The Many Faces of Digital Influence

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I’ve been in the search and social media space long enough to know that without a doubt the two most vexing topics year in and year out are how best to leverage a brands presence in social media and how to engage with influencers. In my opinion, influence in social can have many faces. The face we see the most isn’t an influencer but what I like to call a “frequencer.” This person isn’t as much a thought leader as they are someone who pushes out content like they’re a bot. In fact, they just might be a bot, but what we need to stop doing is calling them an influencer and relying on their influence to help our brand. There’s a better way. You see at the end of the day, it’s all about eyeballs and traffic. If it’s “influence” that drives them, then so be it.

Look Beyond the Numbers

If we look at Twitter for example, what does 600,000 tweets mean to you? Does that mean influence? What are they influencing? How to schedule a post or a tweet 100x a day? They aren’t influencers, they’re conduits of someone else’s information. They’re facilitators of someone else’s thoughts. When do they have time to take a meeting? When do they have time to formulate their own POV?

A thought leader, in my opinion, is sharing their thoughts, their opinions, their fears, their predictions and their point of views on a topic or discipline that they’re deeply familiar with in a space that they’re deeply tethered to. These are people that drive traffic.

Recently Onalytica came out with their Top 100 Influencers in digital transformation, a space that I am deeply familiar with. I don’t necessarily consider myself an influencer in the space, but I am acutely aware of what is happening in the space, who the players are, who the companies are, and who the wannabe influencers are.

If we are going to determine influence by frequency and ‘hashtagery’, then the Onalytica lists are spot on. If we were going to base it on thought leadership and actual engagement, then you’d have to pare the lists down by half, maybe more. This isn’t an indictment on Onalytica or those that are on the list as much as it is a suggestion to brands and those that manage social media at the highest levels, to understand more of what and who you’re measuring. Or better yet, what the end game is.

Brands and orgs can not get caught up in an equation that looks something like this:

Visibility x Frequency = Authority

Readers have to take the content that is pushed out on all social platforms and do the following: Consider the source, consider why it’s being shared, consider what the end game might be, and then determine its value to you and your org. At the end of the day, give me the thought leader, not the influencer.

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The Key to Success in Enterprise Social Media

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Lately, I’ve been thinking way too much about organic B2B social media marketing. For obvious reasons, it’s where I play and have played for the last eight years. In that time, I’ve worked for some of the largest companies in the world and If you were to ask me what keeps me up at night it would vacillate between how can I do more with the tools and resources I have available to me and what am I missing? This is the great struggle for the enterprise in social media. Where does it fit? Does it fit?

I can tell you answering any of these questions requires some soul searching. The bottom line is that creating a solid, measurable, B2B social media strategy is extremely difficult, and to say that the enterprise just doesn’t have a clue, though it makes for great copy, just isn’t true. They know what’s up, to a degree. Whatever their degree of understanding is, the stark reality is that the pressure is on every CMO to make something of the potential that social media might offer the organization.

Let’s talk about business value

That clock you hear in your cube at the office? That’s for your benefit. It’s ticking and you need to figure out real quick where social media fits within your org. I’m of the opinion that social has to be part of any org; and where the rubber meets the road is the understanding or lack of understanding of those that are entrusted with managing it. My quick and dirty argument is that if you don’t use social then what are you going to do?

But let’s back up. You see, the challenge in your organization as it is in every other B2B organization, is that solving for X in social media, boils down to closing the chasm between conversations and conversions. It’s brutal at the B2B level.

Conversions in social media in general, in the purest sense of the word, can be few and very far between. But the same goes for conversations. Can we get people to click on content? Yes. Can we get people to talk about that content? Not really. We can get them to like, share and retweet but those are passive activities. They’re easy and lazy forms of what everyone defines as engagement. Now snap B2B on top of that. Uh-oh.

To put this in terms we can all relate to. A home run in B2B social media from an engagement standpoint for some companies might be 1%. That’s right,1%.

Time to temper those expectations or time to innovate.

