Measuring Social Media ROI - It's Not A Web 2.0 Myth

Yardsticks

Not long ago, I declared that I'm f*cking sick of the "ROI of social media" debate. The post got some attention, including a follow-up on ReadWriteWeb.

Good. It's a conversation that needs to happen.

But in past posts, I neglected two topics:

  1. A history of media metrics, thereby illuminating how much has changed and how important this is
  2. The role of agencies as guides through a web 2.0 world

Today, I rectify that with a guest post on Critical Mass' Experience Matters blog entitled Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It. (Disclosure: I am employed by Critical Mass.)

Who Should Read This And Why

If you work in or with an agency, I recommend this post. It describes an agency's changing responsibilities to their clients - how to help clients understand social media and find success with their web 2.0 ventures.

Most importantly, I hope it gives you courage to face this moving target. Here's a description of the changing marketing world from my guest post:

We are moving from a period of raw quantitative measurement (i.e. How many unique visitors did we have?) to a qualitative period (i.e. Did our social media engagement create more trust which in turn created more sales?). Trust, loyalty, and brand advocacy aren’t intangible anymore.

Is your agency at least aware of these changes? How have they advised you regarding social media metrics?

Trash Your Crappy Web Metrics And Grow A Pair

This is not the time for timid marketers. If you aren't ready to try new things and risk your neck everyday, please allow the rest of us to move past you.

Let me put it to you straight: web analysis allows you to determine the real ROI which, in turn, allows you to see what tactics are working and which aren't.

Not the tactics that your boss likes or that tested well in focus groups - the tactics that really work.

Personally, I recommend facing these new challenges head on. It's tough, but how else will you know if you are really reaching your goals?

What About You?

I would love to hear from you on this topic. Do you measure your social media outreach? If not, what is holding you back? If you do measure social media, what are the elements that you measure? Are these personalized to your goals?

In short, how's it going out there?

Please check out Why Your Social Media ROI Is Broken– And How To Fix It and leave a comment there or here (comment section below). I look forward to hearing from you.

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I'm F*cking Sick Of The "ROI Of Web 2.0" Debate

I have a confession: I am f*cking sick of the "What's the ROI of web 2.0 or social media" debate.

Not that I don't think we shouldn't talk about it - we should - but I'm sick of convincing everyone that there is one at all. If done correctly, you will see a return on investment. We can debate what the metrics should be, but you will succeed if you are open, honest, and provide something of value.

So can we stop talking about the ROI of web 2.0 tools as though it were an ephemeral mist?

I see a track-record of failure for the naysayers - those who prefer to sit on the sidelines while others take chances (and get the rewards). Here are a few examples from the naysayers:

  • They didn't understand the value of blogging platforms. "Who cares about all the navel-gazers?" That was until Jason Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc. to AOL for $25M in 2005.
  • They didn't understand the value of e-commerce. "No one's going to give up their credit card information online!" These naysayers didn't have much to say about Amazon.com's $476M net income in 2007 though (source: Wikipedia).
  • They didn't understand the value of podcasting. "How does that relate to business?" I don't think Gary Vaynerchuk worried about that though. He created WineLibraryTV.com and increased his business 10 fold to the tune of $45M per year.
  • They didn't understand the value of online word of mouth. "The 30-second spot is still king!" I can imagine their surprise when the marketing team at Warner Brothers told 7 rabid Harry Potter fans/bloggers about their new theme park. The result was 350M people hearing the news, all without out-bound media relations, marketing stunts, or expensive advertising (Source: The New Rules of Viral Marketing by David Meerman Scott).
  • They didn't understand the value of social networks. "Friendster never did me any good." Then in September of 2007, Microsoft valued Facebook at $15B. With more than 50 million users and 200K joining every day, this doesn't look like a fad.
  • They didn't understand the value of Second Life or other virtual worlds. "It's just a bunch of weirdos with time to kill." But engagement speaks for itself. The Weather Channel recently developed SL attractions that engage users for an average of 30 minutes per visit. Drew Stein, CEO of Involve 3D, builders of The Weather Channel's virtual experience, had this to say: "It's not like a commercial, where maybe they watched and maybe they didn't. You're talking about a user actually paying attention, and you can time it. That's hard to replicate in any other medium" (Source: Fast Company).

So seriously, can we stop debating whether social media and web 2.0 tools have an ROI?

