• Listen, and hear what the world is saying

    Pop quiz: What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear someone say “social media” at a marketing meeting?

    Pushing content out via Twitter? Facebook? Something similar? Most people would say this. However, I submit that while talking is important, listening over social media is far more important, and indeed, crucial to the success of any social media strategy.

    Social media gives us marketers unparalleled access to our audience. Surveys and conjoint analyses are all well and good, but when you can actually hear what people are saying to you, without it going through a bunch of filters or well meaning co-workers.

    However, it’s not enough to simply listen. You have to hear what people are saying.

    “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton

    The quote above is very powerful, and something that I happen to agree with. This may sound like semantics, but it’s really not. Listening is putting a graph of sentiment on a weekly report; hearing is trying hard to understand the root causes of negative sentiment, and trying to do something about it.

    There are many wonderful listening tools out there. Brandwatch, Radian6 (now called the Salesforce Marketing Cloud) Attensity360, and many, many more. They all give you great analytics, pretty graphs, fantastic reports, and so on and so forth.

    That’s the listening. Social listening can be automated, but hearing cannot. Hearing requires human beings in the loop. You can set up all sorts of fancy rules to route information to the appropriate teams, but at some point you have to have people respond. This is especially important when we’re trying to address negative sentiment.

    When you truly listen to what people are saying, they immediately start to calm down, and conversely if they feel they’re yelling into the ether with no one out there responding (or worse, responding in a stilted, robotic manner), they get even madder.

    It’s not only about customer support via Twitter or Facebook. That’s important, of course, but there are other things that are just as important. Responding to people who say nice things about you (or your company) for one. And make sure the response is a human response. No need to use long words. A simple “Thank You” works wonders. No form letters/tweets, please. Have a template, by all means, but make sure you spend a few seconds customizing your response so that the receipient feels like you heard him.

    All this seems so obvious, right? I mean, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. I wonder why, then, so many companies are so tone-deaf. Is it simply the fear of being held accountable if something goes wrong? That’s a classic bureaucratic response, and with good reason too; if you’re going to lose your job because you tried to do something that isn’t prescribed, you stick to the book, right?

    Many other companies, however, are learning that there’s nothing wrong with being more human. Sure, people screw up from time to time, but as long as you have strong policies in place to prevent stuff like the Aurora tweet, things aren’t that bad.

    The official corporate accounts can be buttoned down and sober, but let your employees be human on their personal accounts. Don’t go after them for being social. That’s what social media is all about, right?

    Disclaimer: All this is my personal opinion. Feel free to disagree in the comments.

  • The Influencer Triad


    In my previous post, I’d spoken of setting up a influencer management triad, to make sure that key influencers never felt disconnected from the company.

    Here’s a diagram that hopefully makes things clearer. I go on to examine the key elements of setting up this process.

    One way of setting up an influencer management team

    Team Communication

    This model lives and dies on the strength of the communication between M1, M2, and M3. If the three marketers don’t share information, the triad is doomed to fail from the get go.

    It’s a cliché that good communication is essential in a marketing organization (or any organization, for that matter), but it’s so much more important in the age of rapid dissemination of information.

    Why is that the case? Quite simple: Companies no longer have time to recover from missteps. Or, the window of responding to a misstep is extremely small. And it’s exponentially smaller when you’re dealing with influencers, who by definition are quick to pounce on missteps and trumpet them to their networks; the very networks that you are trying to reach.

    Make people feel special

    Therefore, anyone who talks to an influencer needs to be on point, and to be aware of any previous communication. This personal level of service makes anyone feel special, because heck, you are special if you’re getting treated that way.

    The Ritz-Carlton is a good example of this. Guest preferences are tracked and shared across all their properties. So, if you’re left handed and you stay at the Ritz in Boston, you’ll find the cutlery arranged properly when you visit the Ritz in Singapore. Practically every hotel chain attempts to do this, of course, but how many truly create a seamless experience?

    The flip side of creating an expectation of excellence, of course, is that any mistake jumps out. You forgive Dell for making laptops with hinges that don’t stay open just so, but would you pardon Apple for that?

    Ensure that every member of the team truly believes in sharing information. If you have folks who think they need to keep secrets from their team members, you have larger problems and if you’re in a situation where you have to do this, consider polishing up the résumé.

    Regular, non-robotic interaction

    The primary Marketer needs to stay in touch with the Influencer on a regular basis, not just when there’s a big launch. In other words, you can’t talk to people only when you need them and expect them to respect you and go above and beyond for you.

    At the same time, you can’t have robotic interaction. Think newsletters that are written for everyone, and hence end up being read by no one, or emails written by committee. If you submit your influencers to this, don’t be surprised when they tune out and pay no attention when you actually do try contacting them personally.

