Three Questions from Social Media Club Boston

Last night I went to the Social Media Club meeting (#SMCBoston) held at Hill Holiday’s State Street offices.   Hill Holiday kicked things off with a multi-media overview of their incredibly creative Chili’s campaign (using P.J. Bland’s.)  I loved the idea of using social media to “activate assets.”  (Sounds like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, doesn’t it?)  And, the entire connected universe, wow.  Impressive…budget.  With a short introduction for and from each, the panel was introduced.

  • Terry Lozoff, Street Attack – using social media across a grass roots campaign for Ashoka and Best Buy’s @15 program.  (Full disclosure, I worked on this project too.)
  • Sean Corcoran, Forrester – overview of various big brands’ use of SocMed  (Starbucks, H&R Block, Hershey’s, Flavorpill, Nike.)
  • Ken Peters, Text 100 – FujiFilm, Xerox
  • Vicki Rellas , Mom Central – Feld Family program, Disney on Ice and Ringling Brothers
  • Mike Spataro, Visible Technologies – GM’s Trucast (measuring and analyzing 250 different issues across the SocMed universe proved to be a precursor to today’s woes.)

Then we settled down into a nice rhythm of questions and answers.  Some bon mots from the panel made me consider speaking engagements in the world of Twitter.  The day of the panel Twitter was having more than its usual woes and Twitter search was faltering, which slammed Twitterfall and made the live tweets pretty-much non-existent during 2/3 of the panel.  Then, when they finally reappeared, they had been delayed so we were getting feedback to comments more than 30 minutes old.

My First Question of the Night:  Should speakers in social media-savvy venues play to the Twitter-happy audience?  Forget telling a story and go for the 140 character or less sound bites?  Do speakers today need to worry about cohesiveness and deep points?  Are we going to lose sight of what it means to be an excellent “long form” speaker?
Some little Twitter-friendly comments I noted (yes, with my pen on a piece of scrap paper):

  • Mike says he laughs when he hears someone say SocMed isn’t measurable.  (Me too.)
  • Sean said looking at what is going on in SocMed is only part of the research.  Non social media research (conducted by LightSpeed) said 90% of moms had no idea what a Motrin Mom was.
  • Terry “Social Media is like Iraq, need an In and Out strategy.”  (First big crowd reaction of the night.)  Terry also got audience reaction by saying “Facebook still doesn’t know what it’s doing.”

My Second question of the Night:  Ken casually threw out this statement as a response to one of the questions.  “Big Brands have bigger risk in social media.”   I think I actually rose from my seat slightly at that one.  Coming off a start-up like I have recently, I have to take issue with that (although I will give Ken a bye on it since he’s representing a number of big brands, maybe he has to say that.)

Done right, with openness and thought involved, social media is probably less risky than many other forms of marketing (or, should I say marketing tools or channels?)  Big brands can afford the resources and tools to do social media right.  Often, like in other things, start-ups and small brands are struggling to keep up.  SocMed isn’t free – it takes time, money and resources like any other marketing program.  I submit that big companies, with big brands and big footprints and bigger budgets have less risk. They have an established name and a presence outside of social media whereas a small company’s mistakes in social media are more likely to be all that someone knows of them, and their mistakes can be fatal.

Which leads us right to my third question of the night: Not picking on Ken but he spoke up in response to a question around prioritizing responses to social media denizens.  He’s looking at social media the same way he looks at mass media – by the size of the audience as a measure of influence.  Hmm, have to say that it is tempting to do but there has to be an understanding of how things like SEO play into influence.  Maybe “I” only have 3000 followers on Twitter and my blog is read by only a few hundred people but what do you do with a social media user whose blog pops up in the number one spot for a key search term?   Search is the great equalizer.  “The number of people who use Google’s services every day is now in the hundreds of millions,” reads The Official Google Blog.  If you are nowhere with search, you are not doing well.  Conversely, it is possible to have a small network of followers and SocMed friends and be widely read through search.  Think long and hard before you dismiss someone based solely on the size of their circle of followers. (There’s also a consideration of the size of the followers’ circle but I am assuming someone at Text 100 is doing the math about the power of those connections.)

And, once more, I discovered that Tweetups , those wonderful in-person connections, are invaluable.  I wasn’t the only person to look around the room and realize I “knew” a huge percentage of the room but had never met them.

