Jennifer Zeszut is the Chief Social Strategist at Lithium Technologies. Jennifer is the founder and former CEO of Scout Labs, a SAAS platform for real-time social media visibility and customer analytics which was acquired by Lithium in May 2010.
Lithium works with a lot of brands. Savvy, customer-obsessed brands, on the cutting edge of social media. We have been their social media partners for years, and over those years we have seen lots of trial and lots of success. Lots of confusion and lots of revelation. Brands have been feeling their way through social media and each year has had its themes. Let’s review.
If you were in the biz then, 2007 was the era of the blog. How to find influential bloggers? How to keep up with the “insane volume” (ah, how quaint a notion!) In 2008 and 2009, we saw consumer-generated media (CGM) platform proliferation. There were LOTS of CGM sources and networks for brands to stay on top of (MySpace, Ning and Digg-related data requests into us were numerous), with new ones popping up all the time (what’s this ‘Twitter’ thing?). But in 2010, consumers started to converge on Twitter and Facebook and brands scooped up their social media chips and went “all in” on those numbers. (Although to this day, one of my favorite parts of my job is demoing the Lithium SMM app, which indexes most all social media channels, and watching the shocked face of a prospective customer as they discover tons of meaty brand conversations in corners of the social web that they never knew existed!) But even so, there have not been many requests for MySpace data this year (although I hope my friend @mjones pulls it out and resuscitates that brand!). 2010 was the year of Twitter and Facebook.
But brands are on the verge of another revelation and change is coming, I think. The brands who doubled down on Facebook and Twitter early in 2010 are starting to bump up into four pretty major limitations of those platforms. Dare we call them the “Four Fatal Flaws of Twitter and Facebook?” I heard these complaints from a few brands early in 2010, and am hearing them regularly from many brands now. They are:
1) Content Decay
A brand sets up a Twitter account and a Facebook page (or pages) and staffs them with smart, connected employees. The customers come. They engage with the brand and with each other. They have great conversations – recommending products to each other or dialoging about a promotion they are really excited about, say. Then the next random comment is posted…and the next and the next and the next. And pretty soon those great conversations are lost – pushed down from the “top of the fold” in the time-ordered Twitter Feed and/or Facebook Wall. So now, maybe the next day, a new customer comes to the Facebook page and wonders what product customers are recommending and they DON’T see the meaty thread that raged yesterday. They ask the same question again. Hopefully an advocate answers again. But it’s like “Groundhog Day”… all over again. We will never scale by answering the same questions over and over. (See “1:1 Doesn’t Scale”, next.)
What’s more, those conversations are NOT hosted on your own site, but Twitter’s and Facebook’s. So those conversations are not showing up in a prospective customers’ search results the way those conversations would be if they were hosted on your own site. For one of our Lithium clients, a full 40% of inbound traffic comes from search engine links into community content. Do you have 40% of lead traffic to ignore? I know we don’t. So we must solve for Content Decay. We must keep conversations alive for customers and we need to host that content ourselves, somehow, so that we can reap the SEO (and data and relationship and scale and other…) benefits.
2) 1:1 Doesn’t Scale
Brands are realizing that they can’t staff their teams to be able to respond to EVERY brand / category / competitive mention. They just can’t. In 2010, many brands (wisely) migrated from departmental ownership of social media to a hub-and-spoke system – managing inbound social media mentions centrally and routing them quickly to the right people or departments within organizations – enabled with tools like Lithium SMM and Co-Tweet. But there is a curious and wonderful phenomena that (usually) happens with brands participating in social media – the more a brand engages, the more the customers come. If you extend yourself, you will need to keep extending yourself more and more to meet conversation demand. (And must I remind you – this is a good thing!) Brands try to keep up for a little while (sometimes with summer interns, sadly) but many are starting to realize that 1:1 can’t scale. Teams should be investing in tools (like Lithium SMM) that prioritize their queues and tell them what’s most important to be paying attention to. We don’t need a fatter firehose, but more perspective.
Finally, brands are starting to realize that nirvana is not their employees responding to 100% of mentions (an oh so 2010 metric). Nirvana is really having YOUR CUSTOMERS jump in to conversations, positively, on your behalf. For example, some Lithium communities have crazy super-fan advocates responding to thousands of customer inquiries per month. In fact, GiffGaff is the fastest growing Telco in Europe which outsources 100% of its customer support to its own customers via its Lithium-powered community. Now that’s leverage. New metrics for 2011: % of mentions coming from customers vs. coming your own employees. Get customer engagement up! Brands must find ways to focus their own efforts and to enable customers for the rest of it. 2011 will be the year of leverage. Tools and metrics and solutions for unleashing your best customers as advocates and letting them help you scale. (They’ll do it better than summer interns ever could.)
3) Customer Data Scarcity
Facebook and Twitter are all too happy to host your most intimate conversations with your best customers. But when it comes time to leverage those influencers, there is next to nothing in terms of data coming back from those platforms. Most of us can’t call up Twitter and say “Can you send me my top Influencers who live in Paris who have expressed interest in Digital SLRs and who are women, as we have a product launch in Paris and I want to involve our key Influencers.” Yeah – not going to happen. The latest data I’ve seen coming out of Facebook is the “time of day” analysis that gives brands a graph of what time of day your Friends tend to be logged in to Facebook. So while the sushi boat of conversation is flying by at a million miles per hour, they tell us the best time to lob our post into the wind so that friends might see it. ARE YOU KIDDING??? That’s the best we can do? Now, Facebook makes available a few more metrics than Twitter, but all would agree that both are sub par. And better metrics for brands is clearly not a priority for either Twitter or Facebook. Brands are getting increasingly frustrated by this lack of visibility and lack of metrics because it hampers their efforts to take relationships to the next level and put advocates to use for business objectives, which brings me to…
4) Friends and Followers – So What?
We have seen hundreds of RFPs this year stating that “the Strategic Business Objective for the effort is to attract <pick your number> Followers.” Web pages are littered with these kinds of “we’ll find you Followers!” vendors:
If 2010 was the year of gathering Friends and Followers (just ‘cuz), 2011 will be about business results – about holding social media efforts up to the same scrutiny as other business efforts. Social Media is working its way up the corporate consciousness. It’s there already at many companies whose CEOs have social or community-oriented initiatives as one of their top 3 strategic priorities for the year. But it doesn’t earn that level of championship via Friends and Followers. It gets there with words like “reduced costs by X” or “increased revenue by Y”. We are thrilled to see big companies get serious about social media and we are happy to help each of them with the cold, hard business case. It’s there.
So that’s my recap of what brands are bumping up into right now as they manage their brand presence and customers online via social media – and what’s next. Now I’m not predicting the death of Twitter or Facebook in 2011, by any means. If customers are there, brands must be too. But there are smarter ways to do this. Ways that solve for the above issues and give brands more bang for their social media buck. Twitter and Facebook will evolve…a little…maybe. They will give us a few more metrics and a few more ways to engage our customers on their platforms. But the real innovation will continue to come from product companies like ours that build on customer trends to help brands derive real business value.
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