We’re talking about the inflection point between traditional PR tactics and real-life events…and we hope you’ll enjoy it.
You can listen here (at this link that shows a way-too-big picture of Dave).
Ready to bleed out of your eye sockets? I certainly am – and it has nothing to do with the usual corporate PR missteps or business foul-ups that we often study here on the blog.
I have heard the term “social selling” way too often this week. Everywhere I seem to turn on social media, there’s another pundit talking about social selling. It’s often done in the context of one tool or another – “Use LinkedIn to grow your network and sell to them,” or “Spend twenty minutes a day on Twitter to maximize your funnel.” Social Selling – an awesome concept in theory, but…What Could POSSIBLY Go Wrong?
Lots, people. Lots and lots and lots could possibly go wrong. And I’m here to share a few of the things I’m seeing – “ripped from the headlines,” so to speak.
So you know where I’m coming from…I have worked with some brilliant people in my 20-plus year career. Marketers. Sales Executives. Operations Leaders. Front-line Dynamos. I’ve watched as people created magic out of thin air, or “sold the sizzle” in sales speak.
The common theme is that they either understood the strategy or created a clear strategy that optimized everyone’s chance for success. You knew, for instance, exactly WHY you were doing something (putting all of the Trade Show Calendar into a spreadsheet) and WHAT that something would be used for (discussion with the CEO on which events were most important and what sort of budget and staffing would support the Trade Show Calendar). It’s a lot less painful to do that research when you know exactly why you’re doing that research. Excel and your love of Pivot Tables does not drive your Trade Show Calendar – the chance to drive real business outcomes (in the form of a ginormous stack of leads that can be turned into either qualified prospects or people who might want to receive more information over time) drives your Trade Show Calendar.
Ages ago – in Internet time, maybe epochs ago – Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li wrote a book called “Groundswell” that was, at the time, groundbreaking. The key learning from this book (for me, at least) was the concept of “POST.” People (who you’re wanting to connect with), Objective (what you want to accomplish from connecting with them), Strategy (the series of tactics that will get you to the desired objective), and then and only then…Technology (Twitter, LinkedIn, Your Blog, etc.).
Today’s “Social Selling” Love-Fest seems to stem entirely from love of Technology, Tactic, or Tool. And that is part of what’s driving me insane.
The guy or gal who understands LinkedIn is leveraging his or her ubiquity on that platform into “let’s do a social selling thing!” gigs. They then meander into HQ, signed up by someone in a sales role who says “let’s get the social person here,” and then…BOOM! There’s a training session! There’s a rah-rah speech! The needle is moved!
That last part is highly questionable.
Why doesn’t it work? Scroll back up there to the WHY behind the WHAT. Which brings us to point two:
Yup, that’s the other problem here – You actually ARE just a number.
I don’t mean to diminish the fine work being done by some folks in “Social Selling.” However, those people are rare birds.
What is more likely is a process that looks like this:
I’ve seen this movie over and over. There’s rarely a strategy, rarely an objective. Instead, it’s just someone protecting his or her own turf.
I had a consulting project several years ago that was eerily similar to a lot of the above. “Social Selling” was…well let’s just say there was a different social media tactic, and the idea was that it – could have been Twitter, could have been Facebook, could have been Plaxo – was going to change the way this company did business.
But the company didn’t even embrace clarity around what the heck they were doing, instead holding onto a “dog” of a product, and wanting social to dig them out of a hole that social wasn’t going to dig them out of.
It was a short project for me, doomed to fail; we met some of the objectives but it was an impossible task.
If you’re selling something enterprise-wide, you’re not going to win through a Social Selling campaign alone. You know that, and management should know that. What you should demand is clarity:
I don’t think “Social Selling” is inherently bad. I just wish it accompanied some good old fashioned thinking. And wasn’t a substitute for a real, live strategy.
Ever watched an industry race to the bottom? It’s scary…and I’m watching it happen in the intersection of Facebook, “Social,” Search, and Integrated Marketing Communications. Here’s more:
First, I’ll get the shameless plug out of the way; it does actually relate to today’s subject – “Facebook Ads and the Race to the Bottom” – because the sites I’m working on are petri dishes in our global marketing lab (of sorts) here at Area 224 HQ. We’re all-meta, all the time, as we started with a site called Metasip almost two years ago, and have expanded to include Metakitchen within the last few weeks. These sites are a number of things: review sites, engagement portals, and a hub where those who promote things (Metasip does alcohol, Metakitchen does all things related to food) can connect. [End of shameless plug.]
