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What Is Social Currency and Why Should You Care?

Social currency essentially attempts (like any smart CMO) to link a brand’s social presence, credibility and likability with its profitability.

It has little to do with how many followers, friends of fans you have. And more to do with how you treat your customers and potential customers and ultimately how they value you as a business or commodity. The more advocates you have and the more vocal or influential they are, the greater your social currency.

Why You Should Care

It allows brands to stay on top of fluidity in the marketplace. This helps determining what a brand needs to change in order to stay on top and helps with longer-term customer relationship management (CRM).

How to Do it Right

FastCompany does a fine job of highlighting a few things to think about when planning to maximize your social currency.

Basically:

1. Determine whether you need to be in the socialscape. It really comes down to your product and where your customers are.

2. Figure out when and where. There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. Learn your audience’s consumption habits to help with this.

3. Make it sincere. Humor is good – if it’s believable. Remember, you want credibility. If you can find a way to make it both entertaining and honest, you’re golden.

4. Make it useful. Give me tools or information that will help me do something faster, better, easier, etc. and I’m more likely to keep listening and maybe even share those tips on your behalf.

5. Get the right people to like you. It only takes a few — sometimes one — influential fans or non-fans to make or break you. If that fan has a lot of clout with her own followers and is vocal about you, you’ll get extended reach through her.

If you’re a brand participating in social media, you have a social currency. Question is: are you doing the right things to keep the currency flowing?

5 Questions To Ask Your Social Media Candidate

When it comes to creating an impactful social presence, you get what you pay for. Anyone can attribute social media expertise to being active on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network. But expertise goes beyond simple engagement.

Here are some questions to ask when determining the right person to work with your company.

How would you handle:

  1. An obscene comment on our blog?
  2. A negative comment about our organization?
  3. A bad experience with our product/service?
  4. Questions about our product/service?
  5. Low engagement?

It’s important to set-up diverse scenarios and think about risk planning before you launch your social media plan. What-if scenarios can be scary and hopefully they’ll never happen. But with the speed and domino effect of social media, you’ll be thankful you have them if something should occur.

Your ideal candidate needs to know your products/service and company well. And she needs to know who she can call upon in the company when she doesn’t know the answer.

You’ll also want this person to help you develop concrete content plans, including engagement activities. Plans should also include integration into and collaboration with other digital – and sometimes traditional — media. That means looking at the entire marketing and communications plan as a whole. It also involves understanding target audiences beyond demographics. What is going to interest your audience enough to cause them to take action?

These are just a few critical questions to think about when determining whether to budget for an intern or someone with real-world marketing experience.

What questions are you asking candidates?

So You Think You Can Blog

Everybody’s doing it. With loads of free platform-providers to choose from (WordPress, Typepad, LiveJournal, Blogger — just to name a few), anybody can do it. But not everybody (read: company) should.

Before setting up your blog you need to answer these questions:

1. What’s your schtick?

Clearly define what your blog is about and what it is not. Think of topics and subtopics. Do you have enough material to keep it going?

2. Have you done your research?

Who else is doing a blog on the same thing? What can you learn from them? How can you differentiate yourself?

3. Who do you want to read it?

You need a primary audience and a secondary audience. Of course there will always be unexpected guests. If you’re worried about those unintended targets reading your material, you need to rethink your blog.

4. What’s your goal?

It could be to educate, create awareness, increase sales/volunteers/participation/consideration, receive feedback or build community. It can have a combination of objectives, but I would limit it to not more than three. And make sure they are clearly defined.

5. Who will manage it?

You’ll need writers and an Editor(s) at a minimum. The more writers you have, the easier it’ll be to populate your blog. Your Editor should be passionate about the blog enough to keep it going. She’ll manage the content calendar, secure writers and posts, brainstorm article ideas, edit and write posts when necessary.

6. How often will you post?

If you want to attract readers and keep them coming back you need good content, but you also need consistent content. Set a cadence and maintain it or exceed it, but try not to fall below that. Once you lose a reader, chances are, you won’t get them back.

7. How will you get the word out?

Once you have a blog, you need to get readers. Use your existing social media profiles if your fans/followers are part of your target. If they are not, consider setting up new profiles that tie to your blog. Note that you’ll need to manage these new profiles just as you would your blog, though. They take attention and content strategy as well. Of course, these are just a few ways to build awareness and clicks. There are many other ways worth considering.

