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How to set effective corporate social media objectives

iStock_000014421434LargeWhiteMany organisations active in social media fail to understand the need to set clear objectives for their participation, putting the desire to join in before considering why they are bothering in the first place. It’s an understandable approach in some ways; social technologies develop incredibly quickly and no self-respecting marketer wants to be seen to be behind the curve. And with agencies and software vendors even more eager to demonstrate their capabilities, it’s easy to get sucked into employing social technologies for their own sake before at the very least having an idea of what it is you are trying to achieve.

In the excellent book Groundswell, Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li outlined five objectives that companies could pursue:

  • Listening – to gain a better understanding of your customers
  • Talking – to spread messages about your company
  • Energizing – to accelerate word of mouth among enthusiasts
  • Supporting – to help customers support each other
  • Embracing – to integrate customers into business operations

Josh and Charlene argued that each of these five objectives correspond to existing business functions – research, marketing, sales, support and development respectively – the only difference being that they require a new level of engagement with the customer, using the social technologies that those customers are now using to communicate with each other.

What are objectives anyway?

The problem I have with these is that they aren’t really objectives. For me, listening, talking, energizing, supporting and embracing are things that an organization may choose to do in order to achieve a goal, but they’re not the goals themselves. Anyone familiar with ‘SMART’ objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) can see that a listening objective expressed as ‘gain a better understanding of my customers’ isn’t specific and cannot be measured in anything other than a binary response (you either gained a better understanding or you didn’t). A more substantive approach to objective setting is therefore required.

There is a multitude of social media marketing objectives for just about every business, so it’s impossible for me to tell you what yours should be. However, I suggest that they can all be stated in terms of three different – although not mutually exclusive – categories.

Financial objectives

Objectives that are intended to derive revenue or save cost. An example could be to increase market share for a particular product by a specific number of percentage points, or to save $250,000 in distribution costs. Financial objectives are usually communicated in money or percentages and can be relative or absolute (e.g. increase or decrease by a certain amount, or achieve a specific number of sales/leads).

Reputation objectives

Objectives that contribute towards increasing or protecting the reputation of the company. Examples here might include increasing brand preference amongst a customer segment, or reducing the rate of customer churn. Reputational objectives are often communicated in relative terms (e.g. increases or decreases), but can also be absolute (e.g. something happened or didn’t happen).

Knowledge objectives

Objectives that enhance individual or organizational knowledge and understanding. An example might be to learn what customers think about a particular issue, or how they respond to a new business process. Educational objectives are almost always absolute (e.g. we learned something or we didn’t).

Why are they needed?

It could be argued that every objective is designed to influence the only outcome any CMO should care about: selling more products and services. That makes a lot of sense, but if you think social media marketing is going to single-handedly achieve your financial objectives you will be extremely disappointed. To paraphrase the famous comment about advertising spending (usually attributed to Lord Leverhulme), you may know that half of your social media marketing budget is wasted but you won’t know which half. So unless you set objectives for this specific channel that you can accurately measure then you are never going to know whether it is helping you achieve that ultimate business goal. Not surprisingly then, the type of objective has a significant bearing on the metric and method used to measure whether or not it has been achieved.

This method of objective categorization should also help the social media marketer how to decide which objectives are actually relevant. There is little point setting a financial objective for a social media activity designed to understand customers’ views on a proposed new product or service (although as previously stated, that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t contribute to some kind of financial outcome as a result of the findings contributing to an improved product that would sell better).

Setting SMART objectives for social media

The ‘SMART’ mnemonic for objective setting is thought to originate from an article in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. A widely accepted management tool – particularly in employee appraisals – many senior executives are familiar with the concept, although fewer are perhaps able to write objectives that comply with all the criteria. Some might argue that SMART objectives are not appropriate for social media activities, where there is a need for both experimentation and flexibility to change direction very quickly. But remember we are talking about objectives here – i.e. the goals of the activity. How you go about achieving those goals is not part of the objective setting process.

