Aug 112017

social media planning Columbia Business School EMBA It was my honor to teach social media planning for the Executive MBA program summer session at the Columbia Business School.  Professor Emeritus of Business Marketing Don Sexton leads a lively class of fresh thinkers with insightful questions.

The curriculum I presented as guest lecturer provided an historical overview of social media, with a strong focus on processes and tools for social media planning–including many links to deeper insights, templates, and more. The rest of the class focused on where this fast-changing field is headed in terms of technology, user habits and expectations, and marketing tactics:

Social Media Landscape

  • Evolution of Social Media from 1973 to Present
  • Changing Dynamics
  • Users and User Habits of Different Sites

Elements of Social Media Planning

  • Goals and Objectives
  • Competitive Social Media Audit
  • Finding an Audience
  • Choosing Channels
  • Engaging Influencers
  • Content Strategy
  • Tactics for Engagement
  • Tools
  • Planning Templates
  • Budget and Staff

Trends: Top Directional Changes for 2017 and Beyond–With Current Real World Examples

  • Social video—live, 360°, mixed reality
  • Integrated and omni-channel
  • Increasingly robust reporting
  • Better tracking of users, including military grade social listening
  • Customer relationship building
  • Making the customer an insider and humanizing companies
  • Customer service
  • Holding companies accountable
  • User-generated content
  • Not social if not human?

The Executive MBA Program at the Columbia Business School is a world-class Executive MBA education that provides access to leaders across many business fields and functions; access that leads to even greater impact and success. Immersed in a dynamic business environment in one of the world’s great business cities, you’ll study with renowned professors and prominent practitioners. The core curriculum embraces both big-picture business and entrepreneurial dreams. The program is identical to our Full-Time MBA in every way but with a flexible schedule for working executives.

May 222017

Democrats favored firing Comey before they were against it. Republicans scurried to avoid taking a position. The White House was leaking in torrents. Washington insiders roiled the swamp with eddies of spin. The press hyperventilated in major scandal mode. But what did regular Americans make of it all?

Not so much, it turns out. Data from military-grade social listening algorithms and analytics show that outside the media echo chamber, the Comey story subsided quickly. Opinions were generally neutral and concluded that Comey had to go.

SC2, a company with roots in the special operations community, adapts technology developed to track enemy conversations for civilian market research purposes. Pouring over 17 million global social media sites, the technology uncovers trends in interest and sentiment. Army Colonel Robert Guidry who founded SC2 after serving as a chief technology officer and a senior strategist for Special Operations said: “SC2’s mission is to get beyond the media hype and analyze what everyday citizens are saying to each other. It’s often very different from what is being reported in the media.” And regarding the firing Comey story, indeed it is.

Reactions More Moderate than News Coverage

Conversations about firing Comey spiked the morning after the story first broke. While stories in the press were largely negative, public reaction was measured. In the first hours, conversations about Comey’s ouster were 49% neutral, 30% negative, and 21% positive. By Sunday morning, 60% of conversations expressed neutral views, with a near even split between negative and positive sentiments.

The majority of Comey-centered conversations referenced another topic, such as Clinton’s email server, Congress, and calls for an independent prosecutor. Of these combined conversations, most were about Comey and Trump, followed by Comey and Clinton. In both cases, over a third of comments were negative towards Comey, suggesting people across the political spectrum hold Comey in low regard. The Russian investigation was barely a blip.

firing comey opinion

Washingtonians Are More Critical of Trump Firing Comey

Looking at the same data by media outlet, we find expressed attitudes breaking out in surprising ways. Over half of CNN and Fox viewers voiced negative thoughts of the whole Comey situation—likely for different reasons. The Washington Post’s inside the Beltway readership voiced 70 to 80% negative views regarding firing Comey. Clearly, denizens of what Trump calls “the swamp” were not happy. For New York Times readers, the statistics flip, being far more favorable to Comey hearing the words: “You’re fired.”

firing comey by mediaA Story without Legs

News coverage continued wall-to-wall for days, reporting a scandal on par with Watergate. Yet a day after the news of firing Comey broke, public conversations about it were down by a third. By the May 14 Sunday morning talk shows, interest dropped by another third. Opinions  settled in the neutral zone. And there was good news for Hillary: Interest in her email servers also evaporated.

