Social Media Interview: HP’s Tac Anderson

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Social Media Smarts: Interview with Tac Anderson, Social Media Man of Hewlett Packard

tac andersonTac Anderson currently leads social media activities across Hewlett Packard for both internal collaboration and external marketing. Tac is also the Entrepreneur in Residence for Highway 12 Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm, where he advises them potential investment opportunities in the social media space. Tac blogs regularly at www.newcommbiz.com.

In this interview Tac talks about his role as the voice of social media at Hewlett Packard and Entrepreneur in Residence at Highway 12 Ventures. He also gives us the goods on defining, justifying, testing, measuring and recommending social media. The icing on the cake comes in the form of sage social media advice for businesses and a few resources for those that want to stay up to date on the social web. Enjoy!

Please describe how you got involved in your current position with HP and how social media  and internet communications play into your responsibilities:

I was actually recruited by HP back in mid 07. Some HP people had come to a luncheon I was speaking at. I was doing some consulting at the time while working on a startup with a friend that never got off the ground. They offered me an opportunity that was too good to be true and the timing worked out really well.

I was originally hired as the Web 2.0 Strategic Lead for the LaserJet Business. Basically I worked at a worldwide level to implement Web 2.0/Social Media into the marketing organization. This included everything from implementing internal wiki’s, training product teams on using Google Alerts, RSS feeds and other tools, working with the various regions on implementing social media marketing tactics as well lending my expertise where ever I could across HP.

Today, 2 re-orgs later I now sit in the global enterprise marketing group. I still do most of the things I did before but I’m mostly focused on the Enterprise customer and my role has been expanded to include marketing metrics.

What’s your involvement with Highway 12 Ventures?

To really explain my role at Highway 12 Ventures I have to step back just a bit. Highway 12 is a regionally focused VC firm. This means they only do deals in the Rocky Mountain west (ID, CO, UT, MT, OR). I live in Boise, Idaho and have been very involved in our tech and entrepreneurial community. I helped launch our first downtown incubator, I run the TechBoise blog and hold monthly tech meetups. I’ve known the guys at Highway 12 Ventures for a while now and this summer they asked me to come on as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

It’s not the usual type of EIR role that the Silicon Valley/Alley people are used to. Because of my local involvement and that they see a lot of deals, esp out of Boulder and SLC that are Web based, I consult with them as they look at companies to invest in.  It’s “in my spare time” and I don’t get paid for it. What I get out of it is the opportunity to sit in on their partner meetings, review their deal flow with them and in general learn more about the VC business. Because of their broad geographic area and the fact that they don’t have a vertical focus I get to see a lot of fascinating companies across the area and meet all kinds of great people.

A question I like to ask is how would you describe or define “social media” to someone who’s web savvy extends no further than email or Google.com?

I don’t really have a canned response but there are two distinctions I like to make. I used to get a lot of people ask me about the difference between Web 2.0 and social media. I explain Web 2.0 as the technologies and tools that enable social media (RSS, JAVA, blogs, wiki’s etc) and social media is the trend in online content/media/whatever that enables people to communicate with each other directly. It’s media that you help shape and influence.

I don’t get the Web 2.0 question much anymore, I think that peaked in early 08 and I’m already seeing a lot fewer questions about social media. We’re really getting to the point, that we all knew we would, where all online content is social in some way. If it’s not now it will be in the next 2 years.

What arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into marketing efforts that include social media participation? How about insights on justifying corporate blogging?

You have to start with two things. I always used to say you had to start with one thing but my time in corporate America has taught me that it’s two things.

The #1 thing has always been, who’s your audience. What matters to them?

As an example if you’re trying to reach consumers then the case for blogs and social media is about reaching them where and how they interact. It’s about building trust and being open,which are all trends I’m sure your readers are more than familiar with. If your customers are CXO’s (CEO, CIO, CFO, CMO) then the reason you have a blog is because the two most influential factors to a CXO’s decision making process are the Two G’s: Google and Gartner. Google is speaking to the importance of all search and Gartner is speaking to the importance that analysts play. Blogs are great for reaching both. There’s no lower bang for your buck tactic to reach the two G’s than having a high quality blog.

