Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

It’s Official: Social Media Marketing Is Here to Stay

Despite some grumblings out there in the blogosphere that social media marketing is a fad, difficult to measure and a waste of time for marketers, a recent study I came across this week says social media will become the focus for many marketers this year.

Despite some grumblings out there in the blogosphere that social media marketing is a fad, difficult to measure and a waste of time for marketers, a recent study I came across this week says social media will become the focus for many marketers this year.

Sixty-six percent of 1,068 marketing professionals surveyed by Alterian recently for its Annual Survey said they’d be investing in social media marketing (SMM) in the next 12 months. Of those investing, 40 percent said they’d be shifting more than a fifth of their traditional direct marketing budgets toward funding their SMM activities.

What’s more, the survey revealed that the majority of respondents (67 percent) feel SMM is either “increasingly important” or “critical to success.”

“2010 marks the start of the digital decade for marketing,” said David Eldridge, Alterian’s CEO, commenting on the results in a press release. “Untargeted and irrelevant marketing techniques are now redundant and the results of this survey show many in the industry recognize this.”

Thirty-six percent of respondents also said they’re investing in SMM and analysis tools this year. In my opinion, this is key: I think this year will be the year marketers finally figure out how to monitor, measure and track their SMM programs and investments. Many marketers consider this the holy grail.

The survey also explored whether organizations integrate marketing technologies across their organizations. Surprisingly, almost half of the respondents (42 percent) said they don’t incorporate clickstream and web analytics data into their customer and email databases.

The research also explored the importance of customer engagement, finding that more than half of respondents (51 percent) are placing a “fair” or “significant” amount of effort on moving from a campaign-centric direct marketing model toward multichannel customer engagement. In fact, only 7 percent are making no effort at all, the survey found.

Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed – An Insider’s Look at Mint.com

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

Pretty shocking, considering the economic environment we’re in and the increased pressures placed on marketers to deliver results. On the other hand, email’s ROI has been analyzed to death and remains the most efficient marketing medium used today.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these two communication and marketing powerhouses join forces to drive success and efficiency for today’s leading brands. The only questions that remain now are: “How?” and “Who’s doing it well?” One brand that’s been successful doing it to acquire new customers is Mint.com.

Launched in 2007, Mint.com has quickly become America’s No. 1 online personal finance service. Mint’s intelligent and easy-to-use approach to money management has quickly attracted more than 1.5 million users to date. Given its online audience and technologically savvy user base, Mint.com recently turned to the power of email marketing and socialized it to further drive new customer acquisition.

Building a successful social email marketing campaign
Taking the time to understand user motivations is key, and Mint.com did an impressive job in a recent campaign that tested a series of offers appealing to a diverse spectrum of user needs.

The winning campaign, analyzed below, appealed to Mint.com users’ desire to achieve “insider status” – or access to beta features and products prior to their rollouts to the general user base. In return, users were encouraged to tell friends. If three of those friends became Mint.com users, they would be granted exclusive access. The campaign also helped Mint.com identify key influencers – those who self-identified by indicating their desires to know more and demonstrating the ability to drive new users. In the end, the results were impressive – the effort drove one new user for every 2.6 invite clicks.

Looks like Mint.com is well on its way to making a mint thanks to some great planning and testing, and by combining two incredibly powerful and relevant mediums – email and social media. However, like all campaigns, Mint.com has a great opportunity to take it a step further by considering the following:

Testing personalization. Mint.com could strengthen its relationship with users by making it more personal and conversational. Using the subscriber’s/user’s name, such as “Dear Michael,” and signing the communication with an actual Mint.com employee (i.e., “Bob Smith, director of new product development”) may improve performance even further.

Add additional response mechanisms. The email might benefit from including a text link, in addition to the “Tell Your Friends About Mint.com” button, in case images are blocked.

Flagging responders for future marketing efforts. Given these users’ desire to know more and ability to drive new users, Mint.com should consider building an influencer communication program around these users to further leverage their knowledge and reach.

Great program with lots of learnings. Congratulations, Mint.com.

Note: Michael Della Penna currently sits on the board of directors at StrongMail Systems, Mint.com’s social marketing technology provider.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

Social Networking Suicide

No, I’m not talking about accidentally sending embarrassing personal information out through a “SWYN” link in an email.

I’m talking about Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. (Now just try to get Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece “Thunder Road” out of your head!)

No, I’m not talking about accidentally sending embarrassing personal information out through a “SWYN” link in an email.

I’m talking about Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. (Now just try to get Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece “Thunder Road” out of your head!)

In case you haven’t heard about it, Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, which launched in December, is an anti-social media site that lets subscribers “sign out forever” from social-networking services such as Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace.

