Every social media program starts from scratch with an audience of zero. That’s a universal truth even for global brands with a significant social following. When a social media program gets off the ground, the initial audience for a campaign, contest or even blog post is zero. So, how do you get the first, second or 4,000th person to pay attention?

Starting from null can be an intimidating place to begin. But it’s a reality that we all face. Before we publish the blog post or the contest app, we have only a potential audience to work with.

Augie Ray is a former analyst at Forrester and he made an apt corollary to the world of Physics:

“There is an appropriate and interesting corollary in the world of high school physics: If you lift a ball off the ground and hold it stationary, it has no kinetic energy but it does have potential energy; drop the ball, and the potential energy becomes kinetic energy. Facebook fans are like that — all potential energy until you introduce something that creates kinetic energy.”

Now, we won’t get into the theoretical physics of social media audiences (we’ve all wanted to introduce some major acceleration trajectory to members of our communities, right?). But the core idea is that, until we introduce an action to an audience, no activity will occur — it is the premise under which we must approach content and community. The concept of organic shares and organic interaction is often a fallacy, and when they do occur, it’s time for celebration.

That’s why we stress the importance of voice, active participation and content creation. The potential energy of an audience is significantly higher when the mass is increased. Let’s refresh a bit on our physics:

potential energy text equation

In physics, the potential energy of an object is dependent on two variables and one constant. In social media, the potential energy is tied to three variables. Let’s examine the new equation for social media potential energy:

social media equation for energy

Audience size is a known quantity. It is the organic audience that you have created for a brand. Facebook fans, Twitter followers, email list size and RSS subscribers all factor into this figure. It is the starting point for the beginnings of transitioning your campaign to kinetic energy.

Story quality is a variable that is difficult to compute, yet is highly important to the success of a campaign. People don’t share uninteresting, boring or generally “bad” content. Making sure that the story or contest you want to gain momentum is worthwhile is an integral part of success. The shareability of your content draws from knowing your audience, the type of content that has worked in the past and the type of information that your audience needs.

Sharing imperative is a variable that the audience dictates. This is a difficult variable to measure, but its impact can’t be understated. The drive to share your content or engage with it in other ways relies on your ability to solve a problem, make an emotional connection or create an irresistible value proposition. The Sharing imperative is a concept we’ll explore more in the future.

As you can see, being able to start a communications campaign from null is possible. Just make sure that you have your physics in order (that’s a subtle joke about chaos theory, BTW) and create amazing content.

Posted in PR

So, you stare at your Twitter account, Facebook page and LinkedIn business profile and nothing happens. You send a flurry of tweets. Maybe “engage” with an “influencer” or two and then you jump over to Google Analytics to watch the conversions increase 10x. But that conversion rate actually went down.

  • If you have ever felt that more content was the answer, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve made a concerted effort to RT more people, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve ever boosted a post without adjusting targeting, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If you’ve never boosted a post, your social media strategy is broken.
  • If the only URLs that appear in your social media feeds are your own, your social media strategy is broken.

Let me clarify something at this juncture. There’s a key word I want to emphasize in all of this: strategy. Your content may be great. Your calls to action are on point and your messaging is tight. But what’s the strategy that guides you forward?

Define your voice, define your strategy

A strategy is the methodology you use to accomplish a set of goals. Tactics, plans and deliverables constitute your strategy. Your strategy is not a two-page Word document or 10 PowerPoint slides. Your strategy is a living entity that grows and evolves alongside your social media program.

The core element to a successful social media strategy is the voice of the brand. The words, images, structure, tone and humanity that bring a brand to life. Is it pithy, serious, humorous, contrite, morose, or some combination of other traits? Perfect. Own it. Be that voice.

If you don’t tell your own story, somebody else will tell it for you. You’ll be dependent on the words that others use to share your strengths and, more often than not, the way they amplify your weaknesses. The first step in any social media program that has any opportunity for success is determining how you want to tell your story.