The #2 thing I’ve learned is to start with what your company is already measuring. Then look at Return on Total Investment.  How much does it cost you to do something today? Can you do it cheaper and more effectively with social media? At first don’t try and recreate your companies measurements and reporting. If they have stated KPI’s (key performance indicators) work with those. How can you use social media to impact those numbers. Once you prove that you are capable of moving certain needles then you can broaden what your measuring.

Do you have a process or decision scheme for deciding what new shiny objects to pay attention to and what to ignore?  What are your current, favorite social tools/channels/platforms?

Early on, it was easy, you just tried everything that came out. Now you obviously have to be more particular. I think there are two filters I have in place for deciding what new tools to try: Is it in an area I’m interested in? Is it coming from a reputable source?

I’m not a big videophile. I don’t particularly care if there’s another YouTube like product out. I am a big mobile and publishing geek so if a new tool comes out that enables me to produce content from my phone I usually give it a look.

I also really evaluate who told me about the service. There are some people/blogs that I count on for the good stuff. Conversely there are a lot of people/blogs that will and do talk about everything.

What advice can you give marketers, technologists, PR, communications, customer service or marketing people at organizations thinking about incorporating social media involvement into their efforts, but are not sure where to start?

 Start by using the tools. If you’re not already on Twitter yourself, I’d be hesitant to launch a corporate Twitter account. You don’t have to be a power user or anything but be comfortable with it. I think the other thing I’d tell people is to focus on the word you used *Incorporate*. I’ve found that social media works best when it’s incorporated into your existing marketing efforts. Finally I’m still a big believer in the corporate blog. Start one if you haven’t yet and start pushing good content to it. Because there’s so much noise out there now that if you all of a sudden decide you need one, it can take 1-2 years to get your blog established. Start small but get something out there.

You’ve written on your blog New Comm Biz about measuring the effectiveness of social media. Please share your perspectives on that and what metrics make the most impact when reporting upstream in your organization?

One of the things I really like about this space right now is that there are no best practices. No one has a silver bullet, no one has all the answers. It’s a lot of trial and error. My best advice is fail early and fail often. You won’t know what works for your company until you try it.

But it’s all about the metrics that your organization is already using. One of the metrics I keyed off of early on was Share of Voice (SOV). This is a measurement most PR groups use to measure the amount of penetration your company is getting in non-paid media. You of course have to be measuring this for online not just offline. Take a historical view of what your SOV is before launching a blog or other effort and then measure it after. To best impact this you need to coordinate your social media efforts with your traditional online efforts. If you have a press release going out, do a blog post on the topic and link to it in the press release.

If you’re in a very sales focused group then it’s going to be leads (however your company defines that). Going back to what I said earlier about incorporating social media; does your sales team know how to use all the advanced search functions on LinkedIn? Does the landing site for your newest lead-gen effort have social components? Things like links to a company blog talking about the offer, a rating/feedback or share this option? Is the page mobile device optimized? If not do those things and measure the difference.

Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for company social media marketers regarding finding and managing consultants?

We use agencies, mostly for tactical execution.

The things I learned were to hire people that are already familiar with the tools and the space. I have a hard time finding agencies and consultants that have much hands on experience. At best most are all talk with no action. Having your own marketing blog does not make you an expert. Find someone with some experience.

My other rule in working with agencies and consultants is work with someone you like. You don’t have to be best buds or hang out on the weekends but if you like the person and have a shared understanding of what’s important the output of the relationship will be so much better. Too many times there’s this tension between the client and the agency. You each have to be able to tell the other person that their idea is stupid.

Can you share an example of how you’ve successfully employed a social media effort (large scale or a specific tactic)  and how you measured success? (marketing, ORM, branding, etc) URLs to examples are very much appreciated.

I use an HP blog to catalog some of the campaigns we’ve done. You can see those at HP Marketing Impressions.