If you’re not familiar with it, the SMART mnemonic is:

  • Specific: be precise about what you want to achieve
  • Measurable: make sure the objective is quantified and can be easily measured
  • Attainable: ensure you have the resources and personnel to deliver
  • Relevant: make sure the objective is aligned to company goals
  • Time-bound: state when the objective must be achieved by

Examples of SMART social media marketing objectives might therefore include:

  • To reduce the number of negative mentions on the first five pages of Google search results for the company by half by the end of 2010
  • To achieve 25% of the share of voice online for cardio-vascular medical equipment vs. our three largest competitors by September 2011
  • To increase the number of in-bound sales leads from electronic channels from 1,000 in 2009 to 4,000 in 2012

In summary

In most cases, social media marketing objectives should align with and support overall marketing objectives. Some might even be components that contribute towards an overall objective (for instance, the last example above might represent the 10% contribution towards overall in-bound sales lead targets that social media marketing has been identified to deliver). It stands to reason then that if overall marketing objectives support business objectives, then so too will social media marketing objectives.

Whilst you might think that specific objectives for social media marketing are unnecessary, without them it will be impossible to know whether or not this new form of interaction is delivering any kind of value to your business at all.

5 ways for brands to use Jelly (and 1 to avoid)


In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new social network (from an old social network entrepreneur, Twitter’s Biz Stone) on the block. Jelly is an image-based Q&A app available only on a smartphone which, according to the launch blog post, “changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks.”

Here’s the use case that the founders clearly have in mind:

Say you’re walking along and you spot something unusual. You want to know what it is so you launch Jelly, take a picture, circle it with your finger, and type, “What’s this?” That query is submitted to some people in your network who also have Jelly. Jelly notifies you when you have answers.

The reality a few days in is somewhat different:


That said, it’s an active community already. All the questions I have asked have got answers very quickly, and not necessarily from people in my immediate network but those in their networks.

Obviously there’s going to be a bit of silliness going on in the early days, as people test what works and where the limits of what’s acceptable lie. But there are undoubtedly going to be early adopter brands jumping in (most likely with their boots first).

There will be some advising caution, but after a couple of days use here are five ways I think brands could begin thinking about using Jelly:

  1. A/B testing: Jelly could provide a quick, inexpensive way to test alternative visuals (adverts, packaging, logos, etc.) amongst a small but influential group of people
  2. Market research: Have a simple yes/no question to run by consumers? Jelly could provide the answer (quite literally)
  3. Answer questions: Nothing to stop brands answering questions (yet), so offer up an answer if you have something to add. Just remember it’s not about promoting
  4. Monitor answers: No search facility (yet) so don’t expect Jelly to start popping up in your social media dashboard. For now, you’ll need to use the app to see if people are mentioning your products.
  5. Fun and games: Jelly allows people to draw their answers on the picture in question. I’ve already played pin the tail on the donkey and spot the ball!

And the one to avoid:

Posting pictures of your own products! (I am sure the Jelly guys will find a way to let you advertise eventually).

4 Ps for B2B social media

In almost every presentation about social media, the self-styled ‘gurus’ will advise joining the conversation. That is the same conversation made famous in The Cluetrain Manifesto, the bible of the blogging generation. This seminal work introduced the concept of markets as conversations; conversations that enable powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. These new, networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

Yet the response to these fundamental changes needs to be considered as part of the overall marketing mix. Cluetrain-savvy companies appreciate the need to communicate with their markets directly. The new mantra is:

  1. Listen to the conversations taking place about the market, brand, company and competitors and learn from what is being said;
  2. Engage with them by speaking in a human voice, share their concerns, and gain permission to join their communities.

Classically-trained marketers will be familiar with the 4 Ps of marketing, one of the best known marketing mix models, first expressed in 1960 by E J McCarthy. Best summed up as putting the right product in the right place, at the right price, at the right time, they are:

  • Product (or service)
  • Place
  • Price
  • Promotion

For decades, the 4 Ps model has helped marketers define their marketing options when planning new ventures and evaluating existing offers to optimise the impact on a target market. The model clearly still applies today (it’s all marketing, after all) but there are an additional 4 Ps that might apply in this digital age:

  • Personality (authenticity, adding value, people)
  • Presence
  • Purpose (sustainability, global and local)
  • Performance (return)

Let’s look at each in turn.


