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Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

Because most companies’ social media departments were founded after 2008, it’s fair to say that their leaders have yet to take them through an economic crisis. I’m not talking about the jolts we’ve seen over the past few years. No, I mean the kick-to-the-head events that put every line item, every organizational chart and every person under the performance microscope.

With economic storms raging, it’s prudent risk management to consider what might happen and how social media leaders should respond.

CONSIDER THE LAST THREE BIG SHOCKS

1. After 9/11, normal business ground to a halt. In addition to the obvious fears surrounding the attack, anxiety about an economic freeze became a self-fulfilling prophecy. M&A deals, partnerships, product launches, hiring, geographic expansions and strategic decisions of all kinds were frozen.  Companies went through every line item, finding things to cut and making lists of what they would eliminate if the downturn worsened.

2. Responding to a crisis in confidence over financial statements, Sarbanes-Oxley was passed in July 2002.  Companies spent the couple years reviewing every department and internal process with a fine-toothed comb to comply with new regulations.

3. In October 2008, the commercial paper crisis hit, forcing companies to immediately slash costs to shore up cash positions.  Brutal cuts were made even to profitable ventures to pay the next day’s bills.

Even if you were running a social media operation in 2008, chances are it was too small to be noticed.  With many social media budgets in the millions today, you’re on the CFO’s radar screen. If another shock comes, social media leaders will have to make their case anew, no matter how obvious the need or successful the performance.

EIGHT STEPS YOU CAN TAKE NOW TO PREPARE

1. Seriously, take this seriously:  Social media spending has been strong the past few years, and that gives social media pros a false sense of security.  You can’t see things clearly when you’re in a bubble.

2. Identify threats:  Draw this chart:

Fill it in with threats that range from likely to unlikely along the bottom, and ranking by the amount of damage that would be done (to the company, not the social media department) if it were to happen.  Don’t worry about getting it perfect.  Even if you’re wrong about the threat, this exercise will get you thinking in the right direction. If you don’t have a good sense of what the threats could be, take this as an opportunity to reach out to other department heads in the company.  Ask for their read of the economy and what they’re planning to do if things head south.  You could even ask how their expectations of what your team does would change.

3. Prioritize:  For the sake of time, pick the top three in the upper right quadrant.  It’s easier to first look at extreme situations and then work your way backwards to the more likely ones.

4. Risks & opportunities:  For each threat, list the opportunities and risks posed to the company and the social media department.

5. Let history be a guide:  If you weren’t in the PR department or even at the company during one of these past crises, then you’ll need to do some digging.  Fire up Google’s news archive and ask colleagues who went through the last crisis how the company responded internally and externally.  Most of these crises were pre-social media, so the channels used were very different.

6. Measure the change:  Investors, employees, customers, business partners, public leaders, and pretty much every community have all embraced social networking to large extents.  Figure out what that degree is.  That will inform how responding to a future crisis needs to be different from the last one.  Tactics that were correct years ago won’t work in a new environment.

7. Hypothesize:

  • How will your top threats play out on social media channels and search engines?
  • What’s the likely chain of events that would unfold?
  • To what degree is your department able to deal with this situation?
  • To what degree is management aware of how their response to a crisis would be affected by this new media ecosystem?
  • How can your team help to ease the pain?
  • Crises create opportunities.  Which ones do you see that should be elevated to management?

8. Calculate: Each action and inaction comes with costs and benefits in their implementation.  Some of these can be quantified and others just listed.

EIGHT SCENARIOS TO GET YOU STARTED

1. Big decisions on the table:  Hard times require hard decisions. If you’ve embraced social media analytics, you’ve got a tool that no one else in the company has.  Call it an early warning system or the world’s largest focus group — you can help management make data-based decisions.

  • How do people feel now?
  • How did they react moments after decisions are announced?
  • How are stakeholders responding to 100 other variables that the company has no direct role in?
  • To what degree have stakeholders changed the way they’re interacting with our channels?
  • How have stakeholder expectations of the company changed?

All of this information removes uncertainty in a world that will be defined by it.  If one or two departments now get monitoring reports, there are a dozen more who would find that information — and other data sets you can summon — very useful.

  • Opportunity for companies that have set up analytics programs and whose management knows what they mean.
  • Threat for companies who don’t have this data, but face competitors who do.

2. Communicating change:  If the company changes its strategy, communicating the nuances of that change and proving that it’s working will take a lot of effort.

  • Opportunity for companies that use social media to communicate change directly to stakeholders, without the limits imposed by traditional media channels.  Bonus opportunity for using multimedia, like videos of management explaining the change and diagrams explaining the nature of that change.
  • Threat for companies that ignore these channels.  With stakeholders expecting companies to use them, not using them can be taken as a signal of a bunker mentality.  Double threat for companies whose competitors use these channels and come across as the stronger player.