5 thoughts on “Three Questions from Social Media Club Boston

  1. I’m tired tonight so this is a quick message. Thanks for your overview of the SMCBoston – I was there – I thought it was great. Thanks to all the panelists who were very engaged. I’m no expert on Social Media, but I have to say that I agree with your get-off-your-seat response to Ken’s statement that “Big brands have bigger risk in social media.” It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Everything is relative. And what is the definition of “risk” in this context? Anyway – thanks for your thoughts. And thanks to Hill Holiday…the P.J.Bland overview was fascinating. I guess I should eat humble pie because I actually believed it was real!

  2. Bobbie,

    Glad you enjoyed the panel, I thought it was a really good discussion. I had a feeling my comment about big brands having bigger risk might raise an eyebrow. I’m not at all trying to be dismissive of the risks and opportnities for start-ups in social media – I think they’re actually huge for both.

    But having spent a lot of time working on both, I’ve found that big, established, multi-billion brands can usually be hurt more by mistakes in any marketing activity than they can be helped by success any one campaign. That’s why big brands are often more risk averse – there’s more at stake. Reputations that have been built up over decades, brands that are worth billions of dollars, thousands of employees, shareholders, partners that rely on the marketing and communications teams to make smart decisions and protect and enhance the brand.

    That’s not to say that smaller brands don’t have risks, they absolutely do. It’s just that their sphere of influence is smaller, so there’s not as far to fall. Put simply – when start-up XYZ fails, it’s a big deal to their employees, customers, partners, local community, etc. If GM fails, it’s a big deal on a macro-economic scale.

    I think your thought on how you evalutate who you need to respond to in social media is spot-on, and we’re actually saying the same thing. Social media provides the opportunity to actually see how wide their sphere of influence is. Click-throughs from search engines, link-backs to blogs and other forums that spur new discussions can all be measured and show how many people are reading, commenting and extending the discussion started by any one individual. The individual has huge power and the ability to reach influential audiences, but for an enterprise evaluating that influence, it still comes back to 1. How many people put eyeballs on the content and act on it; 2. Are those the ‘right people.’ And that’s a similar measure to how we evaluate traditional media.

    What do you think? Agree, disagree?

    Hope to cross paths again.

  3. Thanks, Ken, for jumping in to give more background on the “big brands in social media” question. Tough to balance crowd-pleasing comments with all the background a question like that could require! (See my first question above.)

    I’m a PR measurement geek from way back (headed PR at Cognos for 7 years and was a big Delahaye client from the days before easy access to online analytics gave us a way to track a huge percentage of influence.) The point I wanted to make was that search is one more factor we need to measure when we are ranking influences.

    And, yes, Stuart, I’m talking to you, in a perfect world, everyone should get a response or be dealt with appropriately but the reality is, you need to prioritize, especially when you are dealing with big numbers. Big companies have unbelievable numbers of touch points in social media and, as GM has poignantly proved, not unlimited budget. [Full disclosure, my brother is still a GM dealer, fingers crossed.]

  4. Nice write up Bobbie. Thanks for posting this for those of us (like me) who missed out on what seemed to be a spectacular event.

    Big brands do have a bigger risk, in that social media could have a devastating effect on an established brand, but I think social media is more critical to get right for smaller businesses who don’t have the resources to recover from a mistake. If GM makes an SM mistake, we’ll all hear about it and they potentially lose millions of dollars but if a small business makes a mistake we might never hear about it or not give them the benefit of the doubt, which could be just as devastating. Like Terry said though, everything is relative.

    As for the third question, I think quality is way more important than quantity in social media. If your message gets sent out to millions of eyeballs but no one acts on it then it’s basically null & void. But if your message gets sent out to ten thousand eyeballs and 20% of them click through to your blog/site/whathaveyou that’s a huge value to the brand.

  5. While I agree that there are risks for both startups and established brands, I continue to think that big brands are inherently less risk in Social Media because they have an established brand outside of social media. Remember the numbers around the Motrin Moms case — inside social media’s “walls” I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who hadn’t heard about the situation but out in the “real world” 90 percent had never heard about it. Smaller brands or startups might not have any profile outside of social media, or it may be so limited as to not be relevant.

    And, macroeconomics aside, I think we’re talking about the company’s risk, right?

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