Redefining Twitter Influence For Business ROI

Credit: Facebook.com

There’s been a lot of discussion on every blog that’s any blog about influence. The latest national story by Advertising Age on The Influencers and a complementary story, “Your Followers are No Measure of Your Influence” about whether Twitter drives influence or not, have prompted lots of banter online.

The Twitter story is more about why your number of followers, how many lists you’re on and how many times your tweets are RT’ed have nothing to do with influence and more to do with popularity.

One thing is for sure; Advertising Age caters to the multi-gazillion dollar corporations that produce the iconic brands we consume. What of the mid-sized market of companies with equally successful specialty products catering to all of us, as well? When they read a story like this, are they running the 100-yard dash away from Twitter to the safety of Facebook? YouTube? Yelp?

I’m here to tell you, business owners, do not pass go; go directly to Twitter and engage. There are common threads in every marketing department, but each company brings a unique culture with its model. When you re-define “influence” to suit your business’s acceptable ROI, Twitter can help reap the benefits.

  • Define “influence.” The Ad Age story seeks that influencer who can tweet 140 and cause multitudes to make a purchase. This Holy Grail ought to be re-defined for mid-sized businesses  to encompass brand awareness, search marketing, location-based marketing services, prospecting for new customers, and executing creative marketing never before attempted.
  • It’s an art form. Twitter is more than “social” media. Rarely anyone understands how you can communicate in 140 characters until you do. It’s an art form, and it doesn’t include texting abbreviations either. The “social media” vernacular should be adjusted to get people away from the frivolity of the experience. I suggest  “online engagement marketing;” this lends a more professional and strategic bent to the experience.
  • You have control. Behind the Twitter numbers (as listed in paragraph one) is an entire discussion around influence. You can control your followers and you can specialize your stream by industry and topic. Only after you engage long term will you be astute enough to mold your stream into a long list of sales prospects. Mind you, sales will happen AFTER you create community.
  • Link Love and Traffic. Google now indexes tweets. You can build a Google alert for the name of your company or product, and when referenced on Twitter via link love, you’ll begin to see how to define your measurement and success.  Twitter is the easiest way to direct traffic via links to promote corporate blogs, promotions, location-based marketing programs and products. Twitter directs link love to blogs, Facebook, Yelp, Groupon, Quora, and it helps with Klout and Twinfluence scores.
  • Pushing sales. While marketers in mega corporations are being required to prove ROI from online engagement marketing, a mid-sized or smaller business can be more flexible in showing a return and eventually sales. Twitter is an untapped sales channel for smaller businesses and when it bears fruit, it’s worthy of repetition and longer-term investment.
  • Not a one off. Everyone says this over and over again – social media is part of the marketing mix. Twitter or Facebook are not one offs; you cannot execute either one as a stand-alone strategy without incorporating these tactics into an integrated marketing program.

If you are a mid-sized or small business and have already been executing online engagement marketing as part of your integrated marketing program with no success, here are several thoughts to consider:

  • Take a look at how you’re measuring success; is it simply oriented to sales, or are there other positive metrics contributing to filling the sales pipeline?
  • Who’s on your team?  Is one marketer trying to function as marketing, public relations, social media, and advertising? Change that in a hurry!
  • Consider an outside consultant who wears the hat of strategist and tactician along with a keen business orientation. Such a consultant ought to be able to blend public relations directly into the greater marketing mix seamlessly. (Give me a shout, and we can further discuss these options.)

Meanwhile…do not pass go, business owner! Go directly to Twitter.

Claim Your Social Media Identity

I just got and am fiddling with a Droid 2 smartphone and what a smarty it is. I’m truly amazed at the apps and functionality of these babies that work like a laptop and browse with ease. Now that I have both this phone and my Blackberry, there’s no comparison. I’m antsy to upgrade immediately.

Over the weekend, something happened to shock the pants off me – someone phoned me and instead of her photo popping up with her number, the image of another woman popped up (who also has the same name as the caller).  At first I was confused how the woman in the picture got this phone number, and then I realized the caller was really who she was supposed to be, and the woman whose image popped up when the call came through was the “impostor.”

