Organizations becoming media outlets

16 08 2011

More and more, organizations and brands are becoming media companies in their own right.

Many organizations have blogs where they publish original, useful content on a regular basis, but these days, it goes far beyond a company blog.

Allstate has a teen-drama web series called “The Lines.” Starbucks hosts My Starbucks Idea, a hub where brand representatives and the coffee-drinking public can interact and collaborate. Text. Video. Audio. Imagery. Social media updates. The list goes on and on.

The goal of these media campaigns is to create good will, influence, and ultimately, sales.

In a piece titled “Why Brands are Becoming Media,” Brian Solis, principal at new media agency FutureWorks, writes at length about content creation and the role it plays in social media strategy.

He writes:

“In media, there are three channels that populate and shape perception — owned media, paid media, and earned media.”

Owned media refers to channels the brand controls: its website, blog, Twitter account, etc.

Paid media comes in the form of display ads, sponsorships, etc.

The third channel — earned media — occurs when customers and the public pick up on a brand’s messages and spread the word, and it’s the most effective. Whether in the form of a blog post, a Retweet, or a link to a video, earned media increases visibility and influences consumer behavior.

According to Solis, earned media is the result of well-executed and well-coordinated owned and paid media. Because it comes from a third party and was not paid for, it carries the most weight with the public and plays a key role in building brand and boosting sales.

Solis writes:

“As media, brands earn prominence and hopefully influence as rewards for contributing meaningful content.

“On Twitter, brands can earn legions of loyal and responsive followers, who in turn become brand advocates and ambassadors, extending the messages, mission and purpose of the brand to their followers as well.

“On Facebook, brands can cultivate vibrant and dedicated communities where interaction inspires increased responses — each reverberating across new social graphs.

“On Ustream and YouTube, we can earn global audiences of viewers who tune in to watch our programming and interact with brand representatives in a live community that spills over other social networks.

“And of course, our blog is more important than we may realize. Through our posts, we can establish a strong alliance of subscribers who hope to learn new things and participate in the discussion of a brand’s future.”

Solis’ point about providing meaningful content is an important one. I talked about this in a recent post about Thought Leadership Marketing, and it’s critical to remember. When an organization creates original content, it must be useful to consumers, or they will tune out. Straight self-promotion won’t keep them coming back for more, and it certainly won’t create earned media.

Solis concludes:

“We have the ability to earn noteworthy, equal, and in some cases, greater influence than those authorities whom we’ve relied on over the years to help us reach greater audiences and communities.

“People align with movements they can believe in, and it is the human, intellectual, and financial investment in genuine content that defines experiences, and hopefully one day earns the significance your brand deserves.”


Thought leaders getting ahead

20 07 2011

Thought leadership marketing is not a new concept, but the importance of it in the B2B sector continues to grow at a rapid pace.

More and more, suppliers are getting ahead of the sales process by making themselves known in the marketplace and facilitating conversation, which in turn leads to customers contacting them — rather than the other way around.

Effective thought leadership marketing (TLM) provides potential customers with information or advice that is useful to them, which:

— Makes customers aware of who you are, what you do, and how you add value
— Demonstrates (rather than simply states) that your company is an expert and leader in your industry
— Illustrates that your company understands and can address the specific needs of the potential customer

TLM can come in the form of a blog post, a newsletter, a speaking engagement, or a webcast, to name a few. Again, the key is to provide information or advice that’s useful to potential customers and, when possible, breaks new ground in the industry. Straight self-promotion that doesn’t provide the customer any value or insight is not thought leadership marketing.

The ultimate goal is to reach the point where customers view your company as a trusted adviser. The term “trusted adviser” is talked about a lot these days in business circles, but don’t mistake it for simple jargon. The data shows that “trusted adviser” is an enviable position for a business to be in.

A recent study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review reveals that customers that gain insight from an organization through thought leadership content exhibit higher loyalty scores, place greater value on the organization’s complete suite of services, and ultimately value the shared wisdom of the supplier as part of the overall value equation.

