Anticipating the future of Social Media for your business

 

The digital and social revolution has democratised the advertising landscape. Marketing has to work harder and smarter to engage, delight, and entice our communities into our brands. But do we really understand how to make the most of the social media opportunity and what does the future hold?

Here’s my presentation from TFM&A in which I discuss my perspectives. There’s also a bit more of a write-up available on TFM&A Insights.

 

Unlocking Social Data – The Key to Understanding Your Communities

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Tech Fest 2014 during London Technology Week about social data within the events industry. The video is now available to watch here. But if you don’t have a spare 18 minutes today, here’s what I talked about…

Data from social media is incredibly rich and can reveal crucial information about your event communities, helping predict the trends which will affect your show in the future and enable you to make those critical decisions faster. Social data is fascinating stuff as it can provide us with real-time, actionable customer intelligence. Put simply, it’s the best piece of customer insight that you never commissioned.

Despite being in a digital format, don’t confuse social data with machine data. Machine data includes things like web analytics, user logs, clicks which, while they can tell us about what a user is doing, they don’t give us the why, they don’t give a deeper insight into what our communities are thinking or feeling.

Social data on the other hand is much richer as it enables us to tap into the trends, patterns, thoughts and feelings of our communities. It’s straight from the horse’s mouth, it’s what people are saying about themselves and their experiences.

We can break social data down in to main segments, sentiment and profile data.

  • Sentiment relates to what people are saying about your brand, industry, or specific topic. This data could be telling you how your customers have arrived at a purchase decision, how they’re feeling about your brand, or what products you could be developing for them in the future.
  • Profile data is what people are signalling about themselves through their profile and connections. This data is super exciting as it’s highly accurate and can give you a more rounded view of an individual customer or segment.

In an industry where people come to our events with the primary of objective of being social, we can really start to use this data to our advantage.

For example, social data can tell us:

  • What our communities are talking about – which speakers, topics, sessions, exhibitors were they interested in?
  • What was missing from the show? What were people talking about which wasn’t covered by the agenda?
  • Who are our most influential participants?
  • How are our attendees connected to one another?

We can then use this information to:

  • Invite our influencers as VIPs to the show
  • Discount the price of a booth – or upsell
  • Change the showfloor layout
  • Shape the programme for next year
  • Targeted and personalised marketing

At UBM we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible with social data. It certainly hasn’t been easy to get where we are and we’ve still got a long way to go. Like many exhibition companies we realised that digital had changed things for us.  The increased connectivity our communities have with one another and with the content they need, there was a real risk that we could be superseded.

Therefore, we knew that we needed to better understand the challenges our customers are facing and to be as responsive as possible to the needs of the community. While we’ve long been using traditional surveys to try and get the information and feedback about our shows, social data is really starting to give as the edge. It’s live, it’s real-time, and in the main it’s honest and unbiased. In essence, it’s helping us put the customer right at the heart of everything we do.

We’re currently using two main tools to capture and analyse our social data.

We believe that Twitter is the strongest platform for the social data around our events; the platform is conversational, real-time and most importantly, open. As a result we’re using GleanIn’s Twitter marketing tool to get us the community insight we need. By proactively collecting the Twitter handles of our speakers, exhibitors and pre-reg we’re able to build up an in-depth picture of our show community. We can start to see the why and the who not just the what – from why people are registering to who’s influencing attendance.

The second social string to our bow is our show Apps. Within the app people are able to create a personalised agenda, check into seminars, rate and review speakers, network with other attendees, and submit posts and contributions to the live stream. The data we get provides us with an additional layer of data, which once combined with our Twitter data starts to give us an honest appraisal of the show from which to draw more accurate conclusions.         

GleanIn has helped us discover a couple of interesting things about the communities we have around our events:

  • There are a lot of Twitter users who are following two or more of our speakers and exhibitors. These are great visitor prospects for us as they’re obviously interested in the subjects, topics and products on offer at the show.
  • Once people have registered for the show and are following one or more of our speakers or exhibitors on Twitter, these people have a higher rate of conversion to going from a pre registered visitor to onsite attendee than those who don’t.

Both these facts tell us that if we can get our speakers and exhibitors to talk about us to their followers, not only do we increase our pre reg prospects but that our overall conversion rate is going to go up to – and that’s something we are able to measure, prove and act on (An example of this from our TFM&A event is our speaker Dave Chaffey, which you can read more about here). This kind of advanced reporting is currently helping us to shape our content programmes, identify and target influencers, monitor real-time sentiment around the show, and be proactive in our decision making.