The idea behind it? That people are spending too much time on social media sites and it’s affecting the fabric of society as a whole.

“This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web 2.0 alterego,” it says on its website, where you’ll also see its logo, a pink hangman’s noose.

Here’s how it works: After logging in to the website and choosing which social network you want to be deleted from, the “Suicide Machine” servers begin walking through your targeted account, friend by friend, deleting your connections one at a time via a script.

It also changes your profile picture — to the pink noose, of course — and your password, so you can’t log back on to resurrect yourself.

Until recently, the service also let you kill your Facebook account. On Jan. 5, however, Facebook blocked the site’s access to its website.

“Facebook provides the ability for people who no longer want to use the site to either deactivate their account or delete it completely,” Facebook said in a Jan. 5 statement. “Web 2.0 Suicide Machine collects login credentials and scrapes Facebook pages, which are violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. We’ve blocked the site’s access to Facebook as is our policy for sites that violate our SRR. We’re currently investigating and considering whether to take further action.”

I personally think Web 2.0 Suicide Machine is not a threat to the social-networking world — either from the consumer or marketer perspective. (After all, if you want to remove yourself from a social site right now, most sites let you do so by using the end-of-account tools on the sites themselves.) Instead, I think it’s really been created to send a message. And in that respect, it may be working. It got me thinking, for instance, about how much time I spend on social-networking sites — for business and pleasure— and what purpose that really serves in the long run.

Do you think you spend too much on social networking sites? Tell me about it here.

Point-Counterpoint Emerges Over the ROI of Social Media

It started out innocently enough.

Earlier this month, I posted a simple question online about how marketers measure the ROI of social media. I was blown away by all the responses I got.

The question was posted on eM+C contributor Jim Gilbert’s popular LinkedIn Group, Social Media Marketing Questions & Answers.

It started out innocently enough.

Earlier this month, I posted a simple question online about how marketers measure the ROI of social media. I was blown away by all the responses I got.

The question was posted on eM+C contributor Jim Gilbert’s popular LinkedIn Group, Social Media Marketing Questions & Answers.

Perhaps the most interesting response came from an exchange that took place in the discussion section of the LinkedIn Group between Steve Goldner, a social media/social network consultant who goes by the name Social Steve, and Doug Garnett, the founder and CEO of Atomic Direct, a brand DRTV agency. To me, it exemplified the ongoing battle between traditional direct marketers and new media executives when it comes to how to measure social media ROI.

Goldner started the discussion by posting a link to an article he wrote titled, “Measuring the Value of Social Media.” He noted that the article explained there’s a way to measure the ROI of social media, but marketers should be careful not to use “sales metrics” when measuring it.

That got Garnett thinking. “Steve’s article seems to suggest that ‘a metric of tweets, for example, is a valid ROI analysis.’ I don’t think that’s at all related to ROI,” he wrote.

He went on: “Having lots of tweets just might contribute to ROI. OR, it might be entirely tangential. You might have higher ROI with fewer Tweets if they’re of better quality.”

Garnett suggested that marketers stick with it and look for true ROI from social media, which he described as “increased sales (at some reasonable point) or same sales with lower marketing costs.”

Goldner countered that what Garnett considers true social media ROI — increased sales (at some reasonable point) or same sales with lower marketing costs — is really lead generation and that “social media should be measured in lead generation and increasing the probability of sales, not sales. Same is true for all other marketing endeavors.”

Garnett countered, “[I] guess one place we part ways is the goal of marketing. The advertising and communication goals are not necessarily focused on sales. But to me, marketing is the process of bringing an entire range of efforts (yup, the ‘4P’s’ are still quite valid) together to create revenue, profit, and market share.”

To read the whole discussion, click here.

I guess it all really depends how you look at it. Coming from the direct marketing world, I hear what Garnett is saying. But as I get more immersed in new media as editor of eM+C, I see Goldner’s point as well. So, I guess I haven’t made up my mind yet about what is the right way to look at it. What’s your take on the ROI of social media? Or the role of marketing in general? Let’s start a similar discussion here.

Point-Counterpoint Emerges Over the ROI of Social Media

It started out innocently enough.

Earlier this month, I posted a simple question online about how marketers measure the ROI of social media and was blown away by all the responses I got.

The question was posted on eM+C contributor Jim Gilbert’s popular LinkedIn Group, Social Media Marketing Questions & Answers.

It started out innocently enough.

Earlier this month, I posted a simple question online about how marketers measure the ROI of social media and was blown away by all the responses I got.

The question was posted on eM+C contributor Jim Gilbert’s popular LinkedIn Group, Social Media Marketing Questions & Answers.

