Social media: a marketing dilemma for the micro-enterprise

Social media are now mainstream. They are a pervasive part of nearly everyone’s everyday life, providing, of course, you have access to a PC and smartphone.

For a micro-enterprise, the dilemma is this. The moment has passed when it is simply a question of using, or not using, social media. Nearly every solo entrepreneur is already on at least one social media site like Facebook or LinkedIn: they’d be crazy not to be.

The primary decision is purely a marketing issue: there is a substantial difference between involvement in social media and social media marketing.

Smallholder selling lemons

Would social media marketing be relevant to this drinks stall?

Marketing is used to identify customers, to retain customers and to satisfy customers. It is also about being crystal clear about who these potential customers are and exactly how your product or service will satisfy them, beyond expectation. So, as a micro-enterprise, you should ask yourself the same question about using any tool in marketing: will my community of potential customers actually use social media? They might not.

If the answer is no, then use social media for other business functions like advice, sharing ideas, making useful contacts and administration.  If yes, then get ready to face up to all the possibilities, good and bad, presented by regular and immediate online communication with prospects and customers.

Your marketing strategy should include a digital marketing plan which should consider tools like a website/blog (which are increasingly combined), email marketing, social media marketing and content production. It will include marketing communications (identifying and retaining customers) and customer service (satisfying customers).

I have met small businesses which flourish without using social media marketing but rarely come across a business where social media hasn’t been relevant at all. We are all human and most of us are hypersocial. Social media gives us a reach and interactive capability which would have been unimaginable even five years ago. I have come across people that find the technology, etiquette and emphasis on ‘social’ quite challenging.

As a micro-enterprise, you can adapt and change and learn quickly. Your flexibility is your strength. Larger businesses are struggling with the transparency, openness and honesty that social media demands. You could even build social media into your product or service and become what has been called the hyper-social organisation*. And really differentiate yourself.

*The Hyper-Social Organization: Eclipse Your Competition by Leveraging Social Media; Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran; McGraw-Hill Professional

Social media? You really need a reason to get stuck in?

Recently, I have been involved in a number of debates about the usefulness of social media in business. I was slightly taken aback that the business value of social media even needed debating. However, many people are simply immersed in their everyday business and personal challenges and have not had the time to consider or explore these issues.

This short article is to get you started in the ‘why’ social media is so important to future business success. I am not going to pound you with statistics: they now overwhelmingly point to majorities of people being online and involved in social media, even if we need to remember the digital disenfranchised and many businesses that operate perfectly well without any online presence.

Social tools, networks and media have enabled customers to do what they’ve always wanted to do — be heard and to have the power to turn their ideas into ways to make the products and services they love even better. These tools are also allowing them to reach more people like them, with common interests and information needs, creating powerful communities not possible only a few short years ago.

So, if you are in business, and can afford to ignore your customers, and potential customers, clustering online and willing to help you deliver them what they want, then you are missing a huge opportunity.

That’s why the best advice about social media, customer service, or anything other business initiative has always been to master the basics before proceeding to the more advanced topics.
Social media will still be here next year (and even the year after). Take the time to first address any serious issues or problems within your customer service organisation before pushing ahead into social media. And if you really can’t wait and feel compelled to jump right into social media while revamping your customer service organisation in parallel, at least start small and stay focused.
Choose a particular channel — whether it be Twitter, a discussion forum, or an online user group — and put enough resources and effort behind it to make it work. Put in the time. Engage with customers. Show people that you are serious and that you plan to stick around for the long term. If you respect your customers — and the community — they will likely both respect you back.
And that’s a pretty good start. If resources, in terms of people, are either scarce and you can’t find an in-house social media champion, think of hiring an agency. In a future post, I’ll give you some tips about choosing one. Or find a guru like me who has not only been immersed in this stuff for a while and already made all those classic mistakes and learned from them!

What a company develops from venturing into social media marketing is social capital. There are sound economic reasons for the importance of social capital. Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 for his work on transaction costs. One element of his research found that trust reduces transaction costs — in other words, if you’re doing business with someone you know, the cost of doing it decreases.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The manifesto that started us thinking about being connected

Remember The Cluetrain Manifesto? It was a set of 95 theses organised and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what was suggested as a newly-connected marketplace, as far back as 1999. The ideas put forward within the Manifesto aimed to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations.