How to win social media

If you’re worried that your social media strategy sucks, just know that it can be fixed.

So, how do you win at social media?

Commitment to excellence

We’ve established that in order to have a successful social media program, one must be inherently committed to maintaining a presence and being an active part of the communities you want to have a presence in. Social media is a long-term commitment that is governed by the precedent you set. If you start out by Tweeting 15 times a day and your team is posting 6 blog posts per week, guess what happens when you start having one tweet a day and maybe one blog post every other week: You lose your audience. You just lost at social media. In order to win, you must set a precedent and stick to it.

Be data based

Think of the audience you want to reach. What data supports your choice of that audience? Think of the calls to action you use. Have you a/b tested to make sure you’re optimizing your conversion rates? Look at your Google Analytics. Are you actively present on the sites sending you referral traffic? By making decisions on content that are based in measurable results, you can ensure the success of your social media strategy.

Be awesome and don’t suck

People share awesome. They don’t share content that is bad. Unless it’s awesomely bad, but I would encourage you not to seek out that kind of content. Go ahead and post a meme or a video. In fact, recent research shows that Facebook prefers you post a video. But you also need to tell great stories with your content. Find out what resonates with your desired audience and create content that works for that group.

Fixing your social media strategy takes work. It takes commitment. And, it takes a little bit of awesome too. Let us know what elements you think make for a great social media strategy in the comments!

I’m spending the weekend in a small town (the sign says population 350, but I’d guess it’s half that) attending my sister’s high school graduation. A large part of my time here will be spent just sitting and watching the customers in my mom’s small cafe.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about customer service, public relations and the importance of word of mouth marketing by sitting in my mom’s various restaurants. She has a 40+year career as a waitress, restaurant manager and now owner/operator of small cafes, and has always been full of lessons that she does not know she is able to share.

Reputation is everything

In a town of 350, bringing in new business is actually second to ensuring that the business you do have sticks around. Keeping the regulars happy, even the ones who come in only for a morning cup of coffee is vital to your long-term success. In PR, we see similar opportunities. That reporter at the small, independent blog could soon be leading TechMeme’s leaderboard. By taking care of those around you, you can ensure that your reputation bolsters your ability to generate results.

A quality product goes a long way

The Seiad Valley Cafe is known for its pancake challenge. You get two hours to eat a mountain of pancakes that occupies the space a medium pizza normally would. But by offering a great product that is of consistent quality, the success of the business is ensured. This means the avocado is freshly cut and the gravy is made every morning. Your product needs to keep the customers coming back. It needs to solve problems that customers didn’t even know they had and encourage them to want more of your products or services.

Community is key

This is the most important aspect of running a successful business. For my mom’s restaurant, it means treating everyone with respect, buying the occasional meal and welcoming weary travelers making their way down the Pacific Crest Trail. Similarly, we utilize social media in an attempt to share content and to embark on a “content marketing” mission. The reality is, by utilizing digital and social media, we are enabling our community to interact with our businesses as people. This is why being a human (and not a bot) on social media is not only a good idea, but something I advocate for as being a best practice. Even if you’re simply sharing a news item, adding just a slightly human voice can make a tremendous impact on your overall success.

By embracing the same principles as a small-town restaurant’s approach to its daily operations, you can build your business’ marketing and pr programs with ease. Just make sure your biscuits and gravy are the best in the area.

We live in a world where you can pay a stranger $3,000 to “professionally” formulate a social media strategy, post to various social networks and encourage your guests to share on social media.

Now, I’m all for wedding guests sharing their happy memories, but the concept of a marketer selling this as a service is what gets to me. The slow death of social media is a topic that I recently had a chance to explore during a panel I moderated: “Marketers are killing social media. Now what?” The challenge is that the origins of social media have been lost to a new era of social media marketing and promoted content. You can read a great recap of the event here.

I am a social media nerd. I joined Twitter when the service was less than a year old. I remember when getting written up in TechCrunch could crash a website. I remember when Foursquare was just a glimmer in Dodgeball’s eyes.