One that I probably have the most measurable results from was the LaserJet blog.  It was featured in the Forrester book Groundswell for our response to early Vista issues around printing and print drivers. There are several little things we did along the way and several things we learned but this is the blog that taught me just how effective a corporate blog can be.

There’s been a lot of talk about how “bad” corporate blogs are and how they are just re-purposed marketing material. This is largely the case but some of that’s ok. What do people expect from a corporate blog. There are good and bad ways to do it but it’s all about your goal.

We didn’t care if everyone in the world read the blog. It’s about LaserJet printers how exciting can it be? But we did want the analysts and IT networking crowd to read it and find it useful. The analysts would read it because it’s there job, we just had to keep putting useful things in it. The IT professionals probably wouldn’t subscribe to it but we did want them to find it through search so we did a lot work around keyword optimization and linking to get the blog rated high as well as lift up deeper HP pages.

I wrote up case study which can be found here about how we also used the blog for competitive response. When Xerox changed some pricing on a competitive technology we were able to roll out a response that some day that got picked up by the analysts and search engines. The last time I checked if you search for “Xerox solid ink” or Xerox solid ink pricing” our post is still the #2 or #3 result and that was almost about 1 1/2 years ago.

Please share 3-4 resources for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:

Well there’s always this blog and mine. lol

Forrester’s Groundswell book I mentioned is a must read IMHO.

Honestly I find it difficult to find a lot of great examples out there. I think you have a lot of people that have been talking about it (but not actually doing much) for the last several years and then you have a few of us that have been fortunate enough to be doing some of this stuff but we’ve just been too busy to write about it. That’s why one of my New Years goals is to blog more about the work I’ve been doing.

Thanks Tac!

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ComcastCares Social Media Interview with Frank Eliason

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Social Media Smarts: Interview with Frank Eliason of Comcast aka @ComcastCares

Frank Eliason
Photo by Shel Israel

Twitter has become many things to many people and organizations for that matter, including Comcast.  It really says something when a company experiences the bite of consumer malcontent via social media and then turns around and becomes known as a best practitioner.  This is the experience of Comcast and Director of Digital Care, Frank Eliason.  

Based in Philadelphia, PA, Frank started with Comcast as a Customer Service Manager in September, 2007 and as you’ll read in the interview below has evolved into the social media face of Comcast through his Twitter name ComcastCares.

Even though we typically focus on marketing and public relations subject matter on Online Marketing Blog, there is no doubt of the effect of good customer service facilitated by technology like social media.  In this interview, Frank describes his involvement with social media as a customer engagement tool for Comcast, offers insights into justifying and measuring social media efforts as well his take on Twitter. Enjoy! 

Can you describe how got involved in your current position with Comcast?

I am still trying to figure out how we got to the point, it has been an interesting year. I started with Comcast is September, 2007 managing a small Customer Service team. Within my first week we reached out to a few Customers via phone after they posted to a blog. We continued doing this until December. In December we started posting to the websites to help out. By February I was asked to take on a new role. My title evolved to Director of Digital Care.

What part does social media play in your overall responsibilities and how do you define social media to others?

My role, and the role of my team is to assist Customers throughout the internet, so I would say social media plays a very large role. I define social media as any place on the web where someone is talking. This means blogs Facebook, Twitter or other microblogs, but it also means YouTube, forums, or even personal websites.

There’s a lot to be said for how companies like Comcast have put their “listening hats” on with social media, especially after certain videos get popular on YouTube.  For companies just looking into social media as a listenting/communications channel, what arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into social media engagement?

I think listening is imperative for all companies. I am sure many of the readers Google their name once in a while. Shouldn’t companies do the same? Listening is relatively easy and inexpensive. Just simply do a Google search. Or to be more timely, try a Google blogsearch. Many large companies have been doing this for years. After listening comes engagement, and this is where there is a little bit larger cost. I am asked about this and it really to me comes down to what is the cost for not being there. People will be talking about your brand, isn’t it great to be able to respond right back. The key to doing this is not being ‘PR’ or marketing but rather a real person that someone can relate to. That is why I believe Customer Service is the best fit.

