Why Digital Marketing Requires a Learning Organization

desks-learning-classroomI have been thinking a lot about learning and social media marketing lately (I am working on a series of white papers on this subject with some colleagues from P&G).

Today, marketers and ad agencies don’t have to stay on top of dramatically changing mediums to be successful.  The key to success in most traditional advertising is understanding the consumer and having great creative based on meaningful insights.  Let’s face it – the formula for great TV hasn’t changed much in a long time.

In digital, the key to success is different.  It changes.  All the time.  What worked today might not work tomorrow.  Unless you are immersed in the medium you won’t be successful.  Reading a few trade publications won’t really help either.

Search Changed

Initially, you could easily game search by stuffing key words on your site and joining link exchanges or buying links.  If you use those tactics today, they just won’t work.  Google got smarter and changed it’s algorithms making them more complicated and harder to game.

Today, many search firms are relying on social (and creating great content) to drive links and long-tail search traffic to their sites.  Today, google is harder to game (although I’m sure some SEO types will disagree).  Even if you can game it, your success may be short lived once google catches on.

At Pubcon South Guy Kawasaki said in a keynote that SEO was witchcraft and the key to good search results is to create great content.

Twitter Changed

Two years ago, nobody was even talking about twitter.  In the early days of twitter, you could win by showing up, and contests from brands were embraced and rewarded (that is what Zappos did).  The rules were different.  Auto-follow and DM Spam didn’t exist, and there were relatively few players, so it was easy for brands to stand out.

Now, it is much more difficult for brands to connect on twitter.

FaceBook Changed (again and again and again)

It seems that every week Facebook is changing something.  They changed Groups vs. Fan Pages.  They change how your news updates and status feeds work.  They add new features all the time.  They made apps (when I first joined there were no FaceBook apps).  They changed privacy settings.  They change the rules for brands.  They added FaceBook ads.

MySpace Became Irrelevant Before Most Brands Got On-Board.

A few years ago EVERYONE was talking about MySpace… today nobody does.  Sites can rise and fall quicker than you can create accounts, making it more important to stay up to speed.  Remember a few years ago when people were investing in Second Life?

These are just a few examples of how digital quickly the rules and success criteria change in digital marketing.  If your organization is not continuously learning, you’ll quickly be out of the game.

The second major trend it that…

Feedback Cycles are Shorter with Digital

feedback_form_excellentWith digital marketing results are almost instant.  This means that marketers and agencies can get results from their campaigns relatively quickly.  For example, with paper coupons it takes almost a year from the time the coupon is created to when complete redemption data is available.  With Mobile Coupons the data is instant.  You can view and adjust in real time based on results.  When placing online display ads you can instantly see the clicks (and subsequent results) vs. waiting over a year to get (questionably accurate) marketing mix data back.

It isn’t just that the feedback cycles are shorter, but also that the ability to adjust is instant.  Bad TV copy may never go off the air – either you realize it is bad only after sales suffer, or it is too expensive to change.  Bad digital marketing has much lower production costs, and small changes can usually be made quickly.

Social Media (and digital marketing) Require Continuous Learning

It can be overwhelming, but the reality is that if you want to stay competitive in the digital environment you must have a continuous learning environment.  The rules for TV and Print and how they are consumed has been relatively static for decades.

Digital changes every day.  With this faster rate of change organizations must adopt a learning strategy.  Marketers and agencies will have to learn quicker to stay relevant.

How do you stay up to speed on changes?

Social Media Marketing – Just Showing Up Isn’t Good Enough Any More

The Early Days of Social Media

When social media first began to emerge as a marketing tool, it was relatively easy for brands to break through and connect with consumers.

Consumers were curious about why brands were online and what they were talking about – there were not very many of them after all.

Social Media Enthusiasts and advocates gave the early brand participants a lot of credit just for showing up.  People liked JetBlue just because they cared enough to be on twitter.