Thought leaders and trusted advisors begin to benefit from “pull marketing,” which means they increasingly are sought out by companies who want to do business with them because of their ideas, willingness to share, and transparency. In the publication, How To Become A Thought Leader, several interviewees attest to having seen their recognition in the industry increase, their “push marketing” expenses drop, and their revenue grow as a result of thought leadership.

Even when there is some direct selling to be done, companies that have earned trusted advisor status are at a huge advantage. In his 2006 book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, Brian Carroll discusses a research report that revealed that salespeople who had reached the status of “trusted adviser” were 70 percent more likely to come away with a sale.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that thought leadership marketing is a wise move for just about any B2B supplier.

To borrow a quote from former presidential speechwriter James Humes: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

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The dawn of the ‘zero email company?’

20 06 2011

The announcement earlier this year by global software company Atos Origins that it plans to become a “zero email company” by 2014 has sparked much discussion about email and social media as internal communications tools.

In an effort to combat what it calls “information pollution,” Atos will replace its email system with tools such as Microsoft Lync (instant messaging, voice over IP, video conferencing) and Yammer (basically, Twitter for the workplace), as well as social community platforms to share and keep track of ideas from management through to sales.

As it relates to email, it’s unclear what exactly “information pollution” means. But Atos reports that it has been encouraged by the early response to its campaign. William Rice, who heads the team that’s overseeing Atos’ zero email initiative, told Melcrum that the company’s 50,000-pus workforce has begun making better use of instant messaging and other technologies in place of email.

There’s no doubt that internal communicators should take advantage of social media in their efforts to cultivate an inspired, motivated and engaged workforce. Tools such as YouTube, Yammer or a customized social networking site promote community, conversation, and an exchange of ideas.

But does that mean there’s no longer a place for email? Should it be an either-or proposition?

Critics of the zero email theory say there needs to be a channel for communication that is “authoritative” and “official.” They say that social channels carry with them an informality that is sometimes inappropriate. New channels are great, but there needs to be an information anchor that is simple and consistent.

One person who commented on the Melcrum story thinks Atos is making a big mistake:

“What on earth are Atos thinking? Social channels are absolutely terrible for formal, top-down communications, e.g., a note from the CEO on strategy — ends up with lots of chatter, lots of misunderstanding, lots of side discussions, and inevitably, the original meaning becomes muddied…Social media will spiral out of control many times faster than email. My advice to Atos would be to implement a channels protocol — define what channel should be used for what purpose.”

Another person who commented is more open to the idea of a zero email company.

“I think, looking to the future, that the working environment is becoming more flexible and social — companies are offering employees a lifestyle now, not just a way to earn money. So perhaps social media tools are the best channels to supply information to the future workforce as the world of work becomes less rigid and more social itself.”

What are your thoughts on email and social media as internal communication tools? Should companies begin phasing out email, or do you feel that is a mistake at this point?

Let your brand’s best advocates sing

26 05 2011

Don’t silence your best ambassadors.

That’s the message Text 100 — a global PR consultancy that has worked with dozens of leading brands, including Facebook, IBM and Cisco — sent in a recent post on its company blog.

In the post, Text 100’s Lance Concannon explains that many organizations are missing out on a huge opportunity when it comes to social media. Namely, they are not allowing some of their best advocates — creatives, IT professionals, research and development specialists, etc. — to tell the brand’s story.

Traditionally, companies have communicated with their audiences strictly through their PR, marketing or comms departments.

Even as many have “embraced” social media, they still funnel the flow of communication through their words people.

Concannon writes:

“Profiles are set up on channels like Twitter and Facebook for the PR and marketing teams to push out their messaging, and social media guidelines are drawn up to discourage employees from talking about the company online.”

Concannon acknowledges that, of course, social media should be used for PR and marketing purposes, but he says that businesses need to understand that it shouldn’t stop there.

He continues:

“At Text 100, we’re currently working with a global tech brand to identify superstars from all across the business and enabling them to actively talk about their jobs in social media channels. None of these employees are comms professionals, but they are passionate about the work they do and are excellent ambassadors for the brand.”