It didn’t take me long to understand how this could happen. The woman with the image is on social media with a BlogSpot blog as well as Twitter account on which she’s active. In fact, through the day, the other woman’s tweets began to cultivate in the contacts list on the Droid for the woman who owns that mobile number.

What to do? I’m open for suggestions on this one, folks, as it’s my job to fix this conundrum. Here’s the social-media-claim-your-identity strategy I’m going to follow (REPEAT: I’m totally open for suggestions on what you’d do, please!):

  • Register the woman’s image on Gravatar. (I wrote about how you do this here.)
  • Set up a Twitter account with that same image and help her with a consistent Twitter strategy.
  • Set up an Open ID with that image, as well.
  • Set up a Disqus account, Friend Feed, Bing, and any other social media sites
  • Join Facebook and set up that account with that same image over her name.
  • Hit LinkedIn and update her profile and make it viewable to the public with the same image.
  • Set up a blog over her name and affix her gravatar with the blog and drive links and traffic to the blog.
  • Update her website, for which she owns the domain for her personal name and every possible extension, with Internet marketing to boost search engine rankings. The site, currently in flash, may need to be rebuilt in a content management system like Drupal so the engines will recognize the content and coding. (I don’t believe the search engines have begun to accept flash sites yet for SEO?)

Beyond this approach, I’m still not sure I can get the caller’s own photo to synch with her mobile number after my phone already has the image of another woman locked in. By actually establishing her presence for the first time and trying to help her claim her social media identity, we’ll be that much closer to fixing the problem.

What do you think people who have the same name as another ought to do when they’re not interested in social media engagement? When something like this occurs, there’s no time for complacency – it’s forced engagement to protect a personal, and in this case, professional brand.

Tell Your Story First

One of my favorite business publications is Fast Company. I devoured the October 2010 issue and amassed various tear sheets for the to-blog-about pile one of which was “Not So Slick.” This story in the section “NEXT Social Media” is about the BP tweep imposter @BPGlobalPR who took the Twitterosphere for a ride poking fun at BP for its handling and mismanagement of the oil spill crisis.

Leroy Stick, a comedy writer, seized an opportunity to create an outlet for the public’s wrath, launched the faux BP Twitter account and off to the races. As of this writing, Leroy has 186,590 followers with only 493 tweets and 8,148 listed. In the scheme of tweeting, that’s not a ton of content delivery; but, listed on 8K+? That is amazing.

The real corporate account @bp_america, “languished at a tenth of that,” according to Fast Company.

So, what’s the lesson for the day?

Companies cannot control their brand in the age of social media i.e. word-of-mouth marketing, Facebook and Twitter et al.

When you think about the magnitude of that statement, it’s frightening. We’ve seen so many examples of corporations lost in the throes of a defensive game on social media that more often than not has failed.

I’ve written about these stories relating to Nestle, Pampers, Sun Chips, Gap, and BP. Soon after I began to engage on Twitter, Dominos debacle had just occurred (when two pizza makers jokingly blew their noses in the cheese pie captured on video). Watching the corporate giants struggle with word of mouth and social media may bring some laughs, but this hits close to home for any company attempting to promote brand awareness online.

When a brand touches millions of people, there’s no doubt the lightening speed of the Ethernet is uncontrollable. How can a company attempt to control its brand if a crisis erupts?

  • First things first…prior to a crisis, marketing public relations needs to make everything tight – messaging, stories, training of spokespeople, collateral, websites, social networking sites, and regular engagement on social media, etc.
  • In the can should be approved corporate messages that senior leadership can dust off and easily update in the event that social media is the impetus behind the storm.
  • There needs to be a highly strategic social media team in place who can call the shots on the fly 24/7 across all time zones.
  • A pre-approved team of spokespeople need to have the media training to address all types of media at any time of the day; this means bloggers, Twitter chats, Facebookers, LinkedIn groups, and traditional media, too.
  • Accessibility is so critical during a crisis; the more the doors remain closed the more others win an offensive posture. So, be accessible to at least control the message and attempt to manage the brand at the same time. 

I don’t have all the answers; apparently, no one does. Sustainability expert Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com said it well in Fast Company, “It really comes down to storytelling—if you don’t tell your story well, someone else will tell it for you.”

