Thursday, December 23, 2010

Social Media Hierarchy of Needs - Best Practices for ROI Success

From our social media ROI studies, analyzing the investment, popularity, practices and results of social media marketing for the Fortune 500, and select small / medium companies, a key indicator to social media ROI success was level of engagement.

Engagement, the ability to attract and dialogue with followers, advocates and readers, created a foundation to attract and dialogue new prospects, improve existing customer loyalty and provide a platform for collaborative innovation. These engagements eventually led to incremental sales / revenue opportunities, improved loyalty and retention, collaborative innovation, cost savings and more.... the quantified return on investment (ROI) from social marketing efforts.

The research sought to discover the "secret sauce" for engagement success, and found that marketers who implemented a layered, hierarchical set of engagement best practices, including Content, Campaigns, Monitoring and Collaboration, achieved superior ROI results.

Much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, each successive layer of these practices, relied on a solid foundation of prior levels for success. Jump to a higher level without having a proper foundation and the strategy collapses.

The Social Media Hierarchy of Needs(tm) is the term we have applied to these best practices, and the tiers consist of the following:

Tier 1: Content – If you don’t have anything important to say, or information of value to deliver, you won’t achieve engagement with users, therefore, we found that the foundation of any social media campaign is a good content marketing strategy and deliverables. Content that is most effective today included discounts, special offers, giveaways, recommendations / advice, webinars, videos, white papers, articles designed to deliver value, new ideas, credibility, personalization and entertainment.

Tier 2: Campaigns – Users won’t know that the content exists without campaigns, a promotional “push” of messages via the social media channels. This typically included promotion of the content via tweeting, updating status, posting discussions and links, contests and sweepstakes.

Tier 3: Monitoring – Above the campaigns, monitoring by marketing and sales professionals is required to actively listen to the user community to respond to direct questions, and for campaign and content effectiveness, advocacy and customer intelligence, trends, competitive intelligence, incidents / issues.

Tier 4: Collaboration – interacting with the user base is a key differentiating element to the most successful social media campaigns. This includes promoting and participating in collaborative discussions and engaging users in collaborative product reviews, shared designs and innovation.

 
The Social Media Engagement Hierarchy of Needs requires that certain foundational elements be in place before driving successful user engagement at higher levels.

Along with the hierarchical tiers, the research indicated two key additional supporting best practices, highlighting the importance of:
  • Measurement of social media metrics, benefits and success, in particular tracking of engagement, influence and trends as well as success metrics such as benefits and ROI 
  • Integration of information, such as passing of lead information to lead nurturing systems and existing customer dialogue to CRM solutions, and processes integration, such as centralizing and coordinating social media marketing governance and resources.
Let us examine each tier in the Social Media Hierarchy of Needs and best practices in more detail:

Tier 1: Content
In our research, we found that one of the best ways to generate higher levels of social media engagement is to have a great content marketing strategy as the foundation, and intimately tied to your social media efforts. The best efforts had content initiatives aligned with the buying lifecycle, and promotional campaigns and interaction to provide these key decision-making tools at each stage, driving more than twice the advantage over those social media efforts with low content marketing leverage.

Integrated with social media marketing, these five content marketing strategies have been found to drive higher level-of-engagement:

Ideas
More than ever, buyers are doing more of their own research online, actively seeking new problem solving ideas and thought leaders for guidance and advice. To help buyers recognize needs, savvy social media marketers are leveraging content that illuminates market trends, highlights issues others are successfully addressing, and provides tangible ideas on how to solve problems. The more independent the content, the more credible it is. Similarly, the more timely the information, the more popular it is. Here are a few ideas on how to connect with early-stage buyers:
  • Market opportunity research
  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • Thought leadership videos
  • Article highlights
  • Thought-provoking blogs
  • Interactive diagnostic assessment tools
Value
In the face of two economic downturns over the past decade, buyers have fundamentally and permanently changed. They seek solutions that can help them “do more with less,” deliver fast payback, provide high ROI and realize superior value versus other solutions. We have termed this condition Frugalnomics, the demand for quantified bottom-line impact and superior value from every investment, and even as the economy recovers, research indicates that this trend will continue.