The question for your company is not if they have a return on investment, but how you can get that return on investment. That's the challenge for your marketing team. And if they start whining about how unnecessary or unworthy web 2.0 is, prepare to join the other nay-sayers in the gutter of business.

I'm not the only one frustrated by the debate. Geoff Livingston explains why we keep going through it:

Often, companies want to know what they will get for $xxx,000 of social media engagement. What’s the ROI?!?!? And we play the game because we have to justify corporate expenditures in this era. But somewhere the soul of social media gets lost in these discussions.

From what I gather though, the audience of this blog is fairly split between marketers who get it and marketing folks and small business owners who want to get it. Today's post is venting with the first group. In my next post, however, I will address the second group.

If you're in the second group, you feel the wave approaching. You know social media tools are a big thing but you're not quite sure how they apply to your business and how you sell it up the corporate food chain. That's fine - welcome to the discussion and good for you for having the cajones to figure it out.

My next post will give you some ideas about how to think of social media in the context of your business and provide enough web 2.0 ROI for you to sell the idea to your boss. One good way not to miss it is to subscribe.

Update: That next post I mentioned can be viewed on ReadWriteWeb: 5 Ways To Sell Social Media To Your Boss.

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ROI Of Social Media For Gen Y Audiences (And How To Convince Your Boss)

Generation Y - roughly those aged 13-29 - are among the strongest consumers and influencers. And while social media like Facebook, delicious, and Flickr have garnered media attention, many businesses are still wary of dipping a toe in the social media water.

I argue that we can gauge return on investment (or influence) for Gen Y by looking at their buying power and online behavior and therefore that it is imperative that (most) businesses participate in social media. Plus, I will give you the research to back up these assertions so you can prove it to your boss.

Flashback: Ohio

Growing up in pre-internet Ohio, I spent a good chunk of my allowance and lawn-mowing money on comic books at the local pharmacy. If they were sold out of my usual books, I was SOL until the following month. Scarcity of goods required that I go where they were (and quickly!) or I would miss out.

Fast-Forward: Today

Now, post-internet, these stories sound quaint. Given a bank account, any kid can get any comic book from anywhere in the world. So what does this have to do with social media and Generation Y?: proximity to resources.

Today, consumers expect businesses to come to them. Long gone are the lazy summer bike rides to the pharmacy - today, young people expect to be able to spend their money just about anywhere. And where are they? Online, in general, and on social media, specifically.

Maybe this shift isn't a surprise to you, but let me prove it with research (easily printable for timid bosses or humbugs).

Gen Y By The Numbers

  • Buying Power: "Among 13 to 21 year-olds alone, over $120 billion was spent in 2007...The group's income is predicted to rise through at least 2017, when it will approach $3.5 trillion." (The Harris Poll and Javelin Strategy & Research via eMarketer.)
  • Influence: "71% have influence over parental decisions about cable, DSL or dish-satellite services...62% have influence over which HDTV set and programming package to buy...70% feel their expectations and demands are far greater than their parents' for rich media experiences...and on-the-go broadband access." (Motorola via MarketingVox)
  • Online Consumption: "The group is very comfortable shopping online. One-half of consumers under age 24 made an Internet purchase between April 2007 and February 2008." (Nielsen Online via eMarketer)
  • Social: "One statistic that jumps out is that young men and women are very likely to be Joiners, with around 60% participation in social networks, more than twice the level of participation of average adults." ("Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Li and Bernoff, pg. 46)

Simply put, Gen Y are very powerful consumers. Plus, they are more social online than any other group. Facebook isn't a fad. You cannot bury you head in the sand and wait for a return to the good, ol' marketing funnel. That model is gone. Long live the new model.

Convincing Your Boss: Relate It To What S/he Knows And Emphasize ROI And Cost

The change is scary for everyone, but come on - this fits into an old-school model your boss will understand. S/he knows to target an audience and speak their language. S/he knows you go to where your consumer hangs out. The key to pitching a social media strategy to an old-school boss is to relate it in an old-school way.

Here's another leg up on your rivals in the company: with a social media strategy, you will have the ROI to prove success rather than just conjecture. Web metrics and communication being what it is online, it's likely that you will have more information than you can handle about your progress than less.

Finally, social media is cheap. Like, dirt cheap. I have worked in print publication and direct mail. That world is slower, less precise, and loads more expensive. Plus, if things change between the writing and the printing, you are stuck with useless package filler. Online is better.