    To stay in touch with someone on a constant basis, you need to get to know them. You have to be able to talk about things that go beyond what you both do for a living. Perhaps you both read the same books (or if you don’t, start!). Find out what they like, and what they don’t. Again, do NOT make the mistake of being phony. These people can see through that in a New York minute.

    “How do I talk about things I know nothing about without being phony?”, I hear you ask.

    Talk to a child

    Sigh. You know the simple answer to that? Go talk to a six-year old. Practically ever six-year old I’ve ever met has been genuinely, deeply, and truly interested in things. The kid may not know about cars, computers, movies, beer, spaceships, fashion, or what-have-you, but he or she sure as heck wants to know about them. Somewhere along the line, most people lose their innate curiosity in things. (As an aside, I’ve always thought that that’s rather sad)

    Find that curiosity. Be interested. Ask sensible questions. You’d be surprised how many people enjoy talking about their interests to someone who is genuinely interested. You don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to talk to one about physics.

    Remember that Influencers talk to other Influencers

    This is important. You have to recognize that the pool of true influencers is small, and these people probably know each other. They follow each other on Twitter, they read common blogs, they meet at events; heck, some of them probably dated!

    Any interaction with a top influencer must be the same for all other top influencers. You can segment influencers and have differing methods of dealing with different segments, but within the segment, be careful to be consistent. If not, you risk being ridiculed and/or (probably and) losing the respect of the entire segment.

    And remember, here’s where you could slip back into the old form of marketing and just create a segment specific campaign. No. Don’t do that. You need to be personalized, but consistent. Hard to do? Sure, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks, right? I have a few ideas on how to do this, which I’ll probably talk about in a later post.


    I’d love to hear from you. Do you think anything that I just said makes any kind of sense?




  • Interns running your social media? You’re doing it wrong.

    Why is social media so alien to many marketers? Traditional marketers look at social media as if it’s the Hydra and the $INSERTOTHERPARTY presidential candidate rolled into one. Some commonly heard questions:

    1. How do I engage influencers?
    2. How do I run an authentic program?
    3. How can I track engagement?

    and so on and so forth. It’s as if people are deathly scared to do something on social media, and default to running traditional media campaigns via social channels, essentially using social media as just another billboard.

    Why does this happen, I wondered, and this post is the result.


    Marketing has always been about aggregating individuals into groups that are then addressed as a homogenous whole. Social media has reversed this by disaggregating groups into individual members, and traditional marketers find it hard to cope. Tools and methods that work on masses of people simply do not scale to individuals.

    Marketing has probably been going on since the first caveman recommended a particular design of club to his pal—”Swing it! See how smoothly it goes? One blow smashes in the skull”—but the rise of marketing as we know it can probably be traced back to the invention of the printing press and the increasing rate of literacy in Europe from around the 17th century onwards.

    The Industrial Revolution accelerated the process with the rise of firms creating products for direct sale to the newfangled thing called a “consumer”. Firms went from selling products to the nobility with highly targeted, individualized, high touch campaigns (sound familiar? We call that Account Based Marketing now ) to selling to an amorphous mass of consumers, who were insignificant in the individual, but highly valuable in the mass.

    Here’s a decent infographic from Avalaunch Media showing the evolution/history of marketing channels. (Source)


    The earliest days of marketing were simply about product awareness and getting the consumer’s attention. In the US, patent medicine and soap (of all things.. but it makes sense when you think about it) drove advertising innovation. I’m citing from Mike Chaser‘s excellent post on the subject. Here’s a sample of the kinds of claims that were made, again from Mike’s post.

    This is an example of grouping (marketing speak: segmentation, but I prefer the simpler term): bald(ing) men, in this case. One ad, targeted to a specific group. As the nascent art of marketing evolved into a science, audiences were sliced and diced in a million different ways, but there was always a singular purpose: to lump individuals into a group or segment with common characteristics, creating a proxy that could be treated as a singular entity, and then create a marketing campaign that would target this entity. (I’m simplifying here, market segmentation has other aspects; Wikipedia has a decent primer)

    Done well, these campaigns are extremely effective; I’m not going to bore you by listing examples.

    The obvious drawback, of course, is that such campaigns speak to the group, but not to any individual member of the group. When you speak to everyone, you speak to no-one, in some ways. Take the example of the patent medicine for hair growth. Yes, you may be a balding man, but you’re not THAT balding man. You may identify with some aspects of that balding man, even with most of them, but you will not be that man.

