In our attempts to be more “social”, there seems to be an ongoing discussion / battle around automation and engagement. Is it okay to automate some, all or none of your social media activities? I’m aware of folks that have totally abdicated the responsibility of their social media efforts to either automation or a consultant/agency. Conversely, I’m aware of other folks that struggle mightily on a daily basis to create “original” content and manually post to all of their social platforms, in many instances becoming so overwhelmed they abandon their efforts. In both of these cases, the individual/team are operating without any real strategy as to why they are posting, to who, on which channel and when.
First, let’s examine what is meant by automation.
The dictionary (Random House) defines automation as: the technique or system of operating a mechanical process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devises, reducing human intervention to a minimum.
And therein lies a portion of the issue, in our efforts to reduce human intervention of repetitive tasks, some have approached social as a mechanical process (think, I must post five times a day or my boss will be all over me). The difficulty is that most relationship building endeavors, are anything but mechanical or routine. Each of our audiences are unique. Sure, we can categorize them into similar groups or buyer personas based on interests, needs or geographic location, but those are meant to be guidelines to determine what we need to communicate at the right time and place to solve a particular issue, not a sum total of any one person.
In her excellent post “How to use Social Media Automation to Enhance (not hurt) your Social Media Strategy“, Kristi Hines covers the good and the bad of social media automation. Like Ms. Hines, I agree that a preferable tactic is to vet the posts that you are going to schedule for the day/week or beyond (I personally only post out about a week ). As she notes; “By automating (to an extent) the content that you share, you will keep your profiles up to date while opening up more time to do more personalized interactions (read engagement)”. You only have so much time to invest in your efforts (thus why it may make sense to outsource your community management, but that’s an entirely different conversation) and it’s important to be spending it where you’ll get the best return (measuring your success, yep, another post), that I’m sure you’ll agree will be in chatting to your future and current brand advocates. By using automation effectively, you should have more time to engage with those in your community (future clients, clients, influencers, vendors and as importantly employees).
Our goal in automating certain tasks should be to allocate more time to making those meaningful connections that can lead to both tangible and intangible returns (part of the measurement chat). I believe that by fully automating your social; “so it looks like your active” and not engaging with those that connect with you is a drain on the little financial and time resources you commit to it. In his book “Social Media Explained“, Mark Schaefer outlines three key elements behind every successful social media interaction that he studied or was informed of; “Targeted Connections + Meaningful Content + Authentic Helpfulness = Business Benefits”. As he clearly illustrates in the book, building relationships, nurturing those relationships and being helpful, leads to returns – tangible (a speaking engagement) or intangible (an introduction to a new connection that leads to other indirect opportunities).
As noted by Schaefer and fellow marketing authors and leaders Bryan Kramer and Ted Rubin, we’ve moved away from the traditional Business to Business (B2B), Business to Consumer (B2C) to a more personal relationship of one to one, or as Kramer notes Human to Human (H2H – title of his new book). By fully automating your social efforts; especially automated replies on Twitter (DM and tweet), you are demonstrating, or at the very least implying that you are not truly interested in engaging with those that engage with your content. Find the right balance for yourself and build meaningful relationships.
As Ted Rubin noted in a recent Instagram/Facebook post and quoting Maya Angelou:
I am proud to announce that I’m now a HootSuite Solution Partner. I’ve been a Hootsuite Pro client for a little while now and the flexibility that it affords in monitoring my social channels has been an eye opener and a real asset.
HootSuite is a social media management system for businesses and organizations to collaboratively execute campaigns across multiple social networks from one secure, web-based dashboard. Key social network integrations include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, plus a suite of social content apps for YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Yammer, Tumblr and more.
In late 2012 HootSuite hit 5 million users, including 79 of the Fortune 100 companies. Along with HootSuite’s web platform, 50% of users access the dashboard through their mobiles including iPhone, Android, Blackberry and iPad. HootSuite also offers localized versions of their dashboard in 13 languages – English, French, Italian, Japanese, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Dutch, Polish, Korean, and Indonesian.
There are many benefits to HootSuite Pro
Engage: Optimize your audience engagement by creating search streams, scheduling messages and monitoring all of your social network profiles from one customizable web and mobile dashboard.
Collaborate: Invite clients and colleagues to participate in your social media management. Assign messages for follow-up and share streams, helping you increase efficiency.
Analyze: Measure your efforts using over 40 social analytics modules to build and share custom reports. Or select from one of our pre-made templates for quick and easy reporting.
Secure: Share access with team members without compromising security. The team permission levels and advanced sharing options ensure you remain in control of your valuable social profiles and accounts.
