Is Social Media Overrated?

Posted on July 10, 2011. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Participants at Fast Company’s recent Innovation Uncensored conference were asked “What’s the most overrated trend in business today?” Guess what tops the list.

It’s social media.

These very same folks were also asked “What is the most underrated trend in business today?” Now take a stab at what tops that list.

It’s social media.

If you work in social media on a daily basis, as I do, it’s easy to see why there is such a wide discrepancy within the business community about the value of social media. There’s much confusion and hyperbole about social media.

It’s not a silver bullet. And it’s not a passing fad.

Beware of Shiny Object Syndrome

I frequently talk to people who want advice on how to leverage social media for their organization. I’ll ask basic questions, the answers to which are important to know prior to creating a social media strategy. These questions include: What do you want to use social media for and why? Who are you trying to reach using social media? How do your customers use social media?

Oftentimes, responses to these questions are pretty flimsy. For instance, when asked “Why do you want to use social media?” people will say things like:

a) Everyone else is doing it

b) Our competitors use social media so we need to use it, too

c) My boss told me we need to start doing social media

d) I keep reading and hearing about social media, so it must be something we need to get into

Not one of those reasons speaks to any substantive purpose. And yes, I really have heard all of the above. Many times.

Just being there is not enough

Like any business program, to see success through social media, you need a plan of action. You must establish goals and objectives, create strategies and tactics, and follow through on what you set out to do.

There is no auto-pilot mode in social media. Simply populating your Facebook page or Twitter stream with links to press releases or stories that appear about your company in the news isn’t social.

One of the key things you’ll want to do with social media is provide meaningful content that resonates and ultimately motivates people to respond and take action. You also want to engage with fans and followers on your own social media sites as well as on other sites that relate to your industry in general, and to your business, in particular.

Fail to actively engage on social media and you won’t get much back in return. This can cause you to think social media is overrated, but really it’s just that you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t let lack of knowledge hold you back

Now, perhaps you have put thought into what you want to accomplish through social media, but you don’t know how to reach those objectives. Fair enough. We’re still in the early stages of the social media continuum — you’ve got time to learn and try things out to see what works best for your purposes.

There are lots of books about social media. A few that I have found to be most valuable are: Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, Real-Time Marketing and PR, by David Meerman Scott and The Facebook Era, by Clara Shih.

The real test is in the follow-through

Once you have an idea of how to use social media, then it’s time to get out there and do it. You won’t always hit the bullseye. It takes time to discover what ultimately works for your needs. Even then, what works best will change over time. This is an evolving medium.

Still, when properly executed you’ll find social media is neither an overrated or underrated trend in business. It’s one more tool to help grow your business.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Is social media overrated? Please share your thoughts.

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Visual Guide For Setting Your Social Media Direction

Posted on January 17, 2011. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sir Walter Scott’s famous line “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” doesn’t refer to the World Wide Web, but you know, it could.

The online web is intricate. That goes double when you factor in social networks, which by design expand as they interconnect.

When you consider how social networks are just a subset of a much larger Web 2.0 system, things get really complicated.

To begin the Web 2.0 journey you have to start somewhere

The scope of Web 2.0 is wide and ever-growing. It can be daunting to know where to begin. Yet you have to start somewhere.  It’s like another famous saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

If you want to wind up at a specified end-point, it helps to get oriented before beginning those many steps. For a real-life trip, you’d use a map or a GPS device for guidance. The byways of Web 2.0 are less cut and dry — the optimal route is determined by your particular goals, strategies and resources.

Still, there are some excellent instruments for overall guidance, including the infographic you see below, created by A-list blogger, best selling author and new media business strategy consultant Brian Solis, and JESS3, a creative agency that specializes in data visualization.

Social Media Compass graphic

Big picture view of the social ecosystem

In his recent post, The Social Compass is the GPS for Adaptive Business, Brian notes this infographic “points a brand in a physical and experiential direction to genuinely and effectively connect with customers, peers, and influencers, where they interact and seek guidance online.”

The Social Compass enables you to see how various components relate to one another in a big picture kind of way. If you’re not quite sure what it all means, read Brain’s post, where he explains all the labels and how they entwine.