I have a suggestion though. Maybe we need to look at B2B social media metrics differently and perhaps weight them differently. If you can get the data right, you can get the analytics right, right? Maybe I’m suggesting that conversations at the the B2B level, are so tough to come by, that maybe we need to measure them differently? Quit looking at them through a B2C lens.

Let’s simplify this. Would you agree that essentially, B2B marketers, are relying on a definition of engagement that a) really doesn’t mean much anymore in social media and b) shouldn’t apply to them? One could argue on behalf of both points.

The way engagement is and has been measured has been fairly consistent from the very beginning, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. What I’m really saying is that in place of more quantifiable metrics, the best that we have or the best that is presented to us as metrics by various tools and platforms, is how we’re measuring success. Likes, loves, mentions, favorites, follows, shares. expands and clickthroughs are our barometers for success in social media. Those are good but we need more, we need better.

For myself, I look at all of those things the same way, they’re good metrics and they give me a glimpse of something, a taste of something, a start, a start to something, something that could turn into something more. That’s it. It’s a pulse and it might be the closest we can get to a customer, client, prospect or partner, short of being with them in the flesh; and that’s pretty damn compelling. However, if we want to move the needle, then we need to do a better job of measuring customer engagement. Why? We need a better snapshot of who does what with our content. Should I care, that you took a millisecond to share, like or re-tweet a piece of my content? Not really, but if I know more about you. then maybe I can gauge and measure your INTENT.

You’re only as good as your content

The driving force behind this will be content. Content is driving everything. Great content, bad content, middle of the road content. All of it, in all its many different forms, is driving e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g…. We call it content, but back in the day it was a newspaper insert, a magazine ad, a radio spot, a 30 second commercial on TV. The form has changed but not the function. Get our attention.

What’s consistently baked into that content? A brands message. The point of that message? Buy our stuff.  And Social media? What’s its form? What’s its function? Buy our stuff.  The difference between the old and the new,  social can be a more direct conduit to the customer. The problem? One voice to two ears. Multiply that exponentially and what do you get? A funnel with noise.

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Social media marketer doesn’t mean social media analytics guru

If we can’t get comfortable with a firm definition of engagement where the only thing that matters is, if there is some type of conversion behind it, then we need to at least get a better idea of who our followers are; or who is most engaged with our stuff. The keys will be your content and how your audience is engaging with it.

The bottom line will be the data that’s derived from your content. Quality data, not just likes and mentions. Once we have the data, then we can make better decisions and informed decisions on what’s working, what’s not and how we’re going to reach those that matter. I’d also like to suggest that having a robust and separate social media analytics practice would be one of the wisest investments the enterprise could have going forward. Translation: Just because you might be a CMO or a director, doesn’t mean you’re a data scientist. Maybe you are but in my opinion, it’s the only way the enterprise is going to move the needle forward in 2018 with social media. Take the analytics side of the equation seriously and fund it properly.

With social media and its various platforms  we do what we do and it is what it is; and because of that, you can do anything, try anything and say anything. For brands, that’s the great potential.

Conversation Gained-How to Determine Influence in B2B Social Media

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I don’t know a marketer out there that would say that influence in social media is not a commodity, if you know how to leverage it.

I do however, know a lot of marketers out there, who struggle with determining and identifying influence in social media and because of that, can not leverage it; and that’s NOT a commodity!

Discussions on influence in social have been around since social began. For me, those postulations and assumptions began back in 2006, so I’ve got 11 plus years of data and experience on what I think and what I think I think. Yea, we were forced to think about it just as much back then, as we’re doing today because influence mattered. Then and now, and thus, the more data a marketer has, the better the decision they can make. Right? Especially in a B2C setting.

Now B2B marketing? B2B influencers? Just as important. Just 5X to 10 X more challenging.

It’s amazing to me that in 2018, the questions on influence in social are still pondered as if it were the latest work-out fad, “Yea but will it give me abs?” The reality is that we shouldn’t be surprised that the questions still persist. Over the years, the definition of what true influence is, has kind of changed, at least in the context on how to measure it and what the criteria is to measure it. The bottom line is this:

Influence is a nebulous but nevertheless, powerful “thing” in B2B social media, and you my dear marketer, need to understand how to determine it, identify who is influential within your space, and then decide what you’re going to do about it.

