Social Media Marketing World 2014: Words of Wisdom

I had the privilege of attending Social Media Marketing World in the beautiful San Diego, California last week and live tweeted every session I could attend so that I could share my learnings. For those of who that missed the conference, or the tweets, check out some of my favorite words of wisdom below.

Facebook Marketing Tips

With the recent changes to Facebook reach, many of the sessions discussed how to increase your reach through organic means, contests/promotions and/or advertising:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Plus

While many consider Google Plus to be a ghost town, smart marketers know that it’s high time to adopt this newer and quickly growing) network – so many sessions focused on how to get started on Google Plus, how to use it to move ahead in search and how it’s different than other networks.

BUT…

 

More Social Media Marketing World Words of Widsom

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to get buy in? Say this:

 

Not that:

The Social Media Manager Isn’t Dead… It Just Never Was

Is the Social Media Manager Dead?

Lately there have been some articles about the future of the Social Media Manager: from a career perspective, is this a position that will be around in the next 5 years?  HootSuite wrote an article last year proclaiming the Social Media Manager dead, saying:

Growth in positions with the title “social media manager” slowed to 50% in the past year, a dramatic decline from recent years, when triple (and even quadruple) digit growth was commonplace.

Some of social media’s staunchest advocates are waving a white flag. “Social media managers, it could be time to find a new title,” cautions reporter Vickie Elmer on Quartz. “Social media jobs, once much vaunted, are now frequently regarded with skepticism, even contempt,” writes Buzzfeed’s Rob Fishman.

The article then goes on to note that social media skills are in demand in other positions within a business organization.  Today I saw an article noting that the Social Media Manager is (almost) dead, referencing this HootSuite article, advising those with that title to expand their skill sets by acquiring new but related Marketing skills.

And this is good advice.  But it’s advice that illustrates a fundamental problem with the advent of the Social Media Manager as a job title: neither the companies hiring Social Media Managers nor the Social Media Managers themselves have necessarily had a good grasp as to what that person’s experience, responsibilities or goals should be.

Here’s the truth about the Social Media Manager: the social media manager isn’t dead, it just never was.

You’re a Social Media Manager… Now What?

When I started as a Social Media Manager myself in 2008, I was already a writer and a Marketer with a strong background in community and brand marketing.  My CMO came to me one day and said, “Hey, so… how would you feel about figuring out the Social Media strategy for us?  Everyone is talking about this social media thing at marketing conferences, and nobody knows exactly what to do with it.  Do you want to figure it out for us?”

And my answer was, “Totally!”

I then had a Social Media Manager title without a real understanding of what I was supposed to do with it, but it was OK: nobody else knew what to do with it, either.  But one thing we did figure out, very quickly, is that “Social Media Manager” should be more meaningful than “someone who tweets a lot.”  And yet, over and over again, I would see companies posting job openings for “Social Media Managers” that required little to no marketing experience whatsoever.  The reason that I agree that Social Media Managers should expand their skill sets into other areas of marketing is because I don’t think that someone running a social media channel should be there without a solid understanding of marketing in the first place.

Social media is a real-time brand bullhorn.  That anyone thought that hiring someone fresh out of school with no marketing experience as the public, real-time voice of a company was a good idea has always been baffling to me.  This hiring philosophy seems to stem out of an insecurity of upper management that has to do with feeling uncomfortable with a new technology (which is dead simple, actually – social networks are a broadcast system that enable peer-to-peer engagement), and deciding that hiring someone who understood the nuts and bolts of Twitter was more important (and far cheaper) than having a fundamental understanding of solid marketing principles – most notably the ones that lead to excellent content creation, customer engagement, and brand alignment.

This hiring tactic was, quite simply, bound to fail.  Would you hire a Public Relations Manager based solely on the fact that this person knows how to publish a press release?  Would you hire an attorney because she knows the logistics and filing processes of a court date?  Would you hire an e-mail marketer just because he can forward a joke to a mailing list?