Rather than insisting that only the comms team talk about the business in social media, the tech company recognizes that the best stories about the brand come from the people who work on the front lines. A company can talk all day about what its brand represents, but real-life, first-person examples carry so much more weight.

To help these ambassadors tell their stories, Text 100 has developed a training program that gives them the skills to engage audiences online and to talk authoritatively on behalf of the company on industry blogs, forums and other social channels.

According to Concannon, the benefit to the company is clear:

“With these advocates taking the organization’s stories out to hundreds of different touchpoints across the Web, the opportunity for potential clients and other stakeholders to witness the brand’s expertise firsthand is far, far higher than if social media was left entirely in the hands of the marketing people.”

Social intranet nurtures innovation

11 05 2011

A quick rundown of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2011 affirms that innovation is synonymous with success.

No. 1 on the list is Apple, an innovator in every sense of the word. No. 2 is Twitter, which has experienced five years of explosive growth by redefining communication. Also present in the top five are Facebook — you might have heard of it — and Groupon, a little coupon startup that’s suddenly worth billions.

It leads one to ask: How have these companies done it? If innovation breeds success in the modern marketplace, what breeds innovation within these modern companies?

There are of course a number of factors. A nondogmatic approach, willingness to fail, and a strong sense of what the company stands for are three that Fast Company identifies.

Another component that most, if not all, of the world’s leading companies have in common is an open internal culture in which knowledge sharing is celebrated. They actively encourage a flow of ideas among all strata of the organization, and just as important, they give their workforce the tools to share those ideas easily and without fear.

In the most innovative companies, those “tools” come in the form of a social intranet.

Monica Krake — Principal and Communications Director of The Social Agency, a PR and social media marketing firm — recently wrote a piece for Manufacturing Business Technology on the role a social intranet can play in the success of a company.

Krake profiled Continuum, a global design firm that has helped create many well-known products, including Proctor & Gamble’s Swiffer Sweeper.

Krake writes:

“In order to help employees build connections with each other and share knowledge easily, Continuum realized it needed an inviting, collaborative intranet. In 2009 they started looking at different software options and decided on ThoughtFarmer, which actually coined the term ‘social intranet.’ Continuum picked the ThoughtFarmer social intranet solution because of how easy it made it for any employee to publish content and for its flexibility in moving content around.”

Modern social intranets make it easy to have top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer communication. Social intranet software finds inspiration in the most popular social software like Facebook, blogs and wikis, and repurposes key social features for business-specific uses.

“It takes two things to make an intranet social,” Chris McGrath, co-creator of ThoughtFarmer, told Krake. “It takes authorship — the ability for everyone to create content — and connections — the ability to see the people behind the content and to connect with them in some meaningful way.”

Continuum allows any employee to post news to its intranet homepage. The intranet, called “Orange” after Continuum’s corporate color, has a homepage news section titled “Fresh Squeezed,” where any employee can add a post with just a few clicks. Continuum employees share news about projects, clients and ideas, and virtually every page allows commenting, which creates valuable dialogue and meaningful connections.

“Orange” also allows any employee to set up interest groups. About 140 groups have sprung up so far, focusing on specific practice areas or professional disciplines.

“Since Orange came online, more people have been able to access the knowledge residing in individuals, but also the contribution to that knowledge has grown in some really wonderful ways,” Continuum’s COO Chris Michaud told Krake. “And that means we’re better at doing our client work.”

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Social media marketing: back to basics

30 03 2011

Everybody from Abercrombie & Fitch to Allstate is trying to make the most of social media, recognizing the profound effect it can have on their relationships with customers.

Companies realize that there is a conversation going on and that it is essential for them to have a voice in it.

But despite the fact that just about every savvy brand has gotten religion on social media marketing, most are still experimenting and have yet to fully harness the power of Web 2.0.

In a recent blog post, the “Zeus of Marketing,” a.k.a. Jesus R. Graña, predicts that in 2011, companies will go back to the basics of marketing and build their social media plans on principles that were established decades ago.

Don’t be fooled by the “Zeus of Marketing” moniker. Graña — a Cornell grad with an MBA from the University of Michigan — is a senior strategy and marketing professional who has worked for Procter & Gamble and IBM, to name a few.

