Tag Archives: Return on Relationship

What’s A Marketer to Think?

Written by Ted Rubin

There’s a lot of angst in marketing land right now. With Google’s Panda and Penguin changes and social algorithms that favor engagement, it may look as though SEO is dead, or that traditional ads will soon be going the way of the dodo. What’s a marketer to think? Are we supposed to throw out everything we learned about marketing and advertising to date and learn to ride a new horse? How the heck are we supposed to get in front of customers now? Well, things ARE changing to the tune of professional bloggers.

Traditional advertising isn’t yet extinct, but there is simply too much noise out there, and people are sick of it. They’re shutting out the blast advertising that has crept into every aspect of their lives and centering in on the things they truly care about—friends, family, and social connections. You need to take a step back and study this shift in order to take advantage of it.

For brands, that doesn’t mean you can simply move your blast advertising campaigns into social channels. You actually have to make real conversation with real people and help them get what they want. That means knowing your prospects well enough to understand what they want. It also means creating content that’s helpful, entertaining, educational, or all of the above—content that helps them make a decision when they’re ready to buy; content they’re willing to share with friends.

Does that mean advertising is dead? Not entirely. Smart brands have noticed that we’re moving to a “connection economy,” and they are producing ongoing content that meets the new search “relevancy” standards. They’ve studied their audiences, listened to their social conversations, and have developed plans to use that content in their social profiles to emotionally connect to their audiences and encourage conversation. When it resonates, it gets shared and receives comments and likes, which makes that brand more visible in search.

What it all boils down to is that in the new world of content marketing, the Content “IS” the Marketing. Sharing, conversation, and emotionally connected content will be the ads of the future. Instead of thinking in terms of “Convince and Convert,” start thinking in terms of “Converse and Convert.” Helpful content gives your customers reasons to stay engaged—not just react—and also increases brand advocacy.

So start thinking like a publisher because the more relevant, helpful content you create, the better you can drive engagement. And as my ROR formula illustrates… Content drives Engagement, Engagement drives Advocacy, and Advocacy correlates directly to Increased Sales. 

 

Building Customer Relationships with Blogger Outreach

Written by Ted Rubin

There are some new buzzwords in marketing going around, everything from “Collaborative Marketing” to “Blogger Outreach” to “Relationship Marketing,” and even “Branded Content.” But what do those phrases really mean and how can today’s businesses take advantage of them to build customer relationships?

Well, we all know that consumers are becoming more and more contemptuous of push advertising, which has traditional marketers scrambling to find a magic bullet to replace it. But with what? When social came along and marketers mistakenly tried to force push advertising messages there, the failures were huge.

What we’re seeing is a gradual shift away from advertising in general, and back towards communication, which has blogger outreachalways been the human strong suit. People want to get information when they want it—not have it thrown at them, and they want to have conversations about and with brands. I read an article recently at retailcustomerexperience.com that quoted Scott Olrich, CMO of the relationship-based marketing software company, Responsys. Olrich sums up the shift pretty nicely:

“A century or so back, the local corner shop lived or died based on the relationships they built. As new means of mass communication emerged, companies used their increased reach to try to advertise their way out of that responsibility. But today every aspect of a company’s behavior is on public display. A relationship first approach to every customer interaction has again become the imperative.”

Even Google’s algorithm changes are indicative of this shift towards communication and conversation, with content relevance being a key factor. Content that’s helpful and educational trumps marketing-speak, improves SEO and is instrumental in opening the door to those all-important relationships.

So where does that leave the average business? Finding ways to start more conversations is a good place to begin. At Collective Bias®, we foster a collaborative marketing approach by managing a private community called Social Fabric. It’s a platform for micro-publishers (or bloggers) who are passionate about building relationships and telling stories. Collective Bias® uses Social Fabric® to gain shopper insights and to identify brand advocates to create content for client campaigns.

This works very well for retailers and other brands because these bloggers are your shoppers and consumers. They are the brains behind some of our most successful campaigns – building, leading and managing them. Our community is different from most, because our members are highly involved in the campaign process. The content our bloggers produce is creative, engaging and compelling, and its reach is exponential, because it’s syndicated across various social channels as well as through the blogger’s audience. But what makes this type of content influential is that it’s tied to an emotional connection that resonates with people. It’s not about selling—it’s not about hype—it’s people talking to people about their lives and experiences with a brand being a part of the story.