The Gist

In other words, to convince your boss to partake in social media, speak his/her language. You do it with consumers all the time. Turn your methods inward and go for it.

Sidenote: If your boss still reacts negatively to social media, this is a useful sign that your company is not acknowledging the passing of time. Get off that sinking ship quickly!

While I have fond memories of biking to the pharmacy pre-internet, they are not memories so fond that I want to go back to them. I understand that while those times were nice, the times ahead are probably going to be nicer. Hopefully your boss will too.

Have you convinced an old-school boss to partake in social media? Feel free to suggest other tactics in the comments section. And if you like what you just read please consider signing up for email updates below.

Social Technographics: Forrester And The ROI Of Social Media

Last week, a lot of you read my guest post about the ROI (return on investment) of social media. There is no doubt that social media is changing the ways people interact online and hence, the way companies communicate with their customers. The thing that is still missing is quantifiable data about these interactions. We're in a theory stage - we know what's right because we have experienced it - but we are still waiting for proof in numbers. Forrester Research made a giant step in the right direction when they introduced social technographics.

Social technographics is an analysis of consumers' approach to social media - not just which ones they use, but understanding how they use the medium in their daily life. You can download the full report on Forrester Research's website (there is a fee) or read the book on the same topic published April 21, 2008: Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. (There is also a ton of free goodies at the Groundswell blog.)

I sat in on a webinar last week where Charlene and Josh expounded on their work. Josh summed up the goal of this work: "Think about what you want to accomplish, not the technology." There is so much fascination about what technology can do that marketers often forget the question is what technology can do for you. The webinar came back again and again with the message to use this data to inform a strategy for your clients. (You can find the resulting Q&A published post-webinar here.)

How's It Work?

Charlene and Josh categorize web users into six sections based on the level of their activity, from Creators to Inactives. I have not seen a clear but simple ranking system like this before and I certainly hope it is accepted as an industry standard. The real value, however, comes from their detailed analysis of each category's activity.

I won't go into all of the details of their work, but they go into serious detail about each group. There are some valuable insights to be garnered from their work. But the research does not get lost in either theory or numbers - there are very specific, actionable suggestions.

What's The Catch?

There isn't one as far as I can see. Charlene and Josh set up a system and fill it with data very valuable to marketers. Forrester is one of the top organizations in online research and analytics (if not the very best), so it isn't surprising to see this level of work from them. I do, however, have two small concerns.

  • One nagging concern is the age of the data (all from Q4 2006). While this isn't grievously old, there have been trends in that time that might change the data somewhat (Facebook opening up, Twitter emerging, etc). That said, I understand the huge amount of work that goes into collecting and analyzing this amount of information, so I can't fault Forrester that much (plus, I think the underlying theories are probably unaffected).
  • The second concern is the wording of the questions. For instance, when asked whether they do the following activities at least monthly, respondents were given several choices, including "Use social networking sites" and "Watch peer-generated video." I wonder how responses would have changed if they offered examples like MySpace, Facebook, Eons, and Gather for the first question or YouTube and Google Video for the second one. (I read a report recently that mentioned a large section of people who claimed not to go online because they did not realize they were online when they logged into Hotmail or searched on Google.)

The Gist

As mentioned before, social technographics should be used to build your strategy. "Rather than pursue Social Computing technologies based on fashion, marketers need to think about how they want to engage with their customers and prospects - and create content, features, and functionality that create a path for participation." 'Nuff said.

If you're going to take seriously the new business model in a Web 2.0 world, you owe it to yourself to be equipped with the best research. As far as I can tell, this is it.

4 Reasons Not To Rely On Market Research Alone

I was freezing my tush off a couple of weeks ago at Wrigley Field and inquired to my good friend why he had made the unlikely (in my mind, at least) switch from marketing to insurance. It seemed to me that he was turned off by the manipulative and predictive nature of old-school marketing - as though statistics and market research would tell exactly how someone would behave. Then, just yesterday, I read both David Oglivy's chapter "18 Miracles of Research" in On Advertising and Hank Williams' post Who Needs Market Research. The stars seem aligned to answer a few questions about market research, including: Why can I not rely solely on market research and how can the online channel help?David Ogilvy

Sure, research is helpful to some extent. As Ogilvy said, "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals. (pg. 158)" But you are making a severe mistake if you expect focus groups, polls, and testing to divine your strategy like a Magic 8-ball.