Take a sentimental journey to social media success

Of course, the bottom line is, even when used for business purposes, social media is about people engaging with one another. The tools and technology are important, but if you are not establishing personal and emotional connections, you’re missing the point.

So pay special attention to the outer ring of the Social Compass. Notice how it’s got words like empathy, empowerment, honesty, sincerity, reciprocation and reward. By living up to these sentiments you build genuine affinity and devotion to your brand. You’re creating meaningful relationships and goodwill that people will want to share with others. When you walk that talk, your social media activities are headed in the right direction.

– Deni Kasrel

What’s YOUR view of the Social Compass? Comments welcome.

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How Social Networks Are Changing How We Do Business

Posted on September 28, 2010. Filed under: Business Strategy, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era

When Clara Shih set out to write a second edition of her bestselling book, The Facebook Era, she had her hands full trying to keep up with all the changes happening in the social media sphere, especially among the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. So much so, Clara had to change the publish date of the new book just to keep current.

The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell, and Innovate (2nd Edition) is finally here, and it’s well worth the wait.

Clara did more than just touch-up the first edition: She added case studies, new chapters and a bunch of guest-written expert opinion sidebars.

All About Using Social Networks for Business

It’s all geared to helping businesses and entrepreneurs learn how to tap into social networks to market, sell and innovate.

Clara has plenty of first-hand knowledge in this regard — she created the first business application on Facebook (Faceconnector), which integrates Facebook with Salesforce.com.  More recently, Clara started Hearsay Labs, a provider of social customer relationship management software.

I enjoyed both Facebook Era editions (yes, I read the second one cover to cover, too). And so it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with Clara, to talk about her new book as well as the social media landscape in general.

Interview with Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era: Part 1

We had a nice long conversation, enough that it makes for a nice two-parter on this blog.

Here in Part 1 we discuss how Facebook and other networks are altering fundamental social norms.

You used social media to help determine some of the content of the book. Can you elaborate on how that process worked out?

Clara: The innovation in social media is happening from the bottom up. It’s happening in the groundswell from these grassroots initiatives that people are taking for their organization and their companies and in their personal lives. I really wanted to source these ideas and these best practices directly from the innovators in the space. And so I used my Twitter handle and my Facebook page as well as my personal Facebook profile to ask people what their ideas were. What were the things they were living and experiencing themselves? And I had a phenomenal response. A lot of the best material in the book came from people that I interacted with on Facebook and Twitter.

Are these people you knew?

Clara: What does it mean to know someone these days? I mean, many of them I’ve never met — they’ve connected with me and they’re following me on Twitter and vice versa and now I feel like I do have a relationship.

The idea of what is a “friend” changes a lot in these contemporary times.

Clara: That’s really at the heart of everything that I write about. I mean, yes, there are a lot of business implications, but at the heart of it is human relationships and how we interact with each other and connect with each other. How we connect with our customers. And that drives all the business use cases and opportunities.

One of the reasons I was so enthusiastic about your first edition is that you really delved into a human part, the sociology, the social ethos — whatever you want to call it — and then applying that to social networks and the new social norms, as you refer to them in your second edition. You explain it so clearly. So how important is it understand these social norms when, as a business, you’re engaging in this context?

Clara: I think it’s the most important thing you can do.  Understanding human behavior and how your customers and clients think. What makes them happy? That’s really the key to success for any business. Regardless of what product or service you may have.

In the last 13 years the internet gave us tremendous efficiency between buyers and sellers and giving everyone access to information. But as Jim McCann [founder of 1-800-Flowers.com] writes about in the forward to this book, the efficiency came at a great price. Oftentimes what we sacrificed was human connection. The feeling that customers had that they were actually special and valued by your company.

The great thing about social networks is the idea that we can regain some of that connection, without losing any of the efficiency. We can still connect to large groups of people. We can still market to and prospect to large group of people. But because there’s more information about people and relationships and connections we can still have that bond and invest in that customer loyalty.

Right, and on the flip side, it humanizes a business, too. Companies can seem like monoliths, even if they’re small, if you don’t have any communication with what appears to be a real person.

