The Value of Social Media (for me)

Some folks purport to give us statistics on how much of what happens in social networking platforms is “valuable.”

There’s a problem with that. We all have different measures of value. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Let’s face it, however. There’s an awful lot of noise…how much signal is there? And before you can even define that – what is “signal” to you?

I have something like 4,500 Twitter “followers,” while I follow about 1,300. How many of those truly add value to me on a regular basis? Probably 2-3%. Surprised? It’s not the 80-20 rule – it’s the 97-3 rule!

Those of you who add value know who you are (mostly), because we interact. Here’s what matters to me:

- Professional and personal camaraderie

- Unique and creative perspectives

- Proactive, pay-it-forward connecting

- Information source in domains that interest me

For instance, Guy Kawasaki is noisy, but I really enjoy some of the interesting links he provides. I like seeing fellow New Jerseyan Deirdre Breakenridge show up with her “Good Morning” in my tweetstream. Ben Kunz challenges me and makes me think. Kevin McNulty talks to me. Brandon Cox is always uploading great links to resources. Ann Handley is a dear friend, colleague, and explorer of life. Tom Martin is a lively thinker and loads of fun. Gavin Heaton, even from across the world, makes connections. Christina Stallings and I sometimes have dueling breakfast pictures on the weekend. Dennis VanStaalduinen makes me laugh. Cheryl Smith is a great sounding board and friend in the journey, as is Becky Carroll. Jay Baer is very smart and “gets” business. And then there are those who probably don’t even know that they add value to me, like Mitch Joel and Christopher Penn and Jim Long and Susannah Fox…and I could go on and on….

The bottom line is, you can find the people who are value-adds – AND the people you can help along the way also (be a mentor!) – by figuring out what it is you’re really after and focusing your efforts. So -what and who is valuable to you? Add your thoughts in the comments.

You see all those names up there? Never would have found a single one without blogging, Twitter, and other social platforms. And many are now friends in real life, not just avatars.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the signal/noise ratio. Just find that 2%, your “inner circle.” And build from there.

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No Longer Running in Circles, Armano Unveils the sVenn Diagram

After a recent post put him over the Annual Blog Circle Allotment Quota, designer/blogger David Armano has just launched his newest information explanation creation, the sVenn diagram.

“My audience was getting tired of the same old Venn diagrams, and frankly, so was I.” explained Armano. As you can see from the trajectory of my graphics over time, I simply overused the circle metaphor to the point of radius overload. It was time for a change.

“For the last month or two, everyone’s been demanding squiggles. So that’s the heart of my new design motif, the sVenn.”

Not everyone was thrilled with the abrupt change of direction. “I’ve always liked Venn diagrams myself,” complained Alan Wolk, while feeding his pet toad. “Armano is taking a perfectly good mechanism for pretending to understand information design, and deconstructing it into an atomized mess of disparate graphical entities.

“Besides, you can’t do squiggles in pastel.”

Top American Social Media Idol designer Kristi Colvin had a different perspective, however. “Look, Venn diagrams are at least as old as AOL disks. We need something new, something fresh, something that can encompass all levels of both meaningful and meaningless, all in one package. The sVenn is perfect for this – a brilliant move by Armano. And my Uncle Sven is going to be thrilled that he’ll finally have his 15 minutes of on-line fame!”

Armano was reticent to show the full suite of his new sVenn diagrams, as they are under Patent Review for a New Method for Creating or Saving 1 Million Jobs, but he did pull one sample out of his gallery, an identity design for a social media guru formerly known as Scoble. “As you can see, with one sVenn, I’ve summed up every aspect of Robert’s Scoble’s his identity. Just wait ’til you see my latest, the sVeen, which will be the new lovemark for Gary Vay-ner-chuck (@garyvee).”

In other social media news this week, social media agency maven Darryl Ohrt described the Olympic sport of Curling as “riveting.” He was promptly unfollowed by 1,500 people on Twitter, though three Canadians did add him to their RSS feeds.

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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(if you don’t subscribe, 75 neighborhood starlings will be deprived of suet…)

Why Should I…?

My car needed an oil change. And instead of suffering through the rigamarole that often occurs when going to the dealership (even with a coupon for a freebie), I decided to use the Valvoline “Instant Oil Change” joint not far away. You don’t even get out of your car – they have a remarkably efficient system for knocking out quick stuff like this.

