Posts Tagged effort

Social media- The invisible cost of ownership

Posted by on Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

Social networks and social tools have done wonders for our ability to share information quickly and easily, to the point of revolutionizing traditional media, as well as governments and society at large. I can wax philosophic about all the wonders and benefits social media brings to the world now, but I’d rather chat for a moment about the side of social media we don’t often consider; the true cost of ownership of online accounts.

While it is amazingly easy to create new accounts in social spaces, rarely is consideration given to what it really takes to be successful, especially from a social business perspective: time.

I’ve seen many a person start a new blog or Facebook page with intent to promote their business, only to abandon it months later once the shine wore off and the realization that maintaining these pages takes time and actual work. This is even far more common in personal blogging; and while the items below are also relevant for individuals blogging for fun, I’ll be focusing on this from the social business aspect:

First and foremost, before creating an account with any intent on using it for social business, stop and consider the time and effort you will be able to put in to maintaining that space and driving it to success. If, after this consideration, it all seems like too much to handle, then perhaps an individual blog or account isn’t the right way to go. Instead, look for a community, group blog, or page that might be better served by the time you can spend.

Here’s some quick ideas specific to blogging to help you see what level of effort it may actually take to show value:

  • Set aside a few hours to build your blog’s site with some customizations to help you stand out. (If you use a WordPress self hosted blog like I do, set aside 30 minutes per month for maintenance.)
  • For every blog post you publish, expect to schedule at least an hour to write it (more if you take a journalistic approach of fact checking and validating), another 30 minutes to promote it, and yet another 30 minutes to respond to any comments.
  • Build a pipeline of content to keep 4 or so posts ahead of yourself, and set a schedule for when you post. This reduces the probability that you’ll abandon the blog because “I’ll just post tomorrow” and also helps build your audience’s expectation for when to see a new post from you.
  • Consider posting at least once per week to retain your audience, fewer than that and they may forget about you. Frequency is critical. Most successful blogs post at least weekly if not daily.
  • Don’t forget to include the time it will take you to find the perfect image to make your post visually interesting and therefore more likely to be read. Sometimes this takes me 5 minutes, sometimes I spend a whole day, on and off, looking for just the right picture.
  • Make sure you prioritize time to respond to comments. Yes, I’ve said it twice in these bullets. It is just that important. Ignoring comments or actively avoiding them is one of the quickest ways to turn readers away from your blog. Take the time to reply to commenters wherever those comments may be posted. If you use twitter to promote your blog and you get a comment there, reply to that person via twitter. Facebook? Same story. Meet the conversation where it is happening.

While the numbers presented are VERY flexible, they are only a good starting point to understanding how much effort it will take to maintain your blog. All in all, a weekly post to your own blog could be expected to see a 2.5 hour commitment at a very basic, general level.

Of course all this is fine if you just want to maintain your blog. I’m guessing, however, that you may actually want to grow your readership… Then tack on an extra half-hour per post to comment on other relevant blogs and build your network of readers through building your own digital eminence. Just remember that social isn’t about constantly pushing your own messages, but engaging with others around their content. All of this works towards that larger ideal of open knowledge sharing and helping ourselves grow by helping others grow.

You can start to see how blogging may first appear as a simple, easy thing to do, can quickly become a burdensome and daunting entity to tackle if you were expecting wide success from only 30 minutes a week. Successful blogging is hard work. I should know. I run three blogs and multiple other social accounts. Of those, only one could be considered even mildly successful, and that’s the one for my full-time job; the one I put the most effort into. The more prepared you are at the start, the better off you will be in the long run to maintain the level of effort needed to run a successful blog or social business account.

A lot of the same concepts and effort above can also be applied directly to social channels like Twitter, Facebook, or GooglePlus. After all, every network is a living thing and requires care and feeding to stay vibrant. The moment other priorities take over and you don’t carve out the time to nurture your networks, those spaces will slowly stop providing the value you once saw when you did have the time.

Likewise, if you don’t have time to handle replies, comments, or mentions, you probably shouldn’t post in the first place. If you are going to use social spaces, and especially if you are doing so to build your personal brand or your company’s revenue, then you must make the time to engage with your network. At the very least address the reactions to any of your posts or comments appropriately.

Ownership of social accounts or blog spaces does not end once you press “publish”; that, in fact, is really where the work and the true cost of ownership begins. Take the time upfront to make sure you can devote the time on the back-end to be successful.

Musings on social business ROI for support…

Posted by on Monday, 16 May, 2011

Having troubles providing ROI for your social business efforts in a client support context? Yeah, you’re not alone. As support workers, we deal with intangibles every day. It is actually a big part of how we solve problems at times; using that support intuition and gut feelings which come from experience and a roll up of all the differing variables at play, not to mention some well-implemented educated guesses. But how do you quantify all that into a reportable metric to show the value returned from the efforts?

Martin Hill-Wilson over on had some great insights to share as they relate to ROI and Customer Service. He makes a point of showing that the intangibles of support can’t be measured, yet are still as critical (a fact which those of us working in the space already know):

“… the inability to directly measure something does not mean it is worthless. Quite the opposite. In fact the most abstract topic that has continued to evolve up the greasy pole of corporate favour is culture. This is illogical from the perspective of corporate Vulcanlogic. You can no more directly show me culture that I can show you that unicorn. Yet huge amounts of cash are invested by the C-suite to improve corporate cultures.”