3. Rumor control:  Speculative gossip flourishes when change is happening and there are few facts to rely on.  Expect rumors to spread faster and their nature to get weirder given how easy it is to spread and fake information.

  • Opportunity to squash rumors quicker than pre-social media days when management had little idea of the information traveling through the grapevine.
  • Threat for companies that don’t address rumors quickly, as they will spread faster than pre-social media days.

4. Managing leaks:  If you’re a company that has embraced its employees’ use of social media, expect that the way you’re handling change internally to be even more visible externally.

  • Opportunity for companies who see their employees’ social networks as a highly credible channel to quickly communicate important information to customers, partners and other stakeholders.
  • Threat for companies that don’t communicate frequently, honestly and at an appropriate enough depth.

5. Maturing relationships:  If another financial crisis hits, the company won’t be the only one hurting.  Customers will be, too (even more than now).  Businesses that have built real relationships with these customers must recognize that one or both parties in the relationship have and are going through painful times.  If your messaging is exactly the same as it was before the new crisis, you’ve got a problem.

  • Opportunity for companies that recognize there’s been a change and review their processes and messages to fit the new reality.  The more humane and “real” the social media team is allowed to be online, the better.
  • Threat for companies that come off as tone deaf when customer’s situation takes a turn for the worse.

6. Managing layoffs:  If they occur, expect emotions to be expressed more publicly online.  Sometimes cuts can’t be avoided, but the way that management handles them is often seen as a proxy for overall leadership.

  • Opportunity for companies who handle this process with humanity and foresight.  When good times return, the company will need a reputation for being an employer of choice.
  • Threat for companies that ignore the fact that emotional turmoil will play out online, with horror stories visible on search engines for years to come.

7. Finding new efficiencies:  The company will be on the hunt for ways to get even more productivity out of its workforce.  This may be a great time to make the case (or re-make it) for adopting social media in other departments like customer service, R&D, human resources and internal communications.  There are enough case studies out there that prove the ROI of these tools, and there’s nothing like a crisis to overcome cultural inertia.

  • Opportunity for companies that embrace new tools.
  • Threat for companies whose competitors embrace the new tools.

8. Reshaping a market: Times of crisis create opportunities for companies to grab top talent and pursue weaker competitors.  We know that social media dramatically lowers the cost of building awareness, spurring consideration and inciting conversion.  Critically, its real-time data allows for a greater number of smaller experiments, enabling companies to take calculated risks, fail faster and ultimately succeed more than the competition.

  • Opportunity for companies that are most familiar with social media’s capabilities and have established teams and analytics.
  • Threat for companies whose competitors use this technology and expertise to gain first-mover advantage.

Assess the risks, make a plan and continually ask yourself how you can help your company through rough times. Do that, and your department will take care of itself.

(Photo credit)

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Though B2B social media communities tend to be friendly, it doesn’t mean the millennia old lessons from “The Art of War” don’t apply.  Here are the top 10 strategies Sun-Tzu might offer at your next staff meeting:

10. “We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country-its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps…We shall be unable to turn natural advantage to account unless we make use of local guides.” Though a B2B company may be new to the social media landscape, their customers, investors and employees aren’t.  The tolerance for newbie mistakes is low.  Get a guide to show you the terrain. Better yet, get a couple.

9. “A wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy’s provisions is equivalent to twenty of one’s own.” If your competitor has spent a year attracting 3,000 highly targeted followers on Twitter, how long would it take you to find them?  Two minutes?  Five?  How about the blogs that they consider most important — the ones they’ve done guest posts with and left comments on?  While it probably took them months to identify the movers and shakers in the sector, it’ll take you all of  one Google blog search to find them.  You don’t want to be the follower, but if you are, there’s no reason to spend as much time and money as the leader getting into a strong position.  


8. “If our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.” This applies directly to your thought leadership-SEO strategies.  Depending on how much quality content you can pump out, and how many executives you have to position online versus competitors, these are great guidelines to follow.

7. “There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune on his army…[number 2] By attempting to govern an army in the same way he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the solder’s minds.” Once a company has built up a community, it can be easy to start viewing it as an extension of the enterprise; almost as employees.  That’s a mistake.  Don’t them for granted and always remember that their loyalty is earned, not bought.

6. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Before stepping onto the social media battlefield, you have to survey your competitors.  Where are they?  What are they doing?  What’s your own online profile?  Do audits on yourself and them.  It’s the only way to proceed with confidence.

5. “There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.” Don’t feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of social media sites and tools.  Between your blog, Twitter feed, Flickr and YouTube channels you’re set to play a beautiful social media symphony.