And knock it out they did. Very friendly and crisp service. Zoom-zoom and it was done (yes, I have a Mazda). I was very happy with Vince and the gang up in Kinnelon until the very end – when he pointed out a section on the receipt and asked if I would make a phone call (“only about 4 1/2 minutes!”) to tell Valvoline about how they did.

Just plug in that 17-digit number and go through a series of questions. Ummm…yeah. I just saved a bunch of time by using their service, then I want to take more minutes of my time to get immersed in an automated phone survey…with no incentive to do so? Why should I?

Oh – I had a chance to win $500.00. Right.

As I drove home, I mused on this – what would motivate me to actually make that call? What would make me WANT to do something so optional and non-rewarding, even if (as a marketing guy) I know why they’re doing it and I benefited from the good service?

Well, when totaling up the bill, Vince asked if I had any coupons. Ummm…no. There is a seemingly random appearance at times of such coupons for Valvoline but I can never keep track. Well – what if the incentive to make the phone call was to receive a coupon for $7.00 off the next oil change? And furthermore – what if I could do the survey on-line, and specify whether I wanted to print it out immediately, OR have them e-mail it to me at an interval I choose – say, in 3 months as a reminder, just when I’m due for the next oil change?

That, I would do. And really – isn’t it better to provide coupons to already-existing customers, in a way that actually helps ensure their return? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

So, Valvoline or other-purveyors-of-similar-services – Tell you about my visit? Sure – it was fine, but can be better for both you and me. So here’s an idea for you, from a customer/marketer who won’t make that phone call for no reason, but will spend 15 minutes blogging about how to improve the experience. Hope to see you again in 3 months or so (if I remember…!)

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Jason Falls is a Bonobo in Drag

Story here.

Woodruff: The Caricature

When I started my business almost 4 years ago, the best 50 bucks I spent was getting a quick little digital caricature made, which I included in the signature area of e-mails. You cannot believe how many comments I got over that – and the ease of recognition that came.

However, all things change – I now wear glasses full-time instead of contacts, my hair is shorter, and (frankly) I grew tired of the old cartoon – so it was time to upgrade. I have been connected on Twitter for a while with Victor in Connecticut (@MyCaricature), and liked his work, so I gave decided to give him a whirl.

Here’s the prelim result. For those of you who know me – what do you think? Any suggestions for improvement? For comparison, a recent picture that is my current Twitter avatar. I have a window of opportunity for tweaks; I think Vic hit it pretty darned well, but if you think anything needs tweaking to be more true-to-life, fire away in the comments!

Oh – I really do appreciate the sudden weight loss that Vic pulled off for me – far easier than all the painful efforts at dieting!

(by the way, if you’re looking for a way to amp up your recognition level, and get people to become engaged in something as simple as your e-mails, I highly recommend a caricature included in your signature. Oh – and this is an unsponsored post. I am paying full freight for my new caricature)

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Getting a GRIP on ROI

ROI and social media? It matters, of course.  It’s important to measure what a specific investment of dollars has returned by way of dollars – but ultimately, this is a post-hoc measurement, right? When people demand ROI calculations up front, what we’re really talking about is projections – and we need to project more than that.

Looking to try some new initiative? Don’t simply talk about ROI. You should talk about anticipated or estimated impact on goals for something you do or do not do. Thinking about “return” in the direct financial sense is too narrow. Ultimately, aren’t you really all about attaining specific goals?

Let’s change the conversation. Don’t we really just want to get a GRIPGoal Realization Impact Projection – on everything we consider doing?

Take a business considering the use of social media. For most for-profit entities, the goal is business growth. What we really want to know is, how will our involvement (or non-involvement) in social media impact our growth? Based on trends, case studies, market opportunities, and common sense, what do we project will occur if we invest (or fail to)? Potential ROI is part of this – but it is not the entire pie.

One reason it is important to think this way is that it is impossible, in most cases, to make direct/accurate correlations between specific activities and specific results. Why did that person call a certain realtor to list their house? Was it the billboard they saw that morning, the accumulation of ad impressions in the local paper, the business card found in a drawer, the recommendation of a friend, a 2nd level connection on Facebook, or some or all or none of the above? What’s the ROI on a radio spot at 7:48 am Thursday – or the one on Friday?