So our focus is on collaborating with the Social Fabric® blogger community to create the informative, educational and emotionally compelling content that people are looking for online.

Some big brands are also finding success in creating “branded content,” which research analysts at Forrester define as “content that is developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education. It is designed to build brand consideration and affinity, not sell a product or service. It is not a paid ad, sponsorship, or product placement.”

That’s not to say that ads don’t have their place, but they can no longer be the major focus—it has to be delivering great brand stories. Companies that have moved the needle on branded content include Proctor & Gamble, Cisco, Duane Reade, Tyson, Nestle, Bigelow Tea, Red Bull and The Cleveland Clinic, to name a few. And they consistently leverage this content ahead of ad campaigns, which gives them even more top-of-mind reach and better ad response. These brands improve their products by staying close to their customers with constant communication at every stage of the customer relationship.

The marketing shift to branded storytelling also means that companies need to re-think metrics. It’s not enough today to simply measure impressions as a factor of campaign ROI—we need to think in terms of measuring our influence as well and our SOV (Share of Voice). Tracking the quality of engagement with our messaging is crucial to measuring overall effectiveness.

So whether your business is selling widgets or services, success depends on thinking more in terms of delivering stories about those widgets or services and how people use them than about pumping out feature-rich fact sheets or ads. Your customers want to hear those stories, so find more ways to tell them! Reach out to your brand advocates and collaborate with them, and don’t forget to include quality of engagement in your metrics for a better overall view of how you’re doing. In other words, think like a publisher—you’ll get better results.

As originally posted on tedrubin.com.

Blog Marketing: The Death of the Click

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on BradLawless.com last week.

Almost every day we have discussions with clients (brands and retailers) at Collective Bias about the best way to measure success in content  and blog marketing. Many ask us to have community members insert trackable links into their content so the client can measure some type of conversion (a like, follow, or hopefully a sale.)

We’re starting to see, however, that consumer interaction with social content just doesn’t work this way.

Socially powered content marketing is all about relationships. Relationships are fuzzy things not easily categorized or tracked, but they have tremendous power. Relationships connect us to loved ones and create opportunities to discover new things. As my friend Ted Rubin likes to say, social media and content marketing are more about the Return on Relationship™ (ROR) than Return on Investment (ROI).

Think about your interaction with friends and family in your everyday life. You have a conversation about something interesting. Maybe it’s a new product available in stores. Maybe it’s a new service like a car wash or a accountant. The item in question really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the action you take next — which is really no action at all.

When we hear about something new from offline friends, we rarely hop in our car and run to the store to buy it. Instead, we file that information away for future reference and look for the item the next time we find ourselves at the store.

The same thing happens online. When I hear about something new and cool from an online friend or trusted blogger, I rarely whip out my credit card and buy it on the spot. I think about it. When I later decide to buy, I’ll go straight to the retailer web site or search for the product name rather than going back to the blog post where I first discovered it.

In that scenario, I never click a link the brand can track back to social content, but that content still did its job. It made me aware of the product. It showed me how people like me use it in real life, and convinced me that I’d like to buy it, too.

Online marketing has built its entire ROI model on click tracking from the early days of display banners to the ubiquitous use of URL shorteners today, but those days are coming to an end. Industry trends like Microsoft’s implementation of Do Not Track functionality in Internet Explorer 10 will make tracking clicks that much harder.

Click tracking will still have a place in a brand’s value equation, but it’s only one piece of of a much bigger formula. We’ve seen a correlation time and again between increased share of voice for a brand and retail sales. Get more people talking — really talking and engaging with your brand — and you will see sales increase. To truly understand the value of social content, brands need to analyze the quality of their online engagements, their overall conversational volumes and match those to their sales.

People like things they can measure, and click tracking provides a level of comfort. We can count clicks. We can also count Fans and Followers. Each of those numbers by themselves are just that — numbers devoid of meaning.