Pro Tip #1: If your org is using social media of any type, you should have some type of social media influencer strategy. Even if it’s low impact. 

The whole reason is simple. The more you know about your space,  the easier it is to decide how to market it to it. And… Having some type of influencer strategy will allow you to know more about the space that you’re marketing in and to. It’s a reciprocal arrangement that mutually benefits both parties.

By “owning your space,” individually, organizationally and operationally, you become the true master of your business and social domain. Knowing your industry backwards and forwards becomes one of your biggest strengths; and yes, ideally industry expertise should extend from the c-suite all the way down to the lower junior or new hire levels.  For your newbies, it should be about continuous training and boots on the ground experience so that they can become SME’s ( subject matter experts).

Additionally and theoretically, by ‘owning it,’ you should now know by default the answers to the below questions that slightly resemble a SWOT analysis:

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  • What makes your company great?
  • What makes your company and its products or services better or different?
  • Who is your greatest threat? Which competitor do you pay attention to?
  • What does your company not do well?
  • How can we improve the #CX? The #UX?

Ironically, The challenge to this pragmatic, common sense thinking is that we’re all situated in a unique moment in time in which, whether you like it or not, there’s a high likelihood that your organization might be in the midst of  some type of digital transformation. Which means that your company might be culturally changing its  digital capabilities as it pertains to process, product, services, technologies and assets in all to improve operational efficiency, enhance customer value and the customer experience, manage risk, and uncover new opportunities to compete and make money. That’s a mouthful…

The translation? The key to being a good social media marketer is what? Exactly! It’s your ability to answer an expanded list of the above questions:

  • How well  do you know your space? Posed as a question and a statement
  • How well  do you know your company,  your service, your product and its people?
  • Do you have a social/digital mindset? You’ll probably need to be somewhat adept at that aspect or understanding. Do you know what that means?
  • How “good” are you at social media engagement? If you can’t hold a conversation, don’t understand context and are taking yourself too seriously-this might not be for you
  • Do you know what you’re doing? Like, really know what you’re doing? Managing your personal social accounts helps, but this is different.
  • Do you know what the strategy, tactics & goals are for your organization?
  • Can you execute a social media marketing strategy?
  • Do you know what success is? Can you define it?
  • Do you know who the players are? Do you know who isn’t?
  • Who moves the needle in your space? *Hint: These might be (are) your influencers
  • Can you measure your results?

Keep in mind that anyone can “do” social media marketing especially in a B2C setting but can you be the special person that can own it in a B2B setting?

Pro Tip #2: You don’t need any tools to do B2B social media marketing effectively.

So the grand point of all that I’ve been saying up to this point is this. If you know your space, you’re a social media marketing worker bee, you’re managing some initiatives and you’ve been doing it for over 9 months, then you should be able to tell me pretty right away…Who your industries’ influencers are. Could you do it?

You don’t need a tool, though it can and could make it easier in identifying some ‘people’ that may not be as active and yet are still effective and impactful within the space. Point being, if you’re actively engaging, managing and participating, and you are the owner of the branded social media accounts of your organization, then you know what’s up. You’ll be able to answer the above questions. You will be and are the master of your social domain and you’ll know who the influencers are.

Pro Tip #3: Influence needs to be qualitative not quantitative

Here’s how I measure influence in social media. particularly Twitter. I look for those that are authentic voices and experts within their space. Authentic Voice being the operative term. I look for practitioners. I look for ‘normal’ activity. Not ridiculous participation. I’m looking for success not excess.

If you’ve written a book on Big Data and analytics in social media for example, and that’s what your interests are, and that’s what you talk about on social platforms and you share things that pertain to that on social platforms, and your feed shows a balance of content mixed with conversations and your numbers, i.e., your number of followers,  the number of people you are following and your number of tweets, are balanced, I would consider you an influencer. I would follow you. A big key for me going forward, however, would be how well do you engage?