Brand personality cannot be faked on the social web, and the penalty to reputation from such fakery can be high. With authenticity as the new baseline for every brand, truth and transparency may pose challenges for many organisations but are increasingly non-negotiable. Social media is personal, so having a genuine personality is the key to achieving competitive advantage in the new digital age.


Every organisation starts from the same base when it comes to social media. Building a presence where authority is defined not by legacy, size or past initiatives, but by contributing – and being seen to contribute – to the online communities that matter to customers in the ways they want and expect, is essential to social marketing success.


It is not sufficient to have presence alone, however. Companies need to be in it for the long haul, contributing consistently and with real purpose – not just to sell products. They should ask, who are we and how can we add value? not where is our audience and how can we target them?


Marketers must know how social marketing assists/affects organisational objectives, in the short, medium and long-term. They need to deliver a strong social performance across all functions, processes and channels, putting the right internal and external resources in place to achieve that. This performance needs measuring against real indicators of success, in order to learn and improve.

Five reasons your business needs a social media strategy

There are a number of reasons why any organisation that uses social media might want to develop a strategy. Here are my top five:

1. Alignment

With many organizations still grounded in a one-way communication model, a social media strategy provides a set of activities that can be understood, agreed and delivered by everybody in the organization.

2. Focus

By working through the process of deciding which activities will help achieve business objectives with the right communities, years of no doubt interesting yet completely irrelevant activities can be avoided.

3. Risk management

Just as important as what is included in the strategy is what is not, which may well include those activities that could damage the reputation and even bottom line of the company.

4. Structure

A strategy provides a framework within which everyone involved in delivering individual components – both inside the organization and external partners – can operate, knowing that they are all working towards a common goal.

5. Rationale

By telling a clear, coherent story, the strategy can support the prioritization of social media marketing (if indeed it is a priority) and justify the resources and investment required to deliver success.

Of course, there will be those that argue against having a social media strategy at all. Some say that social media should not be given special treatment and its usage should be governed by existing processes and protocols. They argue that the formality and structure that a strategy provides is simply not appropriate for the fast-moving, participative nature of what are essentially just social interactions; it would be like having a written strategy just for conversations with people. For complex multinational organizations (and even less complex ones) it is simply not feasible for any kind of effective use of social media to be possible for long without some form of strategy.

I think that part of the problem arises from the different mental models people have of what a strategy is and looks like. It is therefore worth taking the following observations into account when developing your social media strategy:

  • A strategy doesn’t have to be a formal document, or even written down
  • A strategy can adapt and evolve as quickly or as slowly as required
  • A strategy can be as broad or narrow as needed

Content marketing for B2B brands

For most business marketers, an effective social media strategy will involve some form of content marketing. This is driven by one basic principle: that creating and sharing useful content will attract attention, drive qualified leads and increase customer loyalty. A good content marketing plan isn’t about sales materials, however; it’s about adding value in order to benefit in a number of different ways:

  • Creating a strong relationship with your community;
  • Demonstrating thought leadership in your area of expertise;
  • Improving your search engine rankings and driving traffic to your website;
  • Increasing consideration for your products and services by educating customers;
  • More opportunities to engage with prospects looking to buy.

Knowing what content to create, for whom and in what format are the three most important determinants of a successful content marketing strategy.

Who are you creating for?

It’s assumed that you already have a good idea of who your target audience is and their pain points, so this is the best place to start. In How to craft a successful social media content marketing plan, social media monitoring company Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) suggests using personas to represent the individuals you’ll create content for. Armed with information about their demographics, lifestyles, interests, geographic locations, education levels and values, the following questions can then be addressed:

  • How do they seek information?
  • How do they use social media and which social networks do they prefer?
  • What are their job responsibilities and what decisions can they make?
  • What challenges or problems are they trying to solve?
  • What could stop them doing business with you?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What are they reading, watching or hearing already?

What are they interested in?

Personas can help build up a tangible picture of the people you are trying to reach, but insight about what they are interested in – and therefore the content and themes around which you may be able to engage them – can come from other sources too.

Ask your existing customers. Formal and informal research into what existing customers worry about, what sources of information they turn to and which – if any – social media channels they use can provide much-needed guidance.