When you choose to engage your fans, reach out to your followers and connect with them in meaningful ways that provide value to their lives and yours, you will finally begin to crack the code to the enigmatic relationship value equation.

** Photo used with permission under Creative Commons License by Jeferonix.

Want More from Social? Empower Your Employees as Brand Advocates / Evangelists

Written by Ted Rubin

Brands have it tough these days. Many are trying to make the “social leap,” but are still stuck in the traditional marketing thought process of “controlling the message.” It can be a bit hard to switch gears, especially when Madison Avenue still feeds us the same old lines; however, Madison Avenue doesn’t get it either. The days of handing your marketing over to a bunch of agency wonks without getting involved and staying involved are quickly coming to an end—at least if you want real results. Companies must be hands-on now, and be willing to jump into the conversation and participate, because that’s what their customers demand. Social is where your audience lives. It’s how they want to communicate with each other and where they share brand experience—YOUR brand experience.

So what’s the fastest way to devolve from the old “agency” way of thinking to social communication? Empower those who work for you to create conversation and represent your brand—especially those who have a customer service or customer-facing role. Empower them to become brand advocates. If they build it, service it or sell it, they’re in a perfect position to communicate with your audience in a way that humanizes your brand, but only if you let them.

Many companies that are fearful of social media put muzzles on their employees in an effort to control the social conversation. However, if you’re going to have a social presence at all, just the opposite needs to happen.

In a Networking Exchange Blog post “Brands Under Pressure,” digital and social strategist Cheryl Burgess highlights Apple’s “Genius Bar,” which is the ultimate in employee branding for retail. She notes that the genius bar is “… a lynchpin of the most successful retail concepts and innovative employee brand relationships of our time.  Apple simply gets it,” she writes…” employee branding matters.”

Check it out for yourself. Go into any Apple store and count the number of blue shirts milling about in the retail space. It’s astonishing—and each one is an Apple genius whose sole purpose is to communicate with customers, answer questions and share knowledge one-on-one. However, you don’t get a hard sell. The emphasis is on providing helpful information. In doing so, each employee puts a “face” on the Apple brand, and turns a shopping excursion into a human experience.

The great thing is, you don’t have to hire a zillion blue-shirts to stand around your company store to do the same thing for your brand. With a little guidance, your current employees can be blue-shirts for you in social circles.

The key word here is guidance! This includes having a written social media policy for your employees, going over it with them, and involving them in the process. Your employees can be your best advocates and a natural extension of your brand that gives you much better Return on Relationship™ than advertising ever could—but you need to switch your thinking by opening up your internal communications first.

Sit down and talk to your employees about how they can communicate your company mission and values. Open up a dialogue. Get their opinions. Involve them in the process of creating a social media policy so they feel empowered to spread the word about you within the right framework. But make sure that you do not overcomplicate the process and make them feel they are under a microscope.

Opening internal lines of communication and building healthy employer-employee relationships is the first step. The next is figuring out how to train them to communicate externally.

Cheryl’s blog post includes a handy infographic by Mindflash.com on How to Train Your Employees to Handle Social Media. It’s a visual primer on the basics, such as how to identify your employees’ social temperament, ideas on what to share and what not to share on personal as well as corporate social platforms, etc. If you’re just starting to wrap your mind around this concept, it’s a good place to start.

The short of all this is that in today’s digital age, you can’t afford to try to control your company’s brand. You need to learn to let go and become involved in the conversation already going on about you in the social space—and let your employees help you. Otherwise, the cost in market share is steep, because competitors that “get it” are already out there eating your lunch.

Now, I’m not saying you should let go of all the reins; there must be some structure and planning involved. However, a good social strategy MUST involve your employees. Give them some leeway. Educate them about your core values, and about what’s appropriate to share in social circles. Train them to be your brand evangelists and you’ll be amazed at the resulting Return on Relationship!

Suggestions for Crowdsourcing Content

Written by Ted Rubin

 

Every business needs content in order to be found in search, and to differentiate them from the competition. Without quality, helpful content (and lots of it), you’re lost in a school of fish that are all the same color. Who’s going to find you? Who’s going to pick you?