Should we consider the person that has tweeted over 600,000 times, has a 150,000 followers and is following 150,000, an influencer? Here’s more context. Is that same person an influencer if they occasionally write or tweet about the Internet of Things, AI, VR, AR, MR, machine learning, digital transformation, digital disruption, design thinking, 5G and cloud computing? Are they an expert in all of those things? Are they an expert in one thing? What if they don’t engage?

By the way, that’s the description of an actual person on Twitter that brands and sells themselves as an influencer. You can come to your own conclusions on that but here are some more qualifying questions that might help you decide and determine true social media influence

  • Do they enhance your experience?
  • Do they engage?
  • Do they share your content?
  • Do you get the sense that they don’t even pay attention to their feed?
  • Are they a SME? An expert?
  • Are they an industry resource?
  • Who do they work for?
  • Do they push out their own though leadership?
  • Could they solve your organization’s most difficult problems?

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “What do I want out of my relationships with the influencers that I have targeted and or have followed in social media?” Once you’ve narrowed down who the influencers are, once you have thoroughly vetted them, then you can start thinking about your influencer strategy and tactics in order to get the most out of your B2B social media marketing initiatives and the influencers that are in your space.

Conversation Lost-How to Align B2B Social Media Marketing Efforts with the Right Strategy

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B2B Social media success is like the American ninja warrior TV show. Everyone makes it to the starting line and yet very few make it to the finish line. In fact, those that can make it just halfway through the course can sometimes advance to the next round, based simply on how difficult the course can be. They’re deemed, somewhat victorious for just getting ‘that far.’ The same holds true for B2B marketers. B2B social media marketing can be brutal but it’s not a loser.

If you’ve never watched the show, it’s essentially an impossible obstacle course that takes a lot of balance, agility, strength and sound judgment to complete. Those challenges, metaphorically speaking, completely exist in B2B social media in 2017. For those that were around in the “early days” of social media will be the first to tell you that today’s social media is a far cry from what it was back then. Understatements be damned, one could say that social media has evolved and still, others could say it has regressed.

So what is a marketer to do? Where does social media fit in the marketing mix? Should your organization have a social media strategy? The quick answers are: There is a path, it does fit into the marketing mix and yes but let’s quickly review what’s been happening.

Over the past 7-8 years, the act of truly conversing has slowly dissipated on most social networks, Twitter in particular. On other networks, however, see Snap for example, the act of communicating has escalated and changed. In reality, communicating in social media hasn’t so much as gone away, as it has been replaced by different types of communicating dominated more by imagery and less by conversations.

For marketers though, the one-way, scream it and blast it style of pushing out messages disguised as conversations, still exists today. Partly because a) they are struggling with a medium that deemphasizes the written word and embraces the emoji b) a general lack of understanding of how to use that medium and c) it’s not the only channel.

It used to not be like this. Social Media was at one point this living, breathing, conversational thing. Somewhere along the way though, marketers started to misunderstand the platform and treat social media and its content like it was an arms race. It became a content battle wrapped around the quantity and output of messages and how quickly follower ratios could grow.

Beyond that, companies became enamored with vanity metrics. Those are your typical likes, mentions, retweets, etc. In fact, orgs of all sizes still like vanity metrics, we all do. Why? Because it’s a tangible hard number that we can wrap our arms around. Like a unique visitor in the world of website traffic. How many times have you heard or have asked the question, how many uniques do you have or what’s your traffic like? It’s how we quantify and quantified success. The parallel is exactly the same as asking. “How many followers do they have?”

Recently I told someone that the same metrics that revolve around direct mail and direct e-mail success now apply to organic social media. Meaning that getting a 1-2% organic engagement rate via social is about equal to what you might see or hope to see in direct mail open rates. It’s almost considered a ‘win’ but not quite. It’s average. You would think that social media and social networks might have an advantage but social media marketers are generally not working off of lists. So for them, it’s all about the content and the creating of content. Engagement? That’s a bonus. Measurement? Maybe.

