Losing control online? Way back when, back when dinosaurs roamed the Internet, I became involved a bit with Usenet.
It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t much to look at. I was a lot less of a geek then than I am now (yes, really), and so the bare bones look didn’t do much for me. This was, after all, around 1997 or so.
Things have changed. A lot.
In me and, of course, online.
The thing that was compelling about Usenet was the sheer volume and breadth of conversation. People talked about all sorts of junk. There was a huge skewing towards Politics, but it contained discussions about other things as well. And – ha! – some people even attempted a bit of a community.
Fast forward to now.
There are online communities in all sorts of places. Facebook is one. Twitter is another. LinkedIn is another. MySpace limped along and for a while there was a bit of another. The blogosphere is yet another. Forums (my big love) is another one. And many more exist, including, even, the comments sections in news outlets. Communities seem to spring up, no matter what a company does or intends.
And that’s a pretty great thing. Human beings actually want to connect to one another. Now, there are a lot of trolls out there, and people who enjoy poking each other with pointed sticks. It happens – I won’t deny it. But there’s a boatload of good out there as well.
Enter companies. I think the biggest fear for them is a perceived loss of control. Well, it ain’t just perceived folks. Because it’s very real. You just can’t massage the entire message that’s going out about Acme Widgets. And (psst)– you don’t want to.
Because lack of control becomes, I feel, a grand means to creativity. And it is a way to push new ideas up to the surface. And it is – dare I say it? – a pathway to innovation.
Because sticking a bunch of people into a windowless room and telling them to be creative is going to be about as effective as sticking a gun to their heads and commanding that they write a guaranteed hit song.
Communities – in whatever form they take in the Social Media space – can let in fresh blood and new ideas. Yet people actually – amazingly enough – generally want to do this for free. They just like creating. Or they want to put their two cents in. Or they just want to sound off or complain. However, sometimes there’s something in there, and it’s useful. After all, if you’re working for Corvair in the ’60s, you might think your car is dandy. Heh, it wasn’t.
Furthermore, you might think New Coke is a fabulous idea. It wasn’t.
So you get the idea. Let in the community of ideas and innovation. And they will sometimes try to tear the company (or each other) a new one. In addition, keep it as civil as possible without squelching the real creativity. And without driving off shyer or quieter members who might be getting shouted down by the more vocal mob. Furthermore, keep it as on topic as possible without driving off people don’t just like the product or service or company, but also each other – but who still have plenty to offer.
So, the truth is, analytics are a term that scares a lot of people. But don’t panic.
You’ve got a community. And you’re working hard on it. It’s growing. But you have no idea whether what you’re doing is having any sort of an impact whatsoever. This is where analytics comes in.
Now, don’t panic if you don’t have a data analysis background. It’s not strictly necessary. What you do need, though, are (a) a means of measurement (preferably you should have a few of these) and (b) the willingness to measure. Really, it’s that easy. You do not need a degree in Advanced Statistics.
First of all, the primary measurement stick you want is Google Analytics. And it is free and very easy to use. It’s also a rather robust measurement system, showing trends in Visitors, Absolute Unique Visitors, and more.
In addition, it shows, among other things, where your traffic is coming from, where your users land, and where they departed your site from. It also shows Bounce Rate, which is defined by Measurement Guru Avinash Kaushik as, “I came, I saw, I puked.” In other words, the visitor only visited one page of the site.
Keep in mind, it’s possible your visitor loved your site but got everything they needed in just one page. So, while they may have bounced right out of there, it might not have been due to any fault or failing on your part.
So, try not to take it personally, okay?
Thank God for AHRefs. While free website measurement tools have come and gone (apart from Google Analytics), AHRefs will review whatever is out there.
So, one thing to keep in mind is that as this post is updated, I keep finding new yardsticks. And then they go away after a while. At least AHRefs is still hanging in there. Whew.
And another yardstick (albeit a far less useful one) is Alexa. Alexa really only works well for anyone using Alexa’s own toolbar for their search. Still, it is of some use, and it is free. Hence as an aside, ask your users if they will prepare a write-up about your site on Alexa.