The trouble with content development is that it can be expensive. Website copy, blog articles, e-books, reports—they all take time and effort (and dollars) to produce. However without them, you really can’t do an effective job of marketing your business—especially in the social age. It’s the classic chicken-or-the-egg syndrome. The more social our businesses become, the more we need that variety of content that speaks to our listeners and helps them solve their problems so we can A: get their attention, and B: develop relationships with them.

The bad news is that most companies still don’t understand the relationship between content marketing and relationship building. Investing in content is absolutely essential—whether you’re writing it in-house or outsourcing it, and I personally believe bloggers create some of the most engaging, relevant, and worthwhile content for brands when managed strategically. The good news is that if you know who your customers are and where they look for and share content, you can use crowdsourcing to have others help you write the kind of truly helpful stuff that your market is looking for. Developing a steady stream of user-generated content isn’t free, but the BEST news is that this type of content is trusted by more people and produces better return than most advertising that uses “marketing speak.”

Here are a few suggestions for crowdsourcing content:

Blogger Outreach

There are two ways to approach this. I’ve seen some companies (like manufacturers or retailers) have their marketing directors research influential bloggers in their niche and pitch them on doing reviews of their products—offering to send a sample to use. However, this can be hit-or-miss, not very efficient and it does not incorporate story telling, or insert the product in the lives of the users. Another way to approach it (and the one I prefer) is to develop relationships with a set of bloggers, and pay them to create the content around a strategic set of goals and incorporated into lifestyle. Bloggers are micro publishers and deserve to get paid for their work. I think this approach to blogger outreach produces the best results if you want a constant stream of relevant, user-generated, authentic content. It requires a great deal of management, relationship building and strategy, but can be outsourced and managed with the right partner.

Blog Interaction

On your own blog, floating a concept or question about your brand and asking for responses can be a good way to encourage subscriber interaction. You never know when a really good response will trigger a connection and deeper conversation. I often find that asking and answering these kinds of questions (both on my blog and others) leads to more relationships, which results in more content-building opportunities. Always be thinking of ways to encourage response…. and make the questions, and the process, EASY!

Video/Visual Contests

Using Contests on social platforms such as YouTube or Pinterest can encourage user-generated videos or photo boards that portray your brand in positive light. I wouldn’t put all my eggs into this basket, but it can be a fun way to garner graphic and video content you can use in other places to build the kind of “social proof” that helps you win hearts and minds.

Co-authoring thought leadership pieces

This is where your relationship rubber meets the road, so to speak. Co-authoring books and e-books with a peer (or set of peers) requires that you have a solid relationship with your co-author(s), which will stand the stress of time-management issues and headaches that go along with getting published. However, the result of a successful collaboration here can garner wonderful results that would be difficult to achieve if you had to do it all yourself. We’re all stressed for time, so think of ways you can reach out to your peers and colleagues to crowdsource all kinds of thought-leadership pieces, such as case studies, white papers, e-books, books, webinars and videos.

You can see that all of these examples rely on collaboration—which is the cornerstone to getting the best Return on Relationship. In my opinion, planning a good content strategy should always include finding ways to crowdsource, whether it’s tapping your customers to find out what their needs are or how they view your industry, to building on your relationships with your peers to produce thought-leadership pieces. At the end of the day, your content should make everyone you deal with (your prospects AND your peers) comfortable with your brand—and using input from others to create value-oriented content can be a good way to make your brand more approachable (for more on this, check out the video (ROR: Return on Relationship™–Will They Buy from Me?).

There are lots of ways you can use crowdsourcing to build value in your organization, your personal brand, and enhance both. Don’t wait for a comprehensive strategy… start now.

 

 

Relationship Killers: Four of the WORST Social Media Mistakes Brands Make

The biggest goal for any brand delving into social media should be to develop quality, productive relationships. That’s the bottom line. However, many brands still “don’t get it,” and consistently make mistakes that are damaging to them in social media and therefore damaging to their brand. In my opinion, there are four big no-no’s that not only kill those all-important relationships, but also tarnish your reputation:

1. Broadcasting:  Blasting out sales messages rather than listening and engaging has got to be the number one relationship killer of all time. Bar none. People hate to be sold—especially on social channels, where their main objective is to talk, get opinions, relax and have fun, or find answers to pressing problems. When a brand spends the majority of its time broadcasting, it’s a clear message to followers that they’re not interested in real, two-way communication.