See for yourself:
Sign up for a 30-day free trial of HootSuite Pro now: Go Here
Whether you’re in a large-scale enterprise, a small business, or a sole-proprietorship, we are all faced with a similar challenge in today’s changing markets; the shift from the “selling process” to the “buying process”. In the not too distant past, prospects needed to touch base with an organization’s sales department much sooner in the process to get the information they needed to make their buying decision. It provided the sales teams the opportunity to “persuade” prospects with why the product or service you offered was the best for their particular situation. However, in today’s world of digital natives and savvy consumers, the power has changed. Today, consumers can find as much information as they feel necessary to make their buying decision or ask targeted specific questions. It is more likely that they will put more credibility into other sources of information, instead of the well-trained and knowledgeable staff in your organization. Right or wrong, Joe, their recently met social network friend, is a trusted resource on what you have to offer.
In today’s marketing, that means adapting to this new model of business and integrating proven traditional marketing techniques with new digital tools and channels to get your message out. Instead of broadcasting your message, you’ll spend time planning how to make your information available to your prospects, when, where and how they want to consume it. You’ll be working diligently to provide valuable content to help them before, during and after the buying decision. I hear you, it’s a common refrain; how am I supposed to do all of this at the same time as run my business? It’s a good question and where marketing automation comes into the mix.
By definition; Marketing Automation is the process of automating repetitive tasks that are normally done manually, requiring time and resources that could be better used elsewhere. One of the goals of using automation, specifically in marketing is to streamline sales and marketing processes to improve efficiency and reduce potential human error. It’s main goal is to use techniques to improve the overall customer experience, to move closer to a meaningful discussion, ideally in person.
Automated Marketing Programs:
The outcome of most marketing efforts is to generate leads, whether that is a new prospect or up selling to existing clients to other offerings or more enhanced services. When implementing an automated marketing program your goal should be to improve the engagement from the inquiry stage to the close of the deal with your prospect (imagine Marketing and Sales living together in harmony). Complete marketing automation programs provide you with the ability to create digital and behavioral consumer profiles that allow you to market to a very specific niche of consumers. A full program will consist of content creation, lead generation, email messaging creation, comprehensive and unique landing pages, drip or nurture marketing campaigns for each segment you identify. Sounds like a lot and it is (most you are already doing, if not all), but by using an automation system the time required to complete each of these tasks is reduced significantly. It will allow you to have a meaningful conversation with your prospects about what matters most to them in the buying process.
By way of example (as noted in an earlier blog post How not to sell an $18,000 Car), recently we bought a second vehicle for our home. We did our research, narrowed our choices to one known brand (used) and one unknown brand (new). All we needed was a test drive to make our final decision. We used the new brand’s online tools to price the vehicle, compare it to other brands and finally to arrange a test drive, all along sharing critical information with the brand. Five dealerships later, we finally got the test drive in the model we wanted. Had the organization as a whole, instead of independent dealerships, had an effective program in place, we should have been in and out and very satisfied within a couple of days, not the weeks it actually took which almost cost them the sale.
“By publishing content that shows buyers your understand their problems and can show them how to solve them, you build credibility” Ardath Albee, author of EMarketing Strategies for Complex Sales.
Let’s imagine how the marketing automation process works (this is true for any product/service).
Create content to attract prospects to your organization (Blog, Ebook, Whitepaper, Newsletter, Imagery and Video) and share that content with your networks.
Capture the leads driven by your content (using a sCRM system). Establish the quality of the lead and where they may be in the buying cycle/consumer journey.
Nurture your lead(s) – provide additional content that helps the prospect know more about the solutions to their particular issues, show value and thought leadership (blog, additional resources in Ebook, video, podcasts). Monitor the feedback and tweak your messaging to better serve the prospect. This is accomplished by creating compelling email marketing campaigns, not one offs, but a series, spread out over time.
Convert the consumer of your information to a consumer of your product or service. This is achieved by having generated a better understanding of the prospect and their pain points and demonstrating you can provide the solution).
Deliver your product/service and provide outstanding service. Provide content on best practices. For example, you own a beauty salon, and to provide added service you’ve created a series of How to videos on your website so that your customer can maintain their look in between visits. You also recognize, that some will be leery of trimming their own bangs, or worse aren’t and shouldn’t. To show greater value, you offer a touch up in between scheduled visits. You now generated the loyalty and opportunity to offer more products or services.
Up sell your customers. They’ve signed on to your basic package, love your product and your service. It’s time to share additional information to show how moving up the product scale can save them what matters most (and to most of us it’s time or money). Demonstrating the value proposition of moving to an enhanced service is huge. For example, if you are a Hootsuite user, you know the free version is very useful. However, the power in the Pro plan is immense and may help advance your business at a very low and effective price point, including having two of you able to post, monitor and respond to your various social channels.
Get Referrals! You’ve earned your customers respect, trust and vote of confidence. They now turn to your first and foremost when they have a question. Sorry Joe, but you’ve been replaced. You may now reap the rewards of the fields you sowed, by cultivating new leads from your current customers. You’ve shown they matter to you, you’ve tweaked your messaging and reacted positively to both negative and positive product/service feedback from your customers. They are brand champions and would be pleased to share your company with their personal and guarded networks.