Once you answer these questions, you’ll be on your way to a better blog.

Why Glee Lives Up To Its Name

The Fox hit TV show Glee has social down. The team behind their social strategy and implementation knows their audience and they’re giving them what they crave. Here’s why it’s making so many teens happy.

1. The creator did his homework — socially. In a recent Oprah interview, Ryan Murphy (one of the creators) stated how he combed the web for inspiration. He watched tons of YouTube show choir videos to see real life talent.

2. They do social right. Glee is not the first show to create social profiles for their fictional characters (read: Mad Men). Still, they stick to character and make it worthwhile to follow. Fan their Facebook page or follow the show on Twitter and you’ll get cool extras, such as premiere party pics, preview clips and more. Follow one of the characters (like Rachel Berry or Sue Sylvester) and you’ll get a daily dose of your favorite personalities. Each character even has his own Facebook page.

3. They build community. Gleeks everywhere have created profiles on Fox’s site to show their love of Glee. The community spotlights members, bubbles up recent activity and most active members and encourages members to contribute and interact with each other. You’ll also find a plethora of fans on YouTube posting tribute videos.

4. They involve fans. First with a wiki. That fans can edit. Second with an open call for auditions. That’s right. If you want to appear on the show’s second season, record one of Glee’s top tunes and upload it to MySpace.

When you want to keep your theme, tone and enthusiasm for your brand (in this case Glee) going strong online, remember all that Glee has done right.

Making Face Time. And Making It Again.

Often clients are hesitant to associate a face — and name — with their brand. Especially someone whom they’ve recently hired solely to work on building their brand socially. Why can’t I just use my logo? What if this person decides to leave the position? Both are good questions and the latter one of valid concern.

Let me tackle the logo question first. Logos are, well, boring. If anyone wants to fan or follow your brand, I can bet they are already familiar with your logo. Give them an interesting icon that re-indentifies your brand with something they want to be a part of.

Here’s where a real person can make an impact. When the right person is enlisted, they can connect the brand with causes, personality, passion and captivating content.

Here are three companies that have embraced people as their brand’s voice:
1. Ford was smart when they picked Scott Monty. He’s helped build their social presence and allowed them to continue to introduce new ways to connect that are person-agnostic.

2. Zappos‘ CEO Tony Hsieh has done a tremendous job at giving followers an insight to what both he and the company are up to. A good mix of real life and interestingness.

3. Kodak enlisted blogger and design aficionado Jennifer Cisney to interact on Twitter. Too bad they didn’t do the same for their Facebook Fan page.

If you must forgo the real person, here are some examples of brands using their product to identify themselves:
1. Mad Men. I love that they’ve used a picture of Don Draper. I would take it even farther by rotating pictures of the cast and lose the “Mad Men” type. It’s not crisp and  doesn’t look polished.

2. Vitamin Water. They embrace what’s current. The NCAA basketball tells me they support the tournament in some way and I get it right away.

3. Seventeen (and on Twitter), Elle, Glamour. All (and I’m sure other magazines are doing this as well) tell me what I can find inside the most current issue. In a round about way, this is connecting the brand with a person.

4. Panera Bread. Yum. Yum. Need I say more?

So back to the question about letting your social community bond with your brand evangelist only to have the ambassador give you two weeks notice down the road. The key is to maintain your community and be transparent with them. Here’s how:

1. If there’s time, allow the brand evangelist to inform the community of the change about to happen. This should be done with a plan in mind.
2. If someone new will be taking over, allow the current evangelist to introduce the new person.
3. If 1 and 2 are not options, a brand representative should engage with the community and identify themselves as such.
4. If sentiment and metrics show that the community is healthy with a brand evangelist, it’s best to maintain that humanistic approach.
5. Consider your biggest advocates inside the community as possible candidates. But note their (in)experience in actual community management.

Remember, it takes time for fans and followers to connect with a real person. While you’ll want your brand evangelists to evoke the same passion for the brand, they shouldn’t be doppelgangers. Therefore, your community dynamic may evolve. And that’s just part of real community.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

Is Listening Enough?

Toyota_sentiment.jpg
Since the recall of 12 vehicles beginning January 26, the volume of discussion in social media around Toyota has grown significantly and sentiment is trending extremely negative. This drop in sentiment was a leading indicator of sales which fell 8.7% YOY in February.

