Hire a Social Media Manager and Start Talking

January 15, 2009

social-mediaWhy would a company need to hire someone whose job it is to manage social media?  To me, the answer to that question is obvious.  And if you know anything about the social web, you probably agree.  The problem is that the majority of companies out there don’t know as much as we do, because they are either out of touch or just don’t care.

The emerging world of social media offers networks like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.  It offers an endless array of blogs and other sources for news and opinions.  It offers the sharing of information, videos, pictures, thoughts, and ideas.  This is where people are talking.  This is where people are learning about new things.  And this is where you need to be.

But you can’t do it by yourself.  There are too many areas that you need to be aware of and on top of at all times.  And there are too many resources out there to help you to ignore.

Step 1: Evaluate the Social Media landscape and find out where you fit in. As Marc Meyer (twitter.com/Marc_Meyer) says, not every company or customer may be a fit.  In addition, not every company needs to be involved in every aspect of social media.  But there are areas you can capitalize on, whether you use it for customer service, contests and promotions, ideas, or brand building.  The key is to understand it.

Step 2: Define your customer from a social media perspective. Are your existing customers using social media, and in what way?  Are there potential customers on the social web that present an opportunity?  The better you understand your customers’ habits on the web, the more you will understand how to reach them.

Step 3: Spend the money. The reason I say to hire someone whose primary job it is to manage your social media efforts is twofold.  One, you want to give them control to communicate, interact, and adapt on their own.  Two, for brand building, one clear message across social media channels is important.  As “SMcuter” (twitter.com/SMcuter) would say, too many cooks in the kitchen leads to inconsistency and poorly laid out plans.

Seth Godin reminds us that if no one is talking about you, you’re boring.  But the truth is, you can start the conversation.  And you can take part in the conversation.  This is as true for large corporations like Microsoft and IBM as it is for local businesses like clothing stores and restaurants.

Hire someone who understands the web, someone with vision and creativity.  It takes a combination of different backgrounds, such as technology and marketing.  It’s a new job role, and one that many people will be looking to fill.  Give them freedom, give them a voice, and put them to work.  In the end, this will be an inexpensive way to create a buzz, to build your brand, and to seek out new customers.

Do you agree?

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Monetize Twitter then Monetize Everything Else

December 19, 2008

twitter-birdMonetizing the social web.  It’s the hot topic headed into 2009.  How can Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and countless other online services begin to see real revenue and profitability?  And how can they do that without ruining the user experience and creating too much confusion on the websites?

For those familiar with social networks, those who use them daily, it is a constant debate.  From the business end, we can see that value of these networks, and the amount of information they hold, so we know there is money there somewhere.  From the usability end, we can see that attempts to use advertisers and third party publishers have had some negative effects on the cleanliness and function of the interface.  So what to do?

Well, I am not here to answer all the questions.  But I thought I would try my hand at just one.  How can Twitter make money?

I noticed a few days ago that Twitter announced that they were hiring a VP of Business Operations with one clear task, monetize Twitter.  Chances are that I will not get that job.  But if I did, here is what I would try:

1.    Charge Third Party Developers.  Twitter is a great service, and its easy to use.  Developers noticed this right away.  Many tools have come out that made Twitter more accessible from anywhere on and off the web.  Set fees to develop applications and programs that are used in conjunction with Twitter.

2.    Rotate Ads Right of Screen.  The Twitter interface is so clean that many people think ads would ruin the experience.  But as far as I can see, rotating long sidebar ads on the right side of the screen would take nothing away.  Ads can be targeted based on activity (updates, who you follow, @replies).  Show a new ad every time the page is reloaded.

3.    Sell Twitter Software.  Twitter has many uses.  In an office setting, I can see it as a means of communication that surpasses those that we use today.  Why not sell Twitter software to companies for a monthly or yearly fee.  Let them customize the design, add all their employees, and operate it on a different site (businessname.twitter.com).

4.    Twitter Marketing Accounts.  Create a new type of account, for marketers, that you have to pay for.  A marketer account allows you to send updates to a targeted market of Twitter users once or twice daily.  These will show up like normal updates on a person’s home page, but there will be a limited amount so the intrusion is negligible.

5.    Paid Twitter Ad-ons.  Similar to the Twitter Software idea, Twitter could add new services to their existing tool that one would have to sign up and pay for.  Call this a Twitter Pro Account if that is what works.  These could include a news section, forums, directories, finance that allow you to group Tweets together and display headline style information.  This is more valuable simply because it would be easier to classify information.  Charge a one-time upgrade fee or a yearly subscription that is so small that we all sign up.