    The problem is exacerbated when the group is forced. People respond best to these campaigns when the instinctively put themselves in the same groups the ad aims at; middle-aged dads, for example, or single 30-somethings. When you are targeting a population that actively resists being grouped, you have to resort to all sorts of tricks to get their attention and not turn them off. Teenagers are the canonical example, but they’re not the only ones; indeed, some might argue that the saturation of advertising is quickly driving all of us into this category.

    Social Media Changes Everything

    Social media marketing, however, turns all this on its head, and therein lies the rub. We have come full circle: once again, it’s all about individuals being spoken to directly, influenced directly, and incented to influence their circles of trust.

    This isn’t rocket science; the only thing stoppping companies from running individually targeted campaigns was cost and the nature of broadcast media such as TV, radio, print, etc. Door-to-door visits and individualized mailers were probably the only ways to do this, and naturally, these don’t scale. In areas where the potential benefits outweighed the cost (notably political lobbying), corporations would bite the bullet and do it.

    The tools we have access to now make it economically feasible to reach out to individuals directly. What we marketers sometimes forget though, is that those very same tools have also empowered individuals. A regular guy might be extremely influential when it comes to shoes, or cars, or food, or anything, based solely on his (or her) passion for that subject. Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Tumblr, et al make it trivial to broadcast our thoughts to the world, something that used to be the sole province of governments, celebrities, and large corporations.

    Multi-billion dollar corporations are equal to and even less influential than J. Random Blogger in the eyes of consumers. Treat the real influencers with respect.

    Therefore, it follows that the people within marketing departments who reach out to these hero influencers need to have (or build) personal credibility. You cannot piggyback off the name of your company. It’s analogous to being a student at Harvard/MIT/Oxford speaking to a grizzled superstar professor. The fact that you have been admitted to the school gives you a certain amount of cred, enough to get the professor to listen to your first few statements, but that’s it. If you don’t establish personal credibility very quickly indeed, the professor is likely to ignore you for the rest of the year. And remember, to most social influencers, your being a member of the marketing department at a major corporation is likely to be a net negative, not a positive.

    First Contact is CRUCIAL

    So now we come to the first question: How do I (as a marketer at X Large Co.) engage the inflencers?

    Once again, this isn’t complicated. Just think about it for a second: You are talking to a person. Not to a group, or a segment, or a demographic, or psychographic. A person.

    A human being, just like you. How do YOU like to be approached?

    Spend some time getting to know the person. Read what they have written. Really read it, don’t just make bullet points on a nice slide for the next meeting. Read the links they post. Find out what influenced them. Note, I’m not advocating creepiness and stalking; don’t intrude into their personal, real-life presence. Use the Google, Luke. It’s really hard to be invisible on the web these days, especially if you’re an influencer.

    Once you have learnt about the person—and this is the crucial next step that most companies ignore—match that knowledge with people in your organization, and select someone to manage the relationship that has at least a few things in common. Again, this is not that hard to do if you think about it. Perhaps your influencer likes alternative rock? Perhaps she reads science-fiction? Or maybe he’s a fanatical snowboarder? Or perhaps she’s into classical music… if you work at a largish company, you’re bound to have someone in your marketing team who shares some of these interests. It’s a good way to get to know your co-workers as well.. you might be  surprised at what you learn.

    Don’t be creepy

    Don’t send an email out of the blue gushing about the fact that you both read Georgette Heyer. A polite, but personal email, stating how you got their information, why you’re interested in them, and what you propose is enough. Your research into their background should make it easy to write the email in a manner guaranteed to get their attention. (If you don’t have people who can write these emails, hire some.. and when hiring, pay attention to their cover letters. Are the cover letters well written, personalized, and professional?)

    Perhaps you’re thinking that a 1:1 ratio of marketer/exec to influencer is impossible. Sure, that’s true, and you don’t have to stick to that. 1:5? 1:10? Since your pool of hero influencers isn’t likely to be very large, it should be easily possible to maintain 5-10 contacts.

    Does this sound like sales? It should; the best salespeople have a deep and innate understanding of human nature, and their customers like them, they don’t just buy from then.

    Authenticity is everything

    Don’t try and fool people. Remember, these aren’t the unwashed masses that run out to buy the latest gizmo; these are smart, passionate, and most importantly, empowered individuals. Talk to them as equals. However, don’t hesitate to ruthlessely weed out the ones who are only in it for the money, or only for the lulz. You want people who can’t be bought, and aren’t simply there to see things burn.

    Once you have your list of people, give them the two things that most influencers crave above all else: respect, and early access.

    Track the evolving relationship over time. And avoid the trap that sales managers fall into: the relationship is ONLY with the sales guy, and when he leaves, he takes his contacts with him. To make sure this doesn’t happen, ensure that each influencer has at least three touch points in your team. The triad system has worked for all sorts of things for centuries, no reason why it can’t work here.

    I expand on the triad here.