But I am also guilty of social media’s demise. I have sponsored posts that didn’t need to be sponsored and included #overlylonghashtags in content in an attempt to be witty. I am not a social media saint. But, I am a realist and I am here to offer some assistance on how we can resuscitate social media, but it won’t be easy.

Not quite on life support

Social media has grown in the last decade to the point of being an orgy of promoted content aimed to expose us nonstop to the concept of “brands” that want to “engage” with their “communities.” Let’s just stop that.

Interesting #SaveSocial w/ @kevinurie@ChrisHeuer, @YoliChrisholm & @geekgiant on how mktg is killing social. pic.twitter.com/7IvgpoJx38

— Mike Barbre (@MikeBarbre) March 26, 2014

In order to save social media from itself, we need to pause and emphasize the good content that our brands are capable of producing. People share awesome. People buy what solves a problem. So, when we are trying to get attention and encourage people to pay attention to our goods or services, let’s tell awesome stories.

When we want people to buy our goods and services, we need to provide them with awesome products. This represents a fundamental shift that we need to embrace on our way to saving social media. As one of the panelists noted, this shift is going to take courage. There is an inherent fear in social media strategy that what we do won’t work. We sacrifice creativity at the hands of metrics.

Making the C-suite happy

One topic we explored during the conversation was one that was familiar to social media: how to keep the C-suite happy. What emerged was the realization that it is often middle management that needs to be educated on the risks and potential results of a social media campaign. The middle managers are the ones accountable for budget spend and on the front lines of reports and metrics. They are the first to know when a campaign isn’t working and the first to hear it from their bosses.

Being able to create a social media environment where failures are not only tolerated, but accepted, is vital. Not every tweet or Instagram capture can be a viral hit. One of the core ways to accomplish this is by abolishing the “use it or lose it” mentality of marketing budgets. Having the ability to be creative in real time comes down to having the human and financial resources available to not only recognize an opportunity, but to capitalize on it as well.

We hear of surprise and delight campaigns fairly regularly, yet how many of us have the ability to execute? Is that inability purely due to the lack of budget to buy a piece of personal electronics or for the community manager to ship a sample of a product to a customer?

In today’s world, everybody is an influencer. Every user of any social network is not only a potential customer, but they are also potentially your next vocal advocate. Let’s not let those opportunities die along with social media.

Posted in PR

A while back, I had an experience to work with a paid spokesperson to host a client event. Now, paid spokespeople are not a new tactic by any means. But generally these are celebrities (note: the definition of celebrity is subjective) that get paid to show up, mingle, say a few scripted words and get in the first town car out of there.

For this, we took a bit of a different tactic. Working with a well-known blogger, we gave the host free reign over the invite list. The host selected people from her network that should tend and that she felt would get value from what we were doing.

Instead of a scripted demo/product pitch, we wanted the host to tell her story. We felt that was interesting enough and the product simply sit on the table. Of course we had some suggested messaging that we would have appreciated having mentioned, but we wouldn’t be super bummed if it wasn’t.

And, you know what? It worked. The comments we heard were resoundingly fabulous. We wanted to be respectful of these folks’ time and give them an influencer event they would want to attend. In act, we had folks asking for more information about the product because it was not an over-the-top pitch.

So, how do we go about ensuring that influencer events are successful in the future?

  1. Let the product speak for itself: In this case, the product was one that could truly stand alone. We let attendees interact, experience and discuss the product without stepping in too much.
  2. Give up the reigns: We were simply facilitators. We brought the group together and embraced any group dynamics that happened.
  3. The host with the most: Were there other people in the city that had more traffic, followers or fame? Sure. But for the audience we had in the room, the importance of familiarity was crucial in finding success.
  4. Follow up: Since this was a tight-knit community, I really think that there was a cascading effect for when coverage started posting, it encouraged others to post as well.

As a PR person, letting go can be hard, but having faith in who you work with can lead to a lot of success.

Posted in PR