Market research (especially customer-focused research) must be taken with a sizable grain of proverbial salt. Here are four reasons why:

1. While I think there is some use of market research, I agree with Hank Williams' hypothesis that content and experience are much more important. People cannot articulate an experience they've never had. Focus on producing good content and a good experience - not whether people claim that they understand how they think they will respond to a hypothetical situation. And even if you have the product or advertisement, do you really think people will respond the same way to it during a focus group at the mall as they would in their own homes?

2. Often times, people can't articulate their feelings about a product at all. Malcolm Gladwell has a few intriguing examples in Blink. From Gladwell: "It [the Aeron chair] looked different. There was nothing familiar about it. Maybe the word 'ugly' was just a proxy for 'different' " [said Bill Dowell, research lead on the Aeron]. The problem with market research is that often it is simply too blunt an instrument to pick up this distinction between the bad and the merely different. (pg. 174)"Malcolm Gladwell

Not only can someone not tell you about an experience they have had, they often can't articulate one they have had. (Think about all the stories of witnesses picking the wrong suspect in a line-up.)

3. Market research produces a false sense of certainty. Many businesspeople are cowards (admit it, you've seen them). They want to keep their job rather than do their job, so they spend all day making sure they don't get in trouble (read: take risks).

Listen up, college students: Marketing does not bode well for the risk-adverse. And market research is often the tool of the risk adverse. It excuses the peon's work to the manager, the manager's decisions to the VP, and the VP's guidance to the President.

Gladwell goes on, this time using television shows as an example.

"Viewer didn't actually hate [All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show]. They were just shocked by them. And all the ballyhooed techniques used by the armies of marketer researchers at CBS utterly failed to distinguish between these two very different emotions.

But testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation. We like market research because it provides certainty - a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number. But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty. (pg. 175 - my emphasis)"

4. People knowingly or unknowingly lie or give the answer they think they ought to. It's an unpleasant truth. Spend any time in politics and you will become a believer too.

From Ogilvy: "Respondents do not always tell the truth to interviewers. I used to start my questionnaires by asking, 'Which would you rather hear on the radio tonight - Jack Benny or a Shakespeare play?' If the respondent said Shakespeare, I knew he was a liar and broke off the interview. (pg. 164)"

In addition to saying what they think you want to hear (as in Ogilvy's example), remember that many people even today carry deep biases. Watch the exit polls after this year's Presidential campaign. I guarantee the exit poll results will be significantly different from the actual voting in favor of McCain. While people want to say they will vote for a woman or an African-American, things change when they're alone in the booth. The same behavior applies to products and advertisements

Why The Online Channel Improves This Process:

People experience websites and the metrics (time on page, pageviews, clicks, bounce rate, etc) prove their interests. You can be certain of this because metrics don't lie.

Despite all this, we have spent decades believing in and promoting the old way of market research. It was to be expected - we had nothing else to go on.

Now, however, web analytics free us from market research. Instead of asking "What would you do in this situation," we can actually measure behavior, with certainty, in real time.

There is no reason to run a focus group at the mall or pay for phone interviews. Almost every demographic is well represented online. The results are more accurate and it costs far less. Why would you do it the old way?

If your company still partakes in these practices, re-read #3. Someone there needs to be assuaged and reassured. They are so uncertain of the product or ad that they cling to something tangible: people gathered, surveys marked in pencil, spreadsheets checked and cross-checked.

Sure, sometimes it is a useful exercise to do the old customer-focused market research. It can sometimes serve a purpose - whether in extracting customer opinion or forcing businesspeople to solidify their positions. But market research ought not be a manipulative tool. You cannot neither predict the future nor truly influence behavior with just market research. My friend from Wrigley understood the distastefulness of this.

Build a relationship with your customer. Listen. Engage them. Foster trust. Develop these skills instead and you'll hit it out of the park time.

Monthly Metric: Bounce Rate

Someone lied to you if they told you statistics were boring. Website metrics show just how your audience is using your site and you ignore this data at your own peril. A bounce rate is when someone comes to your site and immediately leaves. They bounce off of your website for whatever reason. A bounce is undesirable - you want people to come and stay on your website! Bounce is the opposite of sticky.

