November 2006 Archives

Going to DC?

The WOMMA Summit is in a couple of weeks, and I'm working up a list of people to meet while I'm there. Are you going?

Attentio

AttentioAs part of the international theme this week, I'm having as many conversations with people at social media monitoring companies outside the US as I can. This morning, I talked with Simon McDermott, CEO of Attentio, a social media monitoring and analysis company focused on the European market.

The conversation came about because of Simon's follow-up note to their sample buzz report on selected brands and childhood obesity (Pepsi, Kraft, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Unilever, P&G, Danone, Kellogg’s and Nestle appear in the report). Entertaining headlines make it easy to focus on what I'm starting to think of as defensive social media monitoring (the activity that alerts you to issues that require a response—what I called micro a couple of months ago). This is a different kind of analysis, more focused on what people think of your brand. It gets at questions you might ask in a survey or interview, but it has an almost ethnographic feel of capturing the unprompted associations people make in the real world.

Measuring brand associations
Attentio chartThe basic methodology is to compare the correlations between brand names and topic keywords in search results. For example, count the number of posts that contain McDonald's, child, and obesity (and variations on each term) and compare with the results for other brands or keywords. The result is presented in charts that compare brands, show the variance by subtopic within a brand's results, and chart the associations between brands and specific subtopics.

Another sample from the Attentio site charts buzz over time. You can see how you might combine the time element with keyword correlation to see how your brand associations are changing. While defensive monitoring is arguably a PR function, this kind of research could be used to measure the results of any kind of marketing campaign in any medium.

Focus, Proximity, Languages
What's different about a European company? First, Attentio focuses on the European market, so they're attuned to the different social media trends among European countries. Their Brussels location gives them proximity to clients. They have multilingual capabilities, which not only help with monitoring and analysis, but also enable them to deliver reports in multiple languages. Good reasons for a company that needs global coverage to work with local specialists for a clear view of each region.

You can hear more from Simon on the Attentio blog and in an interview with Philippe Borremans from June 2006.

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International week continues

When the phone rings with calls from Belgium and Norway in the same day, you know that the international theme is working. It may also be contagious. This afternoon, I received an invitation (ok, a mass mailing) for a webinar on how to stage an effective webinar in Europe (a webinar on webinars? I guess it goes well with all the blogs on blogging).

If you're involved in social media monitoring, measurement and analysis outside the US, I'd like to talk to you, and if your company isn't already on the list, I really want to know about you.

International social networking

Just in time for this week's international theme, I came across something Eric Mariacher wrote about social networking in France and Germany:

The truth is that germans and frenchs are as much interested in social networking as other western countries, but they are using other networking social sites than LinkedIn.

Germans use Xing (ex-OpenBC) and frenchs use Viadeo (ex-Viaduc).


And then there are UK-based Ecademy and Google's Orkut, which is popular in Brazil. I use and recommend LinkedIn, but it's worth considering the best sites for connecting in each national market.

Update (11/30): I opened my inbox this morning to find this message from Norway:

A comment to your idea that LinkedIn may not be much used in Europe. It's the only linkage service used around here :-)

The fun touch was that the message came in the form of a LinkedIn invitation to connect. So while there are other networking services to consider around the world, let's not assume LinkedIn isn't useful. :-)

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International social media monitoring

Global is the new next door.

I've known for a long time that distance doesn't generally matter online, but there's something about getting an email from London after a recent blog post that really brings it home. I've seen international visitors to some of my other web pages for years, but the blog is more interactive, which makes the connection more vibrant. The email exchange got me thinking about the state of social media monitoring outside the US.

Blogging is decidedly not a US / English phenomenon. According to Technorati's latest State of the Blogosphere report, only 31% of blogs are written in English, while Japanese and Chinese blogs account for more than half of all blogs. The numbers come with some caveats, and they don't attempt to sort blogs by geography, but it's a reasonable interpretation that most of those blogs in other languages are written a long way from my home in North Carolina.

US-based online monitoring companies aren't limited to monitoring English-language content. I don't know how extensive their capabilities are, but multi-lingual monitoring was one of the selection criteria for the Forrester Wave on brand monitoring, so at least the need has been identified. Technorati and Edelman have teamed up to develop multi-lingual services, too, but we're still dealing with US-based companies. What's going on in the rest of the world?

Europe
From Brussels, Attentio offers social media monitoring with a focus on Europe. Scanblog offers similar services in France, where blogging has become quite popular, and in Norway, Integrasco offers social media monitoring and analysis. Reading Scanblog's "about" page was entertaining, given my rusty college French, but I was able to verify that they aren't selling radio scanners.