In the End, Opinion Was: Comey Deserved It

The algorithms give researchers the ability to study specific viewpoints across a spectrum of beliefs. What is interesting about the national conversation about Comey being fired is the content of the conversations. Most agreed with Trump that Comey should be fired, with Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation cited as the most discussed reason Comey had to “face the music.” The Russia election issue appeared in a small minority of the conversations.

comey deserved it

A screenshot of raw data shows the snippets of commentary around Comey’s firing.

conversations firing comey

Despite the media fixation on Russia, cover-ups, special prosecutors, and White House ineptitude, the American public was ready to move on. Some 70% of conversations reference firing Comey as deserved and necessary, even among people who claim that Trump was wrong in doing it. All scandal aside, Americans believe Comey had it coming.

But what a difference a week makes! With new revelations, has American interest in the scandal increased? Has American opinion shifted on Comey? Do Americans now think impeachment is warranted? Time for another look into the data.

Apr 012016

Brand SEO mistakes are surprisingly common. A shocking number of companies miss a critical opportunity to communicate in search engine results–and thus with customers. If they can’t find your brand, it may as well not exist. What you say in Google, Bing and Yahoo! impacts traffic to your site and your brand image.  Yet, too many companies let programmers write this marketing copy. Here are the five most common search engine results copy writing mistakes:

1) Providing no information at all. No title. No description. No reason to visit. No idea of what the company does.

2) Leaving the placeholder text from the software used to build the Web site in place. Surely the government of Massachusetts has more to say than promote Joomla! Web content management software.


3) Allowing random content to populate search engine results. Here is one “huh?” example from Elan Corporation, a pharmaceutical company:


Here is another example of random content from Healthnet:


Instead of offering directions for finding a subscriber number, Healthnet could have used the search results to talk about the “Healthnet: A better decision” brand positioning or they could have offered their company description: “Health Net, Inc. is among the nation’s largest publicly traded managed health care companies. Its mission is to help people be healthy, secure and comfortable.”

4) Just listing what you sell, packing in as many search terms as possible, runs afoul of Google search algorithms (your site gets penalized), but offers potential visitors no real compelling reason to visit the site. You lose twice.


5) Allowing your description to exceed the allotted space or simply not using the space you have efficiently. In general, you have 55 characters to use for your title and 115 for your page description. Take this example from Corning:


The title is short and generic. Instead of being just “Corning Incorporated | Home”, the title could have included branding: “Corning: The world leader in specialty glass and ceramics”. That would have left plenty of room for a succinct and compelling description: “Corning has 150 years of materials science expertise and process engineering knowledge. We turn possibilities into breakthrough realities.”

Getting traffic to your site requires that you effectively communicate who you are and why someone should visit. Brand communicators need to get actively involved in how their company appears in search engine results pages. Don’t make simple to prevent brand SEO mistakes. Make sure meta copy is “on brand”, rich in keywords, and invites people to click and visit. This communication is too important to be left by default to Web page programmers.

Mar 312015

marketing-sherpa-increase-web-trafficHow to increase Web traffic is the subject of MarketingSherpa’s latest case study of Knockout Pest Control‘s local search and digital marketing work. Marketing Sherpa is a research company that tracks and shares “what works in all aspects of marketing.” They selected our client Knockout Pest Control to profile on how to build business–and better serve customers–through optimizing local search and coordinating digital marketing outreach.

It has been my privilege to work with Knockout Pest Control’s Arthur Katz to redo his digital marketing efforts in partnership with Liquid Marketing Group. Mr. Katz initiated the change as part of the company’s commitment to the best of customer service. Better, relevant content that is easy to access benefits Knockout customers. At the same time, the change benefited his business with a dramatic increase in number of visitors, engagement and action.

The Marketing Sherpa article provides detail on how to drive Web traffic, but here are a few tips:

1) Get rid of your old html site. You can’t do adequate SEO with an html site. You can’t keep every page fresh and changing and you can’t easily optimize all the elements that impact the Google search algorithm without content management. WordPress, Jumla and Drupal are the way to go. Look at any page on your site and check out the URL. If it ends in.html, you’re missing out.

