Social Media Week: Q&A with Dave Wieneke

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We’re in the midst of Social Media Week. It’s an occasion to focus on our understanding of social media marketing as it continues to evolve.

The San Diego Online Marketing Summit is underway and speaker Dave Wieneke, director of digital marketing for the largest United States marketer of legal services, Sokolove Law, talked with me about vital social media strategy and the coming application marketing wave.

Apps vs. mobile

Your session suggests that apps are the next major marketing platform—so-called Web 3.0. What are the basics a business needs to know to engage successfully in the app environment? What shifts in strategy and approach are required of marketers?

All good things that happen in digital marketing are driven by audience, not by technology. I think that change that happens as you think about applications rather than pages of content is, the content is really this neutral idea that we talk about as marketers—it’s really a marketing word. In applications, we’re helping people do things, so content it neutral and in fact helping people is king.

The thing that our audiences are hungry for is taking all of this technology in their lives and all the investment of hours and money and the infrastructure and making it helpful to them in getting some tasks done in their lives. I think that in an application-based environment, we want to think about what tools can we use our content for, what tools can we use our content in to get something done that’s important to them. Two examples come to mind.

New York Times Learn English App

One is the The New York Times, which is a great content company. They have developed an application to take their content and use it to help people learn English. In New York City there’s a substantial audience that does not read the New York Times because they’re still learning English. And it’s a way that they can use their content both to talk about current events, but also to provide tools to English learners that positions the paper as being accessible and relevant to this new audience. It’s a great way of going: so we’ve got content, content is neutral, but we’ve put it inside of a tool, a framework that lets people get something done.

My local paper, the Boston Globe, has put together a toolset for people working on another difficult life change, which is picking a home, and it’s been a great experiment. They put together a mobile app that uses geo-location, so if you’re in the neighborhood and you want to know what’s for sale around this great coffee shop that I just found or this subway stop that I just popped up at, it’s able to pull in listings that are near where the phone just located. Then it provides tools for taking pictures and saving them, making notes and saving them. And it provides some back doors into data. People can say what are the schools like around here, or what the demographics of the neighborhood and income are? It all happens through an application which is taking the Globe‘s content and moving it beyond the paper, further into people’s lives. It’s also bringing their advertisers along with them.

Inside of those platforms there’s room for social to add to the experience. Imagine that you’d be able to tie into the New York Times example, to interact with other English learners or to interact with other people who have moved into the neighborhood or who are in social networks that are geographically based. It’s not social or applications—in a lot of applications there’s an opportunity for a social layer and the applications just one more interface to those friendships.

It sounds like a lot of the promise of mobile, Web 3.0, getting people when they’re on the go and available to interact with a brand—and the social aspects, and the local aspects—all the promise of what we’ve heard about mobile for so long available as much or more… but in apps?

We’ve heard for probably a decade that this is the year for mobile. I’ve been thinking about what is it that changed and the change, I don’t think, was mobile. It was very convenient, easy-to-use applications that people want to take with them.

We’ve seen in other parts of the world that mobile has been a primary part of accessing the Internet. In Japan, in 2006, 14 percent of Web pages were served to mobile devices. Today, 87 percent of content is served to mobile devices. There is a sea change that happened there. As I’ve worked with European positions of companies that I’ve been part of, the mobile device is much more of the culture. I just thought America is somehow different. The U.S. market likes big production focused machines that run Quark and can compile code. It turns out that now there are there are these lighter machines that are more flexible, that are kind of a ubiquitous interface with ubiquitous networking needs, we’re seeing that same change happen here, and maybe faster and more dramatically because we have a number of forces pushing it all at once.

Suddenly there’s a reason to want to take computing capability with you. It’s not just a cell phone and it’s not email, but it’s Foursquare or it’s TweetDeck or it’s any number of products.

Hyundai Equus iPad App

One of my favorite iPad applications right now is from the Hyundai Equus. Hyundai’s new luxury car comes with its own iPad. You get a new iPad along with the car instead of a user manual. That’s brilliant because it’s a relationship pipe. For the first time, the manufacturer of the car actually gets all this direct communication to their consumers. They can see what parts of the user manual get used. They can position communications and offers to them. And they can easily open up a position to other people who would want to sell to that aggregated market. They’re really thinking like a publisher, through to an audience they can monetize.