Time vs. Pages

I had always understood bounce determined by time - that this figure was measured from people leaving a site in a certain increment (usually 2, 5, or 10 seconds). So I was surprised when I read in Website Magazine that they asserted that bounce rate "is calculated by dividing the number of total page visits by those visits that did not result in an additional page view."

This seems insignificant, but really there is a huge gap. True, both methods measure engagement - how much your visitors care and want to get involved with your website (in the case of bounce, the answer is "not much"). However, the magazine's definition is critically flawed (and I don't mean to pick on Website Magazine - many others define bounce rate the same way).

If bounce is determined by page - measuring the amount a given page is the last page viewed against the aggregate number of times that given page was the first page viewed - this does not mean the user was instantly turned off. Co-worker Mia described this page-derived metric as indicating "not an unsuccessful visit, but unsuccessful engagement."

For instance, I can search a site, take several minutes to read and digest a page's information, be satisfied, and leave. This wasn't an unpleasant visit - I got the information I was looking for - but it was unsuccessful in getting me interested in what else the site had to offer. Shame on the marketer for not including links or other content that might entice me to another page, or offering some reason to further explore that given topic. But that does not mean the content or design was flawed in some way. In this manner, I think it's clear that determining bounce rate by last page is inherently flawed.

However, the time-derived metric is incredibly handy. Robust metrics engines like WebTrends can be programmed to measure any increment of time on a given page (though you'll probably have to ask your IT guy for help - the usual default setting only measures in minutes which isn't small enough for our purposes).

So, what can I do (and what does Jesus have to do with SEO)?

This uber-geeky battle of the bounce rates might not mean much to you - you're probably interested in ways to fix high bounce rates. Let's look at some common problems that might be plaguing your website.

  1. Bad design: If your website design looks cheap, people will logically think the content is cheap as well. Make sure your design is professional - check with an expert and ask others' opinions (if you're on a tight budget, use SurveyMonkey or another free tool to send around to friends and family). One important note: there is often confusion over cheap vs. simple when it comes to design. Google is simple and it works. Sites trying to sell you pirated DVDs from China often look cheap and it doesn't work. Even useful sites like Jakob Nielson's walk the line (though he's likely proving a point about usability, so he gets a pass). Use your best judgment.
  2. Bad content: People can tell when they're on the wrong site. Maybe it wasn't what they were looking for. Or maybe your misspellings or wacky fonts or wrong information instantly turned them off.
  3. Bad site architecture: Think about this from the user's perspective. I worked with a client whose homepage (i.e. www.company.com) was where user's had to click whether they wanted the American or European versions of the site. They lost a fifth of all traffic due to this terrible landing page. Enable your visitors to get the right information quickly and you will have a better bounce rate.
  4. SEO: Search engines crawl certain information - title, header tags, first couple paragraphs. If you are overly clever or leave the crux of your argument at the bottom, the right audience isn't going to find it. If Jesus had been a blogger, he would have had SEO woes. The parable of the mustard seed would have brought in gardeners and horticulturists - not exactly the point of the story.

Homework

For more detailed directions, check out Avinash Kaushik's wonderful post at Occam's Razor. He skims over the time vs. page argument that I wrote about, but he delves into some great suggestions for finding out more about your traffic and improving bounce rates. I especially recommend #2 (Measure the bounce rate for your traffic sources) and #4 (Measure the bounce rate of your AdWords, AdCenter, YSM (PPC) campaigns).

Many companies, especially small business owners, think they don't have the time to properly measure metrics. The truth is that they can't afford not to.

It's logical that you need the right audience at the right time in the right place. Bounce rates are a perfect way to determine whether that's occurring. Potential business could be floating to other websites instead of yours. Don't be the metrics fool.

Super Bowl Ads Fumble

Hey, remember the Super Bowl and all those cool ads? Yeah, me neither. I could have bookmarked the URLs of company's whose ads I enjoyed or told my friends about cool microsites I experienced, but I didn't because the web was largely forgotten in this year's ads. URLs were printed small and almost always at the end of the ad, there was only one example of user generated content, few (if any) microsites to continue the experience after the game, and generally poor use of search. What a waste of $2.7M.

Michael Estrin of iMedia Connection has a good wrap-up and several interviews of note. The question he pursues: where was the web? From Estrin's article: "It was like we went backwards this year," says Sean Cheyney, VP of marketing and business development at AccuQuote. "It's like we're moving back into silos. I was surprised that companies didn't do more integration. The web was an afterthought for most of the ads."