Offering exclusive contests, discounts and deals are popular ways to connect with buyers who seek a “bargain” from every purchase. But price is not all that matters, so marketing can help economic-focused buyers discover the best solution by using social media to promote and deliver content that validates potential benefits, such as:
  • Value-proposition-focused white papers
  • Webinars
  • Success stories
  • Interactive ROI and total cost of ownership (TCO) tools
Credibility
Many frugal B2B buyers are engaging sales later than ever, relying on a company’s digital profile to connect, engage and evaluate whether to make that purchase, or move on to the next provider. With today’s Internet fueled purchase decisions, trust must be gained through your digital profile, versus the traditional method of looking a salesperson in the eyes. Making a personal connection with followers, fans and connections is vital, and content with a personal feel (versus corporate veneer) tends to be the most popular. Some examples include:
  • Independent reviews
  • Video testimonials
  • Success stories and case studies
Personalization
Content marketing in the social domain isn’t just about broadcasting, but about creating a collaborative dialogue with your followers, fans and connections, a term we call interactive narrowcasting. Here are the keys to personalization success:
  • Monitoring activity to determine who needs additional and personalized information and responses
  • Actively engaging the user base with follow-on responses, advice, posts and questions
  • Responding to and collaborating with participants on a timely, personal basis
  • Delivering competitive intelligence information proactively, yet credibly, to those seeking information about a particular solution or brand.
The marketers that appear most successful in generating engagements are leveraging the right content at the right time, and making the content more personal to create a dialogue with prospects to move the buying cycle forward, and with existing customers to deepen relationships and drive loyalty

Entertainment
Everyone needs a laugh now and then, and entertaining content is playing a larger role than ever in attracting attention and driving popularity. Entertaining yet thought-provoking videos, animations and cartoons are being used to great effect to gain followers, fans and connections.

The right content leveraged via social media channels is proven to drive more engagements and improve company popularity twice over those that fail to leverage content. Content aligned with the buying cycle and targeted towards ideas, value, credibility, personalization and entertainment show the greatest success at driving engagement.

And although engagement is no guarantee for return on social media investment, presence and reach is still a key element for ultimate bottom-line impact and ROI success. After all, engagement, there is no chance for social media ROI success. And without leveraging content there is little chance for social media engagement.

Tier 2: Campaigns
Campaigns involve coordinated communications to connect to and engage new prospects or existing customers via social media channels. Some campaign examples can include:
  • Facebook fan contests to attract new fans
  • Scheduled tweets to promote a webinar
  • Research summary tweets to promote white papers
  • Syndication of a blog post to LinkedIn Groups to gain new connections and spur discussions
The most successful campaigns:
  • Drive interaction (give and take) vs. pure promotion (push)
  • Are more credible, often involving the voice of advocates, experts and/ or third party validation
  • Provide unique value to users, such as delivering special offers, exclusive events, or important content
Tier 3: Monitoring
Monitoring involves users actively listening to social media channels to gain and engage additional prospects or customers.

The monitoring can include:
  • Answering questions or queries about the company or products
  • Assuring that campaigns are achieving the expected goals, driving the right responses, reactions and results
  • Gaining additional followers, connections and fans by tracking advocates and advocate reach
  • Monitoring for positive sentiment and use for promotion to gain additional followers
  • Providing support when incidents / issues occur, and negative sentiment is reported, to help mitigate these issues and limit risks
  • Listening for competitive mentions or requests, engaging users who might be considering competitive solutions
  • Providing feedback to fine tune campaigns and content to meet user needs.
Tier 4: Collaboration
Collaboration involves creating and participating in a dialogue with prospects and customers. As opposed to the “push” oriented focus of traditional campaigns or the “pull” orientation of monitoring, collaboration is an interactive dialogue with followers, connections and fans for mutual benefit. With so many resources available beyond employees, the most innovative companies are driving ideas, innovative improvements, and partnerships via dialogue with the social media community – a term we call Collaborative Innovation.

