Larry Brauner
As a business community, are we obsessed with return on investment? Is our preoccupation with measuring social media ROI counterproductive?

In this article I look at social media from what might be a novel perspective. I hope to convince you that social media use need not impact the bottom line over the short term, and that our belief that it ought to is impeding our progress.

I expect to provide a few other takeaways as well.

Are Marketing and PR Merging?

I was speaking with Jeffrey Cole, the marketing PR expert behind JJC Communications LLC, an agency using both social media and traditional public relations to achieve clients’ goals. Jeff authors the blog PR 101.

I asked Jeff whether he agreed with me that marketing and public relations were converging. He said he agreed, and that he believed advertising was converging with them as well.

Can You Put a Value on Reputation?

I saw a video and article posted by Chris Boyer, creator of the Hospital Online Marketing Education site on Ning and online marketing consultant at Healthgrades. Chris was discussing social media and the importance of his four R’s:

  1. Reach
  2. Relationship
  3. Reputation
  4. Return on investment

Regarding return on investment, Chris pointed out that measuring the ROI of social media was like trying to measure the ROI of a friendship.

I agreed with Chris’ assessment of social media, but let me ask you this question: What about measuring the ROI of your reputation? Could you possibly place a value on your reputation? I say no. Your reputation is invaluable.

Public Relations

Defining PR, the Public Relations Society of America states that PR “helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

The PRSA definition of PR implies relationship, Chris Boyer’s 2nd R of social media. Even the term itself, public relations, suggests relationship. The key word is relations. According to the Council of Public Relations Firms, public relations also:

  • “Builds and protects reputations.” Reputation is Chris’ 3rd R.
  • “Extends reach, frequency and the message of an advertising campaign.” Reach is Chris’ 1st R.

Marketing tends to revolve around cost per acquisition and ROI.  However, public relations relies on softer metrics, and since reputation is invaluable, PR almost never requires ROI justification.

Public relations and social media are a perfect pairing according to Chris’ four R’s.

Marketing

According to the American Marketing Association, “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

The key word in this definition is offerings. Nothing is mentioned about reputation, although communicating and exchanging seem to correspond to reach and relationship.

Given marketing’s basic orientation toward advertising offerings, an activity in conflict with social media, and that it tends to revolve around cost per acquisition and return on investment, marketing and social media might be incompatible.

There are marketing-related activities that are obvious exceptions.

Customer Relationship Management

Although customer relationship management and customer service are marketing functions, they differ from marketing conceptually.

CRM and customer service focus on relationships more than offerings and are tracked using soft metrics such as time to answer call, call length, first call resolution, sales, saves, etc.

Many attempts to interact with customers on Twitter and to broadcast limited-time offers to them have been successful.

Selling

Selling, according to Wikipedia, is “persuading someone to buy one’s product or service,” i.e., to buy one’s offerings, and relationship is certainly essential for selling success. However, the key word here is persuading.

Social networking sites such as LinkedIn can support the sales process and replace much less convenient offline meetings.

Social media prospecting, if done well, can open doors which have been closed until now. Perhaps though, the persuading part of selling will go more smoothly if taken offline.

One-to-one selling using business networking sites to make connections is working for many people.

Image Advertising

As I said above, marketing almost always requires ROI justification.

There are some marketing efforts that don’t directly increase sales. Big companies can advertise their brands like Coke and Pepsi in order to maintain parity and to create economic barriers to entry into their markets.

These marketing campaigns are brand and reputation centric, and as such the public relations function could presumably conduct the very same campaigns just as effectively.

Social Media Marketing

If social media is largely a public relations tool, then what is social media marketing or social marketing?

Social marketing is web PR as practiced by marketing people who hope (pray?) that their social media outreach will eventually spill over into sales and justify their efforts.

We as marketers find it difficult to admit to ourselves and to others that we’re engaged in PR, but we are.

Do our companies really need more PR?

Marketers have long understood the importance of listening to customers. Today social media facilitates useful dialogue with and understanding of both customers and prospects.