We’re also just starting to experiment with social registration, which not only makes the registration process a smoother user experience, but also adds a layer of social proof – the positive influence created when someone finds out that others are doing something. This can be as simple as encouraging your pre-reg to share the fact they’ve just registered with their networks, influencing more people to register. Or to highlight to your pre-reg who else they know if going to the event by harvesting about their connections, helping to influence on site conversion. All of which is helping us to drive pre-reg and improve our onsite conversion rates.

I’m not going to lie, we are still facing challenges in getting social data to work as hard and as effectively as possible for us. Our biggest challenges centre around our legacy customer database which makes it difficult to be as responsive and agile as we’d like to be when it comes to social data. The additional data which we’re able to capture through social, such as interests, work history, connections, and sentiment does not always fit with our existing fields and is constantly changing. And because of this we’re not currently able to combine our social data with our CRM data to get a truly 360 view of the customer.

However, social data does now form part of our wider customer intelligence strategy. Our next steps on the journey involve working with business intelligence specialists to help us aggregate all of the insight we get across the business – manual reporting such as surveys, financials, machine data, and all the social stuff into an active intelligence engine – helping us to really visualise and understand what’s actually happening across our communities.

Social data is the future. Whether it’s implementing a strategy to better understand what content your communities prefer to receive, what’s driving conversions from your social audience, listening to conversations about your market to improve new product development, linking the buzz of a particular event, conversation or single tweet to an uplift in sales, or delivering a better customer service, big data from social media can do all of those things. 

If you’re serious about social, you’ll need more than just your brand

ConnectionsIf you’re not a Coca-Cola of this world – a brand with near ubiquitous awareness – building reach and engagement for your brand can seem like a bit of a slog; a lone voice battling against the increasing social media cacophony.

Another challenge faced by branded channels is that they have a habit of acting solely as owned media rather than helping to drive earned; often being used to push stuff out rather than pull people in. Getting people to engage with a brand can be tricky, people tend to follow people, and brands are…well, brands. To realise the full value of social within your business you need a way to drive credibility, scale and reach.

An often overlook strategy for achieving this is to embed social sharing within the culture of your business and harness the networks and reach of the people you work with.  Think about it, rather than having one channel talking about your brand, why not tens, or hundreds, or thousands of trusted voices (people to people) sharing your message?

The data we see around the reach of our event brands shows us time and time again that our branded channel reach pales in comparison with the reach our communities can achieve when they’re talking about us. Your people are plugged into the communities you serve; actively encouraging social sharing by your colleagues will earn you so much more than restricting yourself to the official brand channels alone.

The real opportunity for social media comes when your business is being social, and that’s about more than just your brand.

Photo credit ‘Connection’ by jazbeck is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

A return to the dark side of social sharing

Dark Social

If you can, cast your mind back to December 2012 and this post on tracking Dark Social in which we explored the idea of a huge chunk of social data being hidden away in the Typed/Bookmarked segment within SiteCatalyst, rather than being allocated to Social Network referrals.

An ongoing challenge for any of us trying to demonstrate the value of social media to our businesses is that it can be very tricky to prove it. While we’re able to track direct conversions, it’s much harder to track those indirect conversions resulting from engagement. It’s not impossible to do, but does require more expensive and sophisticated tools than many businesses are able/willing to invest in without that proof of return, resulting in a chicken and egg situation.

This is one of the major reasons why being able to more accurately see the true level of socially driven traffic coming through to our site it so important. This year we’ve been having another tinker with the Dark Social segment to try and get as truer picture as possible.

Our new and improved segment definition looks like this:

Includes | Visit

  • Referrer Type equals Typed/Bookmarked (we only want to see this referrer as this is where our Dark Social traffic is hiding)

Excludes | Visit

  • Tracking code is not null (we’re looking for anything and everything without a tracking code on it)
  • Referrer Type equals (Add in all the other referrer types listed as we want to make sure the visit can’t be attributed anywhere else)

Excludes | Page View

Below is the January data from one of our UBM Live events (in the first Dark Social post we looked specifically at a media brand, this time we’re looking at an event brand) with data showing the impact that the new and improved Dark Social segment is having on our social results:

Page Views

Visits

Unique Visitors

All Visits

100%

100%

100%

Visits from Social Sites segment

0.7%

1.3%

1.6%

Dark Social segment

7.5%

12.56%

12.95%

Social Sites and Dark Social Combined

8.2%

13.9%

14.55%

And if we look at the Referrer Types Report and compare the results with and without the Dark Social segment applied, here’s what we get:

Return to dark social

This is a really important result as it gives us an indication of the impact that the community’s social sharing is having on traffic to our sites. Remember that due to the absence of tracking codes, we know that this isn’t social sharing which has been driven by our brand channels through our existing campaigns. This is our community being social about us off their own backs – that’s where the power of social media really lies and this segment is starting to help us prove it.