Ask your sales team. Your salespeople probably spend a lot of time talking to prospective customers. They’ll know what kind of information gets asked for most often, and what competitors are doing right. They may also be able to tell you what kind of content would help build a better relationship, and this should form part of your content marketing plan.

Ask your customer service team. Like the sales team, your customer service agents are also talking to customers on a regular basis. They’ll have a handle on the common problems and issues being faced, and will know the most frequently asked questions. These provide perfect content marketing material.

Listen to customers on social platforms. Many of your existing customers may already be using social networks to engage in discussion with peers about products and services. They may be sharing content from other companies and sources. Look at what they’re saying and sharing for clues as to content your company could contribute.

Join online industry communities. Professional social networks are also good sources of content inspiration. Search for groups, discussions and questions being created on LinkedIn, for example, relevant to your industry and note what kind of content is getting shared and discussed.

Follow industry news sources. There’s a good chance you do this already, but think of them in the context of your own content marketing plan rather than just news. They may reflect issues important to customers in your industry and, with an increasing number of online news sources encouraging comment and sharing, you can see what themes are getting discussed and shared by customers.

Use search to your advantage. Chances are the success of your web presence depends a lot on search engines. Research shows that most online experiences still begin with a search, and industry benchmarks suggest that search engines refer the majority of web traffic. If you don’t already, make sure you know what people are searching for in order to reach your website and use this data to inform your content marketing.

Monitor others. It’s quick and easy – and often free – to get alerts when an industry term, service area or even company gets mentioned online. Look at how often people are talking about these issues, what terms and phrases they are using (they may not be the same as your own marketing ‘speak’) and ensure your content is optimised to reflect this.

Armed with this information, it’s a straightforward process to identify the kinds of content the audience would respond positively to, and develop a content marketing strategy following a simple five-stage cycle:


The impact of social media on organisational structure

the_world_is_flatSocial media are bringing down the artificial walls that organizations place around themselves – sometimes from the inside out but more often from the outside in, completely beyond the control of the organisation in question. They create a direct channel of communication between any employee and the people who make up their markets, bypassing the traditional mechanisms their organisations have put in place to ensure only certain people are allowed to speak – their ‘spokespeople’. In the world of social media though, every employee is the spokesperson. They just don’t necessarily know it.

Marketing is no longer the preserve of the marketing department. When every employee has the capacity to talk to people in the market what does this mean for the ‘official’ spokespeople, or even the CEO? As social media permeates the corporation – officially or, more likely to begin with, unofficially – what happens to the internal hierarchies it covets so much?

The traditional roles of consumer, employee, citizen, taxpayer and shareholder have all become blurred and intertwined, stripped back to what they really are: people. As an entity made up of people, the organisation of the future will not know where its barriers are – if indeed it has any. That is why this new found role for technology is becoming one of the most disruptive forces in business – externally and internally. It is not a technological revolution at all, but a truly social one.

I’m reminded of what Doc Searls’ said when interviewed by Shel Israel:

The walls of business will come down. That’s the main effect of the Net itself. Companies are people and are learning to adapt to a world where everybody is connected, everybody contributes, and everybody is zero distance (or close enough) from everybody else. This is the “flat world” Tom Friedman wrote “The World is Flat” about, and he’s right. Business on the whole has still not fully noticed this, however.

So it won’t just be the world that is flat, but the organisation too. Thomas Friedman highlights the blurring boundaries between companies and different groups of workers in The World is Flat, as well as the relationships between communities and the businesses that operate within them. As a result, the traditional supply chain relationships are changing dramatically, reshaping organisations – often from the bottom up.

Some in the ‘C-suite’ remain sceptical. They see social media as something that only kids and geeks care about. By embracing it, they fear they will risk legitimising those inane conversations about what people had for breakfast and alienating their ‘real’ customers, with not one iota of impact on their bottom lines. Yet more and more examples (from pure anecdotes to real business metrics) are surfacing to demonstrate that this new form of communication and collaboration can make a positive difference to business performance.

The biggest challenge with this emerging area of social media is therefore how well CEOs and CMOs – not just technologists and early adopters – comprehend, select and apply it.