Listening should be your first priority, followed by engagement. Don’t try to sell to people until you’ve earned their trust!

2. Taking Followers Offline to Resolve Issues:  If someone has a problem and comes to your social presence to try to get it resolved, the worst thing you can do is shunt them off to a customer service contact with a “form letter” response. Too often I see… “follow us so we can DM you,” on Twitter, or a quick move to traditional customer service channels on Facebook. People have an innate need to be validated—and “showing them the hand” is the fastest way to sour a customer relationship. Sometimes there are things that have to be resolved offline for legal issues, but the majority of complaints or requests for help should be addressed promptly and publicly in social channels. At the very least, if you MUST send them offline, do so in a friendly, personal manner. Address them by name, thank them for bringing the problem to your attention, and so on. Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes—how do you feel when you’re ignored or made to jump through hoops by a company you deal with?

Responding publicly has another important, beneficial, and cost saving benefit. Other people with the same issue, and you can/should assume there are many more, can receive resolution via your response, and see how you interact… and then make their own judgments about your brand character based on those interactions. If you’re doing it right, you will build brand advocates in the process, and when/if needed your best brand advocates will support you when they see that kind of open, honest communication.

3. Having No Brand Personality:  People who spend time on social media like to spend time with people—not logos. If you have a team of employees handling your social responses, don’t make them hide behind the brand logo when they interact with followers—give them a voice and a face. Ford does a great job of this with @ScottMonty building his personal brand along with theirs. Scott interacts with followers as himself, not the Ford brand. This humanizes the brand and fosters good communication. Being able to see the team members behind the company and interacting with them personally makes a big difference in fan loyalty.

When a company censors its employees and doesn’t allow them to participate in social discussion surrounding the brand, it’s usually because they’re afraid of “what might happen if…” They’re afraid they’ll spend too much time on social or say the wrong things. These issues can be resolved with a comprehensive social media policy so all employees know how and when they can and should interact. Remember, your employees should be some of your best advocates, and a natural extension of your “public face.”  You can’t do social right with employee censorship. Your people are your company’s personality. Let them shine for you. And… if you don’t trust your employees, maybe you have the wrong employees, or a business approach that will be difficult to sustain in this hyper-connected world.

4.  Making Social a Direct Marketing Channel:  Can you develop a relationship with a piece of direct mail? A TV commercial? A newspaper ad? An email blast? Of course not! Yet many brands treat social as an extension of their direct marketing efforts—mainly because that’s all they know. They’re used to handing off their marketing to an advertising agency and having them run with it so they can get on with their day. They think in terms of ROI formulas, but falter when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of one-on-one networking.  If that’s you, don’t feel too bad—it’s a habit that’s been drummed into you and hard to break. But you’ve got to break it! Adopt a whole new mindset around social, and think in terms of building relationships and an emotional connection to your brand, or you’ll always be frustrated with your results. Remember… Social Media drives engagement, engagement drives loyalty, and loyalty correlates directly to increased sales. Return on Relationship™ = ROI.

This goes back to the “Broadcasting” mistake I mentioned earlier. Think in terms of providing helpful content, fun ways to communicate, sharing information and asking questions. Leave the direct marketing stuff in traditional channels. Get a sense of who your audience is and give them what they’re looking for in your social communications, or you’ll get “un-followed” or ignored in a hurry.

What other “relationship killers” have you come across when dealing with brands online, and how do you think they could be avoided? Conversely, which brands have you noticed that are “getting it right” in social media when it comes to Return on Relationship™?

Originally posted at TedRubin.com

Twitter Basics… In My Humble Opinion

Written by Ted Rubin

 

The mistake I see being made is trying to measure Social engagement with the same tools we measure every other digital touch point. In my view email, search, even banner ads, have spoiled marketers into thinking everything can be and must be measured with the metrics used to gauge success in other mediums. I am not sure of what the next stage will be for you, but in the beginning, when you are building your Social Media audience, and testing, I have three stages with which I measure… #1 is Audience growth, #2 is Reactivity… getting them to take an action, and #3 Stickiness… keeping them coming back, engaged and interacting. After you achieve all these I feel measurement will easily follow, depending upon what is important to you and your brand.