So far they have taken the appropriate steps with traditional PR and have web page addressing the recall, but I have not seen as much engagement in social media as I would have expected. There have been few tweets or facebook posts in response to the numerous comments. Toyota shut down their corporate blog “Open Road” several months ago. Although it was not getting much traffic, it would have been a great forum for discussion with customers right now.

Toyota_Volume.jpg
AdAge recently reported that Toyota has established a social media response team consisting of “six to eight people monitoring the online conversation and responding at all times.” Toyota is reaching out to advocates by retweeting and reposting their positive content.

In addition Toyota is partnering with Federated Media to host a branded channel called “Toyota Conversations” on TweetMeme. As TechCrunch noted, the feed looks mostly positive signaling that they might be pulling in the more “friendlier ones.”

But is that enough to help flip the negative sentiment? Turning that negativity isn’t something Toyota can do overnight. It’s going to take time to regain that trust and loyalty. They are headed in the right direction by dedicating a full-time staff to respond. And Doug Frisbie, Toyota Motor Sales USA’s national social media and marketing integration manager, seems to be the right guy heading it all up. He understands that listening to customers is key. In time, however, you need to take your engagement beyond listening. Here are some more ideas that could help regain that trust and bring back loyalty:

1. Take Customer Service to Twitter. Set up a Twitter customer service channel specifically to answer customer’s questions about their vehicles

2. Utilize Your Dealers. Set up a Twitter channel where dealers can also join in and help promote the company’s good faith in trying to repair the problems. Best Buy has done something similar with their Geek Squad Twelpforce.

3. Open the Dialogue. Allow customers to post feedback, questions or concerns on Toyota’s Recall site. Toyota could engage in meaningful dialogue right on its own site.

We can see how all three could be seemingly scary for the brand. But engaging — carefully and honestly — is the only way to help shift that negative sentiment. How do you think Toyota should be engaging with customers right now?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds. Co-authored with Russ Hopinkson.

Social Media Taste Test: Coke Vs. Pepsi

cokevspepsi.jpgimage adapted from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackol/

There’s long been a war in the cola arena between Coca-Cola and Pepsi and the battle to win the heartiest social fan base will be the next interesting milestone to unfold between the two.

A UK blog reported that Coke is devoting more to their social marketing efforts this year. Specifically it’s focusing on community platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. And Pepsi said no to Super Bowl ads this year in favor of a $20 million social media budget.

Pepsi’s money is going towards a grassroots program they’re calling Pepsi Refresh. It not only hopes to build a community online, the company plans to sponsor thousands of local efforts. Pepsi has six professional ambassadors that have already accomplished something significant in their category (health, arts & culture, food & shelter, the planet, neighborhoods, education). They write posts for the site to inspire readers to submit ideas and discuss. Pepsi’s capping the idea submissions at 1000 each month — maybe to encourage fair voting, maybe to help them manage the submissions?

Though this isn’t PepsiCo’s first attempt at social. They launched the DEWmocracy campaign in 2007 as a crowdsourcing effort to develop a new product. Now they’re doing it again using 12seconds.tv, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Nike is moving more towards social media as well. To play off the current “Deny Destiny” TV spot,  Organic filmed exclusive interviews with players and redesigned the Canadian site to include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube components. Nike also enlisted Steve “Dangle” Glynn, a popular hockey blogger and YouTube personality, to blog and tweet about the World Juniors.

For the Olympics, NikeTraining rolled-out the Nike TwitterStream for each athlete for each event. On each athlete page — while they compete — there’s relevant tweets for fans to follow while they watch the games. You can participate by using designated hashtags.

Creative Director Elliott Smith says their redesigned Canadian site “is meant to be just one part of visitors’ online experience, rather than the hub. Comments for the videos are duplicated on Facebook, because that’s where the target market ‘lives and breathes every day,’”

Colleague Karri Ojanen doesn’t think brands should rely singly on social media to connect with their customers. “The clients and agencies who can think of their decisions in terms of not just the individual tools, but the whole toolkit, and put it together with their own unique situation are the ones who will win. Coke’s Prinz Pinakatt and Unilever’s Cheryl Calverley seem to both understand that. They’re not completely doing away with sites, but recognize the need to emphasize connections instead of a fairly static campaign property.”