Everyone who is working today in the social business spaces knows there is value. We feel it in our bones with as much certainty as there is coffee in our mugs (which is to say, a lot). If we were not so convinced of the value and need to be social, to engage with our clients and colleagues in these spaces, you can rest assured we’d not be spending time here. But we’ve all been tasked to find that one thing that evades us, the holy-grail of social business: tangible metrics to show real returns on the time, energy, and capital we have invested to be engaged in the social spaces.

In the marketing worlds, these intangibles are a bit easier to quantify through what Martin calls ‘proxy metrics’; linkages between tangibles and intangibles that indicate correlation if not causation. Imagine a television ad running for a week’s time, and measured sales increasing over the same period. You could make the correlation there that the campaign had a particular return on investment.  And while, yes, we do have proxy metrics in the support world, connecting these linkages from investment to returns is a far greater leap. In marketing, there may be a three jump difference from a campaign to sales increases. But what about support where we aren’t focused on driving revenue?

In client support, the number of jumps grows exponentially from any given activity to revenue recognition, be it direct product sales or maintenance renewals. Does a single tweet containing an FAQ solving an issue translate directly to revenue recognition? No, no more than a television ad for a new car can translate directly into a sale. Both provide the potential, but with so many other factors in play, how can you say that this one piece of content made the maintenance renewal sale? I imagine even ad agencies and dealerships find it difficult to prove that TV ad was the deciding factor for that new car purchase!

Unless the clients are providing direct feedback, noting the explicit reasons for their maintenance renewals, or lack of need to open support tickets, we only have indicators at best to help guide any potential ROI measurements. Martin comments on these client-satisfaction proxies as well:

“But remember, at best these are indicators and should not be assumed to be true in every market. In some, the nature of the product, the price point, the availability of alternative choice, are stronger drivers as to whether customer are predisposed to hang around a brand for any length of time.”

Without that direct client feedback, within support we can only rely on indicators like “visits to content” and “audience base” (followers counts) to show us reach and potential for increased revenue or call ticket avoidance. While call ticket trends and content visits can be easily tracked, I’d argue that connecting the two directly to social business efforts is a dangerous practice. Like so many other aspects of business, trends in revenue and client problem tickets are not tied to a single variable. Changes in the economy, product stability, support staffing, along with any social business campaigns or overall program efforts can combine to drive trends up or down, or even cancel each other out of one effort is successful while another variable may be causing problems (think improved products in a down economy causing sales to plateau rather than increase or decline).

In most instances, de-constructing these trends into their various, granular pieces is simply not possible. You simply can not isolate the various trends and look at the measurable components in a vacuum. Each piece needs to be weighed against the entirety, as a collective effort; each portion doing its own work and supporting the other pieces at the same time. We do not live in a black and white world, why would we think our various efforts are effective in black and white ways?

What does that leave us to gauge our efforts? Transactional data; simple indicators of progress or failure which may, or may not, be entirely accurate or reliable. Yes, we should continue to track those quantifiable items like visits, click-throughs, and followers, but not to the detriment of longer term benefits. Taking the television ad analogy again: that ad spot may not directly impact a purchase decision tomorrow, but the benefit may be seen 6, 9, 12 months, or even years later as part of an overall affinity for the brand. How do you connect such a compound and complex result with a single ad or campaign to show direct value for that single investment? Translating back to the Support arena, how do you connect an intangible, something which doesn’t exist (like the lack of a problem submission), with an individual tweet or larger social program to show any causation and direct return on that social investment?

Let’s look at a shift in thinking for a moment: what if we use transactional data as simple indicators, and then reset our focus to work and efforts designed to build overall relationship value? After all, isn’t that the social part of Social Business? Building that trust, and personal connection with clients is a key part of ensuring not only their success, but our mutual continued business relationships. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to measure those highly valuable but intangible connections. Activities alone won’t show that value… sometimes a handshake is just a polite greeting, other times it is the start of a long term complex relationship with decided fiscal impact, but there’s no way to attach value on the handshake alone.

Obviously I don’t have the answers here. If I did (and I’ve joked to my boss a number of times) I’m quitting my job and going on the lecture circuit for 6 figures per engagement… because that is how big of a deal this is to the industry. Find that silver bullet, that perfect ROI formula, and you’ll be set for life. As it stands, we’re all inching closer, but we’ve still got a giant chasm of a gap to bridge.

Until then, we stand with the belief that within a support context raising visibility to our content to help prevent problems, and providing solutions just in time when problems do arise is one more way we can ensure client success through our social business program. But more importantly we believe that open, transparent communication is simply the right thing to do for our clients and our business.

Martin Hill-Wilson’s source article, as linked above:

Full transparency: I am an IBM employee. This post is wholly my own and does not necessarily reflect any official IBM policy, opinion, or position. Read more about the guidelines which I follow at IBM’s Blogroll Policies and Guidelines for Blogging