executive summary of this year’s results. Take a look for yourself, and tell me – what are the stand-out results for you?

(Updated thanks to some thoughtful input from Daniel Blouin in the comments below)

20 Social Media Trends for Business in 2011

One of the great things about working in the digital space right now is observing the many changes constantly occurring. This week, I had an opportunity to pull together some of the key social media trends I’m seeing for a presentation at an event in Waterloo.

Some of these trends are existing and ongoing; others are new. Some are practical; others are theoretical. Some are almost guaranteed; others may amount to momentary blips. Some ideas come from my head; others were curated by my colleagues Steve Rubel and David Armano.

Hopefully one or two of them will spark ideas for you.

I grouped the trends into five themes:

  1. Silo-busting
    • Trend #1: Integration
    • Trend #2: Social customer support
    • Trend #3: Social impact drives reputation
  2. Maturation of social media
    • Trend #4: Death of the campaign
    • Trend #5: Consolidation
    • Trend #6: “Influence” matures
    • Trend #7: Democratization of voice
    • Trend #8: Return of websites
  3. Rise of the ‘less shiny object’
    • Trend #9: Digitally driven crises
    • Trend #10: Digital curation
    • Trend #11: Strategic search
    • Trend #12: Community management
    • Trend #13: Developer engagement
    • Trend #14: Measurement matures
    • Trend #15: Rise of the content strategist
  4. Communication accelerates
    • Trend #16: Listening becomes mandatory
    • Trend #17: Marketing in streams
    • Trend #18: Social media overload
  5. Ubiquitous mobile
    • Trend #19: Ubiquitous social
    • Trend #20: Location, location, Facebook

Bet you could add to this list. What do you think I’ve missed?