Collaborative Innovation is engaging with prospects and customers via social media to provide interactive ideas, reviews, feedback and input around:
  • Product Improvements, termed “Social Sigma” by Forrester, such as market opportunity, features and benefits, design, pricing and more
  • Marketing Improvements, such as slogan testing, campaign and promotional ideas
  • Business Development, such as advice on go-to-market, channel or strategic partners
  • Advisory Advice, such as seeking and gathering advice on operational improvements, and suppliers
The Bottom-Line
Social media ROI requires engagement, and to drive the most effective engagement, a set of best practices has been researched by Alinean, revealing a hierarchical roadmap to engagement success. Implementing each successive tier of the Social Media Hierarchy of Needs can help marketers drive more ROI from their social media efforts.

For more information and resources on Social Media ROI, please visit: http://www.alinean.com/socialmediaroi.aspx

CIO Priorities for 2011 Indicate Continued Frugalnomics Focus

According to a survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), there has not been much to cheer about this holiday season as a public sector CIO. The 2011 CIO priorities survey highlights, in the face of what is generally considered the worst economic period of modern times, the continued focus on doing-more-with-less and IT operations versus supporting growth and innovation.


Although the desire may be there to pursue improved internal and external customer service improvements via enterprise innovation, most state budgets will remain challenged well into the recovery, yielding a pragmatic, economic-focused CIO. As private sector CIOs begin to consider growth and innovation, state CIO brethren will not have that luxury until at least 2013, according to our projections.

Cost saving consolidation, optimization and services, combined with security and regulations, are driving the budgets. Frugalnomics, the focus on bottom-line value and cost savings, remains in full effect.

The top ten priorities for state CIOs into 2011 include:
1) Consolidation / Optimization
2) Budget / Cost Control
3) Health Care
4) Cloud Computing
5) Shared Services
6) Governance / Accountability
7) Security
8) Broadband / Connectivity
9) Legacy Modernization
10) Data and Information Management

Click here for CIO Insight's take on the State CIO's Top Ten Priorities for 2011

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Winning the Social Media Engagement Contest

Alinean Research of Fortune 500 Level of Engagement on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

In the first of a series of research projects, seeking to understand the return on investment (ROI) of Social Media, the ROI experts at Alinean analyzed which of the Fortune 500, and which industries, were the most engaged with the community, and what factors led to this engagement popularity.

The findings highlight distinct differences in levels of engagement based on company practices and customer profiles, with many companies and industries displaying an enormous leveraging of social media versus peers. As social media grows in use, promotional power and business value, the most popular and engaged companies will have a distinct competitive advantage in revenue generation, marketing efficiency and return on marketing.

The study found that the companies that have the most level of engagement overall in social media are centered in a few industries (on average), especially:
  1. High Technology;
  2. Consumer Products;
  3. Retail;
  4. Travel;
  5. Media and Entertainment;
  6. Hospitality;
  7. Automotive.
Industries found to have companies with the least overall social media engagement (on average) include:
  1. Energy;
  2. Utilities;
  3. Wholesale & Distribution;
  4. Pharmaceuticals;
  5. Healthcare;
  6. Chemicals;
  7. Professional Services / Service Providers.
The difference between most engaged and least engaged industries is dramatic, with the most popular industries being over 1,000 times as engaged as the least engaged industries. Within different industries, performance of individual companies is even more dramatic, showing the maturity and investment payoff (at least in terms of affinity) of certain companies versus others, and how far behind many individual companies are from the leaders.