Inexperienced Marketers Lead to Sub-Par Results, Regardless of Marketing Channel

In my case, I was extremely lucky: not only did I have a solid 10-year marketing background and a lot of leeway to experiment and screw up, I also had excellent leadership in the form of our CMO and our head of PR (who works with me now, again).  One thing we realized early on is that social media and PR were kind of sort of exactly the same thing.  And so my first Social Media Manager job was very quickly folded into the PR department, and in that way we made sure that all the messaging and brand strategy was in alignment.  I still helped set overall PR strategy and was involved on larger marketing campaigns, including those that involved email and other DM disciplines: for example, I audited our customer touchpoints sitewide, and looked for ways within the overall site experience to insert social sharing cues.  While my title was “Social Media Manager,” what that meant practically was that I was still a brand and community marketer who happened to be the one with the social KPI’s.

But I was the exception in the Social Media Manager space and, the job descriptions being what they were, I have not been at all surprised to see so many Social Media Managers complaining over the past 6 years that their higher-ups don’t understand why social media marketing is important, any more than I was surprised to see the HootSuite article noting the “contempt” around the job title.   These skeptical executives were confused: they’d hired a 22-year-old (often, the LinkedIn complainer asking how to explain their worth to their boss) who completely understood how to use The Twitter, but who didn’t know what KPI meant and who, without any business or marketing experience whatsoever, couldn’t possibly be expected to tie social media efforts back to an articulated business goal.   Social media marketing ROI isn’t as elusive as some people think it is, but it does actually require a solid understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish in the first place.

And understanding that requires a marketing and business education best accomplished by having been in marketing departments before.

The Future of the Social Media Manager is in Content Marketing (Maybe)

We’ve been talking about Content Marketing for the past 2 years or so in Marketing circles, and it’s for this reason that the “(almost) dead” article talks about the need for Social Media Managers to sharpen their writing skills.  This is good advice: social channels depend primarily on written content, and with the trend of social curation tools becoming available for the everyman, anyone in a Social Media Management role should hone up on your writing skills so that the everyman is more prone to sharing your content.  Be honest with yourself: are you a good writer?  If your answer is “No,” you should look to a different discipline that doesn’t lean so heavily upon the written word.

Content Marketing is a discipline (as opposed to Social Media, which is a channel), and it is a strategic discipline based on hard results (including KPI’s from your social media channels).  As such, it is a discipline that those same senior executives – the ones who felt that hiring someone with no experience to run their social channels was a good idea – are willing to support.

Now, this isn’t to say that all Social Media Managers need to become Content Marketers, but rather that most Social Media Managers are already Content Marketers by default – and a solid content marketing strategy is what makes that content worthwhile.   Adding both the strategy and the KPI’s to your social media channels is what gives Social Media Marketing its C-level stamp of approval, and if all we need to accomplish that is a rebrand to “Content Marketer,” hey: no problem.  We are marketers, after all.

 

 

 

Press Release or Not? 3 Easy Questions to Aid in Evaluation

The one question every PR pro hears regularly, “should we issue a press release?”

Let’s face it; rarely a week goes by where a PR pro isn’t asked to write a press release announcing “BIG NEWS.” While PR professionals all evaluate these requests differently, there is one constant we all agree on: these requests don’t always make sense. In some instances a press release is a great idea for your individual business reasons (it’s newsworthy, announces a partner, SEO, gets the word out, etc.), but sometimes the news simply isn’t newsworthy or the story idea is just plain silly. When I receive such a request I ask 3 simple questions that help to evaluate if a press release is the best course of action.

But first, in order to understand why our business partners regularly request press releases, I look to the evolution of the distribution process and how our colleagues perceive release effectiveness.

Press Release Distribution – Then and Now

THEN: Those of us who have been in PR for more than 15 years remember the day when a press release was the most valuable tool in our arsenal. Back in the day, reporters actually looked to the wires to provide stories. It was a magical time.

