Tag Archives: social media

I’m on Google+. Just because.

gplusI’m regularly reminded by the pundits in the social media game that Google+ is an essential place for brands to be seen — including my own. I don’t mean to be unkind, but I’m still waiting to be convinced.

Nevertheless, I maintain an active presence there, and have just started a Group, called Content Directors. It’s an invitation only group that is intended for people who are responsible for Content Marketing programs for their organizations — operating companies, not-for-profits and government agencies. If you’re accountable for your organization’s content, the group is for you to network with your peers who share this responsibility.

Do join it, if the shoe fits.

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Case Studies: Nine tips for leveraging customer success stories

shaking-handsI’ve been intrigued for some time with the changes in the rhetorical landscape since the advent of social media – in particular, the growing irrelevance of Expertise as a tool in argumentation.

Marketers have long sought to establish themselves and their product offerings by presenting themselves as reliable experts in their fields, who can provide credible advice to prospective clients who have difficult or risky decisions to make. This is one of the core objectives of a Content Marketing program – to get a buyer’s attention by offering expert perspective (content) in the hope of influencing the ultimate decision.

The trouble is, to a growing extent, people have stopped trusting experts. For this, I believe we can lay responsibility at the feet of operatives in the world of electoral politics, where everyone and everything is for sale and everyone knows it. The cynicism that takes root naturally in a Fox News world is pervasive in commercial markets as well. Your competitor’s expert is just as credible as yours. Your competitor’s data is interchangeable in the buyer’s mind with yours – even if they appear to prove diametrically opposed “facts.” Your competitor’s Klout score is just as high as yours. And the buyer has already tuned out both of your appeals to authority and is no better informed than she was when you both started wooing her.

So what is the Golden Fleece of Content Marketing? In my opinion, it’s a form of content that predates not only the Content Marketing discipline but the advent of the internet, probably by at least 75 years: The old fashioned Case Study.

A case study is a narrative that validates the mission of the company and its effectiveness in execution. A case study typically tells the story of a relationship between the organization and a partner or client, in which a problem or opportunity arises, the parties come together to devise a solution, and value is achieved. Or, it may describe a company’s capabilities from the perspective of multiple clients. Either way, a case study helps the new, prospective customer to understand what a successful relationship with your organization will look like.

Why would a case study be any more credible than an expert endorsement? Because the assumption is that pretty nearly anyone can pay a third party expert to say positive things, but there is something in a case study that can’t be faked. A business executive at a client company is willing to publicly stake his or her reputation, and that of the firm, on an endorsement describing an experience with a vendor. Such an endorsement can be verified easily. And the endorser is willing to run the risk that the relationship described will morph later into a humiliating failure – a non-zero possibility in any business relationship.

This is why case studies are hard to get. Even for highly effective organizations, convincing a customer to go on the record about the value of the offering can be difficult, logistically and politically. But the validation inherent in a customer endorsement is irreplaceable. People who tune out experts or social media “Likes” will pay attention to stories – especially the relevant experiences of their peers.

So, with that preamble, here’s a brief Q&A on success with case studies:

1. How do I get my clients to say yes to case studies? The short answer is, there is no short answer. The customer has a host of obvious reasons to hesitate – becoming personally associated with what evolves into a failure can be career-ending. This can be the case even when the project’s champion will not be quoted. On the plus side, becoming personally associated with a conspicuous success can make a career. If you are confident in the project’s success, make the case.

There is nothing unethical in offering the client company something tangible in exchange for cooperation in a case study – in fact, it is common practice – as long as the offer is made to the client company and not personally to the project champion. An example would be a discount on the price or an extension on the maintenance contract, in exchange for a commitment in advance to develop the case study once specific milestones are achieved. (Personal gifts or favors to the project sponsor should not be considered; the client company probably has standards of ethical business conduct that would rule out such considerations.)

2. Should we contract out the writing? I’m in favor, for obvious reasons – I write case studies. But there is objective support for this position. For most marketing teams, this kind of writing is not the core competency of anyone on staff, nor is it the best use of staff time.

3. Should a case study be written by a journalist? Sure, as long as you are not kidding yourself that this kind of writing is journalism. This is a selling document, and no one who sees your corporate logo on it will be fooled into thinking otherwise. Still, it is appropriate to have someone with journalism training do this kind of writing, for reasons of efficiency. If the individual has ever had a job in the field, you can assume he or she is an effective writer who is trained and accustomed to working to deadlines. Deadlines matter. And a journalist is unlikely to burden the piece with fluffy, adjective-heavy language. An effective case study tends to stick to the facts.