Sandy Marsh struggles “with there being any division anymore. The whole of the internet is social. What would be revolutionary is a brand that obliterates the divide rather than chooses one side or the other. I’m not saying I know quite how that can be done, but…”

Craig Ritchie agrees that brands will “benefit from moving away from the old model of buying traffic for short-term experiences,” but thinks these examples still seem “like channel-based thinking.” Brands that continue to adapt to consumer behavior rather than trying to interrupt it with messaging will be the ones to attract and sustain the fans. Starbucks, LEGO, Toyota and Dell (just to name a few) are already looking at the digital experience holistically. And these — so far — are the strongest in social media.

So who will win the social cola war? It might not be a clear cut champion. One might reign on Facebook, while the other might top Twitter. But really, it’s how they use those tools and what (besides fans) that they hope to gain. As Forrester puts it, Pepsi “is putting Social Media to work for a higher goal–making the world a better place and associating the brand with that vision.” They are taking social media seriously and thinking about the bigger picture.

Do you think companies are smart to devote more dollars to social?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

What Is Twitter Now?

Is Twitter a social network or blog? That’s how the conversation started here at Organic…and it blew up from there.

A Social Network
If you consider the definition of a blog from Wikipedia, most of us would agree that a blog it is not. Look at their social network definition. It connects individuals by “one or more specific types of interdependency.” Think friends, family, colleagues, beliefs, interests…

Neither a Blog Nor A Social Network
While some of us at Organic argured that Twitter is a social network, David Lewis pointed out that it lacks one crucial element of what most of them offer: the ability to see the whole conversation. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone use an obscure hashtag. If the tweet is intriguing enough I may search the hashtag and try to sift through the conversation to figure out what they’re really talking about. The majority of the time this doesn’t work. I leave the page just as confused as when I entered. Just like in the real world it’s not always easy to edge your way into conversations.

To add to the social confusion, it’s tough to follow complete conversations. I haven’t found one place that displays the complete thread of a conversation between two or more people on Twitter. You see @so&so respond to @her and you wonder what it is that @her asked in the first place. Because of all of this Lori Laurent Smith feels the company should coin a completely “new phrase to define itself.”

Marta Strickland thinks “platform” best categorizes it. And that might be the closest as it’s the tool people are using in three distinct ways. It’s the people who use it most often who are really defining it.

For One-Way Blasts
Clearly everyone has a different view of what twitter is [to them]. It is what you make it. It’s no more than an entertainment channel to some. They might be simply reading for enjoyment or posting into the abyss. Others are onboard to stay informed or absorb learnings from experts in their industry. In both cases, it acts as a distribution channel.

For Two-Way Dialogues
Direct Messages allow two people to carry on a completely closed conversation. I’ve seen a couple brands use this as a way to send their RSS feeds. Okay, so I see the blast more readily, but why wouldn’t you want to include the rest of the Twitter Universe in on the news? Not the most effect use of two-way conversation.

For Multi-Way Conversations
Twitter is also good at facilitating the exchange of ideas. More people are accessing Twitter via various channels (think Seesmic, TweetDeck and TweekGrid, just to name a few) in order to do this more effectively. Organized Twitter Parties use the platform as a kind of live chat, so even if you’re not following someone, you can join in the conversation using a predetermined hashtag. Usually a moderator presents questions or thought-starters in an attempt to keep the conversation on track. Still, it can be tough to keep up. Read a transcript and you’ll see what I mean.

Twitter Now
Twitter is evolving. It’s not the same today as it was when it was started back in 2006. So, it’s not surprising that we have so much trouble defining it. Craig Ritchie claims, “Twitter owns the now.” For some, true. If you’re interested in the conversation right now, then it has you.

But I can bet that your definition of twitter has even changed now that you’ve read this. What was Twitter to you one year ago? What is Twitter to you now?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds. Thanks to David, Lori, Marta and Craig for their viewpoints on this subject.

A Portal To The Chairman: Virgin Makes It Social

virgincompanies.jpgVirgin Companies have built a web portal that not only represents the Virgin brand really well, it’s a simple way to see and interact with all the Virgin companies  — and by “all” I mean all 80 of them.