There wasn’t a lot of noise in the earlier days of twitter.  There were only a few million people using the service and hardly any brands.  People didn’t spam DM you or try to sell you stuff all the time.  It was easy to be heard if you had a good message.

Gimmicks worked better because they were new.  When Zappos joined twitter a few years ago they built their following by giving away free shoes.  People often talk about how popular Zappos is, but it didn’t happen by accident.  Today, brands offering prizes to follower is frowned upon and considered lower engagement marketing.

Why Things Have Changed

As social media has evolved, things have changed. What works and doesn’t work changes all the time as the mediums mature and evolve.

With more brands (and more people) participating, social media has become cluttered and automated.  According to Facebook there are:

  • More than 3 million active Pages on Facebook
  • More than 1.5 million local businesses have active Pages on Facebook
  • More than 20 million people become fans of Pages each day
  • Pages have created more than 5.3 billion fans

With all of this noise, how does your brand break-through and stand out?

What it takes to be Successful in Social Media Today

Today it takes more to be successful in social media.  You can’t just create an account, try to be nice to people and expect to see marketing miracles.

Social Media today requires a great creative execution.  How will you creatively engage your consumers?  What interesting or useful content will you provide them with?

If you look at some of the brands getting it right these days, they have a strong strategy, great execution and creative ideas on what to do with the medium.

Here are some examples:

PetCentric on Facebook

Petcentric on Facebook ran pet photo contests on Facebook using Flickr.  They had one of the most active Facebook fan pages I have come across.  Now, they have gone so far as to create an app for the photo contest.

Key Learning: Great creative idea (pet contest) start simple (use Flickr/Facebook) take it to the next level after success (app)



Many people think that BtoB brands can’t succeed in Social Media.  They can.  Hubspot is a great example.  They have tools, blogs, webinars and a twitter account that all position them as the clear leader in Internet Marketing.  I have called into a number of their webinars, to listen to industry experts talk about marketing and social media.

Key Learnings: Use multiple touchpoints to reach customers, become the thought leader, give free valuable information, talk about what your audience is interested in instead of your product.


The Key = Creative

These days the key to social media success is strategy and creative.  Understand your target audience and what they are interested in (hint: it probably isn’t your product).  Come up with something interesting to engage them with.  Do more than just show up.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

How to Create Passionate Raving Fans for Your Brand

krista-neher-and-kate-the-greatMarketers often talk about passionate brand enthusiasts and using social media and customer service as tools to create brand loyalists and enthusiasts.

The secret truth is that getting people to like you is often as simple as just being nice.


Just be nice to people and they will love you.  It sounds obvious.  It should be obvious.  Many marketers hear this, nod their heads, and then when confronted with a potential customer they revert to sell mode.  Don’t do it.  Resist the temptation.

Here are 10 tips to help you be nice on the internet:

  • When you respond to a customer, pretend that you aren’t trying to sell something. Just answer the question or respond like a normal person with no vested interest would.  People will want to learn more about you if you are interesting vs. trying to shove something on them.
  • Empower your employees to do nice things for your customers and potential customers.  And reward employees who go above and beyond to be nice to your customers or potential customers.
  • Don’t give everyone a coupon. You don’t need to give someone a coupon because they said they liked you (or hated you).  Appealing to deeper emotions (feeling valued, heard or inspired) will give you better long term results.  Don’t cheapen every interaction by making it about money.
  • Act like you care. Really act like you care.  If someone trashes your product show a willingness to learn and help them.  Try not to get frustrated.
  • Thank people. Thank as many people as often as you can.  It will make them like you.
  • Address issues directly. If I email you to tell you that I hate your website, don’t send me a coupon.  Fix your website, or explain to me why you won’t.
  • Do something unexpectedly nice when you get the opportunity.  This leads to story telling and word of mouth.  We’ve all heard about the crazy lengths that Zappos customer service goes through to make people happy.  They probably don’t do it every time, but when they do it is so unexpected that word gets out.
  • Stop selling.  Stop trying to sell.  I’m not saying that selling is a bad goal for social media.  But if your goal is to inspire raving fans you have to switch out of sell mode.
  • Say nice things to people. Complement them (but only if you mean it).  Tell them you are sorry that their pet died.  Act like you are a nice human being and like you care about the people you interact with.  Be careful not to be creepy about this, but just try to be nice.
  • Promote other people. Promote their blogs.  Talk about how smart they are.  Drive traffic to their blogs.  Do this and be authentic and mean it when you do it.  Promoting other people goes a long way to building positive brand equity.