As far as deciding what social media channels to engage in, what’s your decision making process when it comes to testing and implementing specific tactics?

Two key factors: Searchability and Timeliness. We can not continually look at the same website to see if anything is being said, so we use a variety of search techniques. This brings me to the second key factor. Searching but not getting the results for days or weeks after something is posted is not going to be effective. So we use methods that are immediate. One of the reasons we like Twitter is the real time search at search.twitter.  Google blog search also allows you to sort blogs by 1 hour, 12 hours, 1 day, 1 week or 1 month.

How do you measure the success of your social media efforts? What goals and metrics make the most impact upstream (C-level) in your organization?

I think success is 2 fold. I think you can measure the feedback that you obtain and the benefits this provides an organization. You can also measure the positive feedback that is on the web.

Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for other large company social media marketers for finding and managing consultants?

Like many organizations we do work with Nielsen Online (formerly Buzzmetrics) to collect feedback from the web.

Can you share your experience with a specific social media tool like Twitter or blogging? What were your goals, strategy and tactics? Can you share success metrics?

The biggest benefit to Twitter is if someone is answering the question here is what I am doing now,” you are getting immediate data on how someone is using your product or interacting with your organization. The goals are simple for everything we do. Offer assistance and gather feedback. The strategy we take is to be ourselves and offer to help. Not much different than what should happen in a Customer Service call.

Please share 3-4 resources you use for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:

I actually am not a marketer, I do pay attention to groups like WOMMA, but I would not say I am an expert in this area. Tactics we learn as we go. Some of the best resources are the people we help and some of the organizations in this space. People are always open to talk.

Thank you Frank!

You can find Frank online at:

Twitter
LinkedIn
Time to be Frank Blog

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Dell Social Media Interview with Richard Binhammer

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Social Media Smarts: Interview with Richard Binhammer from Dell – @richardatdell


Photo Credit www.briansolis.com 

Of all the companies known for making advances in the realm of social media, Dell holds a place that reaches both ends of the spectrum. References to “Dell Hell” are less about something wrong and more about one of the most popular examples of a major corporation that “gets” social media listening and engagement.  One of the key people at Dell responsible for the successful social media presence so many have come to know is Richard Binhammer. 

Richard has enjoyed a career that has taken him from Canadian politics, lobbying and election campaigns to public relations in the Midwest to Corporate Communications in NYC and then public affairs, now social media/blog outreach at Dell.

In this in-depth interview, Richard discusses definitions of social media, Dell’s strategic perspective examples, testing social tactics, measurement, building a business case for social media and shares a few resources to stay current. Enjoy!

How would you describe “social media” to someone who’s web savvy extends no further than email or Google.com?

That’s a good question, Lee.  I think I would indicate the Web and related technologies that they currently use to deliver their email and to visit Google, search and surf have morphed.  Rather than static sites, the Web has become the global information technology infrastructure that underpins a rich, interactive and fully featured way to communicate and connect. At Dell we call it The Connected Era

The result: it is easy to connect, communicate  and share information with others.  You can now find information you want—when you want, as well as share that information and your own perspectives.  That’s why it is social. 

These connections and conversations take place using tools that are easy, occur in real time and remove traditional barriers like geography, and are also breaking lifestyle and social boundaries.   Friendships, professional connections, indeed new kinds of communities are emerging.  

What arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into social media engagement?

Hmmmmmmm ?…let me think.  I have several justifications that come to mind:

1. The  Magnitude of Change: One billion people are now online — a figure that will double by 2011. In fact, every day 500,000 new users come online for the first time.  Content is exploding. There was more content on YouTube in 2006 than on the Web in 2000.  This represents a significant shift in what we think of as media, or put another way, what and how people get information.  Taken together, we are experiencing changes to the dynamics of how we process information to form opinions.