The Long Tail of Social Media

The Long Tail of Social MediaSocial media is an investment with a very long tail. The content we create and the relationships we build can continue to bring a return far into the future. The revenue in the ROI equation is the present value of future dividends arising from our social media investment.

Social media used wisely ought to pay off. We can’t yet say exactly how-so nor how-much-so, but we’ll never find out unless we remove the impediment to progress, our obsession with social media ROI.

I found 35 social media KPIs to help measure engagement on the web and think that you’ll like it. I’m regularly researching and bookmarking new articles for you on my new Bookmarks page.

Keep the faith.. and leave me your comment. ;-)

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Larry BraunerWhen Marc Andreessen and Gina Bianchini started their work on the Ning social network back in 2004, online social networking was still pretty much a teen thing. True there were marketers like yours truly making a home on Ryze and other business networking sites, but we were the exception rather than the rule.

Ning once completed would allow people to create and manage their own miniature MySpace-like social networking sites.

Ning’s founders probably envisioned a platform on which families and circles of friends would stay in close contact through their very own private social networking site. However, since launching 18 months ago, Ning has found its way into the business world as well as many other sectors of society.

You can start your own plain vanilla Ning social network for free, or for a fee you can exercise greater control over your site and add lots of bells and whistles.

Examples of Ning Social Networking Sites

In Web lifeline for the troops, the Naperville Sun writes that two local men, Ed Domain and Josh Lowe, launched Troop Space, a Ning-based networking site for the brave men and women of the United States Military. Troop Space “is geared toward US troops, their families and anyone who wants to become more personally connected to the military”.

Jim at medXcentral started his Ning community to network “the medical and health care universe” and to “stimulate great achievements and forward motion towards resolving many issues faced by the medical industry today”.

Diane Hochman built the online headquarters for My Private Classroom on the Ning foundation. I joined My Private Classroom several months ago to learn more about social media and to introduce free and low-cost marketing methods to network and direct marketers.

You can now participate in Diane’s social marketing training program for free. Read My Private Classroom Opens to Public for details.

I created the Ning social network Critical Thinking Outside the Box as a companion to this blog, and you are welcome to join me there.

What I Like About Ning Sites

From a user’s point of view here are some of my favorite Ning features:

  1. When you make a friend at one Ning site and you each belong to another Ning site, you’re connected at the other site too.
  2. You can browse friends and friends-of-friends and so forth to see what other Ning networks people belong to. In this way you can discover new and relevant places to network. While many Ning sites are private, there seem to be just as many sites that are open to the public. You can also browse Ning’s list of popular social networks.
  3. You can broadcast a message to all of your friends at any given Ning site. Be careful not to abuse this privelege. Spamming is not effective, and network administrators will typically not tolerate it. This broadcasting feature has allowed me to attract readers to my blog and gain new subscribers.
  4. In some Ning social networks you can also broadcast messages to fellow members of groups you join. This feature encourages spam and is therefore disabled on many Ning sites.
  5. You can customize your page’s theme and embed videos and widgets just as you might on MySpace and many other social networking sites.
  6. Much of your profile content can be taken from an existing site and easily reused when joining a new site.

And What I Don’t Like

Here are some of my least favorite Ning features:

  1. Most Ning sites have very small memberships that are just a little too cozy for marketers like me building their lists.
  2. A very high percentage of profiles are abandoned, so you can end up with lots of unaccepted friend requests. At some point you may need to delete some friend requests in order to remain eligible to make new requests.
  3. Very many Ning sites are not much more than recruiting pipelines and sales funnels for the sites’ owners. I find this aspect of Ning annoying, but I tolerate it. For this reason I’m slow to invite friends and business connections to join me on new Ning sites. I want to wait and see if the site is a safe enough place to bring them.

Show and Tell Opportuinity

You can find some of the many social networking sites to which I belong featured on my blog’s sidebar.

Do you have favorite Ning social networking sites? Have you started your own Ning social network? Do you have an interesting story to tell?

Feel free to comment and share with us.