If you want to continue to reach your market in this social media age, the marketing focus needs to be on building relationships, and metrics need to expand beyond ROI (Return on Investment) to include ROR: Return on Relationship™. If you are not engaging in your field of expertise on Twitter someone else is, so the first issue is that you are missing that opportunity and handing it to others. Second… if you are not talking about your business, your customers and prospects probably are, and you are not there to participate, engage, interact and most important for your business… listen and lead.

My philosophy is that Twitter is a tool that leads into other forms of social sharing. I consider Twitter a place to lay the groundwork where other people pick up things. Twitter is a seeding medium and a place to build engagement and interaction… it is not a broadcast medium, so it is not about the quantity of people listening at once, but the ability to lay it out there for those whose attention are drawn to what you have to say at any given moment.

Twitter is a river that continuously flows and flows. You add content one second, and the next it is gone. Tweet to keep your personal brand on your followers’ radar, increase your following, and provide value that keeps followers listening and you top of mind. Send the same tweet often multiple times in a day and send valuable content repeatedly over the course of time.

How you do that?:

  • I suggest picking a hashtag for a brand to use on most tweets and encourage anyone involved with you to add that hashtag to their tweets.
  • This allows you to track who is tweeting about you, more importantly for you to retweet, and to make your hashtag top of mind and used regularly by others if possible.
  • Periodically check out your followers sites to find interesting posts and RT’s and show you are paying attention.
  • Ask your team members to send you tweet ideas regularly.

 

How do you get/maintain followers?:

  • Twitter has a cap to the number of people you are allowed to follow (gets particular around the 2,000 mark) There is a bit of a process to follow, to grow the accounts.

 

The process:

1. Sign into Twitter Handle

2. Make sure you are following back everyone who is following you

3. Search for a relevant and reliable Twitter Account

-Example: If you are in the Cooking vertical, search a celebrity chef or a cooking mag/site, and follow all of those followers, etc.

4. Twitter will stop you when you’ve reached the maximum limit of following

Sign into JustUnfollow (an unfollowing and follow back application)… http://www.justunfollow.com/unfollow.html

-Unfollow those who don’t follow you back.

-Unfollowing should be done every few days- not every day. You want to give all the people you just followed a chance to follow you back. If they don’t within 72 hours+ depending upon what level you are at and how quickly you hit your follower ceiling, you want to unfollow them to give you more room to find followers that WILL follow you back. People who do not follow you back have no value as far as building your presence. If you are interested in what they have to say you can simply follow them from an alternate handle that you only use to garner info, create a list using Twitter’s list functionality… or have a list of those you want to check daily and do so manually (which is a more efficient way of seeing what they have to say anyway). With JustUnfollow it is also possible to “whitelist” these people to avoid unfollowing them.

Email address & Passwords:

I suggest setting up handles with email addresses such as handle@gmail.com (i.e. cbFamily@gmail.com)

All passwords, if you are using multiple handles, can be the same for ease of use (or simply keep a spreadsheet) especially if you are inventorying handles for future use so you never forget how to log in.

Always remember: If you think nobody is tweeting about your products or services, think again. If you’re not tweeting about your business–someone else is. If you’re not setting your own business message on Twitter–someone else is. But more importantly, if you’re not listening to what your customers (and potential customers) are saying on Twitter –someone else is, and you are missing an incredibly valuable opportunity to engage and interact.

  • Track Mentions: The major thing you should be tracking is mentions of your twitter name. Anytime somebody mentions your name, it’s an opportunity to start a conversation and acquire a new high quality follower.
  • Track Retweets: You should also pay close attention to the people who are retweeting the tweets you have written. It’s obvious that they like your content, otherwise they wouldn’t be sharing it.
  • Create a List: Have a list called your inner circle. Anytime somebody mentions or retweets you, make a point to add them to that list.
  • Engage with the People on that List: Simply creating the list is not going to be enough. Once you have created your inner circle list, you need to start engaging with them.
  • Have periodic conversations.
  • Retweet their stuff and look to periodically RT others to get their attention and interact. I often choose some randomly and make a point at conferences, whether I am there or not, to RT many. If you follow event or group hashtags, and check in on them, you can RT those and it makes it easy to interact.