Examining the reasons for engagement popularity, the study highlights five important factors for large enterprise social media engagement success:

  1. Important and timely content marketing to support social media collaboration, including the development and communication of breaking news, blogs, reviews, thought provoking points of view, research, and entertainment;
  2. An interactive dialogue with an active and engaged user base, with monitors and representatives responding to / collaborating with participants on a timely and personal basis;
  3. Special deals, discounts, contests and giveaways to promote, targeting frugal buyers (both business and consumer) who are seeking the lowest price, fastest payback and best value from every purchase in this current “age of austerity” (a condition we call Frugalnomics);
  4. A strong and passionate “lifestyle” brand connection to its user base;
  5. A natural demographic alignment with social media participants.
Although some of the factors are inherent in the business and industry and a “given” which cannot be easily changed / addressed, the majority of factors highlight that the right strategy, social media campaigns and content investments can drive social media engagement, and a higher probability of ROI success.

For more information and resources on Social Media ROI, please visit: http://www.alinean.com/socialmediaroi.aspx

The full study can be found at: 

An expanded discussion of content marketing strategies to drive social media success can be found on Content Marketing Institute (CMI) at: http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/2010/12/social-media-content/#more-3614

Seeing ROI in the Cloud?

"Spending on IT cloud services will triple in the next 5 years, reaching $42 billion and capturing 25% of IT spending growth in 2012." - IDC

Much of the adoption is driven by the promise of what cloud can do to help transform IT services and drive important cap-ex and op-ex cost savings. Indeed, early cloud computing case studies reveal the potential for better cost savings, scalability, agility, performance and more. But are these savings and benefits for real and translate to your particular environment?

With the constant pressure on IT managers to “do-more-with-less”, and the difficulty to understand how the analyst research translates to particular applications, it is important that organizations analyze their own unique opportunity for cloud savings and ROI.

Presenting to a group of IT managers in the UK, Dr Richard Berglin of Dot Net Solutions, outlined the ROI of cloud solutions, the specific areas in which savings can be made, and the flexibility benefits of a cloud solution infrastructure.

Using an Alinean powered ROI calculator, he explained how customers can combine the cloud with existing applications and infrastructure, achieving IT cost savings, flexibility and an ability to get ideas to market rapidly.



View Dr Berglin’s presentation: Cloud ROI PowerPoint presentation


Try the Cloud ROI Calculator for your own environment: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/economics/



Monday, December 06, 2010

Predictions for 2011: The End of B2B Sales & Marketing as We Know It?

In the face of two economic downturns in the past decade, B2B buyers are more frugal than ever, and even with continued recovery predicted for 2011, a new “age of austerity” promises to keep buyers seeking proof of bottom-line impact and value from every investment. At the same time, B2B buyers are taking advantage of the wealth of information available via the Internet and social media to become more empowered, taking charge of the buying cycle.

These two market drivers will have important implications into 2011 and beyond for B2B sales enablement and marketing strategies and budgets. From our research and best practices work with leading B2B sales and marketing groups, Alinean provides its top 5 predictions for 2011:

1. Internet Fueled Buying Cycles on the Rise – In the B2C space, the Internet has fundamentally changed how books, apparel, electronics, music, cars and other goods are bought and sold. The consumer is now in charge: researching specifications, configuring and customizing solutions, getting peer reviews and advice, comparing prices, and “buying now”. During the B2C Internet revolution many a vendor’s world was turned upside down by failing to recognize and invest in the fundamental shift towards empowering consumers with content and buying tools.

Now, in B2B, we have seen a similar dramatic shift towards prospects taking charge of the buying cycle, using on-line content marketing, resources and tools to drive research, comparisons and purchase decisions. Savvy B2B marketers will recognize the “consumerization” of B2B and in 2011 proactively increase content marketing investments to deliver the right content and interactive decision support tools at the appropriate right step in the buying cycle.

2. The Death of a Salesman? At the same time, as buyers are becoming more empowered, sales professionals are seen by these buyers as less valuable in the decision making process, and as a result are being invited later and later in the buying cycle. The invitation often coming after key decisions have already been made.

In a recent survey by IDC, 24% of buyers indicated that the sales reps are not prepared for presentations at all, 30% indicate that they are somewhat prepared , and only 29% indicate that they are well prepared. An empowered buyer means that the role of sales will dramatically be impacted, requiring sales enablement and marketing to help redefine and drive a new breed of value selling professional.