Beyond the 30-second Spot

AOL's Annual Super Bowl Sunday Ad Poll ranked the Bud Light Dalmation-Clydesdale-Rocky ad was America's favorite, yet it did not even have the requisite web address at the end. Here are a few quick ideas of ways you could have capitalized on this success (call me for more - my freelance rates are very reasonable):

  • Contest to name the Dalmatian and Clydesdale
  • Start a rivalry between Bud and Bud Light (represented by the dog and horse) similar to the Bud Bowls of the 90s
  • MySpace page wraps in spots (Dalmatian) and tough-guy horse stuff (Clydesdale)
  • Facebook app that allows you to send a Bud Light to a friend
  • Advertising tie-in with the new Rambo movie (I imagine there's audience cross-over with Rocky)
  • Jab back at the new Miller Lite spot featuring...Dalmatians and Clydesdales
  • Create a site where you integrate this ad with other Bud Light Super Bowl ads (have the dog breathing fire, the horse flying, etc)

Budweiser, what do you pay these marketing guys? Hire me or any 15 year old and you'll get more web marketing bang-for-your-buck.

Failure to Launch

Any marketer worth their snuff - nay, conscious in the last year or two - knows that search is an integral part of any campaign. So, why this MediaWeek report:

"70 percent of Super Bowl advertisers bought some paid search ads on either Google, Yahoo, MSN – up close to 20 percent versus last year. But just 6 percent of advertisers used their 30-second spots to direct viewers to the Web, and the vast majority (93 percent) failed to buy search ads for alternative terms that were related to their ads, such as their spokesperson’s names, slogans or taglines."

MediaWeek is reporting on a Reprise Media scorecard that goes into more detail. I find it amazing that roughly 93 percent (of the 70 percent who bought ads) failed to think of these ads from the user's perspective. Your uncle Jimmy had knocked back a six-pack and was in the grip of a food coma when he saw Naomi Campbell dancing with a bunch of lizards. When he stumbles to the computer, he is not going to search for SoBe Lifewater. He's going to search for "hot model and dancing lizards." Little surprise that SoBe also ranked as a "fumble" on Reprise Media's scorecard.

I Get By With a Little Help From My...Oh, Forget It

Only Doritos had the cojones to use user generated content. Despite it being ranked near the bottom, I thought the ad was okay. Doritos had a nice intro to the commercial, but I would have loved to see it end with the singer crunching into a Dorito. Cheesy, perhaps, but so is the product. My message to Frito-Lay/PepsiCo (who own Doritos): Don't be rash in firing your advertising company. It is better to work with someone willing to take the big risks and use the medium that appeals to your audience. These are the folks with the potential to blow people out of the water.

Also, not a single advertiser drove viewers to their MySpace or Facebook page - there was zero social networking involved. Believe me, this isn't because people aren't using Facebook anymore.

Fox did drive people to www.myspace.com/superbowlads though, which is a nice way of increasing the ads value with a measurable online component. Of course, for $2.7M, I'd be wanting a little something extra too.

No one is complaining about a game of two huge franchises in the largest media markets where one of the teams has the chance to have a perfect season (and finally shut up the '72 Dolphins). But if you're an advertiser and next year pits the Titans versus the Buccaneers (no offense guys, but come on), you might want to start thinking about your other options. Joe over at Junta42 has some great ideas for how to spend all that cash.

Chief Conversation Officer

Updated: Welcome Jaffe Juice readers! Note that my other posts regarding Join The Conversation are linked at the end of the first paragraph below. Also, if you like what you see, be sure to subscribe. Thanks!  I just finished reading Joseph Jaffe's Join The Conversation and highly recommend it. I'm a believer that the internet age largely only changed our medium of communication. We still function basically the same and this is a book that supports the need for conversation (more important that communication or dialogue) through the online channel. This sounds easy but Jaffe has many, many examples of companies that failed miserably in this regard. (You may remember Jaffe from when I mentioned his work here, here, and here.)

Conversation in business is like a fairy or Santa Claus - you want to believe in it, but when the rubber hits the road, you "know" there's nothing in it. This couldn't be further from the truth (Jaffe has examples to back up this notion too). But who would fill this function in the office? Conversation isn't on the org chart.