In the UK, I found Market Sentinel and Onalytica, coincidentally one day before Market Sentinel found me. From the looks of my site statistics and email inbox, some days I wonder if I'm based in London!

Asia
CIC data offers social media monitoring and word of mouth research for China. CIC data founder Sam Flemming also blogs at China Word of Mouth.

Richard Edelman posted observations on the Chinese and Korean blogospheres, worth reading if you have interests in those markets.


Listing companies is one thing, but I'm really curious about what's different about companies based in different countries. What's the difference between a US-based international company and a company based in a client's home market? I could guess, but instead, I'm setting up conversations with non-US monitoring companies to get a more informed perspective. Stay tuned.

While this post was sitting in my drafts folder, Jeremiah Owyang
started a list of companies that measure social media, along with a good list of requirements that should help you think about what you want from a monitoring service. Great minds, I guess. ;-)

Reactions to social media relations

I wanted reactions to the social media relations idea, and I got some:

I would add physical contact to his list of ways to deal with bloggers...
Vinnie Mirchandani, What to do with those pesky bloggers

This will involve a different way of thinking, mostly because blogging to be effective gives up control, which causes fear and uncertainty in the realm of traditional communications. It’s going to be about managing the process of the message coming to and from communities rather than the corporate marketing machine. It’s also going to be about how to communicate and integrate with the various blogging communities.
John Simonds, More on blogger relations

When company leadership eventually picks up on this the likely reaction might be to let the role fall to someone in IT... I agree that social media isn't IT, but I don't think it's marketing either. I am not sure that many marketing departments could handle this role, at least today. It's technology, marketing, customer/public relations, customer services, and even R&D and product management to some degree. The SMR will truly need to be able to bridge across many groups within an organization to be successful.
Kevin Donaldson, Social Media Relations


Not everyone likes the idea. Forrester's Peter Kim prefers to reinvent marketing:
Social media relations means that the public relations function—and other departments—need to get used to a two-way dialogue with consumers. This can only happen through a cultural shift in communication strategy, along with guidelines to help people get started.

Actually, Peter and I agree on that point. Social media relations is the label I'm using for the responsibilities of a company's point person for social media. The label and org chart considerations will vary by company, as shown by the community marketing program at Hitachi Data Systems. Evangelizing the culture shift and promoting engagement guidelines (not just WOMMA's guidelines but the company's social media strategy) should be central to the SMR role.

As I wrote in the original post, this is an idea for discussion. What do you think? How do companies get up to speed on the rapidly changing world of social media as it affects their business? Is SMR a needed specialty?

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"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Only that's not fair to the hammer. A blacksmith can use a hammer to make a nail—or a hinge, or a piece of sculpture. A jeweler can use a hammer to make a gold leaf. A hammer drives the chisel of the stone carver. OK, there are different types of specialized hammers. The point is, some very similar tools can be used for very different purposes by different specialists. Online monitoring tools are like that, too.

Last Thursday, two online monitoring companies held simultaneous webcasts. Makes it tough on the schedule (what was wrong with all the other hours last week?), but it was interesting to see the different topics chosen by companies with similar services.

First up (because I had to pick) was Mining the Blogosphere, with Umbria's Howard Kaushansky and Brains on Fire's Geno Church. They painted a picture of blog monitoring as a near-real-time market research tool for marketers. Two examples stuck with me: a CPG company measuring online buzz to determine that a competitor's product launch was failing, and BoF gauging before-and-after visibility of Fiskars for a word-of-mouth program.

Cymfony's Jim Nail, meanwhile, was hosting The Changing Face of PR, where social media were discussed as one of three big trends affecting PR (the social media section starts at 40:30, if you want to skip ahead). There were some pretty clear expectations that blog monitoring is at least partly a PR function, and some very interesting data points from the 2006 PRWeek/Cymfony Corporate Survey (PDF):

  • Over 40% of respondents listed "developing a media relations program for new technologies (e.g., blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc.)" as a top-of-mind media issue for 2007 (#5 on the list).

  • But 62% don't have a strategy for responding to blogs today, and regular blog monitoring is not a habit for most companies:

    • 25% don't monitor blogs for mentions of their companies at all.

    • 34% monitor blogs less than weekly.

    • Only 16% monitor blogs at least daily.

  • Blog monitoring serves multiple purposes, but the majority cited buzz tracking and reputation management as their goals. Over 40% also cited competitive insight, customer understanding, crisis prevention/detection, and awareness of developing brands as additional goals.

I don't think any one functional group is going to have an exclusive claim to a company's social media activities; it affects too many functional areas for that. The idea of my social media relations suggestion is that someone needs to be the point person for getting the company up to speed in social media and coordinating its responses to the issues that emerge.