Here are some of my examples:

  • When I was getting my business internet set up, my first experience with Cincinnati Bell customer service wasn’t very good.  I was so annoyed I was going to write a mean blog post.  But the installation guy who came to my office was so nice (and even got my internet connection boosted) that I completely changed by feelings, and have actually recommended them to a few people. (yes, it works offline too)
  • I recommend a web service to a friend because I “know the guy” on twitter and he commented on one of my random tweets about Canada.

Do you have examples of brands that were nice to you and won your favor?

Want Something? All you have to do is ask! 5 Ways Asking Works.

talking-boxesI was recently at a Cincinnati Web Entrepreneurs Meetup, and we had a brief discussion about asking people to do something for you.  The reality is that if you are nice and respectful and people like you, you will probably get the best results just by asking.

In the PR and Marketing world we often get caught up with “if I want someone to do something, what incentive can I offer them?  What can I offer them?”

Here are some examples:

1. User or Customer Feedback – Ask For It!

When I worked at photrade we had customers who would send us pages and pages of ideas and feedback on our site.  Someone even read our terms of service and pointed out some typos.  If you ask people for feedback and actually show that you care and will use it, average people can give you better advice than paid consultants – all for free!  You don’t have to spend tons of money on focus groups – people who like you will help you for free!

2. The Science of Re-Tweets – Just ask!

Dan Zarella recently wrote a post on the science of retweets.  The findings?  The most commonly retweeted phrases include “please retweet”.  Just by asking people will tweet about you.  Apparently *asking* is a scientifically proven way to get retweeted!

3. Want Comments – Ask for them?

A number of professional bloggers provide tips on how to get more comments on your blog.  One of the most recommended ways?  Ask for them.  Both problogger and copyblogger advise readers that just asking for comments will actually increase the number of comments on your site.

4. PR Efforts?  Quid pro Quo Seems Lame.  Just Ask.

In recent work with a client we offered an exchange – post about us and we’ll give you something free.  A number of people responded and said – I love you guys – I’ll post about you and I don’t want anything back.  Some bloggers and tweeple don’t treat their streams as an advertising platform and they may feel cheapened or offended by these kinds of requests.  Want people to talk about you?  Just ask them to!  If they are fans or supporters they’ll be thrilled that you asked.

5. Need Help? Ask for it!

A great example of asking in action happened when David Armano asked for help for a friend who his family had taken in.  He initially wanted to raise $5,000 to help her and her family get started in their own apartment and ended up raising over $16,000.  The key is to be genuine, authentic an develop relationships, and you’ll be surprised how many people will help.


It is constantly surprising how much people will give you for free.  Look at wikipedia?  For free, people update it and answer information on it all the time.  People are motivated by a variety of factors – sharing, the kindness of their hearts, validation, feeling like an expert, etc.

These motivations can be much stronger than a free sample or a small amount of money.

So the next time you need something – Just Ask!

Please leave a comment and share your experiences 🙂  When has asking worked for you?

Are you Missing the Point in Social Media? It isn’t about Collecting People.

I work with a lot of different clients on social media strategy – big, small, corporate,  agencies, small businesses, individuals – and one thing they all have in common is a tendency to focus on “collecting people”.

What is collecting people?

peopleOur obsession with collecting people into our network happens across most social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogs.  It is focussing on the number of twitter followers we have, fans in our facebook page, connections on LinkedIn, traffic on our blogs.

It is what most people obsess over.

The number people you have collected is essentially your reach – the # of people that are exposed to your message.    The second half of the equation is effectiveness.

