This post has been moved to my new home on the web www.steve-e.co.uk. The post itself can be found here. 23Musings is going to remain dormant for now and some of its more popular posts will be transferred to the blog at my new site.

My reason for moving and not taking the years of posts with me is the need for a fresh start, 23Musings had been dormant for long enough for me to feel it was time to start my blog from scratch.

Don’t forget to check out my new blog! www.steve-e.co.uk/blog

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There’s an interesting post over on the Nielsen Wire blog from Jon Gibs (their VP Media Analytics) about the methods people are now using to discover content. Their findings show that a lot of surfers now make social media their starting point when trying to find information online. 18% of the people Nielsen quizzed said they start a search for new information using Wikipedia, blogs or social networks (such as Facebook or Twitter). That’s a pretty big percentage, especially when you consider that only 37% said they started their hunt on a search engine (which you’d traditionally think might be the starting point).

It’s not really a surprise to see web users learning to trust information that is recommended by their peers, or info that comes from within their sphere of influence on social networks. Recommendation is a powerful thing online and crowd sourced recommendations are a great way to answer certain queries. However, as networks are inherently distributed are they as likely to get an accurate answer to their more complex info needs as they would on a search engine?

In the same report 26% of respondents who identified themselves as socializers (the ones likely to start on a socnet) said that they feel ‘there is too much information online’. Perhaps this is what draws them to social networks for their information searching needs? Maybe the trust factor that someone has recommended some information to them gives them the confidence that they will drill through the dross and find the nugget they are looking for. However, if they feel overloaded now that is only going to get worse as networks grow.

Social network contacts are never going to be able to answer all the questions that intelligent use of a search engine would (unless your network includes some of the finest minds). If we, as web users, rely too much on social networks for finding information are we going to lose the ability to really search when we need to? Search can be a bit of an art form; some people struggle to get how to think laterally when searching for a niche topic, others can get there in one or two searches by using word combinations and booleans cleverly. Could reliance on social networks for the answers to questions destroy the art of searching or data mining that the web has historically been so good at encouraging? Social networks are great for recommendation and serendipitous discovery of content but how do they cater for people who just want their questions answered? Do they need to branch out more deeply into indexing and search or perhaps encourage search to begin on their networks by providing tools to do so?

I’m not offering any answers as this is a shift in habits which has been underway for a long time, but as more users become socializers (inevitable), and information becomes more and more realtime, someone needs to provide a way they can divine the realtime stream for the information they seek. Either that or search engines need to provide new, more social ways to search their indexes. What do you think?

PS. Just in case you think I mean divine in the Biblical sense, have a look at this.

Babson Executive Education and Mzinga have published the results of a survey into businesses use of social media. The report shows that while many businesses are spending both money and resources on social media the number of people measuring ROI is low.

The graph below shows that 40% of respondents spend budget on social media and 57% expend resources on it.

Graph showing answer to do you utilise any budget or people for social media?So you’d think that they’d be measuring its effectiveness. Wouldn’t you? The pie chart below shows the percentage of respondents who said yes/no to the question ‘Do you currently measure ROI for your social media program?’. Only 16% said yes…

Graph showing percentage of respondents who measure the ROI from social media activities

That’s low! It seems to me that there’s a real lack of understanding of online measurement and when it comes to social media that gets even more apparent. Social media measurement requires an understanding of more than just web analytics. You need to grok user behavior, interaction and engagement while also living brand equity, sentiment and what people are saying about you on all mediums. You need to understand the online/offline journey your audience is taking when it interacts with your brand, as an online social campaign could manifest itself as increased (or decreased) offline engagement. It’s a tough mix and there’s no one way to measure all of that right now. The best advice I could offer to businesses who trial social campaigns would be to distill it down to the things that are measurable (there’s always something even if only referrals and changes in rates of sales) and at the same time monitor sentiment like a hawk while listening to your audience (they will tell you a lot about how well you’re doing).

It’s getting better, there are many sentiment analysis tools out there now and you can even create your own dashboards with RSS and something like Netvibes. At the same time smart folk like @willmcinnes and the Measurement Camp crowd are trying to come up with answers to the social media measurement question and there’s a lot of information available on the subject.

So, in my opinion, measuring nothing is inexcusable, measuring or monitoring something is just fine if you’re dabbling in social but if you’re spending a lot of budget and manpower on your social exploits you either need to learn to measure it or find someone who can help you do that.

This post has now been moved to my new blog and can be found here.

