Blinded By Automated Dashboards

In the winter, I am often forced to run on the treadmill.  I notice that while I run, I cannot pull my eyes away from the dashboard.  I’ll look away to focus on something else and before I know it I am back to watching the numbers rise on the screen.  I’ve seen other runners drape towels across the dashboard to avoid this preoccupation.  For me, the rising numbers are comforting.  Each second, the treadmill dashboard shows progress.  I’m mesmerized by the progress flashing on the treadmill. I’ve also noticed I’ll keep running until I have a nice even number – whether that’s a perfect 30 minutes or exactly 500 calories.  The numbers suddenly become more important than anything else.  But at the end of the day, these numbers do not guarantee that I’ve met my goals for improved health because they only capture the activity taking place for the half hour or so I spent on the treadmill.

Community dashboards are not unlike treadmill dashboards.  Both provide metrics as indicators of health.  The treadmill provides this with heart rate and calories burned.  The community platform provides this with number of active members, content contributors, etc. Dashboard metrics don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story. The treadmill does not factor calories consumed that day, hours slept, etc., just as community dashboards do not track off-site attitudes and behaviors of community members. Community managers can be blinded by the ease with which these numbers are provided by the dashboard and forget to track other important metrics. That’s why it is important that a measurement plan is developed in tandem with community strategy, not in reaction to the metrics generated by the community platform.

For companies launching marketing communities, I recommend the following measurement approach:

1. Start with the goals of the community

  • Establish a measurement plan based on focused goals for the community.  Is the goal conversion, customer retention, sentiment, etc.?
  • Avoid the trap of borrowing metrics from other marketing initiatives because they are familiar.

2. Identify the desired community behaviors to prove these goals and the associated platforms tracking these behaviors

  • Think broadly about desired community member behaviors (online and offline) that have implications for desired community outcomes.
  • Tracking these behaviors typically means pulling data from multiple sources including the community dashboard, web analytics platform, social media monitoring service, URL shortening service, CRM system as well as community member surveys.
  • Collaborating with colleagues from your analytics, customer insights, customer service, and IT departments will help you make sense of all of these data stacks.

3. Consider all initiatives that support community success

  • Keep in mind all of the paid and earned media initiatives (e.g., promotions and referrals) that will contribute to community success and consider integrating the associated metrics into a community scorecard.

4. Select the best metrics to tell the story of community progress

  • Now that you have considered all of the possible metrics for proving desired community outcomes, refocus the measurement plan with the right balance of metrics that tell the story.  That might translate to three key metrics to support each community goal, for example.

5. Establish a baseline

  • Determine if the metrics that are part of your community measurement plan were collected historically, or if you need to establish a baseline.  Do not establish specific numbered goals (e.g., 15% increase in positive sentiment) without knowing the baseline from which you are working.  Otherwise, you risk setting unrealistic goals.

6. Set specific targets to stay focused while allowing for some flexibility

  • Once you establish a baseline, set specific (realistic) monthly and quarterly targets to serve as motivators to keep you focused on your goals.
  • Maintain a flexible approach to your measurement plan as you discover what works and what doesn’t work for reporting purposes.

Capturing a holistic picture of community health and progress requires a tremendous amount of planning and integration.  Community dashboards provide only a piece of the puzzle.  This is why the marketer’s role involves both art and science.

How Investor Relations Should Get Started in Social

Seventy-nine percent of Fortune Global 100 companies are using at least one social media platform.  But according to a survey by BNY Mellon, only 9% of global senior level investor relations professionals are using social media for IR communications.  Investors are a critical audience for a company to engage and data suggest blogs and social networks are appropriate channels. So why is investor relations shying away from social?

A research project I conducted last month for Dachis Group indicates that many investor relations professionals are not leveraging social media because they lack the following:

  1. Clear corporate guidelines that address the disclosure of financial information and IR participation
  2. People, processes and technology to support IR participation
  3. Understanding of how social media adds value to investor communication given the required investment of time and resources

The need for clear corporate guidelines

Interest in leveraging social channels by IR is constrained by the perceived risks of violating the disclosure process regulated by the SEC. Although the SEC has issued guidelines to recognize ‘interactive websites’ (i.e., corporate blogs or forums) as sufficient channels for public disclosure, the language citing the conditions these websites have to meet to fulfill the requirement remains vague and outdated to know how it will be enforced. The SEC first introduced Regulation Fair Disclosure in 2000 to prevent selective disclosure of material information that would lead to the benefit of only the few who were informed. The new regulation required companies to publicly announce material information in a way that would be broadly disseminated.  In 2008, the SEC provided additional guidelines to include interactive websites as an acceptable channel for this information.  We have included an excerpt from the 2008 Regulation Fair Disclosure update below:

“Thus, in evaluating whether information is public for purposes of our guidance, companies must consider whether and when: (1) a company web site is a recognized channel of distribution, (2) posting of information on a company web site disseminates the information in a manner making it available to the securities marketplace in general, and (3) there has been a reasonable waiting period for investors and the market to react to the posted information.”