4. How long should a case study be? It’s an open question, but a good guideline for a piece describing a discrete project or implementation for a single customer, including graphics, would be three to four pages, or around 1200 words. A piece describing several experiences may run significantly longer.

5. Should the piece use quotes? If possible – quotes humanize the story, and as suggested earlier, what makes the story credible is the human connection, the potential for a shared experience.

6. How long should a case study take to produce? It depends on your process. If you have assigned an effective writer, the most time-consuming element will not be the interviewing or the drafting of the content, but the review and approval cycle – yours, internally, and the customer’s. Even under the best circumstances, the full approval cycle may take several weeks.

7. What should the final case study look like? Case studies typically are published either as web content or in .PDF format. Graphics or photographs are desirable but not essential. A useful presentation technique is to highlight a strong quote or passage, pulling it out of the text and setting it in a large, bold typeface, and then embedding it as a “callout” in the text, as you would a chart or photo. The piece should incorporate some graphical sophistication – businesslike, serious, with a hint of whimsy if that is in the nature of your branding, as long as it does not detract from the impression that the document is intended to convey objectively useful information, albeit in a branded context.

8. How should you serve up the case study to your content consumers? Case studies are suitable for all standard delivery mechanisms – as handouts in hard copy at live events, pulled from your web site, or pushed via links in social media or email marketing. As with any other collateral, timing matters – a case study establishes credibility for your offering, often versus a competitor’s, and that rarely is your first challenge. It is worth analyzing your sales process in depth to determine when the right moment or moments to present the case study are.

The ideal context is at an advanced stage of the sale, when stakeholders are beginning to ask themselves (a) whether your entire class of solution makes sense for their specific challenge, and (b) whether your offering is the right choice among competing alternatives. It is at those moments when your prospect is most likely to identify with the customer described in the case study, and to see your joint success as relevant evidence that they will have a similar experience with you.

9. To gate or not to gate? Content gating – offering content through a web link that requires the requester to provide personal information before receiving a download – is becoming controversial. It is common practice for lead gathering through online content, but requesters often resent the imposition. I’m inclined to agree. A case study packs a powerful rhetorical punch. It is not, by nature, a tool for lead generation. You want it in the hands of your potential buyers, and I don’t believe it makes sense to create any friction in the process of providing it. No gates.

Think you have a prospective partner for a case study? Contact Peter Dorfman to talk about the writing and production process.

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Quick take on the Facebook mood experiment

fbholeThe Facebook mood experiment was highly unethical. But we all need to remind ourselves that everything we do on Facebook, we do voluntarily. That includes everything we post and everything we read. I look at Facebook as a passive medium that has zero value except to the degree that it facilitates conversation between me and my circle of friends. It fails as a medium if it doesn’t show me what the people I’m interested in are saying. But I doubt it’s deliberately hiding things from me.

It might have found that it could influence people’s moods, and that’s scary when you think of the influence media have had — most vividly in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, where media were complicit in the selling of the lies that justified that conflict. But that kind of influence isn’t unique to social media. Facebook certainly didn’t invent it.

Facebook deserves the kind of shaming we subject people to when they get drunk and do stupid, antisocial things. But I don’t think it’s committed any crimes.

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Oh boy, another social site

UK.jpegThere’s a new social network site — it’s called mi925 ; it’s based in the UK and it wants to position itself halfway between Facebook (frivolous and friendly) and LinkedIn (serious business). Is that a real niche? It does offer a Dislike button, which puts it one small step ahead of Facebook.

I set up a profile (https://www.mi925.com/profile/e899f9f1d0bfdf10906d2b289). Does that make me obsessive? Connect with me there if you feel similarly compelled.

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Has “social” run its course as a career?

Facebook dislikeThe Guardian suggests that “social media is too important to be confined to a single department.” I’m inclined to agree.

The trajectories of certain disciplines have been driven by career aspirations — there have been thought leaders in Knowledge Management who labored for many years to establish a defined corporate career path for KM practitioners. That’s been unstable at best. The same has been happening to “social” — social marketing, social strategy, etc. This appears to be fading as the realization sinks in that ALL jobs are social.

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Social media crisis management: Whatever you do, don’t do this

There are at least three ways to conduct a social media marketing campaign: The right way, the wrong way, and the unfathomably stupid way.