So there are five things that I would do my first day on the job.  Who will get the job? Will they like my ideas?  Will they follow them?  Will they ever read or hear them?  Whatever happens, this is an important step in monetizing the social web.  And all other networks can be aware of these ideas and use them in their own way.  Prove to us that your inflated values make sense and that your products will bring us further than we ever anticipated.

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Mobile Battles, Monetization of the Social Web, and Risk Taking

November 14, 2008

Economists and writers are still stuck in the bad news area. And why shouldn’t they be? Look at the stats that keep rolling in. They are not good.

But here’s something to think about. As more and more of the traditional companies that dominated the old economy (pre-internet) struggle and go under, the new economy companies are finding new ways to develop. In fact, this whole meltdown could in fact be the final transition between the old and new economy, where new technologies win out over dried up 20th century business.

Michael Baxter points out that risk taking has been the thing that has led to many of the great innovations of91052290-ce47-36c5-6628f34fc51e972c_1 the past. Companies, scientists, economists, advertisers all took risks, made mistakes, and stumbled upon the next great idea or invention. And those “inventions” carried us to the next level. New companies form, old companies die, but the economy as a while continues to move forward.

But in this economy, it seems that all of those companies are scared for their lives. And because they are so scared, they seem to be pulling out the risk taking business. In an effort to save cash, they cut marketing, they cut R&D, and they cut people. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, the companies that will succeed are those that find the opportunities in this mess and exploit them.

blackberry_2_430So who is taking advantage? Look at the Technology sector, look at the web. Social Media seems to be moving forward at the speed of light, and looking for the right way to make money and develop into valuable commodities. Youtube and other online video platforms continue to experiment with advertisements and partnerships to find revenue. The more people that watch videos online, the more traditional marketers try to enter the market, the more important a revenue stream will become.

Social Networks are starting to see the dollar signs. A week after MySpace announced $1 Billion in ad revenue, Open Social discussed how they will monetize their applications. The valuations of companies that connect people online used to be based on the idea of monetization, and now we are seeing the first real signs of those possibilities in action.

And let’s not forget about the Mobile Web. With the popularity of the iPhone as high as ever, here comes Google’s G1, and the new Blackberry Storm. The battle is on to connect more people to the web from a touch-screen phone. This means new opportunities for mobile service providers, platform developers, and third party applications. This is a battle that is sure to be waged for years.iphone_3g

Am I saying that traditional companies are dead in the water, of course not. But I am saying that it is time to wake up and see that online strategies are paying off. Technology is moving forward far faster than any other sector of the economy. They are the ones taking all the risks, and it appears that all the rewards are falling in their direction. So are we on the verge of a major transformation? That is for you to decide.

To here more on this topic and others in business and innovation, you can now sign up for email updates. Happy reading.

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The Truth about the Facebook/Google War

October 29, 2008

Google embodies everything that we dream the internet can be.  Their search engine transformed the way we found information.  And through the years, it seems like they lead the way for other internet companies to build their own space.  They represent freedom.

Facebook represents the newer, more united internet.  A network of people that grew out of control because it filled a void that we never even knew existed.  They lead the way in an area that has taken off in the last 3 years.  They are the epitome of social networking, and continue to grow their aspirations almost as fast as they grow their reach.

For these two companies, to say that they don’t directly compete would be very shortsighted.  Almost every online company must be aware of others, and these are the two giants of our time.  They are far and away two of the most innovative companies on the net, and they have enough money and power to dream and accomplish many things that we have yet to even contemplate.

As they grow, they also grow fearfulof what other internet powers meet do.  Though they will not openly say it, they must be afraid of losing out on the next big thing, or being beaten to the punch of some new project they are working on.

The poll from my last post shows that the majority of respondents felt that it was a good thing that these companies have been fighting back against each other.  And of course, in the traditional business sense, competitionis a good thing.  The internet, which represents freedom of ideas and information, must be a competitive marketplace, with no one company having too much control.  In this way, the pressure these companies put on each other will lead to each of them working harder.

But competition, perhaps especially on the internet, can make companies fearful and greedy.  This is an area that we have only started to understand.  Internet startups and entrepreneurs have proven that there is a limitless value to the online world.  We have only scratched the surface of its use.  And it seems that if these two giants worked together they could unlock more of the hidden magic in this marketplace than working against each other.

In my eyes, competition is good for the consumer when a market has limits.  When companies battle over set market share, they add value to their products and get better.  But in a field that has no limits, does a head to head battle make sense?

The internet is still a fresh, relatively undiscovered field.  In the coming years, we will no doubt develop new uses that are yet to be conceived.  And it is going to take companies acting on their own terms to continue to innovate and develop these new areas.  A Facebook vs. Google internetmay not be the best scenario for anyone involved.  The two companies share many of the purest and most innovative qualities that have made both of them successful in the online world.  They should continue to develop these commonalities and find a way to coexist without competing in order to get the most out of the internet in coming years.