Jaffe suggests a Chief Conversation Officer (CCO). (Sidenote: Joseph, I tried to join the conversation at www.jointheconversation.us/chief as instructed on page 102, but that page did not exist - for shame!) Here's the gist of a CCO:

"Said CCO would report to the very top and thus bypass any blinkered or biased silos. The conversation department would be populated by true generalists with expertise across marketing, advertising, internal communications, corporate communications, customer service, government, analysis, and press relations. They would be responsible for monitoring and listening to conversations, understanding and contextualizing them, responding to and catalyzing existing conversations, and, ultimately, joining them. (Jaffe 101-102)"

Later in the book, Jaffe reiterates that this is someone with a mix of attributes, somewhere between PR people (more "social media") and advertising/marketing folks (more "storytelling"). I imagine this multi-dimensional CCO would also be "somewhere in between...longing for the days of good old-fashioned storytelling, with a sprinkle of authenticity and a drizzle of ROI to boot. (Jaffe 180)"

Likewise, I would think this conversation department headed by the CCO would be something like the "black ops" team mentioned late in the book. They would be responsible for experimentation, a vital aspect of any business, and fit in to the CCO model in my opinion.

"Experimentation is best conducted by a separate team - a nimble, independent, empowered, and intense group of individuals who report straight to the top. Depending on your anticipated level of risk and your comfort level, this team could be assembled as a 'Delta Force' or 'black ops' group...unaccountable throughout but ready and prepared to pay the ultimate price upon failure. (Jaffe 252)"

Jaffe's sentiments relate to Joseph Turow, who recently wrote a terrible screed bashing all marketers in Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age (and yes, it is intentional that I am not hyperlinking the title - don't buy this book!).

Turow says "The adperson who is master of this particular form of 'conversation' [two-way contact with customers and potential customers] can expect a growing role in tomorrow's marketing world. (Turow 69-70)" He only begrudgingly acknowledges the usefullness of a marketer in touch with his/her audience and throws sarcastic quotation marks around "conversation," but the sentiment is the same. He later goes on to quote James Stengel, P&G's marketing chief:

" 'All marketing should be permission marketing,' he said, and 'all marketing should be so appealing that customers want us in their lives...and homes.' To do that, he cautioned, required creative content and 'connection points' in a variety of media and environments. (Turow 87-8)" While Turow spends most of his book bashing all marketing and inciting paranoia about the information marketers have (Old Navy knows I like blue shirts, the horror!), he is correct that direct connection between the customer and company will only become more important in the near future. What better person to be responsible for this connection than the Chief Conversation Officer?

How Politics is the Perfect Training for Marketing

I never knew what I wanted to be when I was growing up, so I picked politics because at least that was something I was. And now that I'm in marketing it seems a perfect fit - it's all about persuasive communication which is where I excelled in politics anyway. But I also feel like I missed out not having a background in marketing. I don't speak the language (I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't know what ROI was until a few months ago). Yet, as I begin to read Joseph Jaffe's Join the Conversation, I am beginning to think that that lack might not be such a detriment after all. Jaffe cites the five (old) rules of content which are:

1) Content is created by corporations ("professionals")...

2) Content is consumed by consumers...

3) And the two shall never meet.

4) Consumers will pay for content. (That's not a belief - it's an order!)

5) Content is an end unto itself.

I don't care to speak to these point separately, but rather the entire gestalt at once. I am also thinking of politics in the way I experienced it - something of an idealized version, perhaps, but worth working towards. This post is essentially geared to a college kid who has strong skills and strong beliefs, but doesn't know how to translate that into a career.

Persuasion through human contact

Cutting my teeth in politics (rather than marketing, say) meant that my "product" (the candidate) was required to connect with consumers/voters. A case could be made that this connection was on a shallow or expedient level, but the better the product, the better the connection. It was a rough and tumble game of persuasion. Imagine if the entry-level marketer had to figure out not how to push their message on people through established mediums, but rather had to persuade people to turn on the television in the first place.

It is the third of Jaffe's points that is the most salient to me and in some way, it is a crux of his book. In politics, the content/product and consumer/voter engage all the time. Sure, I'm jaded too. I don't believe that candidates always listen at those forums as much as they ought to. But I have been to enough town hall meetings and church lunches and rallies to know that those meetings do have an effect on the people, and likely an effect on the candidate (the better ones, at least).

