A Business Technology Place

The role of social media

My news reader brought me an interesting post from Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld this week; Why Google+ is the place for passions. I identify with Elgan’s commentary because that’s how I use Google+ today as well. My circles include Digital Marketing, Georgia Tech, Technology, and Ubuntu. Communities and old-fashion search are other ways to filter content. So is it a place for passions? Absolutely. While I have friends that I converse with at times on Google+, it’s mostly a destination for me to absorb content related to interests. Sometimes I think of it as a visual and interactive RSS reader.

What drives our social media usage?

Some people I know have completely avoided social media sites. They don’t use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Other people I know use multiple sites. As with anything in life, we make decisions about where we’ll spend our time. It’s getting tougher to decide, because the digital age has multiplied all of the sources that compete for our attention each day. For me, it’s all I can do to keep up with work and family obligations during the work week. My social and digital media usage is increasingly becoming a weekend activity. (Thank goodness the little Roku box gives me a digital outlet during mid-week exercises!)

What drives our usage of social media sites is content and interaction. The various platforms deliver content and interaction capabilities differently. Look at the social media sites in 2014. They’ve evolved to communities that appeal to specific audiences. Our interactions on sites like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and LinkedIn might include common set of people. But even if it does, the content of the messages and our degree of interaction are different on each platform.

Why does social media matter?

Take the role of social media in our culture and compare it against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are elements that fit in each of the three top tiers: love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. I translate that to mean that social media can make a difference in our lives and those we communicate with. For example, our participation in social media can help us get through tough times, provide for others in need, contribute to causes, receive instruction for problem solving, share a joke, engage in debate, and learn new skills. Sure, you could argue that some social media use is superficial. That’s true of all our interactions in life whether through electronic media or not. The bottom-line is that social media is interwoven in elements of human motivation and needs.

Oh, by the way. If you haven’t looked at Google+, it’s worth a few minutes of your time. Golden retrievers and disruptive technologies are a few of things that interest me.

(Image credit – http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/4453/Twitter-In-Real-Life-The-Follow-Back-cartoon.aspx)

Perceptions

What are people’s perceptions of co-workers using social media at work? I’ve always felt uncomfortable about it because it has never been part of my formal job description and I haven’t needed to use it to maintain business relationships. It’s not social media for personal use that worries me. I think about the perceptions of others if I use social media for business industry content during business hours.
Is my thinking and worry about perceptions outdated?
Part of my job responsibility is to stay current on technology trends and advances. But if I do this during standard business work hours and then share or comment on the information do others think I’m not doing my job? After all, I have operational responsibilities during the day and my research can take place at night. Right?
Or maybe all this worry about perception is outdated and social media participation is now accepted? Perhaps. I think it helps to see the media, entertainment, and news industries using social media to communicate with customers. In many cases these companies use the personalities of individual employees to increase the reach of their business.
It’s complicated.
As I think about it, there is no set answer for this. Perception of others is something I can’t control. Perceptions are influenced by the environment, culture, and job position of the person involved. The truth is that the role of an employee and their title play a part in the perceptions. Truth is also that people already have perceptions of other employees outside of social media.
Managing perceptions may be the best course of action. Of course one way to do this is to not use social media at all during the business day. For me that actually fits the case most days. But as I strive to stay current and to be active in my professional trade it becomes more difficult.
Use common sense and play it smart.
But there are things I can control. I can control how I perform at my primary job responsibilities. I can control use of the social media and the content I contribute. All of this helps to manage expectations.
At the end of the day I’m rated at work by how I fulfill my primary job responsibilities. That means increasing revenue, reducing costs, and creating an environment where employees can be successful. How can I use social media to help accomplish all those goals? That’s the bigger challenge.
Control what I can control – change perceptions by creating content wisely

Finding social rhythms

We have limits on the number of digital profiles we can keep active.
I have six digital profiles that I use regularly for various purposes. Here’s the list in no order of significance: Blog site, RSS reader, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. My activity on each varies from week-to-week based on a variety of factors including my schedule and purpose of communication. I’m not closed minded to changing in the future. But at this point in time those are the areas that comprise my digital life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect six digital areas are far more than most people try to maintain. I’m not active on Pinterest or Instagram or (insert your favorite site not listed here). It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy learning and exploring, but my capacity to participate is limited by my other choices.

Our digital participation is subject to change.
I think we all gravitate towards the spaces that give us the most value. By that I mean, a place where we connect with people and information. This is a place that we can consume information that provides knowledge and benefit to us, but it’s also a place that allows us to contribute information back to the space.

We may create profiles and try them for a time before abandoning the profile for something else. Twitter is a good example. I see abandoned profiles all the time. Many have created a Twitter account to see what it’s all about but have never contributed any information on their own. LinkedIn is another good example. One could argue it’s a professional expectation now to have a LinkedIn profile. But most people don’t use LinkedIn for professional activity such as networking, knowledge share, or research until they are actively pursuing a job.

We develop social rhythms based on the platform and content.
Maybe you don’t think of it that way. But we are all creatures of habit. I know I try to find a rhythm for producing and consuming digital content. It’s a challenge and requires dedication each day. As I see it though, my digital lifestyle is about learning, thinking, and growing. Even though contributing content isn’t directly related to my compensation at work, keeping an expertise and knowledge molds my thinking and knowledge for work activities.

Here’s some examples from my routine:
* My RSS feed is like my newspaper. It contains profiles of information sources that I want to read regular updates. Some of them are media outlets while others are blogs from individual thought leaders.