In addition, as both consumers and organisations are able to utilise the Internet to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the Manifesto suggested that the changes that will be required from organisations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

Here is a summary, in their words: “These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

“Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humourless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

“But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about ‘listening to customers’. They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

So social media marketing barely needs an ROI, as the current demand is phrased. You just need to decide whether you want to be in business in five years or not. Ignore the sea slowly being sucked away from you and the social media tsunami will catch you unprepared.

Buzz monitoring tools: an introduction and a list

Buzz monitoring is an essential Digital Marketing and Digital Public Relations skill. It is the digital equivalent of research, focus groups and surveys. Digital listening includes information that was previously unavailable to a marketing communications professional, including online forums, social media conversations, pictures, blogging, audio and video. Its digital nature means that you need a new approach and awareness of not only what can be monitored but how to turn that data into actionable information.

Ackura BuzzMonitor
With a professional buzz monitoring platform like KMP Digitata’s Ackura Buzz Monitor, you can monitor the social Web and find your brand mentioned on millions of blog posts, viral videos, reviews, audiocasts, photos, Twitter updates. You can undertake real-time monitoring of mentions of your organisation, product, issues and competitors.

Ackura Buzz Monitor homepage

You can analyse buzz about outcomes of specific marketing campaigns and social media investments. You can be aware of which content is making an impact, what needs to be managed and uncover key influencers online by topic, based on user-determined weightings.

The process of listening, watching, analysing, deciding and engaging is complex at first but that’s what agencies like Juice are for. If you want to make a start in a more modest way or for a smaller business, this post contains a list of useful buzz monitoring tools, some free and many with fee levels.

Key Conversation Indicators (KCI)
Similar to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), KCIs establish social marketing metrics for brands and/or social campaigns to measure online buzz, as well as gauge a social programme’s success.

KCIs can measure social engagement, sentiment and opinion, as well as specific consumer actions. Although the metrics measured are different for every brand, some of the items you might consider measuring are:

  • Conversation volume
  • Sentiment
  • Topics of conversation
  • Ratings
  • Favouriting
  • Friends and followers
  • Passalongs

Establishing the criteria you want to measure and track will help frame the direction of your research and social media strategy.

Free listening and monitoring tools

Google Alerts
Google Alerts is the mother of all monitoring tools. You can target keywords that are important to your brand and receive streaming or batched reports — choose your own flavour.

The original blog search engine, Technorati, has been helping bloggers and blog users stay informed for years.

Trendrr from digital agency Wiredset uses comparison graphing to show relationships and discover trends in real time. Use the free account or open an Enterprise level account for more functionality.

Lexicon is a native tool to follow language trends across Facebook by looking at the usage of words and phrases on profile, group and event Walls. For example, you can enter “love, hate” (without quotations) to compare the usage of these two words on Facebook Walls. You may enter up to five terms, where each term can be a word or two-word phrase consisting of letters and numbers.

What are people talking about on Twitter? Beyond the integrated search facilities of Twitter apps like Twhirl and TweetDeck, Monitter provides real-time monitoring of the Twittersphere And can also track trends and add widgets

In the world of Twitter, URL-shortening is a vital tool. Tweetburner also lets you track the clicks on those shortened links, giving you some hard numbers.

twendz is a Twitter-mining Web application that utilizes the power of Twitter Search, highlighting conversation themes and sentiment of the tweets that talk about topics you are interested in. As the conversation changes, so does twendz by evaluating up to 70 tweets at a time. When new tweets are posted, they are dynamically updated, minute-by-minute.

Allows you to create a custom-made page to display search results across a number of search and social media platforms. Addicting!

A web-based personal news aggregator that can be used in place of a desktop client.

A blog search engine that also analyses and reports on daily activity in the blogosphere

BoardTracker is a forum search engine, message-tracking and instant alerts system.

Watches comments/follow-ups on blog posts and similar content such as Flickr or Digg.

FriendFeed Search
Scans all FriendFeed activity. FriendFeed is an important social media aggregator.

HowSociable provides a simple way for you to begin measuring your brand’s visibility on the social web.

Searches a variety of online services, including Twitter, blogs, videos and MySpace and includes a tool called IceSpy to monitor online subject trends.

Keotag Labs
Keyword searches by bookmark link, generates tags and searches tags by keyword.

Subscribe to 20 different search engine feeds at the same time. Enter a search term and click the ‘make monitor.opml’ button to get a list of RSS feeds in OPML format.