Perhaps the most interesting response came from an exchange that took place in the discussion section of the LinkedIn Group between Steve Goldner, a social media/social network consultant who goes by the name Social Steve, and Doug Garnett, the founder and CEO of Atomic Direct, a brand DRTV agency. To me, it exemplified the ongoing battle between traditional direct marketers and new media executives when it comes to how to measure social media ROI.

Goldner started the discussion by posting a link to an article he wrote titled, “Measuring the Value of Social Media.” He noted that the article explained there’s a way to measure the ROI of social media, but marketers should be careful not to use “sales metrics” when measuring it.

That got Garnett thinking. “Steve’s article seems to suggest that ‘a metric of tweets, for example, is a valid ROI analysis. I don’t think that’s at all related to ROI,’ he wrote.

He went on: “Having lots of tweets just might contribute to ROI. OR, it might be entirely tangential. You might have higher ROI with fewer Tweets if they’re of better quality.”

Garnett suggested that marketers stick with it and look for true ROI from social media, which he described as “increased sales (at some reasonable point) or same sales with lower marketing costs.”

Goldner countered that what Garnett considers true social media ROI — increased sales (at some reasonable point) or same sales with lower marketing costs — is really lead generation and that “social media should be measured in lead generation and increasing the probability of sales, not sales. Same is true for all other marketing endeavors.”

Garnett countered, “[I] guess one place we part ways is the goal of marketing. The advertising and communication goals are not necessarily focused on sales. But to me, marketing is the process of bringing an entire range of efforts (yup, the ‘4P’s’ are still quite valid) together to create revenue, profit, and market share.”

To read the whole discussion, click here.

I guess it all really depends how you look at it. Coming from the direct marketing world, I hear what Garnett is saying. But as I get more immersed in new media as editor of eM+C, I see Goldner’s point as well. So, I guess I haven’t made up my mind yet about what is the right way to look at it. What’s your take on the ROI of social media? Or on the role of marketing in general? Let’s start a similar discussion here.

Awards Bring Out Key Elements of Social Media

If social media had an Oscars, the annual Forrester Groundswell Awards would be them.

Now in their third year, the awards honor companies for excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology. The program was developed to support principles outlined in the Forrester book “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

If social media had an Oscars, the annual Forrester Groundswell Awards would be them.

Now in their third year, the awards honor companies for excellence in achieving business and organizational goals with social technology. The program was developed to support principles outlined in the Forrester book “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” (Harvard Business Press, 2008).

On Oct. 27, Forrester honored 13 winners at its Consumer Forum 2009 in Chicago. For the first time, awards went to business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies, as well as nonprofits. For a complete look at the winners and finalists, click here.

To me, the awards are unique because winners are awarded based on the following actions: listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing. These concepts represent the strategic goals Forrester advises organizations to consider when using social technologies to interact with their customers. I found this particularly refreshing, especially in an age when marketing awards seem to be a dime a dozen and don’t really get to the heart of what matters when it comes to making money.

What’s more, this year, for the second year in a row, the Groundswell Award selection process allowed the general public to rate and comment on all entries on the Groundswell website. Forrester took the community’s evaluations into account when selecting winners, but chose winning entries based on proof of business value, and not which applications were the most popular.

Here’s a look at some of the winning companies and their programs, via the Groundswell site:

NASCAR Fan Council/Vision Critical. NASCAR and Vision Critical, which won in the B-to-C Listening category, created a community of 12,000 fans and used it to reduce research costs by 80 percent. NASCAR also took the community’s suggestions and changed its restarts from single file to double file, which fans loved.

Lion Brand Yarn Blog and Podcast/Converseon. These companies won in the B-to-C Talking division for a program where Converseon identified influential bloggers and social networks dedicated to knitting and crocheting. Lion Brand Yarn then created a biweekly podcast and targeted it to these groups. The podcast eventually generated 15,000 to 20,000 downloads and a blog featuring “knit-alongs.” This drove impressive e-commerce sales for the brand, including people who ordered the knit-along projects. Also, those who visited the company’s social media sites were 41 percent more likely to buy at the website.

Scholastic Book Clubs Reading Task Force Community/Communispace. These companies won in the B-to-B Embracing division for a program that involved redesigning Scholastic’s school book sales flyer, which is its main vehicle for book sales through schools. Using a community of 200 teachers and 100 parents created by Communispace, Scholastic embarked on a 10-week collaborative process to talk to members about how to improve the design of the flyer. The process generated ideas such as including student recommendations and showing interior pages so parents could judge the reading level of the books. Results? The new flyer has already generated a 3 percent increase in sales in test markets.

I think all of these programs exhibit great, unique uses of social media and technology, and show how the medium can bring about real, specific ROI. What do you think? Post your comments here.