Corporations Do Not Understand Social Media

I just wrote last week about the Frito-Lay Sun Chips packaging debacle here. I was aghast then, and I’m even more agog today about the Gap logo debacle that has made these two Fortune companies laughing stock.

What is happening to corporate America that permits their caving to public social media outcry about a green potato chip bag or a new corporate identity?

After four days of online whipping about its brand identity developed by an agency, Gap has pulled its brand new logo in favor of the old, archaic logo we’ve seen for decades. Blog posts, Facebook and Twitter accounts have been in an uproar about Gap’s newly designed logo. I just saw a post saying proudly, “Twitter responsible for Gap logo demise!”

I’m not doing my research to provide you with all the wonderful statistics on how long the Gap logo has been around, how much money people are wasting, what the comments have been and how many in social media circles, etc. because I don’t care, and I didn’t read the four days worth of posts on this topic. It wasn’t my business to tell Gap its new logo was ugly and stood for nothing.

Where I will spend some time making it my business is these two corporations on the heels of one another making jokes out of themselves while taking social networks for a free ride. The publicity each has garnered, while not positive, could not have been bought by advertisers. Our valuable time thinking about these mistakes was wasted, too.

What’s more shocking, is that it appears RESEARCH IS DEAD. It’s not public relations that’s dead; it’s not customer service that’s dead; it is truly research that’s dead.

Had Gap and Frito-Lay done its research in more than just the typical traditional way (focus groups?) and launched social media contests to vote on the bag or logo Facebookers liked best, then they would be assured of no backlash.

You know the People’s Choice Awards? You know American Idol and how they select the winner? Consumers VOTE – that’s the American way. We vote to garner popular consensus (although the winner doesn’t always win in politics).

So, don’t cry, corporate America, over your lost dollars to develop stupid packaging and branding campaigns if you’re not going to take your stupid packaging and branding campaigns to social media prior to going to market. It’s clear you don’t understand social media; otherwise, you would not be in this predicament, Frito-Lay and Gap, with egg on your faces.

This is an astonishing fail and does not reflect well on any of us in the world of marketing, public relations, advertising, or social media. The dynamic has shifted? Indeed.

Frito-Lay Sun Chips Social Media Biodegradable Bag Fail

(Frito-lay/Associated Press/Washington Post)

My first reaction after purchasing Sun Chips in its new, snazzy biodegradable packaging (because I recycle EVERYTHING) upon trying to open it was “dang, that’s noisy!”

Lo, Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo Inc. and maker of Sun Chips, has pulled its snazzy biodegradable packaging from shelves (available since January) wasting exorbitant amounts of money in so doing because it failed at consumer test marketing (IMHO).

I’m amazed companies the likes of Pampers with its Dry-Max debacle I wrote about here and now Sun Chips have launched products (after cycling through the usual market research, focus groups, product development et al I assume) only to pull them or engage in defensive posturing due to consumer outcry AFTER the fact.

How could Sun Chips not know that bag was noisy? Have you ever heard it?

Tumbling sales and consumer-created videos on social media sites contributed to the decision by these corporate giants to return five of the six flavors back to non-compostable packaging. So much for saving the environment from potato chip bags, eh?

Here’s the fail – because social media is at the fingertips of all consumers and corporations if they regard it as more than a passing fad, all Sun Chips would’ve had to do was the following:

  • During market research, it would’ve been simple and inexpensive to produce and launch a YouTube video asking for a nation-wide vote about which bag consumers prefer – the current (non-noisy) bag or the new, biodegradable (noisy) bag. I can assure you, Frito-Lay, that video would’ve garnered tremendous word-of-mouth attention and off we go to the races.
  • On your lame attempt at a Facebook page  where one consumer calls the new Sun Chips bags “great idea, freakishly loud,” you could’ve asked for votes on which bag is preferred and then point to the YouTube video to secure hits there, too.
  • On Twitter (are you @Fritolay or @Frito-Lay?) with your confusing identity with the same avatar where one of you currently apologizes for the noisy bag and asks for another chance, you could’ve launched a campaign to engage the tier-one social media pros to ask for a Twitter strategy (because obviously your in-house public relations department or unsavvy agency did not help you in this regard).

Well, hindsight is always 20-20, right? And, no one asked me, so I’ll just keep my 26-years-in-public-relations-counsel to myself.