28th June 2008

Why I’m not a "Social Media Strategist"…

More and more I’m seeing this title - especially amongst consultants.  I’ve been called one, introduced as one and hired as one many times, but let me state for the record, I’m not one.  Huh?  (and yes, this post is partly tongue in cheek…)

Here’s the deal:

  • If someone asks you what you do and they don’t understand your answer, then you might not have the right description - Seriously, next time you’re on a plane, tell the person next to you that you are a social media strategist and see what happens.   Worse, watch how easy it is to devalue what you know and do when they ask you what that is - “oh, I help companies figure out how to use blogging to talk to their customers.”  I admit it.  I said this once on a plane.  Never since.  I immediately thought - wow, I’m tired.  That was a dumb answer.  That is so not what I do or want to do. 
  • Does the phrase really make sense - “social media strategist” - isn’t social media a tactic?  I’ve asked in many speeches, how does social media or web 2.0 change your business objectives?  Trick question - it doesn’t.  This is of course a big semantic game.  Take my last job at Microsoft.  What was a strategy for one of my direct reports, was a tactic to me.  What was a strategy for me, was a tactic for my VP.  What was a strategy for my VP, was a tactic for his Sr. VP…and so on.  These things should cascade up.  What’s important is that everyone up and down the chain are clear on what true north is and how to make empowered trade off decisions that support the bigger picture. 
  • Does this mean I don’t believe in having a social media strategy or I’m not working on social media strategies for companies.  No, of course not.  I think every company needs to have a social media strategy - but the this work needs to support a broader objective around customer experience.  If you ask yourself why you need a social media strategy, you will likely be a lot closer to the real strategic objective.

So what the heck do I do.  Well, that’s the journey I guess.  In the end, I’m in the customer experience business.  Now, fair enough, a “customer experience strategist” doesn’t really sound any better!  So, let’s push this a little further, how about the advocacy business?  I like that a bit better - easier to explain and more aligned with what I do.  It’s a relationship and experiential marketing world.  Driving deeper and more connected relationships between you and your customers across all the touch points in your business is the best path towards building brand and product advocacy resulting in what really matters - growth, competitive differentiation and affinity.  I’m a big believer that Social Media is one of the most important opportunities to re-invent customer experiences - but, if the answer to every customer experience improvement opportunity across your business is social media - you might have hired the wrong consultant!

What would you call it?


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28th June 2008

Nearly as annoying as a blue screen…but a lot more frequent

I used to think this was cute.  A fun, light-hearted way of showing your growing pains.  Now it is driving me away slowly but surely…maybe not that slowly.  Why is that sleepy, smiling whale mocking me!  And why does he seem so content to be out of action.  hmmm.




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24th June 2008

Nuggets from Social Media workshops as of late…

I’ve done a number of workshops the past few months with clients designed to do two primary things:

  • Land a common understanding across the teams involved around what social media, communities and influencer programs really are and more importantly why it matters to a business. 
  • Drive a strategy development process that results in a project vision, objectives, roadmap and success metrics.

Each workshop is its own learning process.  I’d like to say I’m getting this codified down to a common process such that each workshop is easier to repeat, but the reality is they are each governed by some of their own unique characteristics. 

Here are some random thoughts from a collection of these experiences and feedback from conference speeches:

1)  Features are NOT user experiences:  Warning…if you ask someone about desired user experience and they say wiki or forum, you have work to do.  Lots of diverse versions of this.  My advice - get people talking about the customer lifecycle from pre-consideration to post purchase.  What is the outside-in approach at each phase in the lifecycle today and then focus on how to make that better (and connect that to business measures that matter).  The answer is NOT always social media/community - that would be another warning sign if it was.

2)  Including your agency partners in the workshop can be extremely useful:  Likely not a good solution in all scenarios, but I had one client include their agency partners in the workshop and I thought it went brilliantly.  I was impressed how difficult it was to tell who was who by the 2nd day.  This is a big complement.  They were very in sync and collaborative and having them there prevents a large “translation” effort from what we learned and decided to the partners who will ultimately help them implement.

3)  Cross functional participation is important - but consensus is only a “nice to have”:  Much of the long range benefits from doing this work brilliantly accrues from driving cross functional execution(Marketing/Support/Business Units).  For example, if you go create an external facing idea portal but don’t do the hard work to drive process change internally with the functions that own the changes your users want - your idea engine could do you more harm than good.  That said, if you are a large company, it could take you 3-4 months just to coordinate calendars to get all the right people gathered!  So, don’t get paralyzed by the cross group challenges - move it forward and determine where the opportunities to improve customer experience are for what “you control” and drive progress there - then fan out with your early successes.  

