Sunday, January 23, 2011

Leaping Forward by Working Backwards

Outcome-Based Planning is a Critical Success Factor for Social Media Strategy

Brian Solis, Principal of Future Works, and author of one of the world’s leading social media online resources, points out in his Jan. 6, 2011 blog, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” In his book, Engage!, he also explains that, “you can’t fail in anything if success is never defined.”

In the April 2009 article The Power of KPI – the Only Measurement that Matters, Rodger Roeser, president of Eisen Management Group, one of the largest and highest rated investor and public relations firms in the United States, focuses on tying objectives to measurable business goals directly related to familiar outcomes: margin, volume, profitability.  His point is that any other measurements in business can be, well, pointless: if project performance cannot be measured relative to bottom line goals, then why would you do it?

Jeremiah Owyang, partner of Customer Strategy at Altimeter Group, and author of  Web Strategy, another one of the top analyst blogs of the social media and strategic planning industry, will relate things just a little differently, explaining that while “no single set of objectives can accommodate all business models or corporate initiatives…four objectives serve as a foundation for effectively measuring social marketing:  fostering dialog, promoting advocacy, facilitating support, spurring innovation.”  He will also tell you that “companies should step back and approach social business like any other business program: with a plan.” 

Erik Qualman, Global Vice President of Online Marketing of EF Education, author of the bestselling book, Socialnomics, and creator of Social Media Revolution, one of the most viral videos of 2010, advises social media strategists to “define what success looks like before you start.”  In his book he also names four objectives to set for your social media strategy: 1) listen, 2) interact, 3) react and 4) soft sell.

I could keep going with the Who’s Who list of social media experts, and every single one of them will tell you the same thing:  companies that enter into the social media arena without proper planning and intent for success, will fail.  The point is that you have to set goals.  Not only must you have an outcome-based strategy for social media, but it has to be framed within the overall strategic plan for your organization.

So, starting with the end in mind is critical. I once heard it referred to as “working backwards”, but its really working ahead.   Goals don’t mean much if you don’t know when you’ve accomplished them. How are you going to know when you are succeeding and when you are not?

In his discussion of this topic in Engage!, Brian Solis defers to the expertise of the “Queen of Measurement”, K.D. Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and author of KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog.  She refers to her KBI Development System (not KPI - Key Performance Indicators, but KBI - Kick Butt Index).  She also created the Measurement Program Checklist, which is based on five basic steps:

1.    Define your measurement of success (outcomes, KPI, benchmarks)
2.    Select a listening/monitoring tool (based on channels and the qualitative and quantitative data you wish to collect).
3.    Select a web analytic or CRM tool.
4.    Select a survey tool.
5.    Analyze and report results.

Strategic Advisers LLC  tells its social media clients that once you’ve identified your overall strategy, your key performance indicators will be based on the objectives you’ve chosen:  they must be customer-centered, building upon the foundations of sound marketing and effective customer-relationship management (CRM).  Taking all these experts’ advice into consideration, and knowing that every client’s business and consequently social media strategy is unique, Strategic Advisers LLC suggests a common starting place for our clients.  These are key objectives for any successful social networking plan:

1. Dialogue – get people to talk to you and each other through your media channels.  This starts by listening to what they are saying.  Carefully.

2. Advocacy – get people to talk about you and recommend you to their friends.  This starts with interaction.  Be helpful.  Be client-focused.  People will spread the word about your good deeds!

3. Forum – open the box and welcome the comments; good or bad, make sure you are listening, you talk back, and you resolve any problems as soon as possible.  How you react, especially to the challenge of negative issues, is directly related to your credibility and therefore critical to your survival.

4. Innovation – ask customers what they want; surveys, contests, questions of the day.  This is the “soft sell” approach that will keep your channels customer-focused.

These objectives then determine your choice of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  KPIs must be well-defined, actionable (within a company’s ability to control) and simple measures that target realistic , attainable goals and help you set clear benchmarks for the ROI you need to justify the expense required by social media.  They are critical to your ability to measure outcomes, assess progress and make tactical adjustments.  KPIs can fall into many categories :
  • Quantitative indicators present as a number; e.g., sales volume.
  • Operational indicators characterize existing company processes; e.g., production line down time related to training.
  • Directional indicators specify whether an organization is getting better or not; e.g., customer retention.
  • Financial indicators relate performance to return and margin

In social media it can be very difficult to pinpoint ROI because of the nature of what is being accomplished: building relationships and social capital is difficult to directly quantify.  However, there are indicators of success that can be closely monitored.  First, using the four main objectives, choose data that can be gathered to make an assessment.