Analytics From More Yardsticks
Furthermore, there are also measuring websites specifically designed to help you comprehend how you’re doing on Twitter and elsewhere, namely:
HootSuite – count the number of clicks you receive on shortened URLs, to supplement your Google Analytics click counts
HubSpot – measure how influential you are (with a hugely helpful diagnostic) and
Tweet Reach – measure how many people are receiving your tweets and any retweetings of your messages. Note: this one is no longer free!
Using Your Findings
So what do you do with all of this information once you’ve amassed it? Why, you act upon it! Does one page on your site have a far higher Bounce Rate than the others? Check it and see if the links on it are all leading users away from your site. If that’s not the culprit, perhaps its content isn’t compelling enough. Got a series of links you’ve tweeted that have consistently gotten you the most clicks? Then check to see what they all have in common, and offer similar links in the future. And maybe even build some onsite content around those subjects.
Has your HubSpot grade tanked in the past week? That might be due to external factors beyond your control, but check to see if any of it is within your purview. Perhaps your server was down.
Finally, small fluctuations over short time periods are perfectly normal and are no cause for concern. However, much larger hikes and drops, or trends over longer time periods, are more of an issue. But you’ll never know about any of these things unless you start to take measurements, and read and use them.
Shama Hyder Kabani’s prose style is engaging and direct. Furthermore, if you go to her own website, the way she writes represents an obvious reflection of the way she really speaks. Major points for authenticity.
Shama says that the three main social media areas/sites you should focus on are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Forget most others. However, this part has changed and is out of date, for I would argue to swap out Instagram or even Snapchat (depends on demographics) for LinkedIn.
In addition, your should present your company (and, by extension, yourself) on all three with a kind of what I like to call professional intimacy. That might sound like an oxymoron. However, the idea is, be genuine and sincere but also hang back in terms of too much sharing and togetherness. Your customers want to know about your company and your product, to be sure, but a little personalization works (and, in fact, can help to build trust). But too much personalization does not work. Your prospects and customers really do not wish to hear that you’re going in to have a root canal.
So Shama’s three points come under the ACT acronym:
Attract – bring the prospects and customers in with good, lively (and up to date) content
Convert – turn your prospects into customers (and this may take several visits by them before this happens) and
Transform – turn successes into magnetic forces of attraction
Attraction is your brand, your outcomes, your differentiators. And Social Media marketing is extremely good for this. Clarity of communications is key.
However, Social Media remains a less optimal tool for converting strangers (prospects) into clients (paying customers). However, it is good for converting strangers into information consumers, which can often be a major step in moving them along the path from prospect to client.
Transformation involves social proof, e. g. we’re more inclined to do something if we see others doing it.
Therefore, you have to do a good job, and use your success in order to attract more successes. That is, ask your clients if you can retell their success stories. Make it easy to buy and pick your tactics (means of marketing) last — you need to get the essentials (such as theory) in place first.
Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the when, the where and the how.
Blogging is also key. The idea behind blogging is three things:
Educate – use your blog to add value by giving away good information.
Market – make it attractive to buy and
Sell – make it possible to buy.
The book is a brisk read. Of particular interest are the testimonials in the back. As you go along, you realize that Shama practices what she preaches on every page of the book. And, it worked, didn’t it? Because if she got you to buy her book and check out her website, then she’s already converted you to a client. And all she needs to do is sell you her services and she hits 100% of her target. Finally, the most amazing thing is, even after you realize how much you are being marketed to, you just don’t seem to mind any more.
Hype? Hope? Now, this subject has probably been done to death but, here I will do it all over again. Perhaps (hopefully!) my perspective will be fresh and/or of some value.
First of all, this post is inspired by The ABA Journal’s take on Social Media. As in the online magazine for lawyers. And they went on about Social Media, much like I have and others have, as well.
It Feeds Itself
And I can’t help feeling that that, in and of itself, is feeding the ole hype machine. Is Social Media hyped? Well, let’s put out an article about just that, and we’ll rev up the hype machine and get the word out and and and …. Suddenly, there’s hype about the hype.