It's certainly interesting to see the same topics from the perspectives of different functional groups. I think it's about time to go get the IT perspective.

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Quote of the week

Next Fifteen Communications CEO Tim Dyson on corporate blogging:

The notion of every company having a blog is a good one, if you assume that every corporation wants to communicate.

Quoted by PRWeek news editor Keith O'Brien during Cymfony's webcast on The Changing Face of PR last week.

Real-world social media relations

I wrote defining social media relations as something of a hypothetical, to test the idea of a new role responsible for coordinating a company's interactions with the market through social media. Today, I read a very similar description from someone who's been doing the job.

Jeremiah Owyang initiated the community marketing program at Hitachi Data Systems. Today, he shared his definition of the community manager role (follow the link for his commentary):

  1. Listen to find out what customers are saying.
  2. Respond quickly when appropriate.
  3. Inform stakeholders in the company what’s happening.
  4. Shut up and sit back.
  5. Listen more.

I wanted to talk with Jeremiah about how the program is working out, but he's kind of busy now—taking great pictures in Asia and handling the transition to his new job at Podtech. When he announced the move on his blog, he wrapped up his experience in a way that really captures the attitude companies need toward social media:
We’ve launched thought leader blogs, user forums, and other tools that reach to customers for an open dialogue that will help us to listen to customers and build better products and services.

If you want to have a happy experience in social media, emulating Jeremiah's attitudes toward online communities will serve you well.

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Careful with your dates

There's something vaguely troubling about PROMO magazine's Annual Industry Trends Report page.

PROMOEverything is dated April 1.

(Looking down the page...)

Everything. And not just this year.

Do they really release it on April 1 every year? The most credibility-challenged day of the year?

You have to know that there's a real tradition of April Fool's items on the Internet. I wouldn't recommend releasing anything serious with that date on it. April 2, fine. April 1 is for the gerbil mouthwash announcements.

Lessons from Wal-Mart's latest

There's this big company—Wal-Mart—and they sometimes attract the wrong kind of attention. This week, bloggers are writing about t-shirts with a Nazi symbol found in a Wal-Mart store. Follow the link if you want to know the story; I'm going to focus on what we can learn from it. Because of Wal-Mart's high profile, this story makes it easy to see how online buzz works.

Blogger Rick Rottman explains the appeal of the story in a Consumerist interview:

RICK: I guess people just love good Walmart slash Nazi stories, you know.

CONSUMERIST: Perfect Venn diagram for the blogosphere. Sweet spot! Yes!


The Hugh MacLeod cartoon draws itself, doesn't it? So this story was born prominent. For the rest of us who don't share Wal-Mart's exposure, what can we learn?
  1. Any blogger can become highly visible with the right story.
    Rottman posted his original item on the social news site Digg, which sent him over 55,000 readers in one day. The many links to his posts boosted his rankings and influence ratings went from approximately nowhere to very influential, and they will stay there for a few months, regardless of his future posts and readership. He could also leverage his current visibility to become a long-term influential blogger on Wal-Mart. Any tool you use to measure the influence of bloggers needs to be able to detect a sudden increase in influence.

  2. Bloggers will report on blogger relations efforts.
    Rottman posted the full text of an email from Edelman, along with some research into the sender's background and his observations on Wal-Mart's response. The days of PR pros working behind the curtain are over, at least online. You will be judged not only on your original actions but also your follow-up actions.

  3. All kinds of people read blogs.
    One side effect was a rush by neo-Nazis to buy the t-shirts at Wal-Mart.

  4. Topics of interest spread.
    If you want to follow the conversations springing from Rottman's post, you need to read many blogs (and comments). You also need to read over 170 comments on Digg, where much of the conversation has focused on free speech (in favor of Wal-Mart).

  5. Blogs provide an early warning system.
    True, this all started with a blog post, and a lot of people know about it. But the consensus seems to be that mistakes will happen, and Wal-Mart is responding appropriately (although there were some complaints about taking a few days to get the shirts out of the stores). When mainstream media picked up the story, the headline was Wal-Mart pulls T-shirts with Nazi skull logo, and the company was able to apologize and explain their plan to correct the situation in the initial reports. If they didn't read the blogs, the initial reports could have been far more difficult for the company.

Interactions between PR folks and social media have been a real source of interest to me lately. There's a lot of heat, which I suppose is a blogosphere delicacy, and a little light. I found a tidy summary of the problem:

PR and marketing have a terrible reputation among people, and bloggers in particular... The problem is that so much of PR and marketing has become about “message control” and “driving the conversation,” when the whole joy of “social media” is that the conversation is much less controllable now. We’re people, we don’t LIKE having our conversations driven by others, after all.