There’s a lot of buzz about social media and how it can be embedded into the heart of businesses at the moment. I love the idea, it resonates really strongly with the idea of being truly customer centric which is something I strongly believe will help you grow your business and increase customer satisfaction and retention. Being social means being open, listening, responding, having conversations with your customers all things which any customer focused business needs to do. It’s how you fix the pain points, grow up as a business and learn to take criticism and proactively respond and make amends when you have screwed up royally. Social media is a great vehicle for these conversations.

This great presentation from David Armano of Dachis Group hints at how businesses can embrace being social and some of the benefits. The slides that resonate most strongly with me are 44 and 45 where David says it’s time to grow up and realise that being social should just become the way we do business (at least if we want our brands to succeed). The change David mentions in his blog post here is the same as the transformation that’s required to become a customer focused organisation, it needs to come from the top and be embraced throughout the business, there’s no half measures if you really want to reap the full benefits. Consumers have grown up and want more from brands these days, they expect them to listen and respond. It’s time for brands to grow up and realise they need to support this consumer desire for a conversation or risk alienating their audience and pushing them to competitors who will.

Found via Paul Papadimitiou.

Altimeter Group announced an interesting fact in the last week, blogged by Charlene Li on their behalf, that their latest study shows that companies who engage more in social media perform better in the marketplace. I was drawn to this by a timely piece from Anthony Mayfield of iCrossing.

The Altimeter report finds that companies who engage and embrace social media tend to be the ones who are performing best at this moment in time. That’s great! It’s always good to be able to have cause and effect proof on company profits isn’t it?

It’s really good to look at the effect that social media may be having on performance on businesses. It gives a direct indicator of the reponse of consumers to brands that seek to engage and have a conversation with them rather than a one-way direct marketing approach.

However, where I think this falls short is in the analysis of what other activities these same brands are undertaking to ensure tighter connections with their customers and audience. If engaging in social media alone was the answer there would be much more successful major brands out there. It’s actually a question of learning to engage and communicate in the right way through whatever channel is most appropriate at that point of your customer journey. By default, a brand who has spent the time to really understand it’s customer journey and all the touchpoints along the way (no matter what channel, online and offline) is bound to benefit. Mapping out the numerous touchpoints you have with your customers and addressing each one in the most appropriate manner to optimise it and remove any pain points is the way to deal with this. That includes offline channels such as call centres and direct mail and online channels such as your website and social media.

Brands who really engage in social media are by default likely to be the same brands who really understand their customers so it’s really not at all surprising to see a correlation between social media engagement and performance. Saying that the performance boost is down to social media alone is however just not telling the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong, studies like this are important and will really help brands who haven’t yet stepped into the social media world find a reason and justification for doing so, but they really need to think cross-channel and ensure that they aren’t neglecting their whole customer base. I particularly like what Anthony calls ‘social business design’ in his post, maybe that’s a route to being really customer centric. Learning to communicate with your audience should be such a basic tenet of business but unfortunately most people just tend to broadcast in the hope that someone is listening. You’d think they’d have learnt by now?

Indeed, wouldn’t it be great if engaging in social media alone could propel your business to new heights? I think this is more about how well a company engages with it’s customers across any channel and the whole customer journey rather than just on social media.

Companies who really get being customer focused, who get the benefit of being open and honest with their audience and strive to be customer centric are most likely to also be engaged in social media. Just doing social media alone though won’t create the success the report hints at, although becoming ‘social centric’ is a good step on the way to becoming a listening, engaging, customer centric organisation. Perhaps social centric is the new customer centric?

Couldn’t agree more with this post (or as he says rant, though I think I sense some holding back) from @builtbydave today. Expert is a phrase used far too often in many fields, particularly in relation to social media. Being social is a skill in its own right, and one that far too many overlook.

People often use the term social media to describe online communities and blogging and seem to think they’re something new, where as anyone who remembers newsgroups would remember just how social they used to be (uk.music.rave anyone?). I used to work for a company who specialised in community portals in the mid to late 1990’s, the concept isn’t new, just the technology has moved on significantly. Campaigns have been built around places people congregate on the web for many years.

But there are people who are very good at building campaigns based around various community platforms, blogging, networks, forums etc and specialise in that as a discipline so we do need a word for what they do. Perhaps ‘social media’ is just the wrong one, is it trying to encompass too much?

It’s a hard thing to define though, and I’m not going to pretend I can do it, but I am going to pose a few questions. Do we need to define social media? Can you define it acceptably? Should we segment the skills into online PR, community building & management, blog media experts etc; would that make it more palatable? Or do we just need to accept that the best person for the job is one with an open mind, a sociable demeanour and a deep understanding & passion for the web as a whole? I tend to side with something an old boss of mine used to say before we interviewed ‘the best people are web people’.