Another main difficulty with a more narrow ROI approach is the focus on short-term thinking. But many initiatives have to be designed for impact over the long haul. How many people will try Loveless Cafe in Nashville because of this – 28 years later? And while we’re at it, what about the positive (or negative) non-financial impact that occurs? See Olivier Blanchard’s very smart ROI posts for more on this theme.

On the other hand, getting a GRIP is a much more holistic and sensible approach to evaluating the relative value of any initiative. GRIP can include ROI estimates, but as generally practiced right now, viewing everything through ROI spectacles doesn’t do a great job taking into account the broader issues at play.

One way to “grid it out”:

…or something like that.

My friend Olivier Blanchard (who has been critiquing my thought process with this post) brings up a great point – what is the currency or measure that one would use in the GRIP model? My sense is: that depends (don’t you love consultants?). Because the issues and applications go beyond business and dollars, the measures can have quite a variety.

So, here’s a non-financial / non-biz example – someone wants to know if they should set up a personal Facebook page. Main goal: keeping in better touch with family/old friends. Getting a GRIP on this could be as simple as identifying the main factors (benefits/drawbacks/resources), and setting up sliders as a relative scale. What will emerge is that, while there will be a short-term extra effort learning the platform and setting up, the long-term savings of time and effort will far outweigh it.

Similarly, for business, short and long-term financial return, the PR value/risk, the internal resources, the potential direct and indirect “reach,” and other factors all can be put on scales to help figure out the potential for better realizing goals.

The model is still soft clay – what do you think of such an approach? Valuable? Useless? Tweaks? Add your thoughts in the comments…

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Circling your Social Network

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while; a Twitter exchange this morning with John Jantsch (@ducttape) finally motivated me to stop stalling and just jot it down.

It’s about concentric circles.

Specifically, I don’t like how social platforms tend to force you into binary choices about people in your network. In Facebook, everyone you choose to connect to is a “friend”. With Twitter, you have followers, and/or you follow. It’s all too simplistic and, in fact, quite inaccurate.

My network (on-line and off-line) can be more accurately divided into four levels:

1. Audience - people to whom I am connected (or who are connected to me) and therefore within reach, though there is little or no personal interaction yet.

2. Acquaintances - people with whom I’ve had at least some passing contact, professional or personal or virtual.

3. Friends - people with whom I have more extensive and regular contact (professional or personal or virtual), generally finding areas of common interest and shared experience.

4. Intimates - my “inner circle” (professional / personal / virtual). These are folks with whom there is a deeper trust relationship and more transparent level of sharing.

Social networking technology actually enables growth at every level, and can provide interesting opportunities for and with people from intimates to audience. It also helps move people along into closer orbit – many of those who I now consider friends and “inner circle” folks were met via social media.

I actually wish social platforms would enable us to categorize and “filter” people more readily by making such distinctions. Because we might want to provide levels of transparency to different groups in an intuitive manner (yes, I know you can monkey with Facebook settings to do some of this, but I’d like one dashboard that aggregates the entire social graph…)

As John and I were discussing, the public nature of social media means we have to be careful not to make people feel excluded. Yet my sense is that if we relate openly and transparently with people, realistically understanding how relationships progress, then we can accomplish quite the opposite – slow and steady inclusion into deeper layers of intimacy (I’m sure John agrees).

That’s my take, anyway. Make sense to you?

P.S. it is my intention, in 2010, to spend far more time cultivating my inner circles, as that is where I am now convinced the greatest impact and good can occur.

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Blogger Blogs about Google Buzz in Vain Linkbait Effort

SOMEWHERE IN ALABAMA – In an effort to join the bandwagon and hop on the blogosphere buzz about just-launched Google Buzz, social media guru/expert Collie Mackier decided to write a blog post extolling the significance of Buzz before actually ever seeing or using the product.

“Every blogger worth his or her grits knows that as soon as there is a new product announcement, you have to put out a rushed and ill-informed blog post about whatever it is in order to get links and Twitter re-tweets,” declared Mackier in an interview conducted using Buzz/Wave/Gmail a rotary phone. “Lately, I don’t even bother using the new product. I just read what Mashable says, then make stuff up with my own spin on it. Some guys invest 5 minutes looking at the new shiny object – that’s a waste. I invest that time creating link backtracks (sometimes to Guy Kawasaki, for instance) and hyping the news on Plurk.”