I’ll never forget the first press release I wrote. I was in college working for University Affairs and we were announcing funding for a new music center: this was very big news. I was very green and my first PR mentor, Andrei, walked me through the mechanics of a release. We worked together and got it out to the wire and local papers before the end of the day. I was excited, but he reminded me that not all releases were picked up by the press and explained that I needed to get on the phone and make a few calls.

I left messages for a handful of reporters, alerting them to the release and directing them to the wire. Remember, this  before email was common in newsrooms, so we regularly used the phone.

I don’t recall actually talking to anyone live, but I clearly remember the next day. I walked into the office and Andrei tossed me the local daily paper.

Right there, on page B6, was my story. And, not only was it my story, it was my press release. They had printed it word for word. I was so proud!  My release had accomplished exactly what it was supposed to, an article in the local newspaper.

NOW: Today, press releases are different. It’s not that the press release itself has changed; it’s the distribution. The very nature of how press releases are distributed today often leads to the misunderstanding of, and extreme enthusiasm for, their success amongst non-PR folks. Wire releases are amazing, but we have to understand how their distribution works to use them properly and to set expectations.

Back in the time I described above press releases were not commonplace. The barriers to entry were higher, and as a result the masses were not issuing tens-of-thousands of releases every day through the dozens of online press release wire services now available. The Internet was still in its infancy and wire services were still reserved for PR folks willing to pay the fee and publishers looking for stories.

Today, anyone with a small amount of money can issue a release using an online wire service to distribute. When you do this your release makes its way to every news aggregator in your chosen distribution area.  This is both a good thing, and a bad thing.

On one hand, it’s great to know that if you pay the fee for a wire press release distribution, you can count on it being “picked up” by dozens if not hundreds of news outlets. When a news outlet republishes a press release it does indeed get your release out into the world, making it searchable both on the news outlet website and through major search engines. This can be great exposure for your company, the news you’re sharing, and it gives your release a substantial, almost evergreen, shelf life.

On the other hand, having your wire release aggregated to news websites gives internal, non-PR audiences the false impression of coverage, leading to more requests for press releases. I have always found this situation to be tricky to explain. Yes, the release is indeed published on news sites like the LA Times, but can you find it without searching for it on their website or on Google?

The answer is no. Syndicated press release postings are not navigable. There are not links to the release on the news website homepage or other relevant topical section pages. This means that other people, your audience, customers, etc., are not seeing the article, unless they search for the news. Yes, people will see the news, but not as many people as some believe or hope.

Wire releases, as described above have merit, and do make sense if aligned to your business goals. Just make sure that your internal business partners understand how wire service syndication works so you avoid misconceptions.

By understanding how press releases work and why our colleagues want them (or think they do) we can then put on our logical PR hats and ask a few questions that will help us to decide if writing a press release makes sense.

3 Question Press Release Evaluation

On the surface it may seem that a newsworthiness test would be enough to evaluate if your news warrants a press release, but in truth it only answers a one of the important questions.

Testing for newsworthiness tells you if you have a story. Testing for whether you should issue a press release lets you know if there’s a business case for an actual release, as opposed to a pitch, an email, etc.

Question 1: Is there a business reason for a Press Release?

When someone asks me to write a press release I answer with, “That is a great idea, let’s talk about that! What are we hoping this press release will accomplish for us?”

This question moves our discussion away from the release itself and towards the business problem they believe a press release will solve. I find that the answer to this question is rarely related to newsworthiness. Often times the answer makes the press release sensible from a business perspective: I find that business partners often want to announce a new partner, a new product or a promotion that may help sales in a variety of ways rather than reach the press. Sometimes a release remains a good idea even when the topic lacks newsworthiness. In cases like this issuing a press release is fine so long as you set expectations with the requester up front.

Question 2: Does anyone outside of your company care about this news?

This can be a hard question to ask, and can put people on the defensive, but it is important. People often have trouble being 100% objective and feel that if their news is exciting to them it will be exciting to everyone. This simply is not true, unfortunately: as it is in your social life, so it is in business.  If your news isn’t exciting to another influential group outside of your own company – be it a customer, the press, a partner or a prospect – you should skip the release.