·         Who is everyone talking about? (research the market for your product or service – who’s got the most mindshare?)
·         How often is it you? (your market share)
·         At what level are they engaged? (likes, comments, sharing, conversations…)
·         In what ways are you engaging with them? Do you have a response plan?
·         Are they positive or negative?


·         Who’s talking?
·         Who are they talking to?
·         What are they talking about?
·         What impact is it having?
·         What recommendations are they giving?


·         Process for monitoring and responding
·         Success rate
·         Response time: total resolution time
·         Follow-up satisfaction score


·         Topics
·         Trends
·         Interest level (response rate)
·         Impact/relevance on customers

After you have gathered that data, determine which business processes will be affected by changes in those numbers.  For example, in the case of the first objective of establishing dialogue, what will happen when more customers start talking about your product or service?  Here are some likely outcomes:

·         Increased customer support calls from existing customers.
·         Increased inquiries to the sales department.
·         More problems to resolve.
·         Increased sales!

In each case you can identify a likely consequence, look to see if it comes true, and then take it to the next level.  In many cases, new opportunities to use social media will arise as new processes unfold.  For example, if your customer support department complaint volume has increased, what is your resolution rate?  In what ways could you use social media to improve it?

A myriad of social-media analytical tools are available on the market. For most companies, standard tools offered by proprietary platforms like Google Analytics and Facebook are excellent ways to monitor progress and the effectiveness of your content; e.g., how many people are opening your emails, how many are following your blogs, how many times are they forwarding them on to friends? Both Blogger and Wordpress offer their own analytical tools to measure reach (how many people read your blogs), retention (how many people keep reading your blogs), engagement (how many people comment on your blogs), and advocacy  (how many people are sharing and recommending your blogs with others).  

These tools can be used at any time, and should be tracked as often as you post new content, which should be weekly at a minimum for some channels, and daily for others.  They also track changes over time, and by specific date, so you can identify which content creates the most interest, and also spot trends.

It is relevant here to remember these other important factors:
  1. Channel Selection - The proper mix of social-media channels using the right content will leverage KPIs to their full potential.  For example, if one of your KPIs is increased posting of photos or videos by customers, facebook would obviously be a better choice than twitter or a blog, but you’re also going to want a YouTube Channel so you can collect them, along with your own, in a central location.
  2.  Organizational Integration – every part of your organization should be engaged and have clear roles and responsibilities for social media and for marketing.  Traditionally, marketing plans focus mainly on sales, marketing and customer support departments. However, companies who understand that marketing must live and breathe “down in the trenches where the rubber meets the road” are bound for success.  Every department will be affected, so each one should have its own set of objectives, KPIs, measurement tools, and reports.
  3. Social Media Policy – makes it crystal clear what you expect of your employees and contractors regarding engagement with customers and the general public as representatives of your company.  The rules must be clear so that your outcomes are not tainted by poor response variables, or carelessly worded responses.
  4. Engagement – random posts and lack of response to constituent input is not enough.  Focusing on tools, technology and cool applications is not enough.  Talking about yourself is not enough.  Your customers must be engaged by your organization.  You must be willing to allow them to interact with you one-on-one and get to know you.  You have to build and then belong to your community, and then continue to nurture authentic relationships by focusing on your customers’ stories.

In summary, take some general advice from Strategic Advisers LLC:
  1. Build a social-media plan strategically, one careful step at a time.
  2. Start with the end in mind and work backwards: identify best methods for measurement, and align media channels and metrics with goals in mind.
  3. Construct a diverse, interactive channel selection congruently over time in order to obtain the furthest reach. Leverage these assets to create a competitive advantage by helping differentiate your organization in the marketplace so it can be more flexible and responsive than its competitors. 
  4.  A social media network built upon a solid foundation of email newsletters, in-person events, focused direct mail, and a central website hub will get the word out most effectively.
  5. Measureable business objectives provide opportunities to learn about customers, their preferred interactions, their understanding of brand, and value received.
  6. Finally, don’t try to reinvent the wheel.  Consult the experts. We consult with one another, so why shouldn’t you?

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