To prevent complete disintermediation of sales from the prospect’s decision making process, sales professionals must be made relevant and important again to buyers. Sales professionals must be armed with unique knowledge and tools so buyers want and need to engage sales earlier in the buying cycle when important strategies are set, budgets assigned, and solution providers evaluated and selected.

As a common example, an Internet empowered prospect will often self-diagnose their issues, but may not do so completely or accurately. Empowering sales with executive assessment tools so that they can interactively, in a value-add workshop, diagnose prospect’s issues more thoroughly and completely, benchmark the issues versus peers and leaders to set priorities and create urgency, and provide a roadmap of potential recommendations. Increased investments in engaging sales content and interactive tools will be required in 2011 to keep sales professionals relevant and valuable to ever more empowered and skeptical buyers.

Many vendors will also need to consider adding “buy it now” options for solutions they would never have thought to have this for in years past. This, to serve a new breed of B2B buyer that completely rejects salesperson involvement and wants to manage the purchase process all on their own.

3. It’s Only a Matter of Trust – B2B buyers will rely more and more on your on-line presence to make judgments as to whether they will do business with you, and this presence needs to overcome typical vendor skepticism, convey credibility and gain trust. Buyer survey results from sales and marketing research firm SiriusDecisions indicate that the most trusted sources of marketing content information through the buying lifecycle are industry analysts (cited by 31.4% of respondents), and peers (28.7%), especially early in the lifecycle. The influence of vendors as a trusted source of information lags dramatically, at only 8.1% this year, an increase from 3.1% in 2006, but still much lower on the trust scale than almost all other sources.

Savvy vendors will develop and deliver more content and tools in 2011 to create a “circle of trust” with skeptical buyers, including independent endorsements, peer and analyst reviews, success stories, and validation needed to create trust.

4. Information Overload –even though B2B buyers are relying more on the Internet to fuel purchase decisions, these buyers are being inundated with more marketing messages over more channels than ever before, leading to information overload, confusion, and stalled decision making cycles. According to SiriusDecisions, just looking at e-blasts alone, the typical buyer receives over 20 e-mail marketing messages a week, up 32% over the past 4 years. And this is but one of several traditional and on-line channels that are proactively providing information on a daily basis to prospects.

Better content targeting and personalization is required for 2011 to end “carpet bombing” B2B marketing techniques, evolving to create a dialogue with buyers to guide them through the decision making process and buying lifecycle with personalized one-to-one advice.

5. Fight Frugalnomics – with two economic downturns over the past decade, B2B buyers are focused more than ever on what solutions are available to enable “doing-more-with-less”, driving savings and realizing quantifiable bottom-line impact. Now, over 90% of B2B buyers require quantifiable proof of bottom-line impact from any significant purchase, and over 81% expect vendors to create and deliver the financial business case for most proposed purchases. Even with a continued recovery and more financial optimism through 2011, the shift to frugality is fundamental and permanent.

To fight Frugalnomics, savvy marketers will need to make even more investments in 2011 towards content and tools that help buyers assess and quantify the economic impact of implementing the proposed solutions, quantify the cost of “doing nothing”, and prove competitive cost advantages and value. Advanced ROI business case tools and training should be provided to direct and channel sales professionals to help them advance from traditional product / solution selling, to the value selling buyers now demand.

The Bottom-Line
B2B sales and marketing is fundamentally being shaped in 2011 by the Internet empowered buyer, increased skepticism, information overload and Frugalnomics, driving the need for key investments in content marketing, personalization, interactive tools and sales enablement.

The savvy marketing and sales enablement professional will proactively recognize the issues that the frugal and empowered decision maker creates, using 2011 to reshape the strategies and investments to better engage, dialogue and sell to ever more empowered, skeptical, overloaded and frugal buyers.

Sources:
• SiriusDecisions B-to-B Buyer's Survey 2010, on an online survey of more than 600 b-to-b marketers
• IDC Executive Tele Briefing on Sales and Marketing Strategies for 2010