July 21, 2009

Sorting Out Social Media Marketers are desperately trying to make sense of social media. But social media is still in its infancy; a period of creative and commercial confusion. Do we wait-and-see and jump right in? We are groping our way forward. Some of us are rushing to be the first on our block to embrace the latest and greatest. Many of us are personally playing around with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others to get the hang of things hoping to be able to offer clients and colleagues context and constructive ideas. And still others are waiting to see; waiting till social media attract enough sustained audience engagement, enough measurable and predictable behavior and enough media dollars to no longer be the just the flavor of the week. Meanwhile observers -- traditional consumer, business and trade press plus genuine and self-appointed marketing gurus, bloggers and social media pundits of all stripes -- are weighing in with opinions, observations, blovations and data. With as many as 110 million Americans participating in social networks, roughly 60 percent of the online population have embraced social networking. Each person goes to a social network site 5 days a week and checks in 4 times a day so its fair to conclude this is a mass media phenomenon worth following. Social networks also mirror the real world. Almost half (45%) say they will only link to family and friends. Another 18% will only link to people they've met in the flesh. The technology that extends existing relationships is the driving force. Making new connections looks like a secondary consideration even though 52% have associated themselves with a brand as either a friend or a fan. Consider the massive quick growth of Twitter, expected to reach 25 million users by year's end according to their own purloined internal estimates. And they are projecting growth of 250 percent or more for the next two years. Median use is 1 tweet per day and the Harvard Business School projects most users just send 1 tweet per lifetime. This astonishing growth has also brought a bail out rate of 60% per month and a registered base where 75% haven't filled out a profile, 55% aren't following anyone or have never tweeted and 52% have zero followers, according to Hubspot. From a qualitative standpoint Twitter is easy to use but maddeningly difficult to explain. There are a number of conventions that are tough to find out and understand. Users have difficulty getting into it. Non-users are clueless about what it is and why they should care. Neicole Crepeau has done of series of UI tests and surveys to discover that the interface itself and the labeling of the site contribute to user attrition and session bailouts. Getting started isn't easy. Nicole concludes " Twitter will probably need to lower the barriers to entry and find ways to make itself less intimidating to people, make it easier to learn the Twitter model and easily enable people to see the benefits that can be gained from returning to Twitter on a regular basis." FYI. She's also done similar nose counting and UI assessments for Facebook and other social media like social bookmarking sites. Anderson Analytics surveyed 5000 social networkers and discovered that your favorite social network says a lot about you and that birds of a feather flock together. Facebook is the digital version of Our Town -- average people interested in average things. Facebookers are loyal, late adapters and the population skews toward married white baby boomers who have embraced Facebook as their favorite network and personal CRM tool to keep in touch with friends and family. Twitter attracts the hyper-active, hyper connected information junkies eager to know about news, politics, sports, finance and restaurants. They do more, buy more, connect more and invest more time in Twitter than other social network populations. Forty-three percent say they couldn't live without this network which didn't exist 18 months ago. MySpace skews younger attracting 67 million of the young, fun and fleeing. This network has the lowest income, the most racial and cultural diversity and a high proportion of singles and students. LinkedIn, the only network with a higher percentage of men and the highest income group is focused on getting jobs, making deals and doing business. News and sports as well as individual performance-based sports like golf, tennis, yoga and working out are high on their agenda as are gambling and soap operas; classic forms of Type A stress release. Anderson teamed up with Greenfield Online...
Setting Up a Social Media Policy Social media has complicated the already stressed employer-employee relationship. In a tight economy where everyone is overworked and under paid and where emotions run high and staffing levels run low, a few angry clicks can turn things upside down and make public things never meant to be shared. Think about it -- you have people who know bits and pieces f everything you and your clients are doing. They can potentially disclose proprietary information or trade secrets, give away IP that you spent time and money to create, betray the confidence of your clients or customers, reveal personal information, embarrass or defame other employees or clients or generally tell the world what a jerk you are. And while most employees won't do any of these things -- ever. It only takes one to sink the ship. The responsible and prudent organization needs to create a policy governing employees responsibility in using social media which threads the needle between an employer's needs for secrecy and fiduciary responsibilities and an employee's rights to free expression. The law is fuzzy on a lot of these issues so your existing non disclosure agreements and/or employee handbook policies may or not fully cover you. The trick is to create and implement a policy that is respectful and sensible without becoming Nixon, Stalin or the censorship division of the Chinese Communist Party. Lest you think this is just a theoretical problem, Dana Mattioli reported in the Wall Street Journal that in a survey 14% of employee's responding admitted they had sent confidential or potentially embarrassing company e-mails to outsiders. Many a firm has discovered that the author of a blog entitled "X Sucks" was a disgruntled employee or former employee. Plus the emergence of gossipy and insider blogs in almost every vertical fuel the interest in insider info and encourage people to spill the beans. Evidently the threat is driving growth in web-monitoring software. Optenet reported 50% growth in the first six months of 2009. This is further complicated by the fact that 41% of US businesses have people assigned to spending time on social media sites according to a survey conducted by Social Media Today. Of those only 21.8 percent have a formal policy in place while 41.9 percent have no social media policy what so ever. If you were a detective or a moderate paranoid, you'd now be thinking that you have access, awareness, experience and possibly motive. Laurel Papworth lays out 5 considerations in formulating a policy. 1. Involve staff in crafting the policy. Agree on issues and terms. Don't impose anything by fiat. 2. Frame the policy in positive terms and affirmative language. Don't assume a punitive posture. Its part of building your brand, your positioning and your IP. Treat it as such. 3. Tone Matters. Don't talk down to employees. Don't assume evil or criminal behavior will happen. 4. Focus on the details. Be sure you cover all your names and subsidiaries. Include freelancers, contractors and vendors. Make appropriate adjustments to your NDAs and employee handbooks. Check with your IP lawyer. Decide if making the policy public beyond the walls of your firm will serve your purpose or make you more vulnerable. 5. Look at what others are doing. To help you Laurel has collected more than 40 policies from government and industry in the US and in Australia here that you can study and adapt. I'm impressed and proud of the effort made by my former employer SAP, a German firm, in writing guidelines that are intently sensitive to private, individual participation in social media channels. Written in plain language in a collaborative, respective tone, the guidelines aim to "represent an opportunity to facilitate conversation with all our constituents regarding the enterprise software industry and our place in it." The policy includes inputs from employees and management but squarely puts the onus on individual and personal legal and ethical responsibility for statements made online. You can download a copy at Social Media.com. As social media continue to grow at explosive rates, getting a viable social media policy in place is a must-have for companies hoping to grow and thrive online. Put this on your Q4 priority to-do list.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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