But that said, what DO we want from PR? Are we prepared to stop freaking out every time someone in PR or marketing wants to engage with us? We don’t want control, but aside from that, we can’t really tell PR and marketing what we DO want.

Tiffany Baxendell Bridge


It's convenient to assume that bloggers and other early adopters of social media have it all figured out and that the challenge for business is to learn the new environment. It's more complicated than that. Everyone is figuring this out as we go along.

Here's an idea: let's start with the assumption that we're interacting with people—not labels, straw men, or evil interlopers. Whether you approach things from the blogger side or from a business perspective, it's too easy to stereotype the other. A little understanding, combined with what you learned in kindergarten, would go a long way.

Defining social media relations

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How does your company approach social media? We've looked at how to respond to bloggers and who does blogger relations, and I'm seeing the need for a coordinating role. Rather than blogger relations, let's call it social media relations, because there's more to social media than blogs, and your company needs to be prepared to engage customers wherever they are. In this post, I'll provide a high-level view—for discussion—of the role of social media relations.

Companies can interact with social media in a variety of ways. I've given some examples in the posts on product reviews, Wikipedia, search engine crisis management, and social networks. You could also look at the marketing experiments in MySpace and Second Life and the Social Media Release. There's a lot of activity, and it touches multiple functional groups and multiple vendors to the company.

I view social media relations (SMR) as an interdisciplinary specialty that spans marketing, technology, and Internet culture—three components of any successful strategy for engaging social media. It's probably an internal function, but where it belongs on the org chart and how big it should be is a question for individual companies to consider. Briefly, SMR is the "go-to" person (or group) for the topic of social media as it affects the company. Here's a summary of the responsibilities of the role:

  1. Coordinate the development and implementation of social media engagement strategy and policies, including blogging policy, formal blogger relations programs and social media monitoring programs.

    1. Maintain domain knowledge in social media. Be a resource for others who need to understand new services and their potential impact on the business.

    2. Maintain awareness of company's activities in social media and contacts for the various activities.

    3. Be an advocate for the understanding of social media and how they affect the company's marketing and communications activities.

    4. Engage the company's IT organization to coordinate IT resources and policies with social media strategy.

  2. Train functional groups (such as marketing, communications, and HR) on the technology and culture of social media as it relates to their roles.

  3. Coordinate company's tactical response to social media issues.

    1. Consult with internal groups on appropriate responses to social media issues. Advise on the likely response of online communities to the company's plan.

    2. Coordinate company response to social media crises; track engagement by appropriate groups (internal and external).

  4. Serve as the primary contact for external service providers and vendors who support the monitoring of, and engagement with social media.

This year, when most CEOs don't see the need to interact with bloggers and fear social media (if they understand it at all), this is ahead of the curve. While we're still sorting this out among friends, what do you think?

[Thanks to Mark Harris for his help in reviewing and reorganizing the list. With enough of us on the case, we may just get this figured out.]

Update (27 July 2007): Is this your job, or close to it? I'm looking for social media specialists to interview for an upcoming paper on the role and how real companies have approached it. If you're the social media person in your company, I'd like to talk with you, even—especially—if your description is different from the above.

Who does blogger relations?

As I wrote responding to bloggers, I was thinking about the different relationships bloggers can have with the companies they write about. "Blogger relations" as a distinct discipline with full responsibility for engaging bloggers is probably impossible, because there are too many variations on the relationship. Bloggers play different roles, which companies will need to engage appropriately. The challenge will become assigning and coordinating efforts to engage bloggers and, more broadly, social media.

As Vinnie Mirchandani points out, "There is a big difference between monitoring blog world and developing relations with it." The problem is scale; there are just too many bloggers to treat us all alike. I think the solution is going to involve segmenting the blogosphere, tailoring your response to the segment, and triage based on influence or other factors.

Here's a quick list of roles that a blogger might play:

  • Journalist
  • Analyst
  • Customer
  • Competitor
  • Partner
  • Supporter
  • Opponent

And just to keep things interesting, a blogger might change hats for any given post.

James Governor described how SAP engages bloggers at events for journalists and analysts and in its developer (partner) program. We've seen blog monitoring for proactive customer service. How about the others? Is segmenting bloggers by the role they play helpful for deciding how to engage them?

John Simonds looks at a similar question from an organizational perspective and doesn't reach a conclusion. In a large company with distinct communications, analyst relations, investor relations, and other outreach functions, "blogger relations" touches them all. And then there's customer service—remember the issues that started with dissatisfied customers? In smaller companies with fewer communications roles, the problem is simpler, but there's still the need to connect with other functions.