The crazy thing about social media content today? It’s not bad. In fact, it’s more visual than ever before. There are some great content creation tools these days and the whole process of creating content for social is an industry in and of itself. It’s not boring. It’s dynamic, it’s compelling and dammit, it’s clickable. But the kicker is, you have to see it. You have to find it. So really it’s not how the content is being packaged and it’s not how it’s being created or delivered. It’s more about when do you push that content out? It’s where and it’s why. Oh yea, and to whom matters too. Social media in a B2B setting is effective when the right content finds the right people at the right moment.

Blame it on growth and blame it on the “noise” that growth created but that’s the ‘other’ new reality. Getting the B2B customers’ attention is more difficult now than it ever was before. Your new digital marketing challenge is to figure out where social fits in your marketing mix. Keep in mind that it has to be there, you just have to decide which platforms you’re going to use and what the distribution of dollars and resources will be.  Let me reiterate. Social Media efforts in a B2B setting have to be there for the simple reason that the customers are there.

Does engagement really matter?

What is engagement? Or rather what did it used to mean? Loosely defined in social media. it means that an action occurred, some type of reactive action occurred in the form of a like, a retweet, a mention, or a share. All of those actions dependent on, in theory, you, the user, doing something. Some, thing. Oddly enough, the actual true meaning of engagement could not be more diametrically opposed to what is happening here. You have either a formal agreement to get married or an arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time. Neither of those really pertain to social media, do they?

In social media, because an ‘action’ did occur, marketers measured it in a positive fashion. The problem occurs or occurred, when nothing happens or happened after that. Thus, marketers were and are ostensibly hanging their hats on hollow metrics.

In email marketing or direct mail marketing, we can measure click through rates, open rates, conversion rates, leads generated and of course sales. These are things that happened after the fact. We don’t call it engagement. These are definite and distinct actions. We have a crumb trail we can measure. We have user data before and after the mail is sent. We can create a snapshot of the user based on that data. We can tailor content and give them what they want. Social media marketing on the other hand, organically speaking has to be more strategic in order to be effective. The tools and data are there but marketers are lazy.

Let’s explain it a different way. What kind of crumb trail or user data do you get from an egg with one name, no bio, following 50, with 10 followers and 5 tweets? Not much. Marketers will recognize and acknowledge the retweet, the mention and the share of the egg-but what does that really mean? Nothing.

In part two, let’s look at what a marketer should do. Let’s talk about what the distribution of marketing and social media strategies, tactics and activities should be and let’s talk about bang for the buck. The operative word being, buck, as in dollars, which should be your clue.

What Kind of Decisions Would You Make if Your Future Didn’t Depend on it?

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What if you had no filter? What if there were no repercussions for your actions both offline and online? What kind of world would that be? That would be 2017, where streaming your crimes, your transgressions or other people’s flaws, misdeeds, and imperfections on your phone seem to be the norm. Then you go to sleep and you go to work.

Check your phone. Check Facebook. Check Instagram, check Snapchat. Post some pics. Film some things. Say some things.  Rinse. Repeat. Regress. Check your phone. Check your email. Sound familiar?

Where did things go so terribly off the rails? When did we become a society with zero filters, zero morals, and zero discretion?

Unfortunately, we’ve been heading down this road ever since the world wide web was open for business so to speak. The difference now is that that type of world, the one in which no one has an off switch much less a digital moral compass, currently exists for generations that extend from Boomers all the way down to Gen Z and everything in between. As each year passes, more and more digital natives become the face of our societies. Digital immigrants, not so much. I, in our breakneck quest to evolve, technologically speaking, we have regressed to a point in which we all have become numb to a society some of us don’t recognize.

As each year passes, more and more digital natives become the face of our societies. Digital immigrants, not so much. Ironically, in our breakneck quest to evolve, technologically speaking, we have regressed societally, to a point in which we all have become numb to actions, words, and images that would have offended most of us a decade ago.

Is this HBO’s Westworld? Where we’re not “really’ responsible for our actions?

Maybe we’re living in that kind of world now.  The only difference is that in our world, things don’t reset. There are consequences. At least I would like to think there are. Other’s however, think nothing of posting, streaming and saying whatever they want. when they want and on their terms. No filter.