(As a follow-up to this post, I’m going to do another looking at the results for an event site compared with a media brand to see what impact the availability of content has on Dark Social sharing)

 

Photo credit: ‘Dark Matter Map’ by thebadastronomer is licensed under  CC BY-NC 2.0

How much automation is OK in social media?

If you’re running marketing campaigns on social media, it makes sense to be using automation tools. Automation increases your efficiency by making it easier to plan and execute your campaigns; giving you back precious time to use on the rest of your to-do list. But it’s crucial to strike the right balance between auto updates and that critical real-time engagement which makes social such a successful channel for your brands. Too much automation can result in your social efforts coming across as contrived rather than authentic, potentially damaging your relationship with your followers and wider community.

To help you make the most of the automation opportunity, here are my top 10 tips:

1 – Plan your campaign: Integrate updates to coincide with what you’re doing on other channels

It seems like a no-brainer, but is easy to forget, especially as social media is still often kept in a silo away from the more traditional/everyday marketing activities, rather than being fully integrated with them. Use your ability to schedule as an opportunity to align you social media messaging with your other campaign channels. If you’re running a social only campaign use automation as an opportunity to really map out the story you want to tell before you start to tell it. You’ll find that you have a much more coherent and cohesive message than if you’d taken a more adhoc approach.

2 – Make time for engagement

Automation shouldn’t be used as a replacement for engagement, quite the opposite. Use the time freed up by your automation efforts to talk to people, join conversations, respond, share and find new influencers to follow and engage. Make an effort to schedule time each day to dedicate to being engaging.

3 – Don’t schedule across all your channels in one go

It’s important to remember when you’re scheduling updates not to simply do a blanket update. Your communities and their expectations will differ from network to network and each social platform plays to different content strengths, so ensure that your updates reflect this understanding. Each social media channel has its own nuances and language – for example, there’s not much point sharing a tweet with an @handle to LinkedIn and Facebook; not only will it not have the same meaning as on Twitter but it will really highlight your social media inexperience (or laziness).  If you’re struggling to find different content for all your social channels, it’s worth thinking about whether you need to scale back and streamline your efforts.

4 – Use auto scheduling  

When to schedule updates for can be quite tricky, especially if you’re dealing with communities in global time zones. Tools like HootSuite have an autoschedule feature which uses an algorithm to determine when the optimal time to send your post will be. Sprout Social offers six suggested times for your posts based on data that show when your message is most likely to be seen.

5 – Make it interesting

Writing and planning content in advance can feel like a thankless task, and it’s really easy to become repetitive…as well as dull. Write your content when you’re feeling at your freshest and don’t try to do it all in one sitting. Have a look at your favourite social media accounts for inspiration – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

6 – Your agency: How much automation have you agreed with them?

If you’ve employed a social media agency to carry out a campaign on your behalf, ensure that you’ve talked about your automation expectations. You want to make sure that they’re adhering to best practice and that they’re not abusing automation, otherwise your brand could be missing out on valuable engagement opportunities which have been overlooked.

7 – Automation isn’t an excuse for spam 

Just because you can schedule marketing message after marketing message in advance doesn’t mean you should. No one wants to stand next to the person shouting about themselves at the party, don’t let that social media account be you. Your followers want you to be useful and valuable to them, so don’t forget about the quality of your messages in your hurry to schedule more stuff, this is what grabs people’s attention and prolongs the life of your post.

8 – Don’t automate too much

The social media community is savvy, it knows what automation looks like. And while users expect a certain amount of automation from brands, too much means your account goes from being ‘social media’ to ‘shouting media’, pull to push. How do you know if you’re automating too much? If your automated messages are outweighing your authentic actions then I’d suggest that you’ve already gone too far, however the best way to know is to test the response of your followers to more or less content. Gauge their reactions to the changes you make through monitoring your shares, likes, clicks and conversions – as well as how many people are un/following you.

9 – Beware scheduling too far in advance

Although tempting, scheduling too far in advance can be dangerous. The world is a changeable place and relying too heavily scheduling can mean that your content is out of sight, out of mind at times when you need to be on the ball. It could be a little thing, perhaps a speaker has dropped out of your event but a scheduled tweet has gone out about their attendance, through to world altering events which see your jolly message turning downright offensive in the blink of an eye.

10 – Never automate DM messages, follows, and RTs (and beware auto favourites) on Twitter

Though there are tools which enable you to do this, I feel very strongly about not automating DM messages to new followers (obviously spam and not authentic), follows (again, a spammy way to try and get new followers and can end up being rather confusing), and RTs (very dangerous as you can end up retweeting some really weird stuff, regardless of how smart you try to be with your keywords).

Auto Favourites is a tricky one as it can grow your followers and traffic to your site, but it can be dangerous as the auto functionality is set-up against keywords and phrases – so you could end up favouriting something completely inappropriate.