Where to Start When You Are at Zero: If you are starting at zero, some of the above might seem more challenging, but it’s not. Just start with bloggers who you have been reading. This is why it’s important to read more than just the a-list blogs. Find people you think are interesting and just reach out to them. They’ll be happy to hear from you… Bloggers, marketers, brands, etc.

20 Important Twitter Goals and Objectives for Business

Written by Ted Rubin

Many are asking what ROI they can get from Twitter. I believe when reviewing the following goals and objectives you will get a better understanding of the potential value. The basis of this list was posted by my friend and business associate Cheryl Burgess. I have expanded and edited with my input.

1.     First and foremost is to grow an engaged and relevant following

2.     Almost as important as #1 is… if you haven’t started already, start NOW!

3.     Generating brand awareness and business leads

4.     Servicing customers and lowering customer service inquires via traditional channels

5.     Expanding reach and creating buzz

6.     Sharing thought-leadership & participating in industry conversation

7.     Gaining competitive intelligence

8.     Monitoring your brand’s reputation in real time

9.     Building relationships with community

10.  Distributing rich SEO content

11.  Offering special discounts, white papers, blog posts

12.  Crowdsourcing ideas, products, etc.

13.  Finding, cultivating influencers and brand advocates

14.  Obtaining customer feedback on potential new offerings

15.  Developing relationships with bloggers and other micro media producers

16.  Establishing relationships and getting on the radar of journalists

17.  Recruiting for freelancers, permanent hires and interns

18.  Establishing brand leadership position by communicating, reinforcing vision, purpose, differentiation, relevance, etc.

19.  The Ability to proactively build a personal brand for Founders/Executives to represent your Brand/Business.

20.  Return on Relationship™… simply put the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple $’s and cents. ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through loyalty, recommendations and sharing.

Technology is Changing, but Don’t Panic—People are Still People!

Written by Ted Rubin

Technology is always on the move—and we’ve made more technological advances in the last decade than any of us alive today have experienced in a generation. For instance, did you know that every 60 seconds, over 700 computers, 80 iPads, and 925 iPhones are sold today? Not to mention the monstrous amount of data we’re creating now. Over 1,800 Terabytes of data are created every minute, which is enough data to fill more than 2.6 million CDs!

We’re also consuming information differently than we did a decade ago. Brick-and-mortar book stores are going under in favor of online shopping and tablet e-readers… movie rental stores are disappearing in favor of subscription services… everything’s “going digital,” including our social lives. Tablets, apps, and smarter-than-ever smartphones now rule the day.

Some marketers are reacting to these rapid changes by telling us that the sky is falling. Email is dead…storytelling is dead… social media is taking over… nobody has time to read anymore… panic in the streets!

Yes, technology has forever changed the way we communicate, and there’s no going back. However, the same marketing principles apply to humans now that applied to them decades ago. The sky isn’t falling. People still love stories; they still respond to testimonials/reviews (maybe now more than ever); they still buy for the same reasons. They just look for and find information on different channels now. Also, they are pickier about how much information they consume and where they spend their time.

So what does that mean for marketers today? Well, this is where paying attention to social trends is important, because, people are driving these trends. Your customers share conversation about brands, make recommendations to each other based on experience, and seek out information that helps them make buying decisions. They’re just using new media/social tools to do it… and those tools make all this not only more valuable for brands, but absolutely imperative they foster, encourage AND participate. For instance, people still love to be visually entertained—only now, the power of YouTube takes us beyond TV and even viral videos, and into the realm of consumer (and brand) education and relationship building.

Social media tools don’t change what motivates people to buy. The marketing funnel still exists; we still have to attract an audience to our message and nurture them toward conversion. We just don’t have to wait for people to hop into our funnel based on reaction to display ads, TV commercials or direct mail. Social gives us a way to be proactive about building relationships through active listening and informed information-sharing. So now we can converse with prospects—build a rapport—find out what they want and deliver it. We’re still adding them to our marketing funnels, but essentially they’re already primed. They’ve had a chance to explore us, talk to us, take a deeper look at our content, and share their experiences with others—in many instances, before a single marketing message goes out.