Part and parcel of the work at Area 224 is to prove the value of what we do – integrated marketing communications (not just public relations) as a discipline that, when working hand in hand with a company’s business strategy, can indeed have bottom line results. We used to talk about this as something we called “Objective-oriented marketing;” the belief that you’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re working on a tactic (usually social, often sold to you by either a shyster or an amateur or – WORSE – an amateur shyster) that isn’t in line with a business strategy.
I’ve said this often as an independent practitioner: I will turn down work if I believe it to be a waste of the company’s money. I prefer sleeping at night to cashing checks that don’t seem right, and adding value is something I pride myself in doing.
Bringing us to today’s point:
Facebook ads are precipitating a race to the bottom in social media, in search engine optimization, and in integrated marketing communications.
Here’s a screen shot from a recent ad campaign we conducted on behalf of Metasip.
While that might look like a lot of mumbo jumbo to the outsider, it’s really rather simple in the grand scheme, and let me walk you through the numbers that are there so you have the background you need. (If you know all this already, scroll down to the subhead that says “You Need a Strategy” and pick up the article from there.)
We ran this campaign for 24 hours (under “Schedule” above) and we spent $20.00. The ad had an “Objective” of “Post Engagements,” and those are defined in this little screenshot (which we got from mousing over the question mark above the number “66.” [N.B. We chose a campaign that is typical of the dozens of campaigns we have run on Facebook throughout the past year. Your experience may vary – and, if you have more money to spend, you may get better results than we did. But let’s use this as a really good example to support our case.]
The easy, quick, and “meaty” math goes like this:
$20.00 in spend, divided by 66 “post engagements” equals an average cost of $0.30 per engagement.
I had a flashback the other day to my time running a startup and sitting down with an executive – someone who is well-regarded as having a sort of magic touch when it comes to business. I had a service I was selling, he had a business that could have used my service to promote itself, but he was hung up on one number – ONE NUMBER – that drove all of his thinking.
The number happened to be “CPM,” in case you’re wondering, and the problem for me – the one thing that kept us from working together – was that I did not play in the CPM space. At all. Couldn’t – even though my online education portal was in the business of “microtargeting” and we had a strategy to market and find students who were interested in schools that were off the beaten path, and this guy’s property fit our description of a target market, he had only ever worked in a CPM space. Spend $10, get 1,000 views of your ad and your CPM is $10.
This particular executive was blessed: he had a crazy large budget to work with and could put scads of people to work to spend that budget on a variety of marketing tactics. He was also successful at his business because of the strategy that drove these tactics. The fact that our portal didn’t fit into his way of doing business – because it was new, undefined, different, and “not the way we’ve always done things” – was fine in the grand scheme (in fact, it was one of the big learnings for me, and eventually drove me out of that particular industry and, instead, to launching Area 224).
Flash forward to more recent history and my discussions with another, totally different type of executive. Different can be good, different can be bad and, in this case, different is just different. And illuminating: this executive has always done things a certain way – and that certain way involves Facebook as the sum total of her marketing strategy.
We went down the following road, and here’s what the back-and-forth looked like, in brief, with some of the specifics around price changed to protect the innocent.
Me: I understand that you’re looking for help promoting your business, and you’re looking to outsource a piece of your marketing communications strategy to an outside consultant. We can put together a rather robust proposal, but would love to talk about your business strategy first.
Her: Our strategy is already set. How much does it cost to work with you?
Me: Well, we normally don’t do one-offs without an understanding of what you want to get out of it, but a typical program gets you…[WORDS, BULLET POINTS, TACTICS THAT SOUND GOOD] and will cost you…[WORDS, NUMBERS, ETC.].
Here’s where I start to get rather afraid that this is going downhill, but I’m still interested in hearing her thoughts.
Her: That sounds like way too much for us. In fact, our last Facebook Ad campaign got us 3,000 views and a couple hundred engagements and we only spent $20! You’re exponentially more than that, and there are no guarantees of success.