Having a large audience can matter – I’m not saying it isn’t important – it isn’t the only thing that matters.

It Doesn’t Matter How Many People Follow/Friend/Fan you if you Don’t DO Anything with Them.

Facebook is a great example – brands invest $$ in Facebook ads to collect fans.  Some  pages have hundreds of thousands of fans.  Question: How often do you return to a Fan page after becoming a fan?  (ummm – never?).

While speaking at a conference recently I was asked “What is the value of a facebook fan?”.  Well, pretty close to zero if you don’t do anything do engage them.

Creative Matters (Just Like TV)

You don’t judge your TV copy effectiveness by  the reach of your media buy.  ROI is a function of your reach and the effectiveness of your copy.  Copy matters on social media.

You need a “big idea” to engage with people in a meaningful way.  Sure it is a different type of creative than creating copy, but you still need a strong creative strategy to connect with consumers.

You Need a Strategy

Success in social media isn’t about collecting followers or creating assets.  It is about driving results – either personal or business.

To drive results you need a clear strategy.  Who do you want to engage with and what are you offering them of value? Why should they become your follower/friend/fan/connection? How will that drive business results?

These are the key questions to ask when developing a social media strategy.  Not how many followers you have.  A month ago I asked around for business results from successful social media programs.  All of the responses focused on # of people collected.  When I asked for business results – sales, traffic to site, leads generate, awareness, engagement, etc – only a small handful could provide answers.

What Should we be Measuring?

We should be measuring (to the best of our ability) how our social media strategies are driving business results.

Your measures should flow from your objectives.  A social media strategy aimed at acquiring new customers looks very different than one aimed at  building community and advocacy with current customers.   The measures will also be different.

Measure things like:

  • Engagement – people responding to you, people talking about you, people initiating conversations with you
  • Leads – # of email addresses acquired, traffic sent to site, conversion
  • Influencers – ability to connect and build relationships with key influencers, initiating conversations with key people

There are many more potential measures based on a variety of business objectives.  First figure out your objectives and then focus on the right metrics.  Tools like twittergrader and klout can help measure these things.

So What is the Point of Social Media?

Kind of a loaded question (and not one that I can answer here).  It isn’t just collecting people.  Before you create your fan page/twitter account/linkedin group/blog/whatever else ask yourself:

  • Who do I want to engage with?
  • What do I want to talk to them about?
  • Why will they connect with me?
  • How will I add value and  engage with them?

Answering these questions before you get started will help you build a strong social media strategy that drives business results.

Thoughts?  Are others seeing the same trends?  What are your most relevant metrics?

5 Marketing Lessons I learned at the Gun Range

i-love-machine-guns-300x200I recently went to a gun range (as a Canadian living the US I am mildly obsessed with American Gun Culture).  The experience was thrilling and exciting and fun and scary all at once, and there were a number of valuable lessons that I learned that can be applied to marketing.

Lesson 1: Spray and Pray is NOT the Most Effective Approach

In the “spray and pray” approach you don’t really aim or focus on the target – you fire off as many bullets as quickly as you can and you hope that some of them hit the target.  Based on the sheer # of bullets you fire you have some chance of hitting the target.  This is like what spammers do – they send a large number of untargeted messages in the hopes that at least a few hit the target.  Even if just a few hit, it can pay out.  The issue is that there are a lot of wasted bullets (which cost money).  It is far more efficient to spend time upfront focusing on the target and hitting it dead on in one  shot.

Lesson 2: Strategy Counts for Nothing if the Execution Sucks

I was kind of scared by actually firing the gun – I’d be calm, line up correctly, take a deep breath and then sort of cringe and look away right before I fired.  All the setup counted for nothing because I lost it during the execution. The same is true in marketing.  A great strategy is only the first part of the equation – execution counts for everything. The problem is that execution is often seen as a  small detail and is handled by the least experienced people on the team.  Especially in social media – execution is everything – make sure that it is appropriately resourced and given the right level of attention to be successful.

