The ROI of competitive intelligence

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Rachel Happe is hosting this weeks #socialmedia session. I bring her up for a reason, which you’ll soon see. For those of you that are unaware of what #socialmedia is, I will quickly explain and then get to my point. Every Tuesday at Noon EST, Jason Breed of Neighborhood America and myself host a one hour Twitter session around the business of social media. Every week we have a different host to moderate  a session wrapped around some of the hottest social media issues revolving around business. They’re job? To challenge and question and probe participants to reach higher in their assumptions about what social media is.  The list of people that have hosted over the past few months is like a who’s who of social media practitioners. They include Jason Falls, Geoff Livingston, Toby Bloomberg, Lee Odden, Mack Collier, Danny Brown, David Alston and Beth Harte, to name a few.

Now more to my point. In one of Rachel’s recent posts on her new project blogsite The Community Roundtable, which I highly suggest you check out, she does a snap shot  view of how community managers use Twitter. She highlites  Connie Bensen, Dirk Shaw, Guy Martin, and herself. In each case, we see how each person manages to monitor the twit streams in their space. In every case, they all manage to monitor the sandbox or boxes in which they play. Why? Because it gives them more information, knowledge and data. And the best part, it’s free and for the most part passive.

Call it competitive intelligence or call it consumer intelligence, call it whatever intelligence you want; but don’t dismiss the value of this information. On the surface it may not deliver the troika that I constantly talk about when talking about hard ROI in social media- make money, save money, or increase equity but if I were going to place a value on competitive intelligence I would say, to use a few sports analogies- It’s the 6th man in basketball, the utility club in golf, the setter in volleyball, the pitcher with the rubber arm in baseball, or the slotback in football. Simply put, don’t underestimate or discount the value of competitive intelligence.

To not take advantage of competitive intelligence that is freely available is more like giving the competition a constant headstart. Or better yet, if you are a hitter in baseball, you’re starting with a strike before you even step in the batters box.

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Crowdsourcing-Social Media Listening Grids

Over the last 8 weeks @jasonbreed and I have had some tremendous #socialmedia Unpanels at Hashtagsocialmedia.com. Last Tuesday, David Alston of Radian 6, hosted a session titled Developing Corporate Listening Grids. the comments and the discussion was at such a high level, that developing a deck from it was a no-brainer. But obviously it doesn’t happen without the participation of the attendees and their voices.

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The UNPANEL

Ok, so the previous post was about our new project for Twitter. Hashtagsocialmedia.com, which revolves around targeted conversations-in this case, social media. Well here is the off-shoot of that project that bubbled up from those conversations with Jason Breed of Neighborhood America. The Unpanel.

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Hashtag social media launches

One of the great things about collaboration, social media, and the power of truly thinking outside the box, is that when you put words into action the finished product can be oh so cool. That is the case with Hashtagsocialmedia.com.

The idea for this came out of roughly 2-3 meetings with Jason Breed of Neighborhood America. It bubbled up over a desire to really try and extend the social media conversation beyond the boundaries it was currently taking place in, and do it in a collaborative and open environment.

6 weeks later, here we are.

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The premise is simple. Using the #journchat  theme of a hosted discussion we’ve decided to structure 1 hour per week (Tuesdays at 12pm eastern) around hot topics and issues that concern #socialmedia. With a guest host/moderator to keep the discussion moving forward, we hope to create some unique perspectives and POV’s on social media business issues.

So our first guest host is none other than Beth Harte Beth brings a tremendous amount of passion, experience and tell it like it is attitude to everything that she talks about, writes about and does as it pertains to social media and marketing. She is the perfect first choice.

We hope you can join us every Tuesday at 12 noon est. To help us take the business of social media into new directions

Social Media – The Melting Pot

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My friend Jason Breed who is the senior director of business development at Neighborhood America, which probably has one of the best developed social networking platforms in the industry, sent me a great post about the melting pot that is social media. Jason has a wonderful perspective and insight into what “large” companies perceive and what they want and ultimately what they need. Herein are is thoughts.

It’s very intriguing to me in my travels to listen to people discuss the term “social media”.  People of all types and experience levels in the corporate space relate it, mostly as a negative connotation, to existing social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, etc or they relate it, still with negative connotation, to consumer marketing flops dating back to the GM “tell me what you think about Suburbans” snafu to more recently the Motrin Moms incident.

Other areas where social media gets used a lot is with web 2.0 initiatives.  First, anyone still referring to versions of the internet have their own issues, next, the majority of the population still does not understand exactly what a blog, forum or certainly a wiki is or does.  Why should they?  They are a series of features and tools not solutions.  When is the last time you woke up and said to your loved one, “can’t wait to forum today!”?  While the tool sets have some social elements to them, there are many corporate blogs still run by the marketing department that are far from social.  In fact, many still use them to self publish push messaging while fully moderating comments and publishing selected content.  Something about lipstick and pigs come to mind here.

So what is social media, well it does include much of what is mentioned above however it also includes a whole world of opportunities that takes a bit more creativity to understand the possibilities.