If you think about it, you’ve all likely experienced marketing automation at work. Have you downloaded an Ebook about your favorite hobby, watched an instructional webcast or signed up for a newsletter on great Italian recipes. If you have, you’ll recall receiving a thank you email, a follow up message about other activities, a call to subscribe to the paid version that provides greater details, etc.; marketing automation at it’s best.
There are many excellent all-in-one marketing automation systems on the market that seamlessly connect to CRM systems. They vary in scale and price depending on the size of your organization, your prospect list and so forth. On average you can expect to invest a dollar figure between $300 and $1,000 per month. I’ve been fortunate enough to have used an all-in-one and test drove many others in the past and they are worth their weight in gold. I understand that not everyone may have this commitment in their current budgets. It’s okay if you don’t, you can do this on a limited budget. To do so, all it takes is more planning, a front to end strategy, a piecemeal of tools, and an investment in time (as not all the processes will be seamlessly integrated). So for example (please note all suggestions are just that, are available at no or low cost and should be researched to meet your organizational goals):
Using a blogging platform (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, TypePad) and create the content you are going to share;.
Promote your content via email on an email system (MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, etc) and through your social sharing channels (Twitter, G+, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc)
Create a unique landing page for your content to capture the leads that are generated from your content (for example a child page on your website or using Premise if on WordPress).
Integrate your email list into a CRM system, ideally one that provides for social integration (Nimble, SugarCRM, SalesForce, etc)
Create and nurture an email campaign within the email system you’ve chosen and provide a thank you, an automated follow up within a given period of time, an offer for more content, a free review, etc..
Monitor your social channels with a social management tool such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck, etc. Use the information from listening to your networks to tweak your offerings and create additional content to resolve their issues. Also use tools such as Google Analytics to monitor your engagement, where and who is consuming and sharing your content to more efficiently use your channels to get your message out to your network (prospects, customers, advocates, influencers, etc).
Engage with your prospect to get additional information, invite them to connect with you on a webinar, or to contact you directly to answer any lingering questions.
Close the sale; service; rinse and repeat.
Your ultimate goal:
Imagine an Internet that is uniquely your own. You see only the content that interests you, and you can browse in peace without salespeople getting in your face until the moment you’re ready to buy. After your purchase, you receive automated answers to questions you haven’t even yet asked, and when you visit your vendor’s website for more information or training, forms already include your contact information, as if they’ve been expecting you.
Below is the SlideShare presentation compiled by Lee Odden (@leeodden) and Dell. It has a wealth of information from leading thought leaders in the space of social media and becoming a social business. The presentation is hosted on SlideShare and contains 18 slides. It is well worth your time to read each and act accordingly for your business. As always, I’d recommend that before you jump on any new social channel (new to you), do your research first. Is it a place where your prospects and customers are going? What are your competitors doing in the space? How does this new channel advance the achievement of your organizational goals?
A key takeaway reminder is included in the summary from the slides “The biggest opportunity for businesses in 2013 is to be a social business, not simply a business in social”. This sentiment has been a common thread for the last little while, however, the challenge is understanding what it means to be a social business and how to sell that to the senior leaders in your organizations, if they are not convinced.
My greatest takeaway was from Philip Sheldrake’s, answer to what is the greatest overrated and underrated metric “Any output metric not correlated to your specific outcome metrics, is not just overrated, it’s irrelevant”.
Finding the deck in my reader this morning (through a post by Lee Odden), reinforced lessons from earlier in the week. I was fortunate enough to be a participant at the Waterloo Region Small Business Center‘s “Social Media Summit” and was in the audience when Kelly Craft, was presenting “Social Analytics” (will share Kelly’s deck when available). Her key point, among many was very similar in tenure with Philip’s but with Kelly’s own spin and unique voice. Some of the key points in Kelly’s presentation are captured in the tweet stream below. A full stream of valuable information is available under the hashtag #socbizwr on Twitter.
I enjoyed revisiting the thoughts of some trusted resources in the deck from Dell and connecting to some new minds. I trust that you will find the information equally of value. To your continued success on the road to becoming a “Social Business”.
It’s been an interesting week already. Yesterday, I was able to participate in in the Waterloo Region Social Media Summit, hosted by the Small Business Center. The day was full of great information from the generous and talented speakers (to see the stream use #socbizwr). What was telling that in the course of these 24 hours, I’ve listen to Joe Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis (@Thornley) keynote at the summit talk about the need for senior leadership in social, returned home and caught this compelling discussion/debate with @tedrubin and @jasonkeath in IBM’s webcast debate the ROI of social media and the need for senior level engagement and leadership (watch here). http://youtu.be/29i4L0mui2U
Today, as I scanned my reader, I came across this great presentation from Sandy Carter, VP Social Business Evangelist at IBM sharing information from IBM’s CEO survey. What’s nice about this short presentation is the key takeaways and the excellent examples of CEO’s that have embrace social to engage with their customers and how they are empowering their employees to do the same. Both are worth your time.