Maybe "blogger relations" is a coordinating function—monitoring, analyzing, and tracking a company's engagements with bloggers while existing functions engage the bloggers in their spheres.

Update: I've outlined the responsibilities for a social media relations role in a new post.

Link detection in web stats

I subscribe to over 50 vanity feeds to detect when someone mentions me or links to one of my sites, but it's not enough. Today, Market Sentinel picked up the Hasbro case, and the search engines haven't found it yet. I expect that they will, but the opportunity for a same-day response came from my web statistics service.

The usual application of statistics in a blog is to provide an ego boost to the blogger. More people are reading this blog this month than last month, which convinces me that I'm not just writing to myself. But the service gives me more information than that. It collects information on where my readers are (Austria and the UK, this morning). It tells me which pages people read and the search queries that lead them to the site, which is useful for identifying topics. And, the point of this post, it tells me the page that linked to my site.

Search engines take time to find new content. Server logs and analytics packages collect incoming link information in real-time. If you want to know when someone links to your site (not just blogs), you need to look at your server data to catch the connections the search engines miss. Even if your site gets a lot of traffic, today's analytics tools make the analysis easy.

Oh, and if you're concerned about privacy, one thing that these tools do not collect is any personally identifying information. I don't see your name or email address, for example, unless you give them to me in a comment.

Responding to bloggers

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Have you thought about how your company should deal with bloggers? We've seen how an issue that starts on a blog can become front-page news, so I hope you don't think that ignoring blogs is a good strategy. So, before you're in crisis mode, how do you plan to respond to blogs that talk about you?

First, you have choices, and let's be clear that starting your own blog is only one (optional) piece of your strategy. James Governor lists some general approaches in a blogger relations piece that also features the examples of some high-profile computer industry companies (via David Churbuck). For the moment, let's think about companies that want to engage and influence bloggers. Here are some strategies to consider:

Online reputation monitoring
Let's start with the basics: you need to know what's being said about you before you can decide how to respond. Monitoring social media (not just blogs) is a no-brainer. Too many executives don't realize it, but the examples of companies who've experienced crises that started online demonstrate the stakes. It doesn't have to be hard; every day I discover another company that wants to help you (today it was Kalivo).

When you find a blogger writing about your company (broadly defined) or your industry, how do you respond? I'll consider the broader question of blogger relations in another post. For now, let's consider some strategies for responding to specific blogs and posts.

Silence
Most enthusiastic bloggers won't recommend this approach, but some companies are better off not engaging bloggers in any way. You probably already know if that describes your business. Silence may also be the right reaction to persistent critics and unknown bloggers (hence the interest in influence among reputation-monitoring firms). You have to decide which bloggers and posts merit a response, but few companies should adopt silence as a general policy.

Commenting
You don't have to have a blog to participate. When you find a blogger writing about your company (or your business), leave a well-thought-out comment. You'll show that your company is paying attention and cares enough to participate, but you won't have the demands of your own blog. Fred Wilson posed the question of whether a company should correct inaccuracies. The ensuing discussion touches on some of the issues that you'll want to consider.

Commenting also works to increase the visibility of your company; you don't have to wait for a post about your company to comment. Just be careful not to be too self-serving; the "spam" label isn't a good addition to any wardrobe.

Blogging
Creating your own blog, whether personal or corporate, is the total commitment approach to joining the conversation. You can respond with a full post of your own. A well-placed comment linked to your longer response respects the original blogger's contribution and directs readers to your response, too. For longer-lasting issues you can post updates that respond to the changing situation. Business blogging is about much more than responding to critical bloggers, but it does give you additional options and credibility in dealing with bloggers.

The back channel
You don't always have to respond in public. Most bloggers are reachable by email. If one posts a complaint about your company, you could use direct contact to address the issue before any public response. This is especially important with critical posts that are based on customer-service problems. The back channel is also effective for proactive engagement with bloggers in your sphere, especially when combined with your blog.

Traditional media
I have a quizzical look as I write this, but if your controversy is playing out on blogs and in the media, you could respond with traditional methods and let bloggers get your side from mainstream media. It's probably better to address the issue in the medium where it appears, though, which means you should consider addressing social media separately.



The short answer to almost every interesting question is, "it depends," and the question of how to deal with critical bloggers is no exception. My hope here is to get you thinking about your options when it comes to reacting to bloggers. Next, we'll look at the broader topic of blogger relations and how you can move beyond a reactive stance to interact with bloggers more productively.

Update: I've outlined the responsibilities for a social media relations role in a new post.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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