However, there is, perhaps less of a hype issue than there is one of unrealistic expectations. I suspect that most people, if they give Social Media more than a passing glance (and, in particular, if they need to touch on it for business), take one look at it and think: free. Ooh, goody! This marvelous free thing will supplement (and perhaps eventually supplant) all of the things I have to actually pay good money for! My wealth will increase, in an incredible and exponential manner, because I can put my advertising and marketing dollars elsewhere, outside of traditional (read: expensive) channels, and instead shove it all into some investment that catches my eye. Llama ranching, perhaps.
Traditional vs. Social Media Marketing
Okay. Let’s back up. The real thing is, Social Media marketing isn’t really an apples to apples comparison with traditional marketing. It’s more like holding a town hall meeting and seeing what people have to say about your product. Or like doing community outreach (e. g. having your company send people to work at a soup kitchen or build a house). It’s like a million networking events. In short, it’s that dreaded, over-used term: relationship building.
And creating relationships is hard. And messy. Plus it’s not necessarily terribly free, at all.
A Sense of Entitlement
Because I have seen, in many instances, when software on a website changes. And in particular with community forums, people tend to freak out. They have a mislaid proprietary interest in a whole lotta sameness. Or they want the site to be the same from day to day, because that’s familiar to them. Hence moving the post button from the left to the right, or changing its color, is akin to moving their cheese. So it tears at them.
But, ultimately, they figure it out. And they give it a chance and come back, and pretty soon, so far as they’re concerned things have always been the new way, and were never the old way. Because for them, it’s not about the tools; it’s about the people.
And the same thing should be true for you – and that should knock the hype right out, and for good. It’s not about the tools. It’s not about Twitter, or Facebook, or Foursquare, or Groupon, or Yelp, or MySpace, or LinkedIn or StumbleUpon or Snapchat or a billion others. Instead, it’s about the people.
Quinnipiac Assignment 14 – ICM 527 – Real World versus Academics and RPIE
This week, the focus shifted to the practical application of the academic readings. The emphasis was placed squarely into the real world.
Key Concepts of Strategic Planning – Industry versus Academic Readings
Perhaps the most industry-related reading of the week was Ashkenas, Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning. Unlike the RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) approach covered in the academic readings, Ashkenas leads with a kind of off-shoot of implementation and evaluation, wherein he insists on first field testing to evaluate assumptions. While the academic readings, such as Smith, seem to save the evaluative process for either the end of a campaign or the middle of one (say, after a major milestone or after an iteration), Ashkenas pushes for a form of evaluation to happen even before a campaign gets off the ground. As Smith notes, on page 331, “Program evaluation is the systematic measurement of the outcomes of a project, program or campaign based on the extent to which stated objectives are achieved.” Outcomes, by definition, come at or near the end.
Smith goes on further to say (page 331), “The key to creating any program evaluation is to establish appropriate criteria for judging what is effective. This research plan considers several issues: the criteria that should be used to gauge success, timing of the evaluation and specific ways to measure each of the levels of objectives (awareness, acceptance and action). It may prescribe the various evaluation tools, and it also should indicate how the evaluation would be used.” Yet the timing in Smith seems clear – the campaign has to be complete or near completion or at least running on all cylinders and then it’s time for an evaluation. Not so with Ashkenas, who gets it out of the way early in order to prevent the creation of a campaign based on faulty premises.
Another Ashkenas tip is to ‘banish fuzzy language’, e. g. to torch weasel words like ‘leverage’ and ‘synergy.’ For Ashkenas, a campaign plan needs to be straightforward, such as laying out clear and unambiguous goals and relating them directly to an organization’s stated mission. Similar to Anderson, Hadley, Rockland & Weiner’s objectives, e. g. “(a) clear and shared sense of purpose distills program tactics and focuses financial and human resources on those areas on which they have the greatest impact.” (Page 5), Ashkenas seeks to narrowly focus an organization’s campaigns. The plan is not much of a plan if its language is impenetrable. HootSuite, on page 2 of their Guide for Social Media Strategy, voices a similar call for clarity, where they say, “(a)ll business planning should start with defining clear goals, and social media is no exception. One of the biggest reasons why social media strategies fail is because goals aren’t aligned with core business values. For long term success on social media, choose goals based on traffic, leads, and sales.”