Social media and big business

Social media is an important part of online marketing today. Could share your vision of the future corporatization and de-personalization of social media and what that means for both businesses and everyday users?

You may get the sense from me talking about Web 3.0 and applications that I’m a total fanboy for technology. But a lot of times there’s this shift that happens with technology where at first it’s very high status to be part of something and then it reverses and it’s high status to not be part of something. It used to be that the rich owned cars as a hobby and the poor rode horses. Now, the rich own horses as a hobby and the working people drive cars.

To some degree, that idea has made me curious as corporations become really good at social and understand that who it is and when they tweet really can do something. That superior analytic power creates a hyper-empowered marketer. As corporations get smarter, they’re going to get the same outsourced call center monitoring the Twitter channel that monitors the phone channel. The corporations will be better at gauging who they need to deal with and how they need to be dealt with for corporate advantage.

We’re also seeing a class of data companies able to leverage the social graph in ways that early social adopters didn’t anticipate. One example would be insurance companies that are able to do extra due diligence on loan applicants who have friends who’ve committed insurance fraud. They can use social graph data and court record data to identify not just who’s committed fraud but who has social links to others who have committed fraud. It may make sense to give them more due diligence. But I’m pretty sure that that wasn’t part of the early consumer excitement about this medium.

For consumers, will being more private or wary of how companies are reaching them on social sites become more common, or is it just going to become a normal thing?

I’m probably at 20 events a year, and all of them have a layer of privacy discussion and privacy concern not far beneath the surface.

I think that in the early days of the Web we had to get through copyright and fair use. And If we didn’t establish fairly liberal fair use policies around images and trademarks, the Web would have developed very differently. In social media, we had to get through third-party liability for people who post things on your site that you don’t want on your site that may be illegal or offensive. The Communications Decency Act allows immunity for people in social media who take down the offensive things that other people may post without their knowledge or consent. For a long time it wasn’t clear that that law would happen, and social media only blossomed after that law was settled.

Privacy, I believe, is the next hurdle for digital marketing, and especially for the applications space, because applications are engineered to be highly measurable and there isn’t any architecture of privacy that’s enforced. I think of the song by Moby — everything looks wonderful from great heights — but when you get down to the specific data of individuals, their seedy nature and sometimes embarrassing activities that they use their technology for is something that they’re going to want to guard, and even just their reputation. Reputation that may be something that people want to have multiple identities so that they’re not categorized as just one thing everywhere they go.

Social media and small business

What recommendations would you give to a small business owner with limited resources to devote to social media?

It always pays to understand their audience. As small business people, they’re in a position to understand their audience and its use of technology far better than big companies that are maintaining promiscuous investments in all manner of marketing. So, talking with their best clients and understanding how they want to be interacted with really is that first stage of audience research that is obvious. If they’re using Web analytics and they’re doing web marketing, making sure that they’re using Google Analytics in a decent way, where they can start to see use trends. I have two pieces of advice there.

First, measure carefully before having new initiatives. If people are thinking about doing applications, they should be watching what the quality of mobile traffic is in their current websites. Is mobile traffic is high converting traffic, or does that traffic converts less than some other segment?

The other basic thing I think so many people in social media, myself included, fail to do is measure methodically what the effectiveness is of all of their work. In social media, when I look at monthly measures or weekly measures, it’s what is the time of engagement on each piece of content and what is it that makes some content more popular for visits or have longer engagement time. I look at things like who wrote the content, how many words were in the content, did the content have certain keywords that are especially resonant, did the keywords show up within my site search or keyword traffic coming in through Google. If they’re doing personal social media for business, they should be rigorously doing analysis on at least a monthly basis, just like they probably have their staff doing at work. Or, it’s a hobby, and that’s okay, but if we’re doing it for work, it makes sense to focus on where we think we need to make the next round of progress.

Second, as a brand marketer I’m in love with time on site. There are lots of other measurements for more conversion oriented businesses, but just even in my own use of social media, what I care about most is did someone read a long article for 30 seconds or for 20 minutes. Those are trends that really teach me what it is people want to read.