Lesson 3: Don’t try too Hard to Fit In – Or You Won’t

I was really excited about going to a gun range – so I did what any Canadian would do – I dug out my army green pants and but on a sweet camo hat and shirt.  Seemed appropriate (or at least funny).  Everyone else was dressed in normal attire – many wearing the same clothes they wore to work.  In my effort to fit-in in an unfamiliar environment I went overboard.  The same is true in marketing – be yourself and take some time to assess the landscape before juming in. Especially in social media – sit back and observe the community, the norms, the ettiquette and be yourself.  Don’t try to hard based on stereo-types or preconceived ideas.

Lesson 4: Pay Attention to Your Surroundings Before You Commit to a Lane

They assigned us to a lane in the gun range and beside us were a few guys with a giant gun (I don’t know what kind).  The shells from their gun were flying into our lane making it difficult to concentrate and focus.  We should have looked for a lane with nobody beside us or at least surrounded by people with smaller guns.  The same is true for marketing.  Before you pick your focus area, look around at who will be beside you.  Take note of your competitors.  If their guns are way bigger than yours it can be very distracting and difficult to stay focused.  Select a niche with few competitors to distract you.

Lesson 5: Safety First – If You’re Gonna Play Understand the Rules.

When you get to the gun range they give you protective ear wear and safety glasses.  Prior to entering the range they make sure that you understand the safety precautions.  The same goes for Social Media – be sure to understand the rules before you jump in.  Lots of people and companies rush in to social media without understanding the rules and etiquette of the community.  Before you dive in, spend some time to understand the rules and norms of the community. You’ll be less likely to screw up.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Please Share 🙂

7 Biggest Mistakes Companies Make in Social Media

I gave this presentation at Search Engine Strategies Toronto a few weeks ago.  There is definitely a place for companies to engage in Social Media – people talk about their problems all the time, and (ideally if you have a good product) your product offers them a solution.  Social Media is Social – unlike traditional advertising it requires “social skills”.

Mistake #1 – Focus on Numbers

calculatorSure, numbers matter – I’m even a bit of a quant-junkie.  The problem is that companies get too caught up in collecting people – the # of fans on their facebook fan page, the # of twitter followers, getting traffic from the elusive first page of Digg.  The problem with focusing on these numbers is that it focuses only on a part of the equation – reach.  The equation for success is reach x influence with influence being the quality metric.  I’d take one passionate brand enthusiast over 1000 followers who are unengaged any day.

Mistake #2 – Hijaking Conversations

Join the conversation. Seems simple.  People nod.  Act like they get it.  Then, they invariably try to turn the conversation to being about them.  Join means participate actively.  The Conversation means the conversation that is actually happening, NOT what you want the conversation to be about (which is probably your brand).  Don’t be the annoying guy at a cocktail party who always tries to turn the conversation to be about himself.  Nobody likes that guy.  Join in and participate in what people are talking about – even if it isn’t all about you.

Mistake #3 – Spamming

See my previous post on social spam.  Don’t be a spammer.  Use social media channels correctly.  If it is a message individually directed towards me send a DM.  If it is a public message post it publicly.  Always ask permission to market at people.

Mistake #4 – Irrelevance

tide-stain-solutionDon’t pitch bloggers or reach out to people on twitter who are obviously NOT interested in you.  The key to social media is to find the people who are already interested in you and find ways to engage them.  Getting an irrelevant pitch is annoying, and can result in blogger backlash.  Find the right audience that your product is actually relevant to and start by engaging with them.  You may have less reach than if you hit up “the big guys” but you’ll have passionate people talking about you.

Mistake #5 – Boring

Remember, people don’t really inherently care about your product and what you do.  They care about a problem and solution to the problem.  A blog about the silly things you do at the office or the history of your organization is probably not really that interesting for very many people (except for the people who work with you and maybe a few others).  Instead, focus your social media efforts on providing legitimately valuable content.  What are people actually interested in that pertains to your product?