Google vs. Facebook: What does it all mean?

October 24, 2008

It is well documented that Google and Facebook do not like each other. They can barely stand to be in the same room or at the same conference as one another. It’s a strange relationship.  It’s not like Yahoo and Google, which is like a sibling rivalry in one industry. These are two of the most powerful companies on the internet, both with clear aspirations for the future of the web, who fear each other just enough to make coexistence impossible.

Awhile ago I read an article in Time magazine about the future of the internet, and who will have control.  The three options: Apple, Facebook, and Google.  The reason: Each are in a position to expand their territory, have the money and ingenuity to make major moves, and each have a very different belief when it comes to what the internet is best used for. The article analyzed the good and bad aspects of all three, but did not take the time to address whether it is good or bad that there is that kind of battle for control.

Should the battle even exist?Let’s take a closer look at the war waging between Google and Facebook.  First, their underlying culture as it relates to the use of the internet are conflicting. Google believes in the freedom of information and the ease of which people can access it. Whereas Facebook holds sacred the anonymity of its users and closes its network to outsiders, including Google.

When Facebook wanted an advertising partner, they went to Microsoft, another company that is not too fond of Google. Open Social, the project Google started to make social networking more inclusive, did not extend the invitation to Facebook. There is a war brewing.

Let me know if you think that an internet where Facebook and Google hate each other is good or bad for the future of the web. Is it a pure case of competition being good for the consumer? Or is there an underlying negative aspect to these two powers going toe to toe? I will let you know what I think in my next post.


Separation of Products and Communities (part 2)

October 22, 2008

This is a follow up to my previous post on companies using web 2.0 technologies to add value to their brands.

The question to ask yourself when developing your online communities, how much do you separate the product from the “society“?  Do you have to be a customer to join the group?  Do you have to pay a subscription to join the conversation?  And how much control do you take to manage the way the network works?

The answer will be different for everyone.  There are multiple ways to do it right.  But at the same time, there are multiple ways to do it wrong.

Rule #1 – Too much control is always a bad thing.  Control, for certain companies, may be important.  But it will almost always kill a social network or community.  The great thing about the major networks is the freedom that people have to do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want.  They find people with things in common, and they network.  Now with your company, the common bond may be the fact that they love your products, but you have to let them do what they want with it, or you will chase some users away.

Rule #2 – Whenever possible, separate participation from spending money.  Make the community free, an add-on to your services.  Maybe they have to be a member of your website, but let them do it at no cost.  And do not try to sell them on anything as part of the network.  Give them stuff to talk about, reward them with options.  But if you push them, they will run.

Rule #3 – Listen.  Instead of controlling what they say and what they talk about, just pay attention to it.  You can learn a lot about your customers by just letting them interact with each other.  Use the information to better structure your marketing and your product offerings.  It will make a difference.

Rule #4– Let them spread the word.  Seth Godin talks about ideas the spread.  Give them great products and services, let them talk about it, and give them the microphone and the power to spread your message.  Soon you will find that you have created a free marketing tool.

Innovating the way your customers interact with other customers as well as your company is a natural path to growth and development.


Separation of Products and Communities (part 1)

October 20, 2008

The Web 2.0 world that we live in has made it popular and fashionable to create communities online.  The onset of social networking platforms like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook have made connecting people online easier than ever.  And now, companies that sell products, either online or off, have found that it may make sense to create their own communities of people online.

Now, the process can be done in multiple ways.  You can create a group within a larger, established community.  You can create your own community using a platform like Ning.com.  Or you can build something from scratch and put it right on your own website.  There are positives and negatives that come with all of these options, but they will all lead you down the right path.

The question then becomes how to use them, and whether or not to control them.  Seth Godin points out that many times, when companies try to have “the best of both worlds”, most often they end up with nothing.  It is important that you have a clear focus for what this community will be all about.  Will it be a place for your customers to discuss products?  Will you use a Facebook group to promote new products?  Will you host online services through this network?  What is the goal, and what value is it adding for your customers?  Sometimes too much control can take away from the value that a community will have for both you and your users.

In my opinion, any company can make use of Web 2.0 technologies to add value to your brand.  The most popular companies have used them to generate feedback through direct and indirect conversations with customers.  Blogs, wikis, even discussion boards (though ancient) have all given users a voice.  And social networks make their voices even louder, as they interact with each other and the company at the same time.

This is a real strategy that can help your company grow and develop.  But don’t take it lightly.  Put in the time and effort (and money) to do it right.  A well executed networking strategy will help you create better products, deliver a clear message to the public, generate online buzz and word of mouth marketing, and so on and so forth.

More on this to come…