4. “Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” If you woke up tomorrow to Google Alerts for your competitor’s new blog, new Twitter feed, new YouTube channel and a handful of guest blogs, how long would it take your company to catch up?  And once you did, how much farther down the road would they be?  Don’t be the second mover.

3. “Do not repeat the tactics that which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.” Companies are designed to find an innovative technique and then doing it 1,000 times to enjoy economies of scale.  The desire to routinize is strong.  In social media, at least so far, innovation and variation are the only constants.

2. “There are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovreign which must not be obeyed.” There are a lot of ways to interpret this rule.  Whatever situation popped into your mind after reading it is the right one for you.

1. “The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally; but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of vicory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.” Social media is a world unto its own.  You must follow its own gravitational force, play by its rules.  If you do, the rewards are great.  Lots of research, lots of listening and lots of experimenting will take care of the unknowns.

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Unlike LinkedIn, Flickr isn’t the first thing that comes to people’s minds when it comes to social media for B2B companies.  That’s unfortunate because there are so many ways to use its capabilities for B2B’s unique needs.

The use of photos is about to get even more important since Google “Jazz” will be including them in people’s search results.  So go on…put your best pic forward..

What pictures should I use?

1. Executive headshots: Reporters, bloggers, conference organizers all need easy access to them.  Give it to ‘em. Don’t forget to include their bios in the caption box and links to their LinkedIn pages.

2. Diagrams: These can be methodologies the company has developed, supply chain explanations, or other intellectually interesting pictograms.  Include links that let people learn more.

3. Corporate artifacts: The back of the envelope that gave birth to your company; the garage where the founders built their first widget.

4. Office photos: When the top talent out there is learning about your company, show ‘em it’s a nice place to work with pics of the big conference room and employee meetings where people look like they’re learning something cool. Include text in the comment box about what it’s like to work there and links to social media properties where people can learn more.

5. Product shots: Some B2B products have faces that only their engineer mothers could love.  That said, show off your expensive, complex, innovative products that your customers can use to understand them better.  Include text and links to more information about them…even phone numbers to sales people.

6. Charts: USA Today is the champion of explaining data in visual ways.  Use their infographic technique to explain what your complex company does.

7. Covers of thought leadership reports, books, white papers: It’s an interesting way to let people browse your intellectual capital.  You could even call the Flickr set a “Company X Library.”  Include links to download the reports, to videos where people are discussing the content, or to where people can buy the materials on Amazon.

8. Map showing corporate offices: You’re global.  So show people.  Not every picture has to compel a reader to contemplate their role in the universe.  Sometimes you just want to communicate “we’re everywhere you need us.”

9. Pics from your virtual worlds, animated simulations on other mediums. Link them to where visitors can dive deeper, whether it’s Second Life or a Vimeo, and so forth.

10. Awards and trophies: Include information on what the criterion for the award was.  And you remember that huge application you filled out to be considered for the prize?  Re-purpose it for the text box.

11. Customer recognition ceremonies: Tag the photos with both yours and customer’s name.  That way people searching for the customer will see that you were a part of their success.  Again, include the case study in the text box or link to it so people can find more.  Remember, in B2B land we’re going for micro-targeting.  If just one customer is interested in a specific award, it’s worth it. And it stays online forever, so the cost of doing it goes down by the day.

12. Events that show off company’s culture: If it’s a charitable cause, put in an explanation for why the company chose the charity and invite others to help out.

13. Laboratories: Show ‘em off.  List the great products that came out of them.  Link to the bios of the researchers that work there.

14. Your company and product logos: People will use them anyway.  They might as well get it right. (see Creative Commons below)

15. Green credibility: Have you made your company more energy efficient?  Replaced the corporate fleet with natural gas vehicles?  Put pictures up there.  Link them to media coverage and documents that explain your green efforts.

16. “Movie poster” promoting your podcasts. Link to the series on iTunes.

17. “Movie poster” for your YouTube channel. Link to the channel.

18. “Movie posters” for your other social channels: Blogs, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn Groups with links.

19. Handshake photos of executives with key stakeholders: Helps explain who is important to your company, it flatters the people you photographed, and people searching for the people you’re pictured with to see that you matter to them.

20. Executives giving speeches: With links to transcripts, resulting articles below.

How should I approach Flickr strategically?

21. Don’t think of them as photos.  Consider each image as a place that a micro community can congregate. If there are 40 people in the world who would buy a certain product, and three of them run across a picture of it, encourage them to ask questions of the company and each other.

22. Create public or private groups focused on niche topics to create communities. Many b2B services are very visual.  Engineering, architecture, even business process outsourcing to name a few.  If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a picture on Flickr is worth 10,000 conversations.