News cycles can start from anywhere today.  News and conversations are not just local/regional, they are global.  Single blog posts can have as much power as major news stories.  People are publishers, content providers and decision-makers.  There are additional and new news cycles, and a proliferation of outlets for information. There is a rapid and continuing democratization of information.

This global information technology infrastructure enables individuals to connect and converse using all kinds of social media. They are forming new communities, their own communities,  sharing information in ways they care about and make sense to them. These communities shape debates, impact perspectives and perceptions.  The numbers and connectedness are of such a magnitude that public opinion and perceptions can be influenced and changed by “each other,” not controlled by others (and, I think this is a good thing,  by the way). 

2. The Value of Personal: I personally believe social media is contributing to a significant change that take us from what I call the “traditional, rational, objective, institutional” perspective to a more “subjective, emotive, personalized and human” perspective.  

The move from “objective,” fact-based, third party reporting and commentary (traditional media/advertising/controlled  messages/interruptions) to individual, “subjective,” and “crowd sourced” perceptions is very powerful. Perceptions are no longer just reality. They are real.  The “new facts” are based on real interactions and experiences that people share with each other.  Perceptions (“my real experience and my views) gain legitimacy and value and become a part of the larger community’s “facts.” For more on the importance (and inherent value) of perceptions in social media check these links

If you are not persuaded by the trend data, directions and changes occurring, I would pose this question, rhetorically.  I call it the customer question.

3. Connecting with Customers: Since when did any business not want to connect with its customers? Seriously, what is the issue here?  Do we need to justify using today’s efficient, effective and readily available technology to spend 30 minutes or couple hours a day connecting with real customers?

No one has yet to explain to me why they should not use social media as a way to connect with their customers.   We could leave this point hang and let it stand on its own.  I think it speaks volumes.

However, lets flesh it out a bit.  Connecting and communicating with customers is about more than merely meeting customers’ expectations today.  Social media is an ideal tool to reach customers more quickly, efficiently, frequently and cost effectively.  

Even more importantly than its efficiency and  cost-effectiveness, social media is an ideal tool to listen, learn and engage in real conversations with customers.  Does someone need to justify that?  

Here is an example: If a conversation occurs in a Minneapolis Starbucks about the new Dell mini, I can’t hear it, nor be informed by it.  On the other hand, if that same conversation starts in Minneapolis (or China) with a post on a blog, Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook or wherever, not only can I listen and learn, I can act and join the conversation.  

We can immediately take the information and do what we need to – fix something, thank the customer for positive feedback, correct misinformation, whatever might be relevant.  It’s like having Dell customers from anywhere in the world walking the halls of our offices in Round Rock, TX.  How cool is that?  But the result is better than cool.  The immediacy of online listening means we can continuously build a better business based on real time customer input.

One further thought, beyond listening and learning, I’d also highlight the benefits of engaging in online conversations using social media.  If your customers are connecting with each other, why not join them?  At a minimum you are forming a relationship, and more broadly, a community.  There are all kinds of benefits to deeper and interactive relationships. One of my colleagues likes to say, “we used to host, prepare and serve the dinner party.  Social media allows us to come to the party, join the conversation in a more relaxed manner and be part of it.”

What’s your decision making process when it comes to testing and implementing social media engagement efforts with specific tactics?

We are constantly “testing” and experimenting with different social media initiatives and opportunities.  In fact, we are encouraged to experiment and see what works and learn from it, versus guaranteeing success.  Our CEO, Michael Dell talks about experimentation, as well as social media in this recent online interview over at Small Business Advice TV. (interview starts around the 8 minute point, he talks about experiments at the 9:15 point, social media around 21 minutes).  

Decision making and tactics for social media  “initiatives” depend on various factors, such as: circumstances; the specific social media initiative contemplated or planned; the business organization involved; among other things.  

The key principles underlying Dell decisions and actions in social media are:

1. Listening, Learning and Engaging in conversations with our customers where they are.

Dell’s outreach to customers or others who blog about us and joining those conversations is an example of this.  Other examples include: presence on Twitter and involvement at YahooAnswers. 