Yes, there are still ads, and PPC is still a powerful tool. However, thanks to the data explosion provided by the social graph and technology advancements, even ad performance can be improved. We now have a faster, more efficient way of gathering data, creating ads, getting them in front of our niche markets, testing them and tweaking them to respond to trends almost in real time. That’s the power (and the beauty) of the digital revolution.

So don’t panic; your customers haven’t changed… they’re essentially the same consumers of information that they always were. They still respond to perceived value and relevancy, and they still love to be entertained and share stories. Social media doesn’t change them as much as it changes where (and how) conversation about our brands takes place.

The use of social media, and the “Return on Relationship™” it affords, is a two-way street. By listening more and broadcasting less, by engaging in conversation, we can learn more about our prospects and what they really want. And by changing how, where and when we communicate, we can make their experience with us much more rewarding and satisfying.

I would call that a win-win, wouldn’t you?

The “Real” Social Media Super Bowl

Written by Ted Rubin

Many are now talking about Super Bowl XLVI being the first “Social” Super Bowl.  It truly was, as an event, due to efforts of the Super Bowl’s host committee and their use of a Social Media Command Center.

In my opinion, the Super Bowl Social Media Center is proof that social media is now being taken seriously. It is not just an option that is a last minute throw in. Social media is now getting recognition as a legitimate news source, a practical and effective way to communicate with a large number of people in an interactive and engaging format. In addition this format enables, and more importantly encourages, the sharing of this information and interaction.

Brands spent more than ever this year on their Super Bowl advertisements and are now patting themselves on the back for their herculean efforts and competing to show whose commercials drew the most accolades.  In my opinion, much of those vast expenditures could have been better spent… or at the very least a portion should be devoted in the future to interaction and engagement that gives the brands a view into the hearts and minds of their consumers.

Social media, when executed, integrated and leveraged properly and strategically, can and will do more for a brand than a one-time commercial entertainment spend. Take for example the Pepsi and Coke commercials.  Coke and Pepsi both spent millions of dollars between the animated bears, Elton John and Flavor Flav in their commercials, but did either of those spends do anything to truly connect with shoppers? They are entertainment and the same as sponsorship of any entertainment event. They have value, certainly, as they make their names top-of-mind, bring a smile to the face of millions and create conversation… all valuable in the branding world. But… is that conversation about the brand or about the entertainment?  Social is a direct link that builds connections, relationships and allows the consumers to express what it all means to them in their lives, the way they live and ultimately in how they shop. I think the idea here is that consumers are looking to connect with each other and with brands to interact, provide feedback and be recognized.

For example, Twitter parties connect to hundreds of influential shoppers that broadcast to potentially millions of other shoppers. If orchestrated correctly during an event, and on a regular basis, and executed/connected to a myriad of other user-generated media, will create a more valuable connection… and be a door to future engagement.

The marketing paradigm is shifting with much greater “power to the people” facilitated by social media. If you want to continue to reach your market, it’s not just about advertising any more, but about building relationships. Just activating your audience, however, is not enough. A brand always needs to be working to keep these valued influencer and advocate relationships alive and strong and build an emotional connection. Always remember that brand loyalty declines due to lack of relevance — this has been evident for years and is clearly a direct result of not listening… and NOT hearing when you do listen. When building a social media presence, building relationships through engaging as many people by truly interacting with them, and doing what I call “looking them in the eye digitally,” is what will build value and loyalty for the long-term. Always keep in mind that social media’s incredible power is in allowing us to instantaneously connect to, interact with, and build relationships with our audience of thousands to gain high-value end results… but if you do not make them feel valued and speak to them on their terms, and bring value to the table, the results will be underwhelming and you will not be utilizing social for its true value and it will mean little more than those “branding” entertainment events.

Think REPUTATION, not ranking… CONNECTION, not network… LOYALTY, not celebrity.

Social Media drives engagement, engagement drives loyalty, and loyalty correlates directly to increased sales. Return on Relationship™ = ROI.