Additionally, the 2008 guidelines state that a company (or employee acting on behalf of the company) is responsible for all statements he or she makes on these ‘interactive websites,’ but a company is not responsible for the comments made by third parties on its website.

To be fair, the SEC guidelines are not preventing investor relations professionals from leveraging social media.  It’s more the fear of how to leverage such an unregulated and uncontrollable medium in a regulated and controlled environment.  The perceived risks put Legal departments on edge and many investor relations see the task of incorporating social media into reporting practice an uphill battle until the SEC or company executives provide greater guidance.  In my experience working with clients in regulated industries, I have found the combination of social media policy and training to be the most effective way to encourage participation.

The need of supporting infrastructure

Most investor relations departments do not have the people, processes and technology in place to support the use of social media specifically for influencer and investor communications.  Furthermore, no investor relations professionals I interviewed last month have dedicated budget for social media.  Investor relations budgets are primarily dedicated today for funding website upgrades, annual reports, road shows and conferences. Therefore, investor-related messages promoted via social channels are driven by Corporate Communications/PR most of the time – as this is the department who is responsible for maintaining and managing the corporate social media account.

The potential issue with this arrangement long-term is that investor relations remains one step removed from the conversation by relying on Corporate Communications/PR to disseminate and respond to messages in social channels. This seems like a recipe for less authentic investor-related messages that sound more like broadcasts rather than conversations. This arrangement also poses challenges to synchronizing investor-related messages across all websites. Already we see signs of this divide.  A recent IR Web Report audit of 200 investor relations websites showed that 90% of them still ignore corporate presence on social media, even when other sections of the corporate website promote these channels.

The need to know the added value

According to the BNY Mellon survey, IROs are split as to whether social media even offers value.  Social media fosters conversation but most investor-related social messages are written as broadcast announcements that point back to the IR website for more information.  Therefore, most investor relations professionals are trying to figure out what additional value these messages offer to investors who have been trained for years to visit the corporate website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.  The issue is that value has to be defined by each IR department, but most IR departments are not involved in corporate social media participation to know what to expect.  If the goal of each investor-related social media message is to drive traffic back to the IR website, for example, then this activity has to be tracked, measured and reported back to IR for them to understand the value.  The coordination of these activities is challenged when IR is not involved in the message creation and dissemination process.

I recommend that investor relations professionals seeking to incorporate social media into future reporting practices follow the five steps outlined in the graphic below to know how best to get started in social.

Source: Dachis Group, http://www.dachisgroup.com/2010/12/social-investor-relations/, December 2010.

In my experience, I find that taking the time to thoroughly research the external and internal social media landscape as well as define participation guidelines and goals provides a solid foundation from which to build a successful social participation program.

Planning a Community Is Like Planning a Wedding

I tweeted recently that all of the details of planning an online community reminded me of planning a wedding.  I submitted the tweet at the very moment I felt overwhelmed by the details of coordinating so many moving pieces weeks before launching the community. For the past three months, Dachis Group has worked closely with a community platform provider to design, build, and launch an online community for a client partner.  I am a member of the Dachis Group team managing this project, and I decided to write about my experience.

We spent months conducting research, planning the strategy, establishing the KPIs and measurement plan, creating content and designing the site.  Now that we are weeks away from launch, community planning has suddenly become tracking a growing ‘to do’ list.  Instead of ‘call the caterer, meet with the photographer, email the DJ,’ my list includes ’email Compliance, call Legal, follow-up with IT’ in addition to daily communication with our client partner and platform provider.  The ‘to do’ list scrolls in my head creating what one of my friends referred to as the [wedding] planning head fog.  The stress hits when you realize one incomplete item on the list will throw off the entire schedule.  This is why each time I mark something complete on the list, I feel compelled to do a little dance in my chair.  Each checked item means we are closer to launch.  It’s exciting.

However, it can also be wearisome.  I’ve been exposed the darker side of community planning as well.  A community planner who has invested lots of time and energy into planning the community may also grow easily frustrated and impatient over details.  (‘How did they miss this important request?’)

I confess that I came close to turning into the bridezilla of community management.  This image became the stress-relief joke among the team as we plotted how to get everything approved in time for the targeted launch date.  ‘Did you go bridezilla on them?’ we would ask each other.  When things got particularly tense, there was a strong temptation to ‘go bridezilla.’  But in the end, keeping a cool head prevails and we’re right on track for launch.

To avoid turning into bridezilla before launching an online community, I offer 7 lessons learned from my experience so far.

  1. Meet with Compliance and Legal during the initial planning stages to provide context around the project, give notice about content approvals, find out if training is available (goodwill effort that goes a long way) and if Terms of Service language exists for social media sites
  2. Conduct interviews with other groups inside and outside the organization that interact with your target audience (PR, Customer Service)
  3. Don’t assume that Facebook-like features will be supported by every community platform
  4. Allow for plenty of time to receive approval of a new community manager position and to find the right candidate
  5. Avoid ghost-written blog posts (they are awkward and no one wants to endorse before the community is launched anyway)
  6. Allow at least a week for website quality assurance testing (you may need more time depending on how many people need to be involved and their responsiveness)
  7. Schedule time to pre-seed the community site with user-generated content before launch to kick-start sharing activities

I’m sure I’ll have more to add in the future.  For now, I’d like to know if you have any lessons learned in community planning to add.