That’s a big undertaking with potential for clutter, chaos and agnostic branding. Many brands have attempted and succeeded in the latter three, but Virgin does it fluidly with a series of comprehensively categorized drop-down menus that guide users through a plethora of related content and interaction options.

Why it works:

1. They make it easy. It’s experiential and easy to navigate fairly complex content. A single sign-on allows users to add their thoughts on any of their companies.

2. They make it entertaining. Lifestyle categorization teamed with various ways for users to voice their thoughts and see what others think of the posts allows users to really feel part of the brand. Plus it’s completely aligned with and supportive of the brand.

3. They consider their audience. It pays attention to all types of users by having a more traditional navigation easily accessible.

4. They interact. Virgin posts new articles regularly, giving users something to respond to. The brand fosters commenting on and rating articles, contributing and asking the founder and chairman questions. Users can “Ask Richard” anything.

Transparency is front and center as the site reveals both answered (responses with Richard’s icon and handle) and pending questions. Similarly in “Quick Talk,” users not only post questions they want Richard to answer. They can also reply with their own answer and vote on the best questions and answers.

Closing the loop even further, Branson blogs on the site regularly, giving a personal glimpse inside his daily happenings.

It’s nice to see a corporate site break the bland, boring portal mode and become more cultural and conversational. I can think of a few others that could use a make over like this. Can you?

NOTE: This originally appeared on Threeminds. Co-authored with Bill Camp.

Museums Should Encourage Exploration Through Socialization

Orange County Library’s Guide by Cell audio tour

How often do you visit a museum alone? Me? I honestly can’t recall if I ever have. I usually find someone I can talk into seeing the latest art exhibit or science exhibit with me. And that’s part of the joy of seeing the exhibit — being able to talk about it with someone.

I was at Cranbrook Institute of Science Friday evening. It was the first time I had been there in probably close to 10 years and not much had changed…except I noticed a seemingly small addition to one of the text descriptions. A phone number with a call to action to use your mobile and hear more about the exhibit. I didn’t take advantage of this because I was trying to keep a rambunctious 2-year-old from running too far out of my sight. But it was very intriguing.

For The Pre-Planners
There’s been a growing trend for museums to offer audio guides as free podcasts. MoMa has a pretty comprehensive, growing collection of both audio and video guides via iTunes. Not sure when I’ll see the collection in person, but I’m tempted to listen to the podcast nonetheless. That poses a problem for spontaneous visitors (as was my case with the science museum trip with my son).

For the Spontaneous
I often get sucked into renting the laborious, sometimes over-priced audio guides. However, I’d love to ditch those for something more portable, personal and… spontaneous.

Say you are browsing a museum and stumble upon a piece that truly intrigues you and the write up just doesn’t do it justice. You don’t want to know everything about every piece in the museum. But maybe it’s just that one piece. Your mobile phone is resting quietly in your pocket. Bingo.

If the information on the mobile recording is comprehensive, I would love to see this in more museums that you only visit once in an eon. It would have especially come in handy on my recent trip to Rome and Florence. Before I left, I downloaded Rick Steve’s podcasts on The Roman Forum, The Sistine Chapel, The Academia and The Uffizi Gallery. We visited even more museums than that and more than once I was left wondering what significance the piece I was looking at held.

What’s Missing
Still, whatever happened to unguided immersions? Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” I realize that guides are meant to entice more people to visit and understand what’s being shown at a museum. Why stop there? Instead of only education, museums should be encouraging immersion, conversation.

Here are some ways they could prompt conversation about your visit:
1. With tickets, give visitors a conversation starter. Something like, “What’s your favorite piece and why?” You could even have them text their answer to display on the museum’s website.
2. Create an app that uses the GPS on your phone track your route thru the museum. It then updates your Facebook status telling your friends what you’re looking at with picture of a main piece in that area. It also asks them what they think of the piece.
3. Allow visitors to text their thoughts about key pieces from their phone. Reviews are displayed on a video monitor in the lobby or cafe of the museum and also on the museum’s website and social properties.

Increasing Awareness
Talking about the exhibits increases awareness, leads to exposure. This is good for the museums, curators and artists. Aren’t you more likely to make it to a special exhibit if someone you know is talking about it?

When you’re visiting a museum this weekend — yes, please step away from your screen and get out there and take in an exhibit or two — take a look at how many people are actually talking with someone else about the work.

What are more ways curators could make their exhibits more social?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.

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