We do a thing we call 'Conversation Management.' We train clients in the art and we have folks who are the next gen community managers or "conversation managers." At its heart, this always-on service is about managing a brands social Web platforms to build engagement, interaction and acquire followers, likers, fans - whatever the platform calls them. This means the one-two punch of Facebook and Twitter, but it also means publishing sensibly to YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, LinkedIn...you name it.
Increasingly, brands are preoccupied with the technology or the job function. Should they use Vitrue or Buddy Media as their social CMS? What are the skills of the person(s) publishing to their sites and should it be one person or a team across disciplines? This is all important. But so is the way you are interacting with people via your messages.
My Last 7 Brand Messages
I took a look at my own wall over the last 48 hours. I have "liked" (still having a hard time with the new Facebook term) quite a few brands. Some are clients. Some are ones that I am unequivocally a fan of regardless of client status. Some I follow because they are using the platforms in interesting ways. I looked at the messages they have posted. Once I interact with them, they will find their way onto my wall and theoretically expose my Facebook friends to their messages.
I have learned from my work with Thomas Gensemer at Blue State Digital how important messaging is to drive action. Taking the lessons they learned from Obama for America, we now think carefully about how we craft and send messages to followers whether via email or Facebook wall or Twitter. Taking our own experience as brand stewards at Ogilvy, we also know how important a brand voice is especially in social media. And, no, I don't mean that carefully fabricated and contrived voice where every utterance tries to exude brand messaging. Brands can be on-brand and still have a lively, spontaneous interaction with people online. Every brand should decide how their social brand should behave all the way down to whether they speak in third person, first person plural or a super friendly, second person (oh, 7 years of Latin has ultimately paid off).
How often are brands messaging? That's one thing Thomas an team have learned a lot about. No brand wants to cross the spam line by messaging too often.
Action, Voice, Frequency & Value
Ulitmately, these three controllable details - action, frequency, voice - need to pay off in personal value to me. I am not saying that every wall post from iTunes needs to offer me a lost track from Beast, but if some percentage doesn't pay off, the messaging will start to lose its relevance. I would argue that this is where brand equity comes into play. I will put up with more poor messaging from FlipVideo (btw Cisco is a client of ours) than I will from a brand I care less about. This is the age-old dynamic of Flip having more good will in the bank with me because I am a happy customer.
Messages 1& 2: An Exciting Event
The first post is from SAP (client) about their SAPPHIRE NOW event which starts tomorrow in Frankfurt, Orlando and the Web. I had forgotten that it was upon us. There was at least one other post in the past 48 hours from SAP which shows nice restraint. Another marketer might be sending out message after message. The last message came with a Twitpic link to an image of their Twitter Cloud which sounds cool and makes me want to see more (why don't Twitpics link through to a deeper resource?) The other one told me that I could link through to join the event live online. They also tell me about what their Twitter account will be doing but I am not sure I understand. When I link through, I see that I have not missed the event and that I can actually take part online for free. Now I know what my multitasking challenge will be for the next day or two.
SAP delivers action and value with each posting. They also use a friendlier first person plural voice - "we." That matters. As logo profile pics abound on Facebook, the voice is one of the few things that can make the message personal. Since this is their signature global event, I will expect them to post more often over the next few days. In fact, I will create a search column in Tweetdeck for #SAPPHIRENOW to follow the action over the next few days.
Messages 3 & 4:Just Music Promotions
Like millions of people, I am a customer of iTunes. Their Facebook pagehas built an appreciable following with 3.6 million people liking the page. They were also among the first to aggressively use Vitrue to help manage the page (learned at the last WOMMA event; keep in mind the next one event, School of WOM, is coming up)
Their two postings are for music and movie releases - one for MIA and one for 500 Days of Summer, respectively. Two problems: broadcast messages from the vast database that is iTunes are just not relevant to me. I am not interested in either piece of content. Strangely, their use of Facebook wall postings goes against the beauty of their Long Tail advantage. Now they are forced to publish a limited set of updates and will inevitably be drawn to the most popular music and videos just like Walmart. I don't want to hear about new Jonas Brothers releases.
Even though iTunes also uses the "we" voice, their postings inevitably come across as cut and paste promotions. The MIA message has one too many "exclusives" in the subhead reeking of hyperbolic over-claim and the review bite that follows is clearly that label-provided clip that sits underneath all iTunes entries.