To me, social media is simply a term of interaction.  It has become a container term for a lot of things however it all comes down to enabling interactions.  The ability to develop a cycle of communications between two or more parties either through online or mobile.  Understanding this as a framework, you can apply this interaction to employee communications, consumer transactions, partners, CRM, BPM, shareholders, etc or any mix therein.  In fact any department from construction to office management to sales, development, customer support, logistics management, public relations, human resources, and any other department you can think of can use the construct of developing better interactions (ie. Social media) to begin to solve traditional business issues.

When you get beyond simple marketing and word-of-mouth campaigns, it becomes much easier to understand how applying social elements to traditional processes can save time, costs or even increase revenues.  Consider the traditional sales cycle that is manually touched 4-5 times before it gets into a sales funnel or CRM package.  Using social elements, even a small sales team could manage a lot more information from customers with better purchasing metrics if you had a creative way to allow customers to automatically feed the CRM system on the front end through a professional (social) interaction.

For those who understand the construct that the social environment has allowed us to create though improved interactions beyond the obvious consumer marketing tactics, 2009 will truly be a very constructive and profitable year for businesses of all shapes and sizes

Discontinuous change in social media marketing and marketing for 2009

In 2009 you have a choice  you can either do what you did in 2008 or you can look at 2009 as a chance to get it right. Everything is upside down, including the way we used to market to consumers and the way consumers used to listen to marketers.

If you’re relying on the way you “used to do things” then stop. If you think you have a robust social media marketing presence, because you have a lot of “friends” and “followers” then stop. Seth Godin likes to quote that this is the “imitation of turbulent activity” .You are in the echo chamber and your clients (if you have any) aren’t in there and chances are they not listening to you anyway. But you wouldn’t know that because of your personal social media involvement-and the fact you might have your self important blinders on.

You’re “moving for the sake of motion” as my friend Jason Breed over at Neighborhood America would say. And that will get you nowhere. We need you to change. You need to change and  you need to adapt now to even newer rules of marketing  that are evolving before our very eyes. Realize the current situation for what it is.

ROI vs. ROE -I did not do a good enough job selling social media.

I had my biggest challenge of trying to sell ROI for a social media project this past week and I lost. Passion lost. Clarity of message lost, and the power of the conversation lost out to the following unspoken sentiment, “I can’t pay for something where I can not see a clear 1:1 ratio of money spent and money earned.

I’ll be honest, my my own private little thought cloud right then and there was,”Oh yea? What did I spend? Hours of work, sweat equity if you will, on learning everything I could on why social media would make sense for you, mister client, and the irrefutable argument that went with it, and you can’t see it?”

On a side note: There is not a social media practitioner, marketer or evangelist out there, who would not agree that this person and their current business model would not have benefited from a solid injection of web 2.0 sensibilities.

Not only did I do my homework but I also spent hours on the phone with the conduit/project manager, who not only had bought my vision, but had also in the same process, drank the social media Kool-ade. I educated him to the extent that he totally got what I was saying. He GOT IT. Which to a lesser degree is a huge win. Why? Because we met through a 140 character conversation on Twitter. That’s right, this whole process and opportunity came about because of Twitter. The conduit in Austin, me in Naples, and the client in Phoenix.

At the end of the day though, after the nearly 2 hour Saturday conference call with the prospect, it became painfully obvious that he was not willing to spend what it would take to transform his personal brand and what he does for a living, into something more viable, accessible, and transparent- he wanted solid ROI. Not the hope of notion or perceived ROI. His thing was, “lets sell something that makes money, and I’ll pay you if I make money”.

All was not lost. First, I made a friend in Austin, who has passion, vision, and Get’s it. And whenever you meet someone who gets it- the potential for more opportunities like the one mentioned above will always exist.

Second, I learned some more lessons. I say more because I’ve been learning a lot of them lately. Failing forward if you will. I’ve been given some great indirect lessons from my peers through blog comments and tweets, individuals like Jim Storer, Paul Chaney, Valeria Maltoni and Jason Breed. Some lessons that are human and tangible. Lessons learned on the client side and lessons learned from the community. A win win..

So here’s the thing- Ultimately, I have to ask myself, did I do a good enough job of presenting tangible proof on why social media makes sense? I don’t know. I may be too close to the subject to answer that objectively. But The question does arise and will arise again; and this was a concern Friday night when I had completed the proposal and had attached a dollar value to it. Did I show enough proof? A proof of concept to justify the cost that would eventually increase ROI through engagement?

The bottom line is I guess not. Because the bottom line right now is very prominent, very front and center. Managers want to see ROI. They need ROI. I think what they don’t understand, is that if I’m going to embark on a social media campaign for a client, it involves a time suck and a commitment from the client and the person rolling out the project- the cost is labor and time, both of which I think are measurable and ultimately can be charged for. I’m sorry but I value my knowledge and my time and I’m going to charge for it. Ok… I’m starting to get a little fired up again so I’m going to stop here. But here are my parting words-

When you pitch the social media project of any scope and scale, Be thorough, and understand that all managers are going to really, really focus on the investment and the return, no matter how well YOU get the big picture. But you know what? One loss does not define a season. They’ll be more and I’ll do better.