Mistake #6 – Not Being Committed

Social media is a relationship – not a one night stand.  Social media doesn’t begin and end with your advertising campaigns – it is a relationship that you build with your audience that continues over time.  People will expect you to be present.  Set clear expectations – it is ok if you are a small organization and are only going to be online during certain times.  Communicate it clearly.  If you’re account isn’t active let people know.  It’s like posting the opening hours on your business – people won’t be upset if you are closed if you communicate clearly and are consistent.

Mistake #7 – Not Playing Nice

Play nice.  Always be gracious – even if people make you mad.  It can be tough figuring out how to respond – especially if you feel attacked.  Be nice, be transparent, be kind, be courteous.  Don’t be like Ryan Air.

What do you think?  Any other mistakes I missed?  Do you see companies doing this stuff?

Building Your Brand and Marketing Your Blog – WordCamp Columbus

wccbusI had the honor and priviledge of speaking at wordcamp columbus on Saturday.  First of all, what a great event – props go out to the organizers for putting on such a wonderful event.

Second, I wanted to share the presentations that I gave.  I divided the session into two distinct areas – First, how to build a brand for your blog, and Second, how to market your blog.

Building a Strong Brand

This presentation from WordCamp Columbus #wccbus covers how to build a strong brand online.  Brand building is what makes people fall in love with brands – it is the inspirational aspect of marketing.

The presentation includes 5 steps to effective brand building:

1) Assess the blogosphere or the landscape. Who are your competitors?  What are people already doing? What works?  What doesn’t?
2) Determine your Audience – Who are you trying to reach?  What are they interested in?  Where can you find them?
3) Define your brand – Where do you fit in?  What is your unique positioning? How will you be different?  What does your brand stand for?
4) Bring your brand to life – Execute against the desired position/look/feel/character that you want to build for your brand.
5) Brand building Principles – Clear Positioning, Single-Mindedness (don’t be afraid to be niche), Consistency and Personality.

Marketing Your Blog

The second half focused on Marketing your Blog.  How to build an audience for your blog – the focus wasn’t on quick traffic – more about creating a sustainable audience and community.

The key concepts covered in this presentation included:

5 ways to market your blog:

  1. Write Great Content – Write posts and headlines that travel.  Blog “readers” don’t read.  They scan.  amke your blog scannable.
  2. Make your blog Talkable – Empower your audience to spread great content.
  3. Make your blog Searchable – 20 – 50% of most blogger traffic comes from search.  Small adjustments can dramatically improve the amount and quality of your traffic.
  4. Build Community – Encourage and interact with participants on your blog and leverage social media to build community.
  5. Leverage Analytics and Stats – Analyze your current traffic to learn more about where to get traffic.

Engaging in Social Media – Presentation at SES London

I recently spoke at SES (Search Engine Strategies) London on a panel about social media, and I gave a presentation on engaging in social media.  Check out my fellow panelists (who are extremely smart women with lots of great ideas on social media):

Jennifer Evans Laycock, Director of Social Media, SiteLogic Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Guide

Lisa Ditlefsen Director, Verve Search Founder, SEO Chicks

Liana Evans Director of Internet Marketing KeyRelevance

Since the presentation below is primarily visual I thought I’d share some of the key points.

View more presentations from kristaneher. (tags: building brand)

The Three Rules to Engaging in Social Media

1. Social Media is a Conversation.

Imagine you are in a bar engaged in deep conversation, possibly with an attractive person of the opposite gender or just with a group of friends.  Out of nowhere a man jumps in between you shouting “try my beer, try my beer”.

You would probably want to punch him in the face.

Now imagine you go to the bar to order your next drink and the bartender offers you a sample of the new beer.

Social rules still apply online.  You have to join the conversation.  Be creative.  Don’t accost people with your marketing.

(You can see Chelsea Blacker’s post on this at Base One Search Blog)

2. Nobody Cares About your Product.

Repeat this to yourself.  Again, and again and again.

People care about a problem and a solution.

Find something that people are passionate about related to your prodcut and engage on that.