He writes:

“If you’re like me, classically trained in marketing and strategy, I bet you’ve wondered when the focus of social media development will switch from what’s technologically feasible to what’s necessary to execute real marketing objectives.”

Remember A/T/U — awareness, trial, continuity of usage?

My advice for all marketers and media suppliers is to focus on delivering against these strategies, which are the fundamentals of any marketing effort.

Graña warns against experimenting with social media marketing without having a clear objective:

“Creating a Facebook fan page or tweeting 24/7 without an objective will mean no clear metrics are set, and you’ll only be wasting your scarce resources. A whole business is emerging now on metrics as if fire has just been discovered. The main reason why there are no metrics now is because there were no objectives to begin with.”

Come back to the basics. No need to re-invent the wheel!!!

Graña says that if a company wants measurable metrics, it must review its current marketing strategy and confirm its marketing objectives.

If your objective is awareness, identify which vehicle reaches the largest number of people in your target demo. Facebook is the best option on a B2C basis. For B2B, Graña identifies LinkedIn as the best option. There are LinkedIn groups for just about every industry, and if there isn’t one for yours, create one.

If your objective is trial, identify which vehicle is closest to your point of sale and to your customer. Graña suggests keeping tabs on the location-based, mobile space. Vehicles like Groupon and Foursquare are a great way to get consumers to try your product. Send a consumer a high-value coupon, and there’s a good chance he/she will give you a shot.

Most brands are focused on continuity of usage. As Graña points out, “only via continuity of usage will you ensure a sustainable and profitable business.”

He writes:

“Continuity includes not only repeat purchases, but also referrals from satisfied customers motivating others to buy.”

Continuity is the result of loyalty — “the Holy Grail” for marketers. This is why CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been so important even in pre-Internet years. It’s also THE area where social media can shine (and few, if any, have mastered it). Leveraging social media for loyalty development is the ultimate goal for marketers in this medium.

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The do’s and don’ts of pitching reporters

1 03 2011

I recently sat in on a webinar about how to pitch story ideas to reporters. There were four reporters who shared their views: a staff writer from The Wall Street Journal, one from USA Today, another from AOL News, and a freelancer for Crain’s New York Business.

Because reporters are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, it’s important to gain every little advantage you can when trying to draw attention to your product, organization or cause.

Here is a summary of what the reporters had to say:

How To Pitch:

All the reporters said they prefer that you pitch via email so they can read what you are proposing when it is convenient for them, they can digest what you’ve written, and they don’t feel like they are being “put on the spot.” Don’t make your initial pitch by phone, and absolutely no faxes.

The reporters agreed that they like short emails that get to the point in the very first sentence. For example: “My name is Alex Mitchell with Acme Health Group, and I’d like to tell you about a new treatment our physicians have devised for pancreatic cancer that we estimate will raise the survival rate from 5 percent to 15 percent.”

You should include a link to your website or a site that gives more details about your proposed topic. You should also use a short, bulleted list to quickly outline your key points. Provide context for what you are publicizing so reporters understand why they ought to pay attention to your news. Is your news part of a broader trend? Does it relate to a “hot” story that people are talking about?

Pitching Via Social Media:

Social media is more useful once you’ve already gotten a reporter or reporters to pick up on your story. All the reporters said that they don’t want to be pitched on Twitter, and all but one (the AOL writer) don’t like to be pitched on Facebook.

Subject Lines:

Reporters receive hundreds of emails a day, so they are more apt to open yours if the subject line of your message is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in the subject line. All the reporters said they see that a lot, and it’s an automatic delete.

Follow Up:

The reporters agreed that they don’t mind some initial follow-up after you send them an email. They are very busy, so they realize that it’s possible they missed your initial note.

Top Mistakes:

— Thinking you — your business — is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

— Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

— Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

— Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you can’t back up with data. If you make a claim and can’t prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

— Pitching a story that is too similar to one a reporter just wrote or one he/she wrote a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

A PR pro who pitches the right way becomes a trusted resource for reporters, rather than a nuisance. Once that happens, it’s much easier to get your message “a good ride” in the media.