2. Telling our Story: Is there a social media “tool” or technology we should be using to connect, converse and share our story with customers and others who are interested in Dell?  

Direct2dell, our first blog, was established at the urging of Michael Dell.  He wanted the company to have voice in the connected era, as well as establish a place for our customers to be able to connect and converse with Dell.  

3. Strengthening Business connections, conversations, relationships and partnerships with customers/others interested in our business or to foster communities where we have mutual interest.

The investor relations team wanted a new way to connect with investors and potential investors.  They believed social media offered an opportunity to democratize financial information and have broader conversations. Dellshares was launched.  At regeneration.org, we are focused on partnering with anyone and everyone to build a movement that shares information and embraces higher environmental standards to help regenerate the planet. We launched the Digital Nomads blog when we launched our new Latitude notebooks.  However, the site is focused on building, nurturing and supporting the digitally nomadic community. We really just administer the site.   

4. Share content, information and Collect Ideas Ideastorm.com was created to specifically encourage customers to share ideas about what we do and what they wanted from Dell. Ratings and Reviews were implemented on Dell.com because customers want information from each other. We have also made parts of Dell.com more “shareable.”  The Facebook-Dell social media page for small business was driven by a desire to “give back” to the community some lessons we have learned in social media.  We thought the tips sheets could be especially helpful to small businesses.  

Stay tuned….more is coming ?

What strategies and tools do you use to measure the effectiveness of social media?  What goals and metrics make the most impact upstream (C-level) in your organization?

There is no single strategy or tool to measure effectiveness of social media, especially when you view social media as a part of how you do business and connect with customers, as we increasingly do at Dell.  Therefore, strategies, tools and measurement of effectiveness are going to vary.  

For example, at Dell social media is becoming part of how we do business and contributes to continuously making us better at it.  We also believe that engagement though these direct connections with customers is what we are all about as a company – direct relationships with customers.  Therefore, measurement goes beyond a singular ROI or measure of effectiveness when social media is used to:  

  • Understand issues and change business processes based on information and conversations in social media;
  • include more customers in opportunities to connect and meet with Dell people;
  • Identify issues earlier than we would have previously, thanks to blog and social media  commentary, and act on them; 
  • connect directly with customers in a timely, efficient and direct manner about specific concerns;
  • Contribute to, and integrated into, Dell’s product development.  For example, the Ideastorm community ideas have resulted in product changes, including:
  1. Dell’s proud partnership with (PRODUCT) REDTM   in which the purchase of  Dell (PRODUCT) REDTM  signature products results in part of the proceeds going to the Global Fund to help eliminate AIDS in Africa
  2. significant aspects of the new Latitude E series design
  3. Dell’s expanded Linux offerings 

We use Radian6 for social media tracking and are working with them on a development program related to managing overall workflow and management.  We track conversations in social media about us (on average about 5000 per day gross number), the subject, sentiment, the extent to which we get involved and the outcome of the conversation.  As you may know since we became involved in social media we have seen a nearly 30% decline in negative commentary about the company. 

We also track revenue generation from The Dell outlet, small business and home offers available on Twitter. We have previously noted that Dell Outlet’s Twitter offers resulted in $500,000.00 in revenue.

We also track visits to our various sites and the extent to which conversations and engagement are happening. We are continually working to fine tune measurement, moving from engagement to measuring community connections.

Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for other large company social media marketers for finding and managing consultants?

At one point we outsourced blog search.  However, now that we use Radian6, this is not the case.   I’m not aware of any social media work that “outsource.” In some situations, for example we might identify bloggers to be invited to a media round table or product launch event, and Enfatico, our global agency would be involved.

As for commentary about finding and managing consultants, at Dell we have consolidated work from 800 agencies around the world to partnering with a single marketing communications agency, Enfatico.  The focus is creating a new and truly integrated marketing communications model designed to further propel Dell’s growth. 

Its design and focus is on customers, irrespective of marketing communications disciplines. Originally it was code named ‘Project Da Vinci’ because we wanted to combine  artist and scientist—an agency that has both the creative horsepower and ability to measure the business impact of their work.