Clara: Exactly. And there’s nothing like putting a human face around a big company. Especially if it’s one that people don’t traditionally find very sexy. That just changes the whole set of interactions. We’ve seen great examples like Frank [Eliason] at Comcast, to show someone who really cares and be the face of a large institutional brand.

So whether you’re working externally with your customers, or internally with your employees, it’s human nature to want to connect with people and facilitating that process makes way for better business.

In your book you talk about how seemingly non-important details —  for instance someone says they play soccer — can end up making a difference between how people interact with one another and possibly be a factor in how a business deal happens.

Clara: People are always looking for common ground. Especially when you meet someone new. You’re trying to figure out if this person is trustworthy and whether you want to do business with them. Whatever business you’re in, people always prefer to do business with people they know and like. And they refuse to do business with people they don’t trust. And so to the extent that Facebook can help you see similar interests, hobbies, and friends. That carries a lot of weight in being able to establish trust.

Right, but five years ago people didn’t have that ability and yet business still occurred. Do you think that it will change, such that it will be incumbent on someone to be participating in this way, even with business people, on this level? How do you see it evolving?

Clara: I think we’re seeing it already. Because before five years ago, it was 15 years ago where we didn’t have the internet. And certainly before there was online a lot of business got done for a long time… and we see these technology cycles: first the mainframe, then the personal computer, then the internet and now the social web, where it doesn’t happen all at once, but certainly for many industries, it can give you a huge leg up to understand this new communication and technology paradigm and use it as an additional way to get customer connection and loyalty.

Stay tuned for Part 2

There’s more, folks: My next post will be Part 2 of our conversation about The Facebook Era.

Meanwhile, if you want to social network with Clara, why not visit the Facebook Era’s Facebook page, or  follow her on Twitter at @clarashih

Related posts on this blog

Recommended Reading: The Facebook Era

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The Most Overlooked Step To Website Success

Posted on November 23, 2009. Filed under: Web User Experience | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have you ever linked to a web site only to leave right away because it was cluttered and confusing?

It happens all the time. Why struggle through a disorganized mess when it’s easy to hop off and head to another destination that offers the same services?

Just like in real life, clutter on the web presents lack of focus. What’s less obvious is how a visually appealing website can suffer from the same problem.

Hidden problems with hierarchy

Visual confusion occurs when too many elements on a page carry the same weight visually. There’s no clear starting point, or hierarchy. So a visitor’s eyes dart about the page and more or less fight to figure out where to land first.

In another situation, your company name, tagline and main navigation are positioned atop your homepage; where you want users to see it right away; yet this isn’t necessarily how someone experiences the page. If, for example, your logo and main navigation are muted in design as compared to a right-hand sidebar sporting an array of eye-catching graphics, the visitor’s focus is pulled to those jazzier images. Their eyes glance over the top of the page such that it may not even register. Your main message is instantly diluted.

Good-looking design does not guarantee optimum user experience

It’s like when you go into a furniture store and see a chair that’s sharp and stylish yet is uncomfortable to sit in. You pass it up and search for something that both looks and feels right.

Your website can be much the same when form trumps function. A bugaboo here is that a nicely laid-out page does not immediately present itself as problematic — it looks fine to the naked eye.

That’s where usability testing comes in. The testing reveals hidden problems that hinder your site from working at peak level.

A costly step to overlook

It perplexes me how a business can launch a website without first seeing how the site is perceived and used by target audiences. This type of testing is an undervalued and overlooked step to website success.

Meanwhile, the same company takes pains to put a lot of effort into search engine optimization of keywords, tags and other elements of coding. So great; you figure out how to rank high in search results, only to misguide those eyeballs when they reach your lovely site.

Repeat after me: Usability testing is not a luxury

There are companies that specialize in user experience. Depending on the depth and purpose of your site you may want to fork out the dough to bring in an expert. Many web developers offer this service, too. I advise at least going the latter route. Particularly when you’ve got lots of forms an/or e-commerce going on, it can be money well spent.

If purse strings don’t allow paying for usability testing, take matters into your own hands. It need not be a costly complex process.

And to prove it, my next post will offer tips on how you can conduct usability testing for low or no cost. Stay tuned.

-Deni Kasrel

Have you, too, noticed web sites that look good but lack focus? Do you think more sites can benefit from usability testing? Comments welcome.

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