Me: We’re talking more robust, actual engagement – not the BS FB engagement. Trust me, the value you’ll receive in actual content and actual time spent building community and actually engaging with your fans, followers, and friends – and not just on Facebook but on the other platforms we’ll work with you on – we’ll be able to prove that there’s way more value there when the program is done…as long as we can understand what your business strategy and your marketing strategy look like.
Her: Are you willing to go pay-for-performance with this campaign?
Well before I ran the startup, I was a VP of Global PR at a Financial Services firm; before that, I spent time in a division of the same firm with a boss whose mantra was quite direct – “marketing exists to support sales.” It was great: we did everything in consultation with the sales teams, and if it wasn’t something that they could sell behind, we weren’t going to put marketing dollars toward it.
In one discussion with a line manager who, also, had a very specific charge, we were told that ours might be the most difficult job in the entire company. This is because, in this executive’s assessment, “Everyone’s an Armchair Marketer.”
Think about it: an executive in the pre-social media days is told by a friend “hey, you should write a white paper and use it as a marketing tool!” Not knowing any better, he suggests it to the marketing team; he may also control the purse strings and say that it’s a good use of money, so you might as well give it a try. Voila, the “White Paper Strategy” is born.
Now, in the Social Media Era – or, even more directly, the Facebook Ads Era – not only does the executive hear about a marketing tool that works, or that is cheap, or, WORSE, works and is cheap…this executive, like our mini-case study above, has already TRIED the marketing tool.
And guess what: Facebook doesn’t ask what your Business Strategy is. And they don’t really ask what your Marketing Strategy is, either…they just want you to buy their version of “engagement.” Whether you buy it directly or buy it from someone else who does the dirty work, you’re just aiming for the lowest cost for that engagement. Right?
Our problem with what Facebook is doing to the entire Integrated Marketing Communications suite stems from those engagement numbers our executive above is touting. If they’re getting 30 cents per “engagement” then why wouldn’t they continue getting 30 cents an engagement and just spend a few hundred dollars, tops, in order to get over a thousand engagements and the world will beat a virtual path to their door.
The executive doesn’t need us to help them – they only need a few bucks of juice on their corporate credit card. Engagements are coming. They’re the armchair marketer.
The Danger for the Executive: Facebook is selling you “engagements” but not giving you any sense of real, true value behind those engagements. What’s a Like really worth? What’s a visit to your site worth? What about someone “liking” the post but never ever doing anything else. Ever.
The Danger for Facebook: These engagements may be valuable in the grand scheme, but they’re pretty much done in a vacuum. And as the cost gets driven downward, the engagements become less and less valuable – nut just in the true dollar sense, but in the perception as well. “A buck a like? I can get you pennies a like!”
The Danger for the Consultant (not just guys like me, but the independent consultant who dabbles in social media “without a license”): There is always going to be someone who can “do it for less.” My $10,000 proposal to align your marketing strategy with your business strategy and measure a whole host of outcomes and drive real bottom-line engagement doesn’t stand a chance when presented to an armchair marketer who can spend $20 on a bunch of page views and outsource the remainder to someone in their dining room who can do a one-off campaign on Pinterest for $150.
When the real work takes time, building the strategy should be of utmost importance to the business executive. And to the marketing consultant, the desire to have those real discussions – something akin to “discovery” for the lawyer – is the thing that should drive every single engagement.
The problem, as I see it, is this awful use of “engagement” as a thing that can be measured in clicks. It’s scary, but it’s Facebook’s business and that’s why they’re successful.
I shied away from working with the executive above because it was obvious, to me, that the well had been poisoned by Facebook. In her mind, engagement is a thing that Facebook handles, and they do it inexpensively. Her strategy doesn’t need me – Facebook is giving her the impression that engagement IS the strategy, the Facebook definition of engagement is the only way to do it, and Bob’s Your Uncle. (In other words, don’t hire Dave – hire Facebook, or hire Dave’s competitor for a fraction of the cost for that component, or just whip up a faux strategy on your own and…)
My biggest concern is that Facebook Ads – and their perceived effectiveness, which isn’t grounded in the real world but their version of it – leads to laziness on the part of everyone in marketing, and a Race to the Bottom. There’s no need for a strategy when you have Facebook, and there’s no need for someone to help you with the strategy when you can whip up your own.
We’re all racing to the bottom. And it won’t end well.
Ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of marketing, communications, and social media…stuff? Join the club, bub. Here’s some advice.
Yesterday, I was minding my business here on the Internet, making things happen, when I received an email that told me I had a new comment on one of my sites. It was interesting in that it was an obvious cut-and-paste job: some of the text was verbatim from other emails I had received for the better part of the past year. And it got me thinking that I should probably write about this subject…so, let’s talk about Links, Hucksters, and What’s Next.
The “Links” I’m talking about are the ones offered by the spammers that try to comment on blogs. If you don’t run a blog, here’s a quick example of how those spam comments usually look:
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And they’re trying to get me to link to some site and then they’ll get the positive Google mojo that everyone who is in the SEO business says you really need to be successful. (If you use a service such as Akismet, you won’t have to worry about actually seeing 99% of these emails; they’ll go straight into your blog’s spam folder.)
Because of the age of this site – we’ve been at it for awhile and have a page rank of 2/10; nothing to write home about, granted, but better than 0/10, which the vast majority of sites receive – we are popular with the spamsters, who want the “authority” we can give them by sending a link their way. And, because of the hucksters in the SEO Consultant industry, the offshore linkbots like to send these sorts of emails our way. All the time.
Much has been made of hucksters in a variety of online industries: Social Media Gurus who will sell you a bill of goods but never deliver; SEO Consultants who will promise you the moon and a zillion backlinks; and general ne’er-do-wells who claim that their way is the way to riches.
But I can tell you from watching these industries for the last…what…9 years?…that there is a maxim that rings true:
The things that take the most effort have the most payoff.
Any tactic that someone tries to sell you – “Buy backlinks for cheap!” – isn’t bound to payoff and can actually get you penalized by Google. The value is in not just the hustle, but the tactics that take time and are in line with a sound strategy.
Before we get to the takeaway from this article, a promotional announcement: we at Area 224 have launched three sites that we’re spending a great deal of time on. But we’re not expecting immediate success – and you shouldn’t be expecting immediate success from any of the garbage the hucksters are peddling.
A couple years ago, we created Metasip as a “Yelp for Alcohol.” We’re still working on that site – and let me tell you…it takes time, energy, and some sound thinking. At around the same time 10KaYear was born – and the whole premise of that site is that sound personal finance doesn’t happen overnight.
Our latest development is Metakitchen – an offshoot of Metasip and less of a rating site, more of a hub for food and beverage bloggers. That’s going to take some time and some actual work: we’re not planning on getting thousands of bloggers on the site immediately, and we’re not planning on thousands of food brands wanting access to those bloggers. It’s a slow burn.
This is one reason we have blogged less and less here at HQ, at least on this site – but we’re blogging more and more over at the other sites.
Now, the takeaway: Links take time. Hucksters are to be avoided. What’s Next?
It’s time for the actual hard work, those things that take effort but will bring us the eventual payoff. We’re not after a get rich quick scheme here: but with a little sound planning and an even sounder strategy, we’re aiming for a pretty good result. And you should consider the same: don’t take shortcuts, don’t assume that the easy way is going to be the right way, and…
Don’t be afraid of a little hard work.
Believe it or not, we get the question all the time. As we near the anniversary (ahem, 02.24.09) of the firm’s founding, maybe we should explain how we got the name?
Simply, 224 is an area code here in the North Suburbs of Chicago. It’s an overlay area code – but it’s not just for mobile phones. The story goes that this part of town ran out of numbers quickly when 847 – which equates to “VIP” on the letters on the phone, look it up – was created. So 224 was launched, but not used all that often.
More to the point here, we made a call once to a neighbor, from our own 224 number, and they asked if we were in Texas on business. No…
This got me thinking that part of my job – at the intersection of digital and traditional communications, social and mobile, PR and marketing – is to demystify concepts. “Area 224” sounds mysterious. Reality: not that mysterious.
Same with communicating your message. Don’t overthink it.
We’ve launched and relaunched a couple times, had a few changes to the website, had to deal with a tech issue here and there. And we don’t blog like we used to…but that’s okay, since we’re working.
So yeah, here we are – Area 224 is an integrated marketing communications firm that can work with you to help you better connect to stakeholders, better get your messages across, and better impact the bottom line.
Thanks for stopping by. Spin through the blog posts and let us know if we can help.