Question 3: Is there a reason this news needs to be told through a press release?

If the requested press release is indeed newsworthy and/or has practical business purpose, does it need to be a press release? Can it be a pitch? Is your business partner actually asking for customer communication or email?

I’ve learned that when a non-PR pro requests a press release they often don’t realize the mechanics of PR, and sometimes think a press release is the only method/tool we use to get news out. It is our job to help decide if a press release is the best manner for getting the news to a journalist or intended audience for consideration.

Asking these three questions of my colleagues over the years has proven helpful in determining when a press release is the right path. There’s no hard and fast rule saying what answers lead to a press release and which answers say you should not issue a release, but asking these 3 questions always allows you to analyze the situation and make the decision that makes sense for your business.

If you practice this general evaluation strategy I believe that your colleagues will be happy that you’ve had the conversation, and respect the decisions you make as a team. Well, most of them will; some of them will be annoyed, especially when you say no, but at least they’ll understand the reason.

March Madness Social Listening: Sweet 16 Bracket Predictions

Wondering who’ll survive the Sweet 16?  I’m making my predictions based on chatter volume.  Last year I tried a combination of skill and nostalgia and picked Georgetown to win it all, and they were knocked out unceremoniously in the first round by FGCU.  Let the voice of the people via March Madness social listening be my guide to sanctioned work gambling domination!

March Madness is upon us, and as someone who went to a basketball school (Georgetown), this is a month wherein I’m well-accustomed to the hand-wringing and forehead-slapping that happen when a team that was seriously supposed to win that game messes up your entire bracket.

And so, this year, I decided to let March Madness social listening data do my picking.  I put some searches into our social listening tool to see what would come up, and pulled out some extraneous results (like Justin Bieber, who apparently will show up in every word cloud no matter the topic): Stanford, for example, is prominently featured in this word cloud because people can’t get enough of their cowbell guy.  And, as someone who’s old enough to remember Christopher Walken’s “More Cowbell” skit, I will continue to hold hope that Stanford uses some of that endowment to do a send-up of it.  C’mon, Stanford: surely someone at your B-school has a nose for timely Content Marketing.

Anyway, without further ado…

March Madness Social Listening Picks:

Florida

Dayton*

Michigan State

Connecticut

Arizona

Wisconsin

Kentucky

Michigan

 

 

Now, please don’t get me wrong: I am not remotely saying that predicting game outcomes by how much people are talking about their teams is even close to a good way of picking basketball teams.  Somewhere, Nate Silver is weeping at the very thought.  But since I can’t do any worse than I did last year, this seemed like as good a modus operandi as any.  In fact, I may have my 3-year-old pick the winners based on their mascots and see if that works better.

I am going to keep doing this through the rest of the tournament, just to see what happens – and if Stanford does win, I’ll keep those extraneous cowbell results in and recommend that other teams introduce a cowbell to their band.

Onward, college hoops fans.  May your bracket remain unsullied by an upset.

 

*Sorry, Stanford: but if your cowbell guy gets on the court, I’ll change my tune… to “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

 

Organic Facebook Reach Throttle: The Good News for Brands

Hang on there, marketing folks: the Facebook Reach ride isn’t free anymore.

If you know what organic Facebook Reach is, you’ve probably already heard that Facebook is throttling the results for brands.  This doesn’t mean that they’re turning it off entirely, but if this Valleywag article is to be believed, your brand’s content will now only reach 1-2% of your followers.  

To put it simply, Facebook Reach is the same thing as “impressions” in a traditional media source.  It’s the number of people exposed to your content – and it’s how you get Engagement (and on Facebook, Engagement’s by-product is word-of-mouth marketing).  In the past, Reach was earned media: we were able to get those eyeballs in the Newsfeeds of the folks who Liked us on Facebook, simply by posting content on our own owned media (our Page).  And the more people who engaged with the content, the more other folks saw it – not just through the shares and their specific activity feeds (which is more earned media for us, i.e. the holy grail of social media marketing), but because Facebook Story Bumping rewards content marketing engagement by keeping popular content up at the top of relevant user Newsfeeds.