* LinkedIn is a always-on professional networking forum. I can keep track of my professional connections changing jobs, adding skills, or sharing pieces of information.

* Google+ is like combination of a RSS reader and discussion forum. I’ve created circles based on topics and when I view the stream from an individual topic it’s like reading a RSS feed. I’m finding that Google+ is more rich with discussion about topics than a typical blog or media publication. Much of the value of Google+ comes in reading and participating in the comments after each post.

* My blog is a my thought sandbox. I use the blog to record my thoughts, practice writing, and experiment with digital publication.

Platforms may come and go. But our basic need to communicate doesn’t change.
Regardless of what digital platform(s) we use or how we use them, we are driven by a need to communicate. “Social media” is just a term to wrap around social creatures. Maybe the current platform we use is discontinued in the future. But we’ll find another one to use because of our basic need to communicate ideas with one another. How much or how little we contribute is based on our rhythm for consumption.

I’m always searching for ways to stay in rhythm or to develop a more complete set of habits in my life. Let me know what works for you.

eMail marketing vs social channels

My daily routine of working in the marketing department includes planning and executing communications on digital platforms. What’s not to like about this work? It’s full of experimenting with message formats, exploring new channels, researching customers, and tracking results. Good stuff.

But ultimately marketers are measured on the success of the communications they create. So it goes beyond experimenting having a little fun. The work needs to produce a return. I may create digital messages on five different platforms and feel good about it. Yet success is measured by some connection. The connection might lead to a sale, solve a complaint, answer a question, etc. No one aims to produce noise, irrelevant messages, or content that is otherwise not useful.

In recent days, my group has had more success with the older email communication channel than with newer digital platforms such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. The metrics we use to measure were so lopsided that I recently told my boss that eMail is our trojan horse through the corporate firewall.

What I meant by this was that my research showed limited use of some digital networks during business hours for B2B communications. While I don’t have specific numbers, I believe that many of our clients are restricted from using those digital sites due to corporate firewall and social media policies. But email is allowed. Email is a way to get through the internet usage policies and to deliver messages.

Of course the message must still be relevant. But we can get a sense of that from eMail tracking. Unlike paper based mail, we can not only track deliverability but we can see open, render, and click-through rates as well. I can’t tell you how many people read a tweet. I have to look for some other evidence such as if they respond to a message, retweet it, use a coupon code,etc.

The eMail inbox is different though. People are in the habit of reading or at least scanning the subject line of every message that is inside their email inbox. That’s not true of other digital media such as status updates on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I know at least with my own habits, that I don’t review and read every message from every contact on social sites where I have a profile. I typically see a status feed of the most current events. If I haven’t looked in a few days then most likely I never see the social message. That’s the email difference. It’s still a place where most people attempt to scan every message because they don’t want to miss those messages that are personal to them.

Melissa Campanelli of Online Marketing Strategies and Tactics summarized a Forrester study on email usage. Her summary includes points made by Forrester about email volume growth including cost and effectiveness. It all adds up to supporting evidence for companies to continue to use eMail for B2B communication.

I found the question of eMail Marketing vs social media posted on LinkedIn as well.   The points in that discussion are great:
* Email isn’t a replacement communication device but part of a larger overall strategy.
* Message content, audience, and relevancy are critical

Bottom line? Find what works. Experiment. Then make connections. What’s not to like about that kind of work? 😉

B2B social media within the banking industry

I completed some very basic research last week with the goal to discover if and where bankers were using social media to communicate within the industry. To be clear, I was not looking for bankers talking to account holders. There are plenty of good examples of banks using Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to do brand positioning, customer service, and banking education. I was looking for examples of bankers interacting with each other to discuss industry topics and operational challenges. My expectation was to find widespread use on LinkedIn because LinkedIn is an accepted and trusted leader for professional networking and communications. I was wrong.

(credit LeadForce1 Inc.)

I picked four financial institutions at random which included a regional bank, two community banks, and a credit union. For the regional bank I pulled 12 profiles, most of which were VP executives.  The other institutions didn’t have as many profiles to pull, but I found VP level employees for them as well.

The majority of the profiles were sparsely populated with evidence of use. I looked for elements such as profile photos, group membership, recommendations, and number of connections. Over 80% of the profiles I examined had no photo and limited group memberships. Find #1 – Many executive level bankers have LinkedIn profiles, but they don’t appear to use them frequently.

Because I was looking for evidence of B2B collaboration I focused the most on group memberships. So looking across the individuals I found a few common groups and then joined them. When I examined the discussions within each group I found that the contributors were not bankers but instead industry analysts, consultants, and marketing agencies. Find #2 – Bankers are not conversing within the LinkedIn groups for bankers.

Next I looked at media publications such as Credit Union Times, Bank Director, and The Financial Brand. I did find a sparse collection of comments to online posts. Many appeared to be from Bankers, but the profiles of the responder are hidden or not complete so they are not traceable to an individual.

I moved next to examine forums such as bankersonline.com and banking-forum.org. This was where I found the most activity. Bankers talking to each other. Bankers asking questions. But, as with the media publications, the identity of the participant is hidden and in many cases the participants use aliases. Find #3 – Bankers participate where they can conceal their identity and the identity of the institution they represent.

Now, certainly this isn’t a comprehensive study on the topic. But I’m left to wonder if it’s a focused micro-study that represents the banking industry. If so, is the behavior governed by the industry regulations, social media policies, fear of negative comments, etc.? I believe bankers are using digital and social media to consume and participate in industry content. But it appears to be in a very controlled manner.

If you are a banker reading this, I’d love to hear your comments. (You can be anonymous)