Keep in mind that I’m responsible for the quality of my blog and legally responsible for its content. I therefore reserve the right to edit any comment as I see fit.

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Larry Brauner

The Case for Social Media Marketing

It is becoming increasingly more difficult and more expensive to reach potential customers using mass media. That’s one reason why so many marketers are turning to Web 2.0 social media marketing.

Not only do marketers want to reduce their advertising expense, they also want to connect more directly with people and learn how to better serve their target market.

Social media marketing is especially attractive to small business owners operating on modest budgets, since most social networking sites and other social media sites are generally free to use.

Steep Learning Curve

They read a story such as Beyond Blogs in the June 2nd issue of Business Week, and they rush off to embrace Web 2.0 social media unprepared for the steep learning curve that lies ahead.

The social media landscape is uncharted and sprawling. Social media sites are vying for your attention, and searching the Internet for advice turns up sharply conflicting recommendations.

Need for Mentor

Clearly you need a mentor, somebody smart and knowledgeable with especially strong communication skills. You should find somebody with whom you feel comfortable, because you’ll definitely be getting to know each other. Picking a mentor is difficult.

Effective Communication #1 Challenge

Once you find your mentor mastering essential social media marketing skills will be difficult. To get fully up to speed might take a year or even longer.

That is the bad news.

In my opinion, the hardest part of social media marketing training is learning effective communication, i.e., to write, speak, listen and persuade well and in a professional manner.

There are certainly plenty of technical challenges to overcome, but by far communication is the chief obstacle new social media marketers face. If you happen to have the right mix of communication skills, you’re way ahead of most newcomers.

Your mentor can teach you personal and business branding, online social networking, blogging, video marketingsocial bookmarking, SEO and other important skills. He or she can also critique your communication style, but it will be you who will connect directly with your target market and build vital business relationships.

Get Started Now and Learn as You Go

Now the good news.

You don’t have to master every skill, dot every “i” and cross every “t” before getting started.

Find a good mentor to guide you, jump in and get your feet wet. Learn by doing.

As Mike Litman always says: “You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it going.”

Your results will serve as feedback to help you to make the necessary corrections along the way… and that is good news.

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Larry Brauner

Blogging and Personal Branding

Personal blogs and business blogs often factor into the marketing mix of both large and small businesses.

Blogging is interactive and enables direct communication with the customer or end user, a subtle form of business networking.

Blogging as a form of networking is not as direct as attending a meeting of a chamber of commerce or a small business association — nor does it replace online social networking at social networking sites. However, it builds credibility while refining and reinforcing the blogger’s personal or corporate brand image.

Search Engine Optimization

As I stated in Top Reasons Why I Blog, “Blogging endears me to the search engines.”

Search engines love to deliver fresh content to their clientele, and that’s what blogs are all about. Each blog post creates new content for search engines such as Google to sink their teeth into.

Search engines send visitors. Some of those visitors become readers and bond with the blogger and his or her company or cause.

Make Money Blogging

This bond presents opportunities.

For example, when bloggers are looking directly to monetize their blogs, as is very often the case in the world of blogs, their readers are often redirected to another site or to a sales page to purchase an endorsed product or service.

This transition is easy once a trusting relationship has been created between blogger and reader.

To learn how to make money blogging, my previous post, Blogs and Blogging for Fun and Profit, is a good place to start.

We’ll continue to explore the relationship between blogging and search engine marketing.

Be sure to visit the Blog Marketing and SEO Training page.

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Larry Brauner

At social networking sites we communicate and build relationships. We can also share websites and other content with each other.

At social bookmarking sites we primarily share websites and other content with each other and with search engines. However, we can also communicate and build relationships.

What is the difference between a social bookmarking site and a social networking site?

Our priorities. Online social bookmarking emphasizes content, while online social networking emphasizes relationships.

Benefits of Social Bookmarking Sites

If you publish a blog or own some other website, you probably want visitors, and backlinks too. Social bookmarking sites will help you in these ways.