Wilkinson’s Four Steps – Relating them to the Academic Readings
Turning to Wilkinson, he outlines four major steps in what he called a Driver’s Model for strategic planning.
The first step is to perform a situational assessment, which is a lot like a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. As defined by Williams, “(a)t its most functional level a SWOTanalysis will help you obtain information and assess a situation.” Wilkinson adds some specifics to this basic form of preliminary analysis, wherein he provides fairly universal questions for a strategic planner to use when assessing an organization’s customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and more. Wilkinson provides more of a roadmap in this area than Williams does.
The second step is to investigate an organization’s strategic direction. Here, Wilkinson drops the specifics and turns to broader organizational data such as vision statements, mission statements, goals, and objectives. These are far more organization- and industry-specific, so a generalized statement about them would not be of much help to a strategic planner. Smith, on page 41, defines a vision statement as looking, “to the future. It is a brief strategic description of what the organization aspires to become.” And a values statement, according to Smith (page 42), “is a set of beliefs that drive the organization and provide a framework for its decisions.” Hence, again, Wilkinson’s methodology is congruent with the academic readings from this semester.
The third step is implementation planning, whereby Wilkinson performs a somewhat modified PEST Analysis. While Wilkinson does not look at all Political, Economic, Social, and Technological factors, the implementation plan he touts is similar. He urges the strategic planner to investigate the barriers to achieving an organization’s vision. He also suggests developing key conditions (between two and seven) that must be met in order to consider a campaign to be successful. The roadmap combines the two, as the strategies “must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.” The implication, also, is that a conceived strategy which does not address either side of the implementation plan needs to either be changed of jettisoned from the plan.
The fourth step is the monitoring of progress, much as is included in the Smith and Anderson, etc. readings, and in Dr. Place’s paper, although Place notes an ethical element must be included in evaluating campaign plans, on page 129, where she states, “(t)he role of ethics in public relations evaluation, according to participants, is to guide practitioners as they conduct truthful, effective evaluation and weigh an organization’s needs with its publics’ needs. Ethics’ role appears to be most salient during the reflection or reporting phases of program evaluation.” For Wilkinson and the other readings, evaluation is a crucial step. Otherwise, how is an organization to truly know a campaign’s effectiveness? And, more importantly, evaluation is the only real way for an organization to be able to intelligently determine whether a campaign should be budgeted for another year, or if it should get the axe.
Relating RPIE to Business, Social Media, and Communications Industries
RPIE (research, planning, implementation, and evaluation) relates directly to all industries, it seems.
In the business world, particularly in light of Sarbanes-Oxley, which requires financial accountability and transparency, clear and well-defined research and evaluation are paramount requirements. Corporations cannot simply throw money at a problem; they have to have a plan and that plan has to demonstrate a reasonable chance of success. While not everything works, a campaign plan with germane and well thought out research has a far better chance of success than one where the dice are rolled. Sarbanes-Oxley, it seems, would require at least the R, P, and E portions of RPIE, and probably implementation as well.
In the case of social media industries, research and planning can make the difference between staying in business, or not. For a social media organization such as Facebook or Twitter, to not understand their buyer personae or how their platforms are used is a recipe for a platform going under. In a way, this seems to be what has happened to Myspace. For a social media organization which was originally heavily social and popular, Myspace missed the boat, did not realize that its public was growing out of usernames and becoming interested in real name-style authenticity, and did not plan beyond its own website. According to Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, Myspace also fell down because it never made itself particularly business-friendly. Planning and evaluation could have helped Myspace keep Facebook from eating its lunch.