How long will I put up with irrelevant promotions from iTunes? We'll see.
Message 5: Convenient Coffee Promotions
Starbucks is another poster child for Facebook.They have accumulated over 7 million "likers." It's all about convenient promotions. Today, I can get a Frapuccino during those coffee-dead hours of 3-5pm. Now, I drink Starbucks but only in the morning. I have never taken advantage of a promotion but would be open to doing so, if there was one relevant for me. With 5,000 "likes" and 1200 comments on this one post, Starbucks is doing something right.
I have no problem receiving a steady stream of these promotions in the hopes that someday I will get one that matters to me. That is far more likely than waiting for iTunes to ever feature an update or a promotion around Nick cave and the Bad Seeds.
I even like their clumsy initial-caps, "However-You-Want-It" and their sign-off question. Any question is more involving than a straight information-delivery message. It inherently invites you in even if this one particular question is rhetorical.
Message 6: Too Much Inside Baseball
I love PBS. I have had the chance to advise them at several points both about social media and about their riddle-of-the-sphinx brand issues (PBS vs. Member Station identities vs. Production Company Identities....). I grew up at a time when public broadcasting served the public in ways that commercial broadcasting would not. I firmly believe that role is as important today as ever. So, it will take a lot for me to ever "de-like" them on Facebook. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that their brand equity may be larger than the actual value they deliver. (meaning - their brand is huge)
Their promotion about POV leaves me scratching my head. I can never keep shows straight. So, the headline, "Weekly Roundup: POV's 2010 Season and the Court Decision on "Crude"" just doesn't make sense to me. I realize (after clicking through) that this is a blog post headline. I don't know what we are rounding up. I can't remember what POV's "beat" is, so-to-speak. I am oblivious to what "Crude" is. Now, likely I am revealing my own ignorance and you are all in-the-know on these things. But maybe not. The follow-on copy only tells me that the new season is upon us which is more news-about-them and less interesting nuggets for me.
Could they have promoted the new season and also teased out the Crude nugget better. here's an excerpt form their blog that has me intrigued, "Finally, this week, documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger was ordered by a U.S. District Court judge to turn over hundreds of hours of raw footage shot for his film, Crude..."
Did I say that I love PBS? Still, I think they get lost in their own landscape sometime and forget that I may love them but I don't eat and breathe their brands. Their headlines could be less insider baseball (and less reliant on the "!" which reminds me of junior high emphasis and enthusiasm)
Message 7: One Passion Leads to Another
What do you do if you launch a Facebook page for a iconic comic-turned-movieand you are past the DVD release date? How do you possibly keep people engaged? How do you avoid the "launch it and leave it" mentality of most marketers in the entertainment space? Watchmen doesn't succeed. They just alerted me to the motion comic for Jonah Hex. If you have not been following along, Jonah Hex is a western bounty hunter responsible for shooting Stonewall Jackson (that fact is completely besides the point but factors intothe hilarious Wikipedia articlewhich painstakingly chronicles Jonah's history as if he were a real person). The book has been published by DC who also published Watchmen. Most importantly, Jonah Hex will live on screen with Josh Brolin in the starring role. And I am totally there.
They told me that Jonah's on a manhunt (when isn't he?) and that I am invited. Simple yet smart. The highlight had a strong graphic (close up of Jonah's face - always good use of micro-thumbnail format). They are also cross promoting me to the DC motion comics Facebook page. When you are the Facebook "voice" of an entertainment fiction like Watchmen, you have an awkward choice - do you try and embody the fiction (speak as if from the comic) or do you maintain the marketer behind the scenes voice. The former is really hard to pull off.
Unfortunately, Watchmen is squandering any opportunity. No matter how on-target the Jonah Hex post is, they are not consistent. They have 4 posts since November and all are hopeless purchase promotions with almost no attitude or value beyond "go buy" or they are cross promotions to other sites with little digression. They built up to over 300K fans and are now not serving them very well. This is the quintessential "launch it and leave it" that many marketers fall prey to. There is no budget to support the page anymore. Best they can do is let other budget owners (Jonah Hex franchise) cross promote in there.
As you plan your own approach to conversation management, don't forget the details like the voice. call-to-action and frequency which are all critical to delivering value worth "liking" someone for a long time.