23. Find pics of your products that other people have taken: They’re out there.  But maybe your company’s name hasn’t been applied to them in the tags.  I doubt detailed information about them hasn’t been posted in the comments section…yet! Update: Keep it focused on intellectual capital, not salesey.

24. Hold a brainstorm: Ask fans to submit their own ideas via Flickr.

25. Tell your company’s history through photos: Let other people, like employees, and even historians if your company has been around a long time, contribute their piece of the puzzle.

26. Don’t use Flickr for link juice: Flickr applies “nofollow” to its comments to reduce spam.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use links.  Your audiences want them even if search engines will overlook their presence. Update: Don’t link to sales-focused information.  It would violate their terms of service.

27. Celebrate great pics taken by employees: They’re taking pics anyway.  Recognize them.  Makes your place a better one.

28. Search for prospects and stakeholders using Flickr: Are there a lot out there for B2Bs?  Probably not.  Are there a few and they’re really passionate about your field and it’s really cheap in time and resources to find?  Yes.  Do it and then strike up a conversation.

29. Do “Flickr interviews:” Holding an event?  Take a picture of an attendee and ask them a question that give them an opportunity to look smart and spread an interesting idea.  Post that mini interview in the comments section.  Include a link to their LinkedIn profile or blog (all with their permission, of course.)

30. Um. Monitor: This is sort of a no-duh, but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t regularly scan Flickr for the names of their companies, products, or executives.  I once found a pic of a nasty note written on a white board to a company I was dealing with.  The company had moved out of the building and the new tenants took a picture of the board and put it on Flickr.  Ouch!

31. Use RSS feeds to stay in touch with communities: Flickr has RSS feeds.  Some of your customers, journalists, analysts and investors will be interested in them.

32. Create groups for events: People will be taking photos at your events anyway.  Might as well offer a centralized place for them, build goodwill and offer some recognition

33. Geotag your photos: It’s another way for people to find your company, its products/services or executives.

34. Update your social media policy: Include in your policy that you want employees to upload photos that show off life at the company.  They’re doing it anyway.  Might as well give them some guidelines on what’s appropriate and take advantage of all the free work they’re doing to show off the business.

35. Use the “People in Photos” feature: Proactively tag your executives/key sales people. Look for photos that don’t comply with your policy and ask to have them taken down.

36. Use Flickr’s Profile Tool: Put in your executive’s bios, blogs links, contact information into the profile. Link them it all together.

37. Use the stats: Flickr can tell you which of your pics are most popular, how searchers found you, and where they come from. Incorporate them into your metrics and use the lessons learned to give the community more of what they want.

38. Join groups related to your sector and share photos with them. That’s it. :)

39. Use the API: Twitter has an open API so you can create apps.  Create, experiment, learn from the experiment. Offer your own API so people can integrate the two data feeds.

40.  Use Creative Commons: The biggest mistake companies make with photos is to lock them up under copyright.  Sure, certain pictures should be protected (like your logo, to a degree).  But when it comes to using photos Update: that help spread intellectual capital, explicitly for marketing purposes, proactively tell people it’s ok to use the photos by placing them in the Creative Commons.

41. Watch the competition: Look at how your competitors are using Flickr.  If there’s a lesson to be learned, learn it.

42. Update the style guide: Especially in global organizations, with far-flung people uploading photos, include simple instructions on how best to label — and especially to tag — photos.

43. Press release photos: Most wire services keep your releases online for just two weeks.  Make sure any photos you’ve used within them get archived on Flickr.  Yes, they’re also on your site, but really, there are probably more people using Flickr to find images than your site.

44. Ask: Ask your audiences, via Twitter, blogs, even old fashioned phone conversations, what photos they’d like to have from you that will make their lives easier.  Even just asking will take you to new levels of trust and goodwill.

45: Updated: Read, embrace and follow updates to Flickr’s best practices for businesses.

Any ideas for how B2B companies can use Flickr?

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The CMO’s Guide to Tweetups is nine delicious pages chock full of research, rationales, strategies and tactics designed to help CMO’s and heads of public relations at Business-to-Business companies use launch their own tweetups.

While most of the tips came from my experience at NASA’s tweetup of the launch of shuttle Atlantis in November, all the strategic sections are based on Makovsky’s work with B2B’s that sell complex services, products and — at its root — ideas to customers and investors.

For many companies in this space, using social media at all, much less hosting a tweetup, can seem strange. But as readers of this blog know, when it comes to complex ideas, there’s no better medium for educating audiences, and then engaging them all the way down the marketing funnel than social media.

I invite you to take a read and add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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