  • You share your site with the community. They visit it and rate it. You can form relationships that lead to quality backlinks for your site.
  • Search engines take note that your site is bookmarked. Bookmarking is a form of recommendation. Search engines react favorably to your site’s presence in the community.

My Favorite Social Bookmarking Sites

The social bookmarking sites I use most often are StumbleUpon, Technorati, propeller, del.icio.us, Spicy Page and Digg. See the list on my sidebar and at Social Marker, a tool that streamlines the bookmark submission process.

I also use blog traffic sites, notably Entrecard and Link Referral. The latter can also be used to promote a static website. I’ve made valuable connections at Entrecard and have learned much from the blogs I visited there.

Regular participation at social networking sites will do wonders for your popularity. Reqular posting and participation at social bookmarking sites will do the same for your blogs and other websites.

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Larry Brauner

Last November I examined the popularity of social networking sites.

In a series of four posts I examined the reasons I believed that online social networking was very relevant:

  • “High Tech/High Touch” - As sterile technology increasingly impacts our lives, we crave greater and greater intimacy to offset it.
  • Digital Age - Our technical capablity permits, even inspires us, to share multi-media digital files with our friends, family and colleagues that contain valuable information, memorable experiences and enjoyable entertainment.
  • Communication - Online social networking sites are capable of providing us with the functionality that e-mail did in the past plus a big additional benefit, file sharing.
  • Search Engine Optimization - More and more marketers are turning to social networking both to connect with users and to get free traffic. Traffic comes from within the community and, thanks to the search engines, from without as well.

On March 24th I looked at Social Networking vs. Advertising and how people tend to approach social networking with an advertising mindset. If you haven’t seen that post, I highly recommend it.

IC JacksonMy good friend Ivo Jackson, a very gifted writer, wrote a blog post April 8, the 7 Reasons Why You Should Do More Networking Than Selling that looked at networking from another angle.

Ivo provides an excellent rationale for social networking that applies to offline as well as online social networking. These are the points she makes:

  • People don’t like to be sold.
  • Selling only works when people are ready to buy, and most of your network is not ready.
  • People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  • Selling yourself or your brand is easier than selling your product or service.
  • The law of averages is real - long term success is relative to the size of your network.
  • If you help people get what they want, you will eventually get what you want.
  • If you expect a great harvest, you must first plant some seeds.

Visit Ivo’s blog and read the complete article.

I wish to add just one point that I made in my March 24th post. Networking allows you to determine what people really want so that you can customize your offer to them.

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Larry Brauner

We all like lists.

Now that I’m blogging for a few months, it’s time to list my top reasons why I blog.

If you blog, feel free to share your top reasons for blogging. If you don’t, perhaps my list will motivate you to start.

So here we go. These are the top reasons why I blog:

  1. I value a web presence, and blogging is the cornerstone of my web presence.
  2. It was easy to get started.
  3. Blogging organizes my ideas.
  4. It helps me communicate and to disseminate my ideas in posts such as Critical Success Factors.
  5. It tests my ideas.
  6. It preserves my ideas.
  7. My blog can provide value for my readers.
  8. My blog is a free sample of me.
  9. Blogging helps establish my credibility.
  10. It’s a form of online social networking.
  11. It works well with social networking sites and other social media sites.
  12. Blogging helps implement my personal branding strategy.
  13. It attracts people to me and helps me build my list.
  14. I can blog to promote people, products and services.
  15. I can blog to create viral marketing.
  16. Blogging is interactive. I can use it to share my opinions about business in posts such as The SpiderWeb Marketing System and ASD Ad Surf Daily Cash Generator and allow readers to provide feedback.
  17. Blogging endears me to the search engines.
  18. I can use it to stake out search engine keyword real estate. You can learn more about this from my Blog Marketing and SEO Training  series.
  19. Blogging anchors me.
  20. It builds my writing muscle.
  21. It’s a learning experience.
  22. Blogging helps me with my personal development.
  23. It helps me reflect.
  24. It helps me develop consistency.
  25. It sets an example for others.
  26. Blogging is cool.
  27. Blogging is fun.