3. Add Value

Add legitimate value, remembering that nobody cares about your product.

A) Be Useful – Provide something of use to your audience.  This can take many forms – customer support, information, tools, tips & tricks, etc.

B) Be Funny – This is hard to do.

C) Be Interesting – Also difficult – remember, not interesting to YOU but interesting to other people who don’t care about your product.

D) Support a Cause – People like companies that give back.

If you wonder if your campaign will be successful, forward it to 10 people in your “target” and ask them “Would you go out of your way to share this with your friends?” If the answer is no then you fail.

Always Start with a Marketing Objective

Start with the objective, not the tools.  Then select the tools and the approach with the tool that best matches your marketing objective.

  • Sales
  • Leads
  • Links
  • Traffic
  • Brand Equity
  • Brand Awareness

Tips for Success…..

  • Have Clear Goals
  • Know your target audience
  • Join the community and the conversation
  • Add real value
  • Analyze results
  • Adjust
  • Use tools together
  • Be authentic and genuine

Thoughts?  Anyone have other great examples that I can use in the future?

You can see Li’s Post on the panel here.

Why trust employees to talk on the phone but not twitter?

This question was recently posed on twitter, and many felt that companies should be more open in their social media approaches. Maybe it’s because I worked for a conservative packaged goods company for years, but I don’t agree.

Here is why:

  • The phone conversation is a 1:1 interaction, not something that is publicly posted.
  • Customer service reps are trained and given approved or standard responses to many questions. Often times those twittering don’t have any training.
  • There are policies that customer support representatives follow; few companies have social media policies for their employees.

I’m not saying that companies should not participate in social media.  I am saying that there are risks that are greater than talking on the phone, and the training/policy/process side for social media is typically underdeveloped vs. traditional telephone customer service.

I’m not advocating canned responses; my suggestion is that employees need guidelines to feel empowered in their social media interactions, and to protect the company legally.

On a Continuum, Social Media is somewhere between PR and Customer Service

I’m not saying it can’t be used for customer service, but due to the publicity aspect of social media it is closer to talking to the press than customer service. The people in a company who are permitted to speak publicly are typically:

    1. Very few
    2. Well trained
    3. Seasoned and experienced; have demonstrated good judgment
    4. Coached beforehand
    5. Given clear guidelines on messaging

There are also legitimate legal risks

When I worked in consumer goods every word attached to every piece of copy published by the company was approved by legal. Unless you have been engaged in this type of a process before, it may be difficult to appreciate the legal implications of things as simple as phrasing. There can be a world of difference between saying “virtually spotless” and “spotless” or “best clean” and “cleanest”.

Large companies are dragged into law suits all the time for their advertising copy.

That being said, social media is different in that copy can be changed/edited fairly quickly and at a very low cost. That being said everything you say online is indexed. It will be there, somewhere forever.

At the same time, even if something said on social media is outside of legal standards; if it is changed quickly, the probability of your competitors suffering any serious damages is fairly low.

Solution? Manage the Risk.

I’m not here to be a buzzkill for social media, I am a strong believer in the value of social media. That being said, I think that the risks are often understated and brushed under the carpet.

The reality is that companies, especially large traditional ones with lots to lose, need to be cautious when using social media.

Prior to jumping in, these are things that you can do to mitigate risks:

  • Develop policies on messaging. Engage External Relations/PR and Legal.
  • Create guidelines for those participating in social media.
  • Provide training on acceptable and unacceptable responses.
  • Create a list of topics that can’t be addressed.
  • Provide messaging that sounds like it came from a real, normal human being for negative comments that you are likely to receive.
  • Provide an escalation process for dealing with difficult or sensitive situations.

It isn’t about trust. It is about mitigating risk and creating guidelines.

Policy creation doesn’t mean standard canned responses. It means making sure that employees understand what they can and can’t say and why. It means helping employees feel comfortable answering questions because they know the company position on various issues. It means training. It means allowing employees to talk via social media like real human beings.