Besides understanding the audience, probably even before that, businesses need to understand their own culture and what their own culture will allow. Something like social really requires commitment and change. It requires culture, and in small business, I would imagine one of the things that big business learned is give the microphone to people on the line. In small business you may have folks working cash registers, you might have night managers at hotels that have cycles that they can blog on. There may be some corporate cultures that think that that’s empowering and creating greater value. And you’ll have other corporate cultures that think that that’s just pandemonium and a lawsuit that’s about to happen. It’s not that either one of those is right or wrong. It’s that those are very hard opinions to change. It’s good to know which ones you need to avoid at the onset.

Search marketing vs. social marketing

In November you wrote a post called How SEO Agencies Lost Their Digital Marketing Mojo to Social Marketing, and it covers an important discussion happening in marketing right now. What are the responsibilities and overlaps of search marketing and social marketing? Some believe each should remain a separate discipline. Some say it’s vital that the search marketer become a fluent and capable search marketer to remain relevant. In your view, is social media going to take over the role of search in Internet users’ lives? And how should marketers prepare for upcoming changes?

In part, I go back to that idea that culture is very powerful, and I think that the culture of social media and the culture of SEO are probably pretty different. Because classic SEO is about maximizing or gaming an algorithm. That’s so different than how social people talk about their business. I don’t think the two are matches made in heaven.

But as SEO rank becomes more tied to social, it becomes harder to generate through a mechanized effort. It actually has to be done personally. I think that there’s an ongoing SEO role, but that’s so different than social, that, as I recall, in one out of five companies, social sits in the public relations department. In other companies it sits as a digital channel. I’m not sure if in the next few years that we won’t see more social marketing matrixed into different parts of the company. So, service may have a social media element and the executive suite may have a social media element. It may be treated like project management is treated in corporations today. Lots of people have access to the project management methodology, and there may even be an office that supports it, but there’s not a corporate department of project management. It’s a matrixed capability.


Anything else you’d like to share as we conclude this convo?

I think one of the big challenges in social is the quest for ROI measurement. Often, organizations that are too focused on ROI measurement from the onset think of it as advertising ROI measurement, where there’s a stimulus and a response. In social media, it’s not stimulus and response. It’s a stimulus from the corporation and then a response from your followers where they invest their time and they invest their money to spread the message. The market response may be another order out there. And, we certainly, in social media, would benefit so much by having a common vocabulary and essentially a language almost like the accounting business has for stating core metrics in a uniform way so people can understand what works and what the value creation system is in social media is. I’m interested in looking at how people estimate the value that they’re creating and how they communicate that back to show whether this is brand building or if it’s moving the business in tangible ways.

It’s such a hard question because we want to think about social media in the same ways we’re used to thinking about ROI but it requires a total shift in everything we’re measuring and looking at.

It’s hard to measure the value of relationships. I went to art school and my wife went to business school. The friendships we have have been so influential in our lives, but I’m not sure how I’d go about calculating an actual return on investment in those relationships and that’s what we’re trying to do in the online space. We know that they’re valuable, but valuing is very different than valuing a trade-able asset.

Do you think it’s more important to educate executives and marketers about looking things differently, or do you think it’d be more effective if we can find ways to quantify ROI?

People who measure social media will need to recognize that they’re only measuring part of the value. They’ll have to make references to future value of nurturing those relationships. When I worked at Thompson-Reuters, we had clients that had been with us for 100 years. Those relationships had been nurtured longer than a human lifespan. That makes the social relationship different than—you run a commercial and then the next 30 days you get a certain number of orders from a certain DMA. I think that there’s a long term commitment which is probably based on some non-financial commitments to a market space. Companies need to fall in love with the markets that they serve. One of the ways we pay our dues is through brand building and through engagement that isn’t hard-dollar engagement, but is what makes us credible and what creates purchase preference in a marketplace that recognizes that we’re not just there to convert a sale. We’re actually there to move a market.

Read more from Dave Wieneke at his blog, Useful Arts: The Future of Digital Marketing, and on Twitter, @UsefulArts.