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Larry Brauner

Who says you can only do online social networking using social networking sites?

For quite a few years Max Steingart has been showing people how to use Instant Messenger to develop new friendships and business contacts online.

Today we have social networking sites available to us, however the real-time aspect of Instant Messaging makes IM a great social networking tool.

I recommend that you visit Max’s site, join his mailing list, and download a copy of his e-book, Make the Internet Your Warm Market.

Some of the key topics Max covers in his book are:

  • “What is your Warm Market and how can the Internet replace it?”
  • Why you want to use Instant Messaging
  • The Member Directory
  • The required steps to making a new friend or gaining a new client
  • Searching for the right people
  • How to start a conversation
  • Internet etiquette and safety

Not only will you learn another way to network, the training you will receive can help you network more effectively using any social networking site.

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Larry BraunerCommunication is the backbone of online networking.

In my post of November 11th I discussed the “High Tech/High Touch” concept, and on November 13th I discussed different forms of communication and “the asynchronous nature of social networking sites”.

According to the principle of “High Tech/High Touch” we need more rather than less intimate communication in these digital times.

Social networking sites present us with excellent tools to communicate asynchronously through commenting, messaging, posting bulletins and posting blogs.

There are new advances almost daily, but social networking sites still only partially address our need to relate more intimately in real time through synchronous channels such as instant messaging, telephony, video and face-to-face meetings.

To network more successfully, get more personal!

One thing that might hold you back is a concern for your personal security, especially if you’re a woman, and even more so if you’re a single woman. I will suggest several ways to mitigate this concern.

You could also be uncomfortable getting closer to a certain individual (hopefully not me LOL). Rely on your instincts and intuition. Exercise good judgment — but don’t be overly paranoid.

Here are my favorite ways to ensure a modicum of privacy while taking communication to the next level. They complement networking on any site.

  1. Get a headset with a microphone for US$20 or so, and download Skype to your computer. Skype lets you talk for free and anonymously to other users all over the world. It also permits small conference calls. With a headset both of your hands will be free to operate your computer or to take notes.
  2. Give out your cell phone number. You’ll enjoy the convenience of speaking anytime anywhere without revealing your full name or your address. Some disadvantages of using your cell phone are that you might incur cost and that you may receive annoying calls from time to time. You must decide for yourself whether it’s worth it.
  3. Get your own free conference number and PIN. You and your friend can call in at the same time to speak. If it’s your conference line, you can be sure that there’s no way to capture your phone number. The main down side here is that this protects you but not the other person.
  4. Install Trillian on your computer. Trillian lets you instant message people on Yahoo, MSN, ICQ and AIM all from one program. Instant messaging is not as good as talking, but it’s real time and interactive — definitely a step in the right direction.
  5. Starbucks anybody?

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Larry Brauner

We consider three ways to organize your contacts within social networking sites.

Many social networking sites let you select Top Friends and Favorites, public and private lists respectively of your most important contacts.

Visitors don’t need to click through to another page to view your Top Friends. They’re right there “on top”.

You implicitly recommend to others that they visit your Top Friends and connect with them.

Sites generally establish a maximum number of Top Friends. Therefore, as you meet new people, or as your priorities change, you may need to delete some Top Friends to make room for new ones.

Your Favorites on the other hand cannot be viewed by anybody except you. Sites do not generally establish maximums for Favorites or the maximums are large.

You can use your Favorites for your contact list, people with whom you wish to stay in touch. And when you decide that you no longer wish to re-contact a person, you simply delete them from your Favorites.

I use my Favorites list this way in Direct Matches, MySpace and Yuwie, three of my favorite networking sites, as a sort of folder.

If you prefer, you can organize your contact list in a more detailed or systematic fashion using your browser’s Bookmarking capabilities. You can save a link to each important contact’s profile page or each important blog post.

You can easily create folders and sub-folders of Bookmarks (even a sub-folder for each contact with links to his or her profiles and blog posts on multiple social networking sites).

While Bookmarking can be tedious, it offers plenty of control and flexibility.

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