“Let’s face it people – it’s all about the linkbait. That’s why I always manage to make one reference to Connie Reece or Jay Baer or Liz Strauss in each post. Because it’s not what you know – it’s who you bribe into the ‘conversation’ with some first-mover link-love.”

It should be noted that Mr. Mackier made no gratuitous references to Mari Smith, Chris Brogan, or Alan Wolk during the interview.

As expected for a social media rockstar, Mackier’s post was re-tweeted 27 times on Twitter and was incorporated in 22 other linkbait blog posts/lists hyping the new Buzz platform, whatever it is. Instead of an excerpt, his entire post is reprinted below:

Google Buzz is what all the buzz is about – everyone has been demanding the user-centric social integration features that are offered here. I’m sure that once I use it, I’ll have more to say about it, but in the meantime, Buzz is buzzing the blogosphere (see links here and here and here) with more Buzz than Wave did, which I still haven’t tried either. It’s Google, so I just know it will change the world – at least, Mashable thinks so. What are your thoughts? Please join the conversation below by adding comments before you try it too. And please tweet to get the buzz going.

A standard meaningless picture is also  included in the blog post as a way to try to entice reader engagement while ducking on the delivery of any actual value or content.

By being one of the first blogging all-stars to post about Buzz, Collie’s ranking in the AdAge 1,500 jumped three places, to number 889, just ahead of The Lifestream and Times of Jean Luc Picard. His blog is still nowhere near the rankings of such internet luminaries as Ann Handley, Amber Naslund, or Lee Odden, however.

In related news, Yahoo announced the release of its Buzz-killing Mullet platform, including integration with Prodigy, GeoCities, and Napster.

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Prior linkbait-laden StickyFigure spoofs

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Holistic Common Sense and Social Networking

I enjoyed reading my friend Amber Naslund‘s post recently entitled The Taboo (but critical) Community Skill. Essentially, what Amber says is that we should not neglect the importance of selling skills – after all, all of this community engagement needs to lead us to some kind of business outcome.

As Amber put it:

When we talk about community or social media people in business roles, we talk about a lot of things.

Their ability to communicate, to interact. To be helpful. To be a diplomat and a conversationalist and a steward of the brand. But because it’s so often a taboo subject in social media, we miss talking about a pivotal skill that I think community professionals need to have. Sales skills.

Now I happen to agree with Amber. We cannot be fastidious about the reality that we are promoting, selling, seeking to grow business. I think we need to look at social media, and those who are tasked with putting it to use, under the very holistic umbrella of Business Growth. In fact, just swap out “social media” and put about anything in its place. The very broad category of Communications. A sub-category, On-line Communications. And a sub-category of that, Social Networking. How do each of these functions contribute to the things that contribute to the “Big Thing” – business growth?

Instead of overly simplistic questions like, “What’s the ROI of Social Media?“, business people should move backward from the “Big Thing” – business growth (more sales, new customer acquisition, better efficiency, great hires, etc.), and then look back to those elements that contribute to it – see the bullet points in blue above.

Now, in order to accomplish those tasks, what long-term strategies need to be in place? You can swap out Communications with IT or Management or various other disciplines – all of it should be geared toward business growth.

Now, think about social networking as part of the larger bucket of Communications. Don’t get narrowly focused in on the ROI of Social Media. Instead, use Holistic Common Sense. Will involvement in these communication approaches help create awareness, build a fan base, build a pipeline of prospective customers, sell your offering, serve customers, position you as a thought leader, influence a market, and provide marketing intelligence?

If social media (or anything else – fill in the blank) will significantly help accomplish these goals, leading to business growth, then come up with a good plan and make the commitment to employ a workable strategy. If not, then don’t.

You may be able to calculate some ROI on specific tactics and approaches over time. But look, first and foremost, at what will lead to business growth. That’s your ultimate goal – right?

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The Voice behind the Avatar

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Matthew Ray Scott for his Marketing Story Podcast series.

Matthew is an excellent interviewer. I, however, have ordered a new USB microphone/headset after listening to the audio. My current setup is not totally up to par (ooops!).

Much of the interview focuses on small business use of social media. However, somewhat unexpectedly, I kinda spilled the beans on some of my long-term dreams, and my growing vision about how I want to see us use social networking in order to fundamentally change how we approach business.

So – what’s the voice (and heart and soul) behind the avatar? Give a listen and discuss your perspectives (also available for free via iTunes under “Marketing Stories”). And see how our dreams match up!

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