How Dell Leverages Social Media Across the Company

While attending the eTail East conference in Baltimore this week,  I was pleasantly surprised at what seems to be a pattern in online retail shows this year. While the show was small, all the sessions were packed. And everyone seemed to be in generally good spirits — despite the economic situation.

While attending the eTail East conference in Baltimore this week, I was pleasantly surprised at what seems to be a pattern in online retail shows this year. While the show was small, all the sessions were packed. And everyone seemed to be in generally good spirits — despite the economic situation.

One session I attended on Aug. 5 featured Liana Frey, the director of communities and conversations at Dell. Her session, “Community 2.0 — Lessons Learned From Engaging in Conversations With Customers,” focused on the success of the Round Rock, Texas-based firm’s use of social media.

Dell’s successful use of social media has been well documented. Dell Outlet, for example, has attributed $3 million in revenue to its presence on Twitter, where the division posts its latest offers.

What’s more, Dell Outlet has almost 1 million Twitter followers and is a “recommended” presence to follow by Twitter. It also occasionally makes “Twitter-only” offers available to followers.

Dell has put a concerted effort into its social media programs, according to Frey. It started them through a small group that was part of its corporate communications department. Today, however, social media is embedded throughout the entire organization.

“We’ve changed our organizational structure so that our tech department can answer specific technical questions through Twitter, and our customer service department can answer customer service questions,” she said.

While Frey admitted there’s some risk to this approach — where someone may say something that’s inappropriate, despite the social training, and damage the brand — she added that using this approach was worth the risk.

“We had enough confidence in our employees’ expertise that we felt it was important to make them transparent,” she said.

At lunch later that day, many folks agreed with Frey’s comments. Almost all of my tablemates said that for social media to work, it has to be part of a corporation’s culture. And, most importantly, there has to be buy-in from the top of the corporate structure — the CEO or president.

Do you agree? Let me know by leaving a comment here.

Wunderman’s Morel on Social Media, Online Video and Mobile

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

In 2005, Morel launched an aggressive strategy to expand the agency’s influence on digital direct marketing and was instrumental in Wunderman’s acquisition of interactive and web analytics agencies — Blast Radius and ZAAZ among them. Digital programs now account for 60 percent of Wunderman’s revenues.

Here are highlights from the discussion:

Melissa Campanelli, eM+C: How would you describe social media?
Daniel Morel: A while ago, when I used the term you’re using — social media — I was corrected by some folks from Forrester Research. They told me that social media is a euphemism. It’s not media, per se; it’s not something you buy but something you measure. Now, when describing what I think you’re talking about, I use the terms social networking, social interaction and social conversation — but not social media. If you look at the largest examples of what I’m describing — Twitter, Facebook, blogs — you’d see little advertising, little paid media.

MC: Do you think social networking is important?
DM: As for social networking, we monitor Twitter, but in my opinion, Twitter doesn’t really have many capabilities these days. We monitor all of the blogs and online communities, of course. We then harvest that information using a variety of tools in combination with vendors, such as Visible Technologies [a provider of online brand management solutions for new media environments that’s formed a strategic partnership with WPP] and Radian6 [a tool for real-time social media monitoring and analysis designed for advertising agencies].

When it comes to social conversations and social networking, the important thing for us is accumulating data and organizing it into knowledge and information. Social networking offers real-time data as opposed to secondary research, where you have to wait six months before getting the results. You have immediate access to what’s on the minds of consumers. Social networking is important for us, but only as much as we can convert the commodity we call data into valuable insight.

Once a client told me that one of his colleagues was doing “the Facebook thing.” He asked me, “Can you give me one of those?” Our job is not to just give our clients a Facebook page. Our job is to ask why. “Why do you want to do it?” “What’s your objective?” “What are you trying to achieve?” You shouldn’t do it just because someone else is doing it.

MC: Is it true that social networking is changing marketing today?
DM: Whether you’re shopping for a car or insurance, you want to know opinions about the products you’re shopping for from people like you — not the brands. You place more trust into what people of similar backgrounds and interests to you are saying about brands, products and services than discourse from the brand.

Brand speech is necessary, however, because you can’t go to a search toolbar and search for a product if you haven’t been informed about the existence of that product. If I want to type “Ford Mustang 2010” into the search toolbar, I must have heard the term at some point. Public relations does a good job of placing words in people minds.

Social networking will become more present, more sophisticated and more original in the future. Right now, a lot of the content on social networking sites is republished, refurbished or reformulated. But at some point some creative people will make it original and germane to each environment. As a result, social networking will become even more relevant.

Check out the rest of my conversation with Daniel Morel here next week. We’ll discuss online video and mobile marketing.