But overall, automation is a must for any busy marketing manager, there’s a great list here of seven time saving social media automation tools for you to be using – happy posting!

It’s leadership, but not as we know it

The World Technology NetworkLast night I went to a truly mind blowing talk, ‘Manifesto for a New Civilization’, with James P. Clark, Founder/Chairman of The World Technology Network. I fully recommend watching the full presentation which is available here.

One of the many, many things his presentation got me thinking about is where does leadership come from within an organisation? How is this changing? What do we need to be considering as individuals, colleagues, business leaders and employees of the approaching future?

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of unprecedented and accelerated change due to digital technologies. James’ presentation attests to the notion that we’ve had more change in the past 20-30 years than we did in the previous 2,000-3,000 years of human history.

And this has vast implications for corporate organisations as we know them today. In an era of rapid acceleration, knowledge becomes a hindrance as you have more to unlearn; experience starts to work against you when the future landscape is so significantly different to the past. In this environment the traditional rewards and hierarchs of companies start to become irrelevant. Seniority and pay based on time served or wisdom accrued becomes redundant, rather ideas, collaboration, and sustainability become the new corporate currency.

The democratisation of publishing tools is driving this organisational transformation. The tools of change are now in all of our hands, not just those at the top of the company pyramid. Some organisations are already adjusting to this shift through the introduction of enterprise social networking and digital collaboration platforms. These platforms are accelerating the spread of the democratisation of new ideas and innovation within businesses; the means to create change is no longer for the chosen few but for the collective minds of many.

And this leads me back to my original question, in this future landscape, where does leadership come from within an organisation? One comment which really struck me during James’ talk was about the Arab Spring. Can you name a leader? Revolutions of the past had a central figurehead, a driving force of change – think Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King – but we’re now moving into a era of leaderless revolutions. Could we also be moving into an era of leaderless organisations – or at least leadership as we currently understand it?

The significance of this is profound, but it doesn’t take too much of an imaginative leap to get there. People follow people and in an organisational structure where everyone’s voice carries the same weight thanks to digital technologies, where our traditional notions of knowledge work against us, and hierarchs become irrelevant, who and where will you be choosing to put your trust? In the old system of pyramids based on outdated wisdom, or in the collective intelligence of your peers?

Those organisations who survive this change will be those who have restructured themselves around flexibility and resilience, and embraced sustainability and the democratisation of information. And that goes for us as individuals too, are you ready?

The pros and cons of outsourcing your social

For many companies who are making the transition from a purely push approach to communicating with their communities to one of engagement and pull, hiring an agency to carry out social media activity can feel like a godsend, especially at campaign time.

It’s true that being social is hard work; social media admin is time consuming, running engagement campaigns take up a lot of internal resource, and creating great content can mean hiring in new people with new skills. So until we reach that place where feel confident enough to let go of some of the traditional push activity which has become less effective, take the plunge and reallocate that time to pull channels such as social, we’re always going to be increasing our workload.

Agencies can be a great way to kick start your social culture by working with you to develop your strategy and creating creative campaigns which should quickly increase your presence and engagement within the community. I’m going to write another blog on how to choose a great social agency, but my advice in a nutshell is to check out the agency’s own social media channels before you even pick up the phone. I’m amazed at the number of PR agencies out there offering to bundle social in with your traditional PR campaign contract who don’t actually have any branded social themselves. A massive red flag.

If you do decide to bring an agency in to kick-start your social or support a specific campaign you must ensure that you’re also bringing these community engagement best practices into your internal company culture; avoid the temptation to outsource your engagement activity and then forget about it after you’ve ticked that all important social box, otherwise when your agency contract comes to an end, so will your engagement.

Outsourcing your social can also mean that you could be overlooking some of the wider business benefits of being plugged directly into these channels, namely: market research, idea generation, and product development. By actively being engaged as a business, rather than via your agency, you’re able to hear firsthand  what your target communities are talking about, their challenges, what they think of your products; and have those all important knowledgeable conversations that drive tangible leads for your business.

It’s also worth remembering that the best people to be running social media within your business are not always sat in your existing marketing department. Social media touches on everything we do as a business, so it makes sense that your social media team does too (and when I say team I don’t mean that this has to be their fulltime role, it can and should be embedded within their existing one). Look for social stars in your sales department (they talk to your clients on a daily basis and really understand what makes them tick), uncover those colleagues who are passionate about customer service, and remember that social is too important to be palmed off to your most junior member of staff and then forgotten about – remember this HMV incident?

So as Maz Nadjm (Founding Director of SoMazi) points out, it can make sense to share the reins, but remember that agency collaboration must go hand-in-hand with a wider social business strategy aimed at embedding these skills directly into your organisation.

 

Photo credit: ‘Social Media Outposts’ by the tartenpodcast is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0