The role of social networks in the B2B buying cycle

In 2009, two researchers set out to discover how social networks were being used by decision-makers in business, whether they were regarded as trustworthy and, in particular, whether they were relied on to support business decisions. Under the auspices of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR), Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, and Don Bulmer, VP Global Communications at SAP, surveyed 365 decision-makers or influencers representing 25 different countries, finding that:

  • Professional decision-making is becoming more social
  • Three leading professional networks have emerged
  • Professional networks are emerging as decision-support tools
  • Professionals trust online information almost as much as information obtained in person
  • Reliance on web-based professional networks and communities has increased significantly over the last 3 years
  • Social media usage patterns are not pre-determined by age or organizational affiliation

Specifically, they found that decision-makers are using social networks to inform and validate their decisions, disrupting traditional influence cycles. However they want these online interactions to be collaborative, avoiding the preferred sales and marketing activities of many companies. In addition, three-quarters of respondents now rely on web-based professional networks (most notably LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) to support business decisions. They also found evidence to dismiss the common misconception that social media usage is a generational phenomenon, with 20–35 and 55+ respondents being the more active users of social platforms. In fact, what they found is that middle-aged professionals are the ones getting left behind, creating a digital void right in the middle of many organization charts.

Yet let’s put this in perspective. The traditional decision-making process is not being replaced by the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter; instead social media is supplementing it. Equally, the ‘traditional’ methods of online marketing are still the most relevant, with even those decision-makers who are most active in online professional networks saying that conducting research via search engines and visiting company websites are the most likely steps they would take to inform their decision-making. Social media is definitely creeping up on the inside though, and that is why B2B marketers cannot afford to ignore it. When around 40 per cent of executives involved in the decision-making process say that they would gather opinions about a potential supplier or look them up on social networks and read other blog posts about them (interestingly only 21 per cent would read the company’s own blog), then it is time to sit up and take notice.

Why businesses should follow their customers on social networks

shunningI was somewhat disheartened, yet not completely surprised, to see that Twitter has released a feature allowing its users to receive direct messages (DMs) from people they don’t follow. As reported by The Drum, what this really means is that businesses and brands on Twitter can now receive DMs from customers – such as when asking for account numbers or tracking numbers – without having to follow them (it also opens those brands up to a barrage of DM spam which is perhaps just desserts).

It’s a move that comes at the same time that Twitter announces the ability for businesses to schedule tweets in advance so that they “can publish content at any time without having staff on-call to Tweet on evenings, weekends, holidays, or other inconvenient times”.

These are both clear signals that Twitter is prioritising the demands of brands and businesses who simply want to use it as a marketing channel for broadcasting messages, not a way to converse and interact with their customers. It’s further evidence of the slippery slope that takes Twitter further and further from the core principles of ‘social’ media and closer to mass commercialisation.

When it comes to the DM/following issue, I just don’t get it. Why on earth wouldn’t a brand want to follow its customers, to hear what they care about, what they’re passionate about, what they think of other products and services, and even competitors? Is it really that awful for a brand to be seen to be following their customers? Is it really that difficult for the person who asks the customer to send a DM to click the ‘follow’ button as well? And what message is this ‘arms length’ attitude sending to customers about how much the brand values them?

Scheduled tweets I can perhaps understand a little more (everyone deserves time off), but I’m afraid can’t see it being used for anything other than filling our timelines with more broadcast messages – even worse, messages planned by a marketing agency – with little resemblance to, or consideration about, what is happening in the world at the time. We have already seen examples where scheduled tweets have caused unfortunate reputation damage simply because no one can predict when a crisis or tragedy might occur. Many more brands look set to join their ranks with such an easy ‘fire and forget’ approach.

For me, both of these developments are nothing more than treatment for the symptoms of lazy marketing – interruption, irrelevancy and ignorance. Brands would be better advised to follow their customers, to listen to what they’re saying, and to talk to them like human beings.

Image source: stock.xchng

From Thought Leadership to Knowledge Marketing

Having spent over 10 years in the professional services industry, both client facing and in-house, I’ve seen my fair share of ‘thought leadership’ initiatives. “Our aim is to be seen as the thought leader in the atrial fibrillation sphere” goes the brief – but it’s not just limited to internal documents. Some companies quite openly use the term ‘thought leader’ in their marketing and positioning (see this examples from Xerox – I dare you not to cringe whilst watching the cheesy videos!).