4)  None of the following are community platforms:  Wikis, Blogs or Forums.  I wish that could be enough said.  These are not platforms…these are implementations on top of platforms.  A platform should have an extensibility model, a content management model, a user profiling/membership model, a rating/reputation system (for content and authors), and registration system, etc, etc, etc…you get the idea.  A wiki may have all these things, but that does not a platform make.

5)  PMO required:  ok, if you are just doing a team blog, maybe not, but that isn’t the work I’m focused on.  Most of these projects end up touching multiple orgs, have multiple phases and senior stakeholders.  In this scenario, you really need Program/Project mgmt and your consulting partner (in my opinion) should not be your PMO.  Given the organizational and culture change issues, someone who is an insider and onsite is an important success criteria.  If your subject matter expert is also your PMO, you are either over-paying for PMO help (bad) or being undercharged by your SME (good job!). 

6)  Social Media is not new…just digitizing the norm:  Reminded of this all the time.  Social Media is really just facilitating what are actually much more natural human interaction behaviors than traditional web was able to support.  To me, this is why this isn’t a fad - but genuine change in the customer interaction model (user to user, user to brand and brand to user).

7)  I’m not convinced there is a “tipping point” for social tools (like twitter):  Many may disagree on this and likely we’ll end up debating semantics…but here’s my thinking.  Television hit a tipping point - but channels (NBC) don’t.  Ok, ok, maybe they do in terms of commercial viability, but inherently there is motion from channel to channel based on content, time, cost, benefits, etc.  I think the same is true for the bevy of social tools.  Social networking has hit a tipping point, but the channels will continue to ebb and flow.  The channels are interesting and at times very useful, but the channels are not “the change.”  Maybe one of you can make this perspective better or give me a different way to think about this. 

8)  “Participating in the conversation” is hollow advice for a large corporation:  Too many give the advice of “join the conversation” without enough guidance behind the surface.  I spent a long time in a very large brand.  Had someone shown up and said “join the convo,” I would have thrown them out.  Why?  The advice isn’t wrong - but too simplistic.  As I was leaving that brand we looked at sizing the amount of conversation (hard activity), but the best research we had indicated over 2 Billion conversations about product, service and brand.  Go join that!  Good luck.  If you haven’t been participating until now, another 6 months won’t kill you!  Take the time to step back and do the analysis work to understand where the conversations are taking place, how do you categorize them, who are the influencers, what should the internal accountability model be for taking action, ensure you are trained/ready to participate, determine what are you trying to accomplish and how will you sustain the participation.  Nothing like deeply listening before you start talking to help ensure what you are doing is “joining the community.”

9)  Most companies have “hearing systems” not “listening systems.”  It strikes me that the word listening has sort of become tainted.  Most every company can give you a valid and committed set of “listening processes” they have had in place for the past decade or longer.  So, they are listening, right?  Well, in most cases their users don’t think so and the perception matters.  I describe this as hearing systems.  I hear your feedback and stuff is happening to change, adjust, fix, etc.  But, I’m not closing the loop back with you to tell you what I did with your feedback.  To me, that’s the difference - that is the opportunity.  A real listening system both “hears”  and “responds” to its participants.  Response is really hard work - but that is where the reward is in driving brand affinity.

10)  Converting behaviors in the participation demographics is NOT the goal:  70/20/9/1.  Let’s assume we can generally agree that ~70% will lurk, 20% join, 9% will be regulars and 1% participate in the community in extreme ways.  There is a temptation to look at this and say, hey, it’s a pyramid.  Therefore, the business goal is to mix shift the segments!  Move 70% to 60%, 20% to 25%, 9 to 12% and 1 to 3%!  I think this is the wrong goal.  The distribution is essentially a reflection of human behaviors.  Changing behaviors is exceptionally hard and very expensive.  Even if you do change behaviors, I’m not convinced you’ll know why or that it is sustainable or that the cost model you put in place is sustainable.  I think the goal is to grow the entire pyramid and optimize the experience for each segment.  Make the 70% more successful at finding what they want to find and make the 1% more effective at contributing in the ways they want to contribute.  If the demographics shift in your favor over time…great!  But not likely the first order of business.

10a)  This applies to Influencer programs too:  They should be about finding, activating, facilitating, appreciating and aligning behaviors NOT creating behaviors.

11)  Affinity represents a shift in thinking:  I wrote about this before here.  It’s gratifying to see this resonating and opportunities to push the model further.

I know once I publish I will think of other items, but already this is too long.


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