Now, I have long been of the opinion that social media marketing is a relationship marketing discipline (and this article on social media ROI will explain that).  And so I am, perhaps, less troubled about these changes than some other marketers are.  There are, after all, still two ways to get your content in front of a relevant audience, and they are:

1) Pay for placement.

2) Engage good influencers, and they will share your content.

And the truth of the matter is that both of these tactics force us to be better at content marketing.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Organic Facebook Reach – It Ain’t Free Anymore

This is what everyone is moaning about: yep, Facebook wants us to pay for real estate that we used to get for free.  And, to be fair to the brands here, Facebook has put on a real dog and pony show over the past several years to convince companies that building up their followers is a great idea and that the big payoff is the earned media that we were getting in those Newsfeeds.

That being the case, Facebook has somewhat pulled the rug out from under the brands.  This could have been handled better from a communications standpoint, and I question why there wouldn’t be a threshold for SMB’s and/or nonprofits who haven’t necessarily had a chance to maximize their Facebook presence and understand how Reach helps them.

The reality, though, is that all free rides are bound to end.  Facebook is a business, and it’s going to monetize wherever it can.  The big question that brands are going to have to ask themselves now is whether or not they’ve seen enough evidence that Facebook as a marketing channel is actually worth a spend; Facebook, obviously, feels that its value has been proven.

There is a bright and shiny side to this coin, though: Facebook placement is really, really cheap compared to other channels.  I have a consultant friend who works with a charity, and they saw their organic reach tank by 90% (from a reach of 750 to about 75) with the recent changes.  They then spent $200 for promoted posts, and they reached 4500 people.

Now, whether that $200 was worth 4500 to reach is up to them to decide; this was an awareness campaign and their metrics are up to them.  Doing a spend on Promoted Posts is advertising, friends, and while we have more tracking on this spend as compared to a billboard campaign, unless you’re actually prompting a click you’re taking a leap of faith that brand awareness is a worthy endeavor.  (The social marketing ROI post explains that, too.)

But there is a truth that we marketers who are bummed out by this change (and I most assuredly am one of them) need to admit to ourselves:

Marketers know from experience that people don’t value free things as much as they should.

And this includes us.  So, perhaps – if we’re really honest with ourselves – we’ve been a little more lax than we need to be in our own content marketing strategy.  After all, until now we could just throw up pictures of cats (um – those actually work – keep doing that) and any other thing we so chose, and if it didn’t work – *shrug.*  Facebook was great for content experimentation for that reason.  Now, we’re going to have to consider where we’re putting a spend – and that means we’ll have to start to ask ourselves questions like “Is this post worth paying money to promote?”

And, if the answer is no, perhaps the next question we should be asking ourselves is, “Then is it worth the disruption to someone’s activity feed in the first place?”

Now, perhaps I’m just overly optimistic to think that better content will come out of this change, but hey: I’m an upbeat girl.

Influencer Marketing is the New Organic Facebook Reach

In the last few months, we’ve been talking a lot about influencer marketing – and our earned social media article is now the underscore to the article you’re reading. Now that Facebook Reach is primarily a paid advertising channel, influencer marketing becomes more important than ever: your Page’s content may not show up in your followers’ Newsfeed without your dollars, but an actual person’s content will still show up to their followers, even if it’s yours.

Using influencers in lieu of paid placement isn’t a bad thing: people are much more likely to pay attention to something that’s shared by an actual person in their network anyway, and social media marketing is a discipline that’s best done by real people acting like real people.  That being said, it is of course more work to build up a personal network of influencers and lobby for spend dollars and really track that spend and make sure that the content you’re putting out there is actually worth (1) money, or (2) an influencer’s time…

And all of that should lead to better content marketing.  And better content is never a bad thing.