But in the new collaborative, digital economy I wonder if the traditional approach to thought leadership – which seems to consist of constantly telling customers and consumers that your company is expert a certain field – holds water.

It’s something I wrestled with in my last permanent role at Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies). Like any professional services and many other businesses, we had spent years trying to find new ways of telling prospective clients that our consultants were some of the leading thinkers in their fields, with the best knowledge, insight and experience. Most of the time they believed us. We were story tellers and we told our story convincingly – but we didn’t have much to demonstrate it beyond sanitised biographies and case studies.

Blogs as thought leadership

Then social media came along in the form of blogs (remember those – a bit like Twitter but for people who could string more than one sentence together 😉 ). What better way to bring this knowledge, insight and experience to life. And so, in August 2005, Collective Conversation was born (it’s still live – as is my original blog – if a little unkempt) .

Between then and my departure in 2011, it was attracting over five times the traffic of our corporate website (having spent a lot less than a fifth of that budget on it), was leading the search engine rankings for the topics we wanted to be thought leaders about, brought about speaking gigs, media opportunities and book deals, and even got us on pitch shortlists and won (and lost, I might add – there is no policy that can stop someone doing something stupid) us business.

It was this experience that brought about the concept of knowledge marketing – the idea that knowledge wasn’t just something to be managed internally, but to be marketed externally, not only to provide ‘no strings attached’ insight that might just be of value to someone and that someone might just find it valuable enough to remember us and come back for more one day, hopefully on a more commercial basis.

Content marketing vs knowledge marketing

Fast forward eight years and there are more opportunities than just blogs to bring your employees’ knowledge to life. From professional social networks like LinkedIn to social knowledge networks like Quora, there are a multitude of channels available to the knowledge marketer.

Some might say this is just content marketing, but I respectfully disagree. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling”. So basically, use content as a way to market your messages. I think knowledge marketing is different – for me, it’s about using knowledge as a way to market your expertise. So, whilst it may often look the same (eBooks, white papers, etc.) the principles – and more importantly the people who originate it – are fundamentally different.

It’s something I’m keen to look at afresh, so please get in touch if you have come across any good examples of knowledge marketing.


The 2013 Charity Social Index


As a trustee of one of the most well-known regional children’s charities in the UK and co-founder of the UK’s first dedicated social media performance benchmarking agency, I have a double interest in the latest 2013 Charity Social Index, published today by Visceral Business. If you are operating in a marketing or digital function in a UK charity, I highly recommend that you take a look. A few things stood out for me:

  • Whilst the number of fans/followers of the top 100 charities on four main social networks has increased by an average 350% since 2011, income (I assume voluntary income) over the same period has decreased by more than a quarter.
  • Charities own websites and independent giving platforms like JustGiving are seen by both charities and consumers as far better fundraising vehicles than social media and/or SMS/text.
  • The percentage of charities saying that they don’t know who their top 10% of donors are has slightly increased over the last year, whilst the percentage saying they have an integrated approach to CRM has drastically decreased. Coincidence?
  • Just 16% of charities that have a properly developed mobile strategy, yet research suggests that over half of the UK population will be using a smartphone by the end of next year.
  • Alarmingly, almost all charities surveyed are measuring the impact of their social media activity by counting the number of fans/followers.

On the whole, I am pretty dismayed on behalf on the third sector by the findings of this research. It is pretty clear that few charities really know why they are using social media, and fewer still know what impact it is having on fundraising income. They are measuring the one thing that has a strong negative correlation with income, yet are neglecting more fundamental platforms like mobile.

So, my advice to every UK charity (for what it’s worth):

  • Stop and think for a second about why you are investing time and effort in something which clearly isn’t having any financial impact
  • Stop measuring likes/fans and followers and start thinking about more meaningful metrics that fit with your objectives (you do have some objectives for social media, right?)
  • Don’t let the novelty and excitement of social media distract you from focusing on the digital assets that really matter: your website, mobile strategy and giving platforms.