In the communications field, implementation is perhaps the most vital of the four pieces. Communications is obviously all about messaging, as is strategic planning, and these organizations are often adjudged – fairly or unfairly – based upon image, message, and look and feel. In communications organizations, research and planning have to cross the implementation finish line. Understanding what a communications organization’s publics are interested in, and planning to give them what they want, is not enough if a communications organization (such as a newspaper online) falls short on implementation
In the real world, RPIE does not just apply to strategic planning. It can apply to nearly every aspect of a business or nonprofit organization. So much of what we see online was tossed out there with little thought to how it would look in a year or in twenty. So little of it is altered or updated when new information or technology mandate that changes be made. An organization of any type can set itself apart by following RPIE principles in all aspects of its existence.
Module Four was about the Ad Astra Star Trek fan fiction writing community. Module Nine was about the Facebook page that my partner, Kim Scroggins, and I created for our ‘client’, the as-yet undiscovered Rhode Island rock band, J-Krak. Module Ten was about the creation and growth of the Twitter stream that we made for J-Krak. And Module Eleven was all about our less than successful experiments in spreading the gospel of J-Krak to MySpace and Google+ (the former was a particularly abysmal showing. At least our client’s presence on Google+ assured better placement in overall search results).
The class was great fun, and I could not get enough of studying for it. I have never, ever had a course like this before, where I was so into it that I could not wait to study, and I did all of the extra credit because I wanted to, and not because I necessarily needed to. That has never, ever been my experience with a class before this one. This overwhelmingly positive experience has given me the incentive to not only finish my Social Media Certification training, but I am also rather seriously considering going on and getting my Masters’ Degree in Communications, with a concentration in Social Media.
These videos together comprised our final project for Quinnipiac’s Social Media Platforms class, ICM 522.
At this point in time, I have a short break before starting ICM 524, which is the Analytics class. I am taking it with the same instructor, Professor Eleanor Hong.
In the meantime, here are our project videos.
My partner, Kim Scroggins, went first. I would love it if you could take the time and watch her video, too. We were a true team and really enjoyed working together.
And now here’s my half of the presentation. One of the things that I made absolutely sure of doing was to thank my partner. This was absolutely a team effort and it would have turned out far differently if we had not gotten along as well as we did.
We went over our general experiences with J-Krak and the many social media platforms we tried. We made every effort, I feel, to engage our audience and garner buzz and attention for our ‘client’. We set ourselves up for a rather difficult task, which was to try to get a small measure of fame for a rock band that was not even online in any way, shape, or form when we first started this project.
MySpace was recalled as a failed experiment. Google+, for the most part, was a failed experiment in engagement, but it did help us with improving our search engine optimization efforts. Twitter and our blog were somewhat in the middle. Twitter worked out fairly well as we were able to join the overall conversation. However, the number of our followers remained fewer than the number of people we were following. The blog had an ever-increasing number of followers, but we received few comments. Our best social media platform? Spoiler alert – it was Facebook.
Thanks for watching! Next week, I’ll post my impressions of the class overall.
My partner and I certainly never intended to create two separate new platform presences for our project. However, it turned out that way. We just didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter as our first choice took a spectacular nosedive.
Oh, God. MySpace. We tried. I swear, we tried. But it felt like a waste of time from the get-go.
The board flashes and zips by, but there are nearly no instructions as to how to use it. Search is little help – you can locate people by city, gender, and music genre. And that’s it.
I could not find (confirmed) professional DJs, but I could sure as hell find professional escort services.
Engagement was virtually nonexistent. And this wasn’t just true about a tiny outfit such as ours. Britney Spears, God love her, has a million and a half incoming connections but, since she doesn’t have to connect back, her outgoing connections list is considerably smaller. There are comments on her profile by fans, but she and her marketing team don’t seem to answer them.
Perhaps the most telling piece of information about the Britney Spears page on MySpace is that it seems to have last been updated last December. You know, five months ago.
Hit Me Baby, One More Time?
Don’t you have to hit MySpace once, first?
Like the shiny wasteland that it is, Britney seems to be leaving MySpace in her rear view.
And so did we.
J-Krak on Google+
On Google+, it was easy to set up a band page and make it look good.
While we still need to add music, the look and feel of the page are already there.
Even better is the fact that posts can be scheduled in HootSuite, a capability that is missing from MySpace.
It’s too early to really get meaningful metrics, but we’re trying!