Samepoint is a conversation search engine that lets you see what people are talking about.
Discover, learn and share new websites and ideas.

A Web, blog, image, video, and social media search engine, Surchur has just relaunched their online dashboard. The “dashboard to the now” delivers a well-designed and comprehensive view into the real-time web.

Tinker from Glam Media Labs is a simple way to discover what people are Twittering about now.

Not only a great way to manage your Twitter account, but the keyword search means you can see what people are saying about you. You can also monitor Facebook status updates. TweetDeck is an Adobe AIR desktop Twitter application. Like other Twitter applications it interfaces with the Twitter API to allow users to send and receive tweets and view profiles. According to TwitStat, it is the most popular Twitter desktop application.

Twitter Search
Twitter’s own search tool is a great resource. There is an undeniable need to search, filter, and otherwise interact with the volumes of news and information being transmitted to Twitter every second. Twitter Search helps you filter all the real-time information coursing through their service.

Track conversations across nearly all social media platforms and reply to them from one place.

A monitoring service to send email alerts when selected articles are edited on Wikipedia.

Yahoo! Sideline
A TweetDeck-esque tool from Yahoo! installed on your desktop. Sideline is an Adobe® AIR™ desktop application built with the Yahoo! User Interface Library (YUI). It allows users to create and group custom queries by topics of interest for the Twitter public timeline.

Think Google Alerts but for social media. Receive daily email alerts of a developing news story, a competitor, or the latest on a celebrity.

Professional applications

Meltwater Buzz
Meltwater Buzz  allows you to monitor blogs, social networks, Twitter, forums and other social media sites to get a complete picture of what is being said about your organization, your products, and your competitors. It contains an automated sentiment monitoring tool.

TruCast provides keyword-based monitoring of the social Web with an emphasis on blogs and forums. Its dashboard applications provide visual representations of sentiment and trends for your brands online.

Radian6 pulls information from the social Web and analyses and provides consumer sentiment ratings for your brand. Radian6 is focused on building the complete monitoring and analysis solution for PR and advertising professionals so they can be experts in social media. It now has some automated sentiment monitoring tools.

Ackura BuzzMonitor
Identifies the crucial online sources that companies should monitor in order to make accurate business decisions. These sources can be found amongst consumers, suppliers, competitors and government. It is a complete service for larger marketing departments to help them make sense of the social media landscape and maximise its opportunities.

Techrigy’s SM2 is a software solution designed specifically for PR and marketing agencies to monitor and measure social media. As businesses and consumers increasingly utilise and rely on social media, agencies need the tools and expertise to stay competitive.

Collective Intellect
Collective Intellect (CI) is a real-time intelligence platform, based on advanced artificial intelligence. Its solution provides automatic categorisation of conversations based on CI’s proprietary filtering technology. According to CI, its technologies provide credible groupings and reduce the “noise” seen in other keyword-based searches.

Uses a keyword approach and returns news, blogs, images, video, and social network activity about a brand, a brand’s competition or a product. Useful options include filters, facilities to organise material into projects, to flag items and to add notes. Prices range from Personal @$14 pcm (one project; one user; three phrases) to Max @$199 pcm (unlimited projects; 35 users; 175 phrases).

Offers real-time monitoring and alerting across mainstream news, blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed and others. With collaborative features, daily email digests and trend analysis, it’s competitive with other offerings. Free trial version as well. Unlimited filters, real-time alerts, particularly strong on Twitter monitoring, continuous updates, trending, reporting, data export.

A real-time monitoring and measurement tool for social media conversations, to measure key metrics around buzz and sentiment, engage with key influencers and opinion leaders and to conduct comparisons between competitors and topics.

Dialogix monitors the entire social media spectrum, as well as most newspaper, TV and news websites in the world, with a particular focus on Australian websites. Find every news article, comment, blog post, Tweet, YouTube video, forum post and more with ease and be confident you’re not missing a thing. No limits on data for any of plans and no limits to the amount of users who can access the system. Bronze: unlimited data, unlimited users, $595 per month. Silver: unlimited data, unlimited users, sentiment analysis charts, basic key influencer profiles created without contact details, $1,495 per month. Gold: unlimited data, unlimited users, sentiment analysis charts, key influencers ranked by social authority and database of their contact details, $2,495.

Tracking a brand or a product is one thing but turning that tracking into a measure of consumer sentiment about a brand or product is something completely different. For that, Jodange has an algorithm called TOM (Top of Mind), which produces consumer sentiment about your brand or product across the Web with some clever algorithms. £2,500+ per month.