2) On page SEO that is absolutely current is a must. Know your keywords and how to use them. Old fashioned key-word stuffing techniques will hurt you. Make sure you are up to date on all Google releases. If your SEO provider doesn’t know what you are talking about when you talk about when you mention Panda, Penguin, Pigeon or Hummingbird, your provider is no SEO expert. Google is constantly changing its algorithm and doing “major” updates with code names such as those above. A technique that used to work might now really hurt you.

3) Have rich, varied content that readers really want to read. Knockout Pest Control went from one page on bed bugs to over a dozen, taking on this topic in depth. Don’t upload a pdf and hope for the best. Put all that great content on a page that Google can find–and that readers can easily access without downloading a file. If your copy writer doesn’t understand how to write with keywords and how to format content for SEO, get a new writer.

4) Keep it fresh. Your site needs new content all the time, not an annual or ever-five-years update. Topical, focused, newsy content is a requirement to compete online today.

5) Link! Incoming and outgoing links are the gift that keeps on giving. They bring in relevant, motivated visitors and the Google algorithm sees them as votes of confidence, boosting your search engine results rank.

“Many thanks to Steve Scott of the Tampa SEO Training Academy –if you want to be an SEO expert in a week, call Steve.”

Merriam Associates specializes in combining the brand voice with a deep understanding of SEO for content that engages and motivates customers–and that can increase web traffic.

Mar 142011

“Don’t use the F-Bomb” is a seemingly common sense rule when using social media for corporate purposes.

But, common sense is not as common as you might hope.

A purported social media expert working for a leading social media agency tweeted this for Chrysler: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the Motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”

If a pro can make such a big mistake, how can you protect your brand when your employees tweet and post on your brand’s behalf?

While you can’t create common sense through policy, it does make sense to provide guidelines. A social media policy does more than make clear what mistakes to avoid. It helps you use the social media more effectively.

Here are some basic social media advice to cover:

  • Make sure people know they are personally responsible for what they write. Once something has been said, it can’t be unsaid, and there is no telling who will see what is written. Everyone should think twice before hitting the “share” button.
  • Be real. Don’t create a fake persona or a faceless corporate presence. Use your real name and identify your relationship with the brand. Compare how Toyota uses real people vs. Chevy’s faceless corporation approach.
  • Think about your audience. You will be talking to clients, future clients, employees, bosses, suppliers, competitors—everybody. Be careful not to alienate them. Ray Catena Lexus, a New York area car dealer “likes” The Mets on their Facebook page—how do Yankee fans feel?
  • Stay away from religion, politics and sex. Good advice for polite company at a dinner party is also good advice for using social media. Be especially careful when thinking of voicing a negative opinion about anything—and never badmouth the competition.
  • Don’t get defensive. Your company may come under criticism. Resist the urge to fight back. Be polite to detractors and use the opportunity to present additional information and resources. Don’t call people names or denigrate their thinking.
  • Don’t misuse copyrighted material. Be sure to provide attribution for any material you share. Never post confidential material.
  • Be helpful, bring value, be amusing. Don’t just blare out commercial messages and public relations fluff. If you get a reputation for being a walking, talking commercial, you’ll be considered a spammer and will be tuned out—often rudely.

The Social Media Governance Web site has an impressive library of real social media policies from many different types of companies. These can provide a template for your company’s social media policy as well as give you an idea of what issues other companies have faced and how they dealt with them.

Mar 082011

Today, truthful brands who speak the truth are a necessity. Rance Crain has an interesting post in Advertising Age: “Back in the Mad Men days, when the “pioneers of advertising,” as my old boss Stan Cohen calls them, ruled the roost, it was commonly held that a little exaggeration was not unreasonable to accentuate the selling points of the ad messages.”

Don’t try that today.

Between bloggers and Tweeters, your advertising “exaggeration” will be called out as a lie and your brand will suffer.