Some months back, a large fashion retail chain focused on the adolescent mallrat segment found itself in the middle of a firestorm. It’s unclear how much time the company had to prepare for this, but it should not have been taken by surprise. Companies make questionable decisions all the time, and sometimes those decisions come back to bite them viciously. How the company manages such crises often reveals a lot about its fitness for the shark tank that is American retailing.

What I observed, over the course of a couple of days, was an object lesson in how to lose at social media crisis management. It was morbidly fascinating.

I’m going to leave the company’s name out of this post, because I’m that kind of guy.

Suffice it to say that the company was shaken – but, unfortunately, not stirred until it was too late – by a leaked internal memo, in which it informed a large number of its full-time, in-store employees that it was summarily reducing their hours to 29.5 per week and cutting off their health care benefits. The leaked letter did not draw a connection between this decision and the Affordable Care Act, but it took bloggers – and customers – no time at all to make this leap.

It would take the placid, grinning faith of a four-year-old for the individuals in Marketing to assume that such an action on the part of HR could be executed quietly – that such a memo would not quickly find its way out into the light of day. But it is clear that the company was not prepared for the deluge of savagely hostile posts on its Facebook page.

Yes, these things blow over – people exhaust their wrath quickly. But for several days, every attempt to engage and amuse the company’s young followers, and their parents, with chirpy, lightweight girl-talk was met with dozens – often hundreds – of hate-comments. Interspersed between the boycott threats and the re-posts of the blog posts about the leaked memo, were comments like this:

“Yes, another father of two teenage girls who will not allow his credit card to grace your store again. Un-American and despicable. I will repost this many times.”

“You have forever lost my business due to your actions with your employees. It is abhorrent to me to find out that you have made the vast majority of your employees part-time so that you may take away their benefits. Yes, Obamacare is taking effect…but you cannot tell me that you don’t have sufficient earnings to cover whatever might happen with healthcare costs (which by the way) may even go down for your employee population! You are just taking advantage of this change to boost your earnings by taking away other employee perks. So, count me out!”

“Unliking your page for treating your employees like crap. They are reducing hours so they do not have to pay insurance for their employees. They are cutting corners to save a few pennies at the expense of their work force. I will never shop your pathetic store again.”

…and so on, completely drowning out any positive messaging.

Obviously, these things happen, and marketers respond, if sometimes belatedly. So why am I referring to this as an object lesson?

Once it became apparent that it couldn’t simply wait for the unrest to die down, the company might have posted a large, prominent explanation of its position, presenting its reasoning and signing it in the name of someone of senior executive stature who was willing to draw fire away from the company’s affirmative messaging – the stuff about kids and their brightly colored clothes.

Instead, obviously delegating the handling of the crisis to a trained gibbon, the company crafted a response – a single, boilerplate answer, written as though it were a personal message. Then, on the second day of the crisis, that answer appeared as if addressed to the author of the first in a thread of literally hundreds of angry comments. “Hi, Stephanie,” it began, and then offered a couple of paragraphs of weak rationalization for the hour and benefit cuts.

The name wasn’t actually Stephanie, and though I would feel better if I could quote the actual text of the message here…I can’t. The company attempted this tactic for most of a day and then gave up. It has since deleted ALL of the page’s content for that particular day from Facebook.

In any case, the aforementioned simian staffer then worked his or her way down the thread, responding to each successive post, one by one, with the exact same boilerplate response. Only the name was changed: “Hi, Jeff…” “Hi, Jessica…”

Forget the words – picture the visual impression this made. After about 25 repetitions of this insipid rejoinder, the response itself started to spawn counterattacks:

“I see you’re working your way down the list of hundreds of hostile comments, responding to each with the same cut and paste rationalization for your revolting decision to cut worker hours. You’re going to be at this all day, of course. I can save you a few seconds, though. Skip me – I don’t need or accept this bullshit answer. Thanks anyway.”

The lesson then:

Social media marketing is not the same thing as advertising. It’s a conversation – a big, clamorous rally, and it is going to get unruly sometimes. There are going to be naysayers even when you don’t have a full-blown crisis on your hands. When you do have a crisis, don’t act as though you can simply reason with your critics one at a time. Remember, everything you do in social media, you’re doing in public. Imagine working a room – how long would it take your guests to catch on to the fact that you’re telling each one the same cheesy story?

Better to get up in front of the whole group, tell your story once, and then make the rounds in listening mode, with the rationalization machine switched off.

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