List of social media marketing metrics

Social media marketing strategy arguably has two concerns: one is about producing the nitty-gritty metrics that are used to justify investment in terms of time and resources and to steer future involvement and activity.

The other concern is about lifting your ahead high enough above day-to-day activity to get a clear enough view of social media marketing from a wider organisational viewpoint.

An organisational approach to social media marketing measurement looks at the macro-figures that really matter: sales, profit margin, customer satisfaction and loyalty. Concentrating solely on the social media detail is not the full story.

On the other hand, just standing back and looking at the bigger picture is not going to be enough for your colleagues and boss: they are going to want to see hard evidence that social media marketing is going to bring tangible business benefits.

When we talk about social media, we’re really talking about attracting and developing interaction. The goal of any social media marketing strategy is to provide the right tools and content so that communities can interact with your brand and act as your brand ambassadors.

Here’s a ‘long list’ of indices that can give you measurements of interaction and participation:

  • Your brand mentioned
  • People storing and sharing content
  • More frequent website and blog visits
  • More blog comments
  • Referring your brand’s content to their friends
  • People in communities using interactive content more frequently
  • Incremental enquiries, or quotations, or sales
  • Improved cost of sales

Customers and prospects interacting with your brand content are far more likely to score high on other measures. So how can you boost community interaction? The tools and onsite functionality you need are going to depend on your business, your strategy and your goals. What you’re ultimately looking for is a wide range of tools to help people interact.

This list of metrics should help you work out what can be measured and also what kind of tools/functionality you may want to introduce. In doing so, you’ll able to determine the relative success and adoption of new features. You may also unearth trends and spot opportunities or issues. In any event, monitoring how the sum of community interaction changes over time can really help you position your organisation as a community-centric organisation.

You can apply different weightings to different interactions (for example, a ‘love this’ rating is worth less than a ‘follow item’). Social media managers can then identify the buzz and act accordingly (better promotion, interviews, videos).

Tracking and making sense of interaction is a fundamental part of social media marketing. You can score different interactions and devise an algorithm to create some kind of overall interaction index. It might help you condense interaction measurement noise into a single metric.

Before we jump into the list there are a few caveats:

  • Not all of these will be relevant to all sites (for instance, ‘posts’ won’t be any good for sites without blogs and a comment facility)
  • ‘Print page’ as an interaction measure is barely worth looking at…or is it? In any case, some of these things are more important than others
  • There is some crossover: for example ‘bookmarks’ and ‘wishlists’ may be the same thing on your site
  • Some metrics will have sub-metrics
  • Avoid confusion: if a widget just doesn’t do what it should do then it doesn’t matter whether 10,000 people installed it last week: they’ll still hate it
  • Human power is needed to really understand the detail behind the numbers and to act on that knowledge: interpretation is key to turning metrics into indices that you can act on
  • It’s about quality not quantity: this list is not exhaustive
Here’s the list of possible social interaction indices:
  1. Alerts (register and response rates by channel, CTR, post-click activity)
  2. Bookmarks (onsite, offsite)
  5. Email subscriptions
  6. Fans or friends (become a fan of something/someone)
  7. Favourites (add an item to favourites)
  8. Feedback (via the site)
  9. Followers (follow something/someone)
  10. Forward-to-a-friend; share
  11. Groups (create/join/total number in group/group activity)
  12. Install widget or app (on a blog page, Facebook, iPhone)
  13. Invite/refer (a friend)
  14. Key page activity (post-activity)
  15. Love/like this (a simpler form of rating something)
  16. Messaging (onsite)
  17. Personalisation (pages, display, theme)
  18. Posts
  19. Profile development (update avatar, bio, links, email, customisation)
  20. Print page
  21. Ratings
  22. Registered users (new/total/active/dormant/churn)
  23. Report spam/abuse
  24. Reviews
  25. Settings
  26. Social media sharing/participation (activity on key social media sites)
  27. Tagging (user-generated metadata)
  28. Testimonials
  29. Time spent on key pages
  30. Time spent on site (by source/by entry page)
  31. Total contributors (and % active contributors)
  32. Uploads (add an item – articles, links, images, videos)
  33. Views (videos, ads, rich images)
  34. Widgets and apps (number of new widgets users/embedded widgets/apps)
  35. Wishlists (save an item to wishlist)