An army of advocates

In addition, one cannot forget the mass of employees and volunteers out there advocating on behalf of the candidate. That is marketing in it's purest form - person to person, heart to heart (if you'll forgive the schmaltz). I went from knocking on doors, making phone calls, driving voters to the polls, and holding signs outside of polling places to eventually running a modest field campaign. While the candidate can and should be making personal connections, the vast armies behind them definitely have the human touch.

Career planning

So this is why politics was a good entry to marketing for me: because I spent time in the trenches. While I read polls, I was also talking to people in their driveways. While I watched focus groups, I was also training groups of volunteers. Politics offers a human perspective and an opportunity to listen to the consumer that (I sense) a background in traditional marketing does not. (Maybe I'm not so behind - marketing language be damned.) In this new media environment, I would venture that politics is the perfect way to start a marketing career.

Yeah right!

Then again, Jaffe says, "The heat of passion, mixed with diversity of opinion, makes for an original exchange of viewpoints, attitudes, and perspectives" (pg. 133). Are marketing and politics too different? Am I wrong about persuasion and communication commonalities? I would especially love to hear from anyone who went the opposite route: marketing first before switching to politics.

Is there a connection? What would you recommend to a college student trying to find a career path?

Good For Consumers (And Businesses): Social Media Gets A Glimpse Of Measurable ROI

We recently had one of the worst weeks ever. It included (but certainly wasn't limited to) taking the car in to replace an insanely expensive hose, losing our heat during a Chicago winter, getting sideswiped by a Chicago trolley right after leaving the dealership, and the subsequent arguing with and lying from the trolley driver to the cop about how she was not involved. Needless to say, there were not a lot of bright spots in the week. But when the dealership tried to squeeze another $470 from us for a CV boot, I did a little research. Yelp.com and a few other sites extolled the virtue of the mechanic right down the street. He did the job in a couple of hours for $188. Amazing.

What does this all have to do with online marketing? Well, I was not surprised when I read this study from comScore. Not only are 1 in 4 internet users consulting reviews before purchasing offline, but they are willing to pay more if the service is ranked as excellent. It seem that after the year of exuberance that was all about Facebook and twitter, business is finally getting around to answering the question of how social media effects ROI.

If you have been questioning this yourself, you are not alone. I have seen at least 5 webinars in the past week and a half on this question alone: How do we determine our ROI on social media? And there are two distinct undercurrents in this discussion: 1) a low-lying anxiety on the part of marketers regarding keeping up with current trends and 2) trouble convincing an old-school CEO or other higher-up that this is of value to the company. I am a victim of the former and may blog about it in the future, but relief for the latter is beginning to emerge.

Among the best of the webinars and white papers discussing social media ROI are those from TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. Anyone who is trying to convince their fellow employees about the value of social media must read their white paper, Making the Case for a Social Media Strategy. (Just so you know, I'm not connected to the company at all - I just really do like their work.)

They begin by going through an evolution of digital communications and present research on what people are doing online. They then explain how social media is a blurring of communication and content (the two activities people do the most online) and give salient examples of how struggling industries (especially newspapers) are embracing social media and seeing profits skyrocket. Among the quantifiable ROIs:

  • momentum
  • influence
  • prototyping
  • direct conversion of buzz into sales
  • market feedback/testing
  • crowdsourcing
  • recommendations

And each of those quantifiable ROIs has at least one example from a major, dynamic company. Consider these:

  • Crowdsourcing: "Intuit created a community with discussion boards on their site so customers can help each other with questions...According to Business Week, this community now has over 100,000 members discussing topics across 50 subject areas." CEO Steve Bennett's 2005 annual report letter to shareholders stated, "positive word of mouth creates a durable advantage for Intuit that translates into sustained revenue and profit growth."
  • Recommendations: "Analysis of [Petco's] web traffic revealed that users that [sic] sort the list of products by customer ratings spend 41% more than users who search with other methods like popularity or price... Emails that feature customer review content receive 50% higher clickthrough rates."

Helpfully, there are also cases where social media hurt companies, but a fair review notes that it was not the tool that caused the problem, but the poor PR skills of the company. Many are not adept at responding quickly, especially to a crisis situation. These examples serve as a good warning to be prepared for what you are about to take on.

In the end, social media is just a tool. But this study and others can give you the quick-and-dirty version (with stats) to help convince your more traditional bosses. It's a scary new world but at least we're all in it together.