Please share 3-4 resources for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:

  • Your RSS reader and subscriptions
  • Your online friends/professional network and their recommendations (Twitter, FriendFeed, MyBlogLog, etc)
  • And of course Toprank Online Marketing Blog

Thank you Richard!  I promise, we did not ask or encourage Richard to mention TopRank but we’re certainly appreciative that he did. )

You can find Richard Binhammer on the social web at: TwitterFacebookLinkedInFlickr.

Sponsored By: Follow TopRank on Twitter

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Social Media Interview Shonali Burke

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Social Media Smarts Interview with Shonali Burke

 

I first ran into Shonali Burke right before she presented with Katie Paine at the PRSA International conference, “True Tales From the Social Media Measurement Trenches”. We had not met in person before but were connected on Twitter. Social media will do that – facilitate real world connections.  Based on her PR and social media metric savvy, I thought it would be interesting to do an interview as part of our Social Media Smarts posts.

Shonali Burke, ABC, is an award-winning communications consultant and self-confessed measurement fiend. She was formerly a vice president of media and communications at ASPCA. She and her husband are owned by three shelter dogs and live in the Washington, D.C., area. You can also find her on Twitter.

How do you define “social media?”

When the term first started being used and I was curious about it, I wondered what the definition of “anti-social” media would be. I’m not sure there is an answer to that question, because all media aim to reach people; can you imagine one that would aim to do the opposite? So to me, “social media” are those Internet-based platforms that facilitate and encourage two-way (or multiple) conversations and interaction in the pursuit of building relationships. Bryan Eisenberg’s recent post on the subject sums it up beautifully.

What arguments or business case justifications have you found to be the most effective for investing time, people and other resources into social media engagements?

Given how new the use of social media still is, it’s understandable for executives to have misgivings about investing in it, especially the C-suite who have not, to a large extent, grown up in a “Web 2.0” world. But if you can bring the “social” to the forefront, reminding them that business is, at the end of the day, about relationships, it will go a long way. 

Traditionally, one needed to be part of certain networks of influencers and decision-makers to be successful in business. Those networks still exist, and are still powerful, but the ability for end-users or customers to voice their opinion directly about a product or service has greatly democratized the “old boys clubs.” The recent episode of the Motrin Moms is a great example. Business is about building, and catalyzing relationships. If you don’t have good relationships with your customers, they’re not going to buy your products or services, or be evangelizers for them. And you can’t have sustained, good relationships with your customers if you’re not going to listen to them. Social media provides a unique way to listen to your customers or target audience; it’s as simple as that.

This is also why I think public relations practitioners are uniquely situated to grab the social media bull by the horns. PR has always been about relationships, though in recent years it seems to have been co-opted by “publicity” in people’s minds. The industry is in dire need of adopting a strong, methodical approach to PR measurement, that shows how building and sustaining these relationships is serving the organization’s bottom line – that’s what executives understand. I recently guest-posted on “Communication Overtones” on the subject, and if we combine our PR smarts with solid measurement, the sky is the limit.

The beauty of social media is that it can be relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media outreach, requiring primarily time. That, combined with a couple of case studies showing the effective use of social media either by you (assuming you have dabbled in it, as I mentioned before) or by similar organizations to achieve desired, measurable results—or the dire consequences of not doing so—is usually enough to at least get the go-ahead to experiment (and if you’ve been playing around on your own, on a larger scale) with social media. 

It’s important to remember, however, that in 9 cases out of 10, social media outreach will complement, not replace, traditional media outreach, since the latter can still provide great value, when used wisely; it’s also what a large percentage of top management are familiar with, and trust. Explaining that you won’t be throwing your tried and tested outreach to the wind but rather, are dipping your toes into a potentially extremely valuable new pool at little or no increased cost, will go a long way.

When developing a social media strategy, how do you decide whether to blog vs setup social networking profiles vs Twitter vs image and video sharing or other social media tactics? 