Consider these two recent stories:

On the one hand, Chevy Volt initially claimed a 40 mile range per battery charge. Check Twitter and you will find it is between 23 and 25. GM has “revised” the claim to between 25 and 50 miles–still not quite in line with what consumers who use the product are reporting. The buzz on the Volt brand is not positive. Despite GM’s revision, angry tweeters and bloggers continue to attack the discrepancy. The lack of range and lack of “clarity” on the part of GM is one of the reasons depressing demand for the product.

taco bellContrast that with Taco Bell and the “not beef” controversy. A law firm in Alabama sued the company claiming it was not actually using beef in its tacos–and it invested plenty in promoting its beefless claim to get major coverage from media major and minor. Taco Bell has shown that when your brand is honest and does a good job of getting the true story out there, it can weather a public relations storm. Witness how Taco Bell responded to a lawsuit charging the company with not using real beef. The company responded with an integrated campaign combining traditional public relations and newspaper advertising along with new details on its website, offering to give away 10 million tacos to people who “like” its Facebook page and a straightforward video on YouTube featuring Taco Bell President Greg Creed saying, “Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88 percent quality USDA inspected beef.” In addition to listing the beef content, he provides a detailed list of the remaining ingredients. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

From Wikileak threats to Twitter snipes, the truth about your brand will get out. Exaggeration no longer sells, it repells.

Jan 242011

More and more Web sites are offering the “Connect with Facebook” option–but could the initiative suffer brand trust issues?

facebook brand trustIt appears Facebook Connect is succeeding where others have failed (most notably Microsoft’s Passport product). They are becoming the default internet ID card, saving users from having to create user names and passwords for every site they interact with.

Facebook Connect’s success is partly due to the fact that many people don’t understand Facebook’s many security flaws, partly because people really do want to share articles and commentary with their friends, and partly because site owners are happy to outsource their identity login systems and push Facebook Connect. Microsoft’s Passport never enjoyed these adoption drivers.

Yet how far will Facebook Connect go before it hits the same brick wall that stopped Microsoft?

Brand trust will be the ultimate limiting factor. Facebook makes constant security blunders. Just this last weekend, they enabled third party partners to access users’ private information without giving users clear notice and without explicitly allowing users to control access. ZDNet reported this latest bungle with the tongue-in-cheek observation, “I know I want the likes of FarmVille, and all their partners, to have my home address and phone number.”

More than likely, Facebook Connect will work fine in social settings, but won’t gain any traction in commercial settings. It is one thing for a hacker to break into your Huffington Post identity, but quite another for them to access all your bank accounts. The Facebook brand just has too many well-deserved trust problems.

(If you seek to thwart Facebook attempts to exploit your private information, read ZDNet’s advice in their Definitive Facebook Lockdown Guide.)

Jan 242011

brand-value-fallingThe brand value of Johnson & Johnson is falling due to product recalls, product unavailability and other problems. The December, 2010 recall of Rolaids is more than a new cause for heartburn at Johnson & Johnson. Coming on the heels of a year of unprecedented recalls, this latest problem is having a major impact on brand value. Beginning with the January 15th recall of Tylenol and expanding through the Spring and Summer with recalls of such consumer icons as Motrin, Benadryl, St. Joseph’s Aspirin, Mylanta, DePuy hip replacements, and prescription drugs like Epogen and Procrit, the Johnson & Johnson brand has suffered from a pattern of manufacturing and quality control failures.

Loss of More Than 27% of Brand Value

Grant Thornton’s September 10, 2010 report on declining brand value calculates that the Johnson & Johnson brand lost 27% of its value. And this analysis was done before some of the major recalls of the summer and fall. Moreover, the damage to the recalled product brands themselves has to be much, much greater. And possibly permanent. Consumers are being forced to switch to competitive brands and generic replacements. Convincing them to come back to Johnson & Johnson brands will be no small feat. That the company has been dragged before Congress and is the subject of an ongoing Department of Justice criminal probe does not help.

Johnson & Johnson Can’t Yet Take the First Step to Brand Repair

Restoring share of market and brand reputation will take plenty of money and even more time. Of course nothing can be done until the first step in brand repair can be taken, and that is: fix the problem–something that month after month of recalls, plant shutdowns and management shakeups haven’t been able to address. That the recalls are so broad-based across so many divisions in so many countries, and that they seem to just keep coming, does not bode well for the Johnson & Johnson brand that  so long has stood for trust.