I would contend that we now live in a world where the shock value of what we see or do just doesn’t register with us or others the way it used to. Thus, either the bar has been raised or lowered, depending on your outlook; and thus seeing someone being murdered on Facebook will be alarming and disturbing for a lot of people, or it’s just another day in our always-on, digital, mobile and social world.  A new low if you will, but one in which we are not surprised.  Again, where did things get so sideways?

It’s because of these reasons that I have vowed to do something about it. Along with some others, we have created The Digital Futures Initiative. Our goal isn’t about blaming anyone or anything, it’s more about creating a baseline level of knowledge and understanding for parents, teachers, and children about the power and impact of digital, mobile and social. Similar to having a solid foundation of fundamentals if you were to play a sport, DFI wants to do the same for children. The simple goal? A fundamental understanding. Knowing what you have, what it can do and what to do with it.

Keep in mind that even if you were a digital native, that doesn’t mean that you automatically knew how to use the internet, your mobile device, your favorite app or Google search for that matter. It’s that understanding and realization that we want to bring to the schools. What do you think? Maybe the goal should be to just get the point across that there are repercussions for our online actions? It’s a start but we need to do so much more.

 

The Difficulty in Being Interesting

Why do you click on a piece of content? Probably because you were compelled to. Some trigger caused you to cross over the invisible threshold of no and maybe. Was it an image? Was it the promise of a video or was it because the source was one that you trusted?

Chances are, the answer to all three questions is some sort of yes. Beyond that, what prompts us, is the text or words in front of the content. We’re curious. We take the bait and we click the link. Hence the term, link bait.

Fast forward 24 hours and everything has reset.

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Back in 1993, there was a movie starring Bill Murray called GroundHog Day. Murray plays Phil Connors, an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself caught in a time loop, repeating the same day again and again. After indulging in hedonism and committing suicide numerous times, he begins to re-examine his life and priorities. But everything repeats.

But everything repeats. over and over and over again. Just like the content clock or the content calendar does. And marketers and bloggers and brands struggle. They struggle with being interesting and they struggle with staying interesting.

That’s what today’s consumers have done to media outlets, to publications, to entertainment companies and to anyone in the business of producing content. We are forcing them to keep our attention. If we stray, they lose. If they stray, they lose. Tough gig. The digital customer is upon us.

Why Snapchat Content and the Longevity of Social Media Content are so Similar

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Follow me here. The principal concept of Snapchat is that pictures and messages are only available for a short time before they become inaccessible. They become obsolete if you will.

When a brand pushes out a “piece” of social media content, they’re hoping that content will move the needle in the form of a standard KPI, i.e. mentions, likes, favorites or followers. How long are brands hoping that content will last? Certainly 24 hours. Then they rinse and repeat, right?

Recently in a MIT Sloan Management post, I read the following in regards to business value in creating social media content:

How can businesses and others reverse this trend and reap more enduring benefits from social media? For starters, it will take a fundamental change in focus.

What most people/brands don’t understand is that users and consumers have been conditioned to consume content in snackable bits now. Their attention spans have been reduced to anywhere from 12 seconds to 24 hours and they move on. Brands have to act accordingly.

Particularly when a brand has about 15 seconds to get someone’s attention when they land on their website, the words and images become that much more important and impactful when trying to derive an action.

The need to have an over-arching strategy to every social media platform is not only a key to success but it should be a mandate. Does that mean a brand should use them? No. But marketers need to understand how each platform relates to not only what they want to do but also in how it might relate to its current customers but future prospects. What do the people want? Give it to them.

It’s not so much the what as it is the how. That means twitter content will not necessarily play well on Facebook and or Facebook content will not necessarily work on Linkedin-particularly after LinkedIn’s latest site changes*

What we’re experiencing right now thanks to the Snapchat generation* is that brands are being forced to create content, messages, and strategies that become antiquated in less than six months. If it’s about branding and creating awareness and thought leadership, then there is indeed an intense pressure to be interesting every day.

I used to say that digital obsolescence only applied to products and platforms but now it appears that it now applies to content itself.

Clearly, marketers and brands have got to elevate their game of being interesting and compelling every day at midnight.