Even in the social media world, the basics about choosing one’s platforms and tactics are no different than when working in the “old” media world: know your audience, identify your measurable objectives, and THEN—and only then—select the items in your toolbox. If your audience isn’t on Twitter, what good will it do to invest the time and energy into setting up a Twitter account? If your product or service doesn’t lend itself to image and/or video-sharing, should you really invest in it? So the bottom line, as always, is, do your homework – do your research. This means get familiar with the various social media platforms, engage with and listen to your target audience, and understand how they want to hear from you… the results might surprise you. 

What’s your decision making process when it comes to testing and implementing social media engagement efforts with specific tactics?

 The most important thing to remember about embarking on a social media strategy is that you have to commit to engaging. Social media is, first and foremost, a way to build relationships. Just as with “real” relationships, virtual ones need time and nurturing. So you need to ensure you have staff, or external resources, to do that. Make sure you’ve tested the waters by monitoring and listening to conversations first. Then, examine your objectives under a microscope, and use the tactics that are going to give you the greatest return on your investment, however you define that. A “nice to have” or an “I want to have” is not necessarily a “must have,” especially if it’s not going to achieve your goals effectively

What strategies do you use to measure the effectiveness of social media? What metrics make the most impact upstream (C-level)?

In my opinion, the smartest way to approach strategic communications is to outline the measurable outcomes you want to achieve at the beginning. Even though this is a fundamental of classic communications planning, it still amazes me how many practitioners focus on outputs and outtakes, rather than the actual outcomes. Katie Delahaye Paine, of whom I’m a huge (and known) fan, frequently posts on this at her blog.

If you approach measurement from an outcomes point of view, then defining your metrics for social media becomes no different than defining them for traditional media. What do you want to achieve? What are the outcomes that will make the most impact from a business point of view, both qualitative and quantitative? Those are the metrics that are going to be most meaningful to the C-Suite. Aaron Uhrmacher wrote a brilliant post on this for Mashable a few months ago. And recently, Jason Falls posted an extremely thought-provoking article on his blog about social media ROI.

Do you outsource any social media work and if so, do you have tips for company social media marketers regarding finding and managing consultants?

In my last position at the ASPCA, we did not outsource any social media work at the time; we had one staffer on my team dedicated to the job. I have recently seen a growing trend in companies interested in engaging in social media, though. My recommendation to anyone thinking of hiring a consultant is to use the medium to do your research; see who’s popping up as a thought-leader via searches, RSS feeds, on Twitter, etc. LinkedIn’s Q&A feature can be tremendously helpful as well, since you can gauge someone’s level of experience and understanding of the subject by the way they answer questions. Turn to your local chapters of well-regarded associations, such as IABC, PRSA, and most importantly, SMC, to find out who would be a good resource.

In terms of managing them, I think the usual best practices for managing consultants apply. Given how new a field social media is, though, I think it’s really important to hire a consultant you can trust and, once you’ve outlined their scope of work, let them do it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for clarification when you don’t understand something—it’s ok for the consultant to be “smarter” than the client, that’s why you hired her/him, remember? But once you’ve brought them on board, treat them as a valued partner, and give them the same respect you would give to said partners. 

Please share 3-4 resources for staying on top of social media marketing trends and tactics:

The resource that I personally find the most valuable in keeping up with social media and all things related is Twitter:  I find out about events, new people/thought-leaders to follow and a treasure trove of blog posts and websites every day. Twitter has practically replaced my RSS feed (though I still check that out every few days).

If there were one resource I had to recommend, it would be that. Just a few others are (and I know I’m leaving many out): Mashable, MarketingProfs, MarketingSherpa, and the blogs of Chris Brogan, Jason Falls and Kami Watson Huyse. SMC’s website is a good resource, as is WOMMA’s site (you can click through to its blog). And because measurement is an integral part of effective marketing, Katie Paine’s and Avinash Kaushik’s blogs are must-reads for me as well.

Thanks Shonali!

Sponsored By: Learn Social Media Marketing in NYC TopRank & The DMA Partner on 2 Day Social Media Smarts Workshop

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