A side note: Johnson & Johnson and its brands do not have either a Twitter or Facebook presence. As we have covered here and here, companies can’t wait until they are in a crisis to try and make effective use of social media.

UPDATE: The company has posted a 12 percent decline in profit and a 5.5 percent decline in sales for the fourth quarter 2010.

Jan 122011

“Brands are how we sort out the cesspool.”

This famous quote from Eric Schmidt, President of Google, gives us insight into the importance of brands  and how Google uses brand names when determining what search results to offer in response to customer queries.

How do you know a word is a brand?  Google codes up the clues into mathematical algorithms.

Google’s advanced and interlacing set of logical statements make it possible for a computer to sense what is and isn’t a brand. And, using logic strings, Google computers can gauge what brands matter most. What is most intriguing is that these algorithms are influenced by marketing tactics and results much like human brains.

The blog “Whiteboard Friday” discussed some of Google’s patent applications and their recent acquisition of a company called Metaweb that sniffs out entities based on context, content and word usage. Google algorithms now can possibly:

  • Study the appearance of certain words and repetition of text content
  • Track frequency of use
  • Assessment of context of use and how text is positioned.
  • Follow what kinds of sites these words appear in, including news sites and retailers
  • See if the word gets talked about in links and in social media posts (and even in email as Google owns Gmail)
  • Note that the word appears in advertising (Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick gives it more power in this area)
  • Check if the word appears in patents, licenses catalogs, product reviews
  • Record how the word is used in search and what people click on as a result

If a word is used often, is mentioned on lots of different contexts like news Web sites, product review service, in blogs, in social media in advertising and in stores, it might just be a brand.

Jan 092011

A good brand reputation is not a service you can buy and can’t be gained by a clever stratagem. Still, reputation managers at companies trying to do damage control or damage prevention always seem to be on the look-out for shortcuts that can shut down any negative conversation about brand.

Preventing Negative Conversation Is Impossible

Some companies use stratagems to try and prevent negative conversation. In advance of an expected Wikileaks attack, Bank of America registered hundreds of negative domains in mid-December. Erik Sherman writes on bnet “BofA executives have limited imaginations when it comes to the many ways people could put down the company and its managers.” And he points out they are years too late, with sites such as having carried on a brisk trade in negative consumer opinion for years. Despite Bank of America’s big URL buy, hundreds of negative URLs remain. In fact, another blogger Cory Doctorow calculates that the number of potential URLs limited to just five negative variations (blows, sucks, crook, thief, and fraudster) at a cost of just $5 each would exceed the capital reserves of the bank.

Drowning Out Negative Conversation Also Doesn’t Work

Some companies try to flood the conversation with false positives. Techniques can be as ham-handed as reviewing your own company (five stars!) on Yelp! to systematic attempts to manipulate search engine results. Companies like floods the Web with positive content optimized to make the pages of search engine results pages. Covering this company years ago, recounted a story of one executive who used the service to drown out sites calling her a “fraud” and “con artist” with stories of her business, her upcoming book, even her recipes, though she is quoted in the article as saying, “the truth is, if it doesn’t go in the microwave, I don’t make it.” Google “Reputation Defender Scam” and you’ll find dozens of reasons to stay away from this company and any service like it. It should come as no surprise that cheaters cheat. If your company is already battling negatives, don’t pile on with dishonesty. A good brand will behave as honorably online as in real life.

Integrity Works

Honesty is its own reward, but in business, it is also profitable. I have talked about transparency of today’s world and the absolute need for brands to be genuine in a half dozen articles. In a world of Wikileaks and Gawker, nothing is secret for long. Whatever might be gained by shading the truth will cost plenty when your brand gets lambasted in public. A good reputation is not gained by a stratagem and can’t be bought as a service. It takes genuine effort over a long, long time. Build your brand on solid rock and it will weather many a storm. (see here and here)

© 2014 Lisa Merriam