Source for bridezilla photo: http://pdbb.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/bridezilla/bridezilla/

Finding Your Social Center

Finding balance is one of the first lessons for a dancer.  As someone who is compelled to move, I remember resisting the commands of my ballet teacher to stand still in one place and focus on core muscles that I was told would improve my balance.  The instructor would remind us to locate and engage our core muscles to maintain a strong center (related to center of gravity concept).  As I matured (and completed a high school physics class), I appreciated this lesson so much more. With a strong center, I realized that I could push my movements outside of my comfort zone.  I could move my arms and legs wildly without falling flat on my face as long as my extremities were connected to a solid center.

The concept of a strong center has interesting applications outside of dance.  A strong center maintains connectedness across disparate parts.  Dachis Group has observed one of the major frustrations of large companies is the fragmented state of social – each department going out on its own, developing different social tactics, using different social technologies – all guided by different principles and no common strategy.  Each department is like arms and legs moving wildly out of sync in different directions.  This decentralized structure lacks the important connections between systems that leads to an intelligent network.  At some point, the stress and strain of uncoordinated social systems will cause the organization to flail – like a dancer attempting multiple turns without ensuring arms and legs are aligned and coordinated with the central body.

At first it may seem to go against everything social represents to centralize social.  The power of social is in the ability to scale the sharing of information without anyone owning or controlling it.  What I have learned in my work with clients is that centralizing corporate social strategy, policy and training does not mean social is owned or controlled.  Instead, centralizing governance means creating a solid command center to lead the organization and help connect the dots.  The edge of the organization can therefore operate with autonomy but still maintain connection and coordination with other parts.  Otherwise, the brand is at-risk for social chaos:

  • social intelligence is siloed which prevents a centralized view of the customer (internal)
  • fragmented experiences and mixed messaging confuses and frustrates customers (external)

While the goal of social business is to distribute social responsibility for scale, the organization starts to flail if it doesn’t operate from a strong center.  This social center, also known as the social business center of excellence (SBCE), is a cross-functional team that guides innovation, strategy, policy and training for the organization.   The SBCE consists of representatives from each department who come together to collaborate on corporate vision, strategy, policy and training so that ownership is shared and distributed across the organization, not owned or controlled by a particular department.

Below is a visual of how a social center governs while empowering the edge of the organization to take accountability and responsibility for executing.


So many of us are eager to dive into social tactics.  The forward motion of execution feels good.  Conducting an audit of properties and initiatives, answering the ‘why,’ establishing charters and policies feels like we’re standing still.  We resist standing still under the pressures from executives to move the needle and report the results.  But taking time to establish a strong center is what’s going to allow large companies to manage multiple moving parts in a way that provides more momentum and power to support the desired results.

Take a look at how your organization is structured for social business.  Do you have a social center guiding and coordinating the edge?

Connectedness and Customer Service

Earlier this month I took Gallup’s StrengthFinder 2.0 online assessment.  Connectedness emerged as one of my top five strengths.  Connectedness is the ability to see how people, things and ideas are linked to something larger.  Connectedness implies certain responsibilities – if we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves.

During the same week of learning this strength about myself, I discovered this strength in a total stranger.  She works as a shift supervisor at Starbucks in Austin, Texas (where Dachis Group headquarters is based).  Chances were greater that we would meet in-person during one of my 4pm coffee runs, but we met via Facebook first.

The notification arrived before I even realized my wallet was missing.  I had made a Starbucks run with a colleague earlier that afternoon and in the chaos of sugar, cream and conversation, I left my wallet at the store.  My wallet did not include any identification with a telephone number.  The Starbucks shift supervisor noticing the credit cards and cash (I had just recently visited the ATM), decided to immediately look me up and contact me via Facebook.  When I met her at the counter to retrieve my wallet she explained how she too had recently experienced the nightmare of losing her wallet.  We connected.

I doubt that Starbucks trains employees to service in-store customers this way on Facebook, but it is evident that making a commitment to increase points of connections with customers is a big part of the company’s culture.  Facebook enabled the shift supervisor to contact me when she had no other means than the mailing address on my license.  The shift supervisor could have kept the wallet until I connected the dots about what happened (which I could have, as it is a strength) and returned to the store.  Of course, that would most likely be proceeded by the anxious discovery that the wallet was missing at the moment I needed it and a frantic retracing of steps in my head of where I could I have left it.  The shift supervisor saved me this emotional energy by making the extra effort to search for me on Facebook and send me a message immediately.

So what does this really have to do with customer service?  It has everything to do with me – the customer.  I feel more connected to that particular Starbucks location and safe shopping there.  Although Starbucks coffee is available at the hotel where I typically stay in Austin, I made a mental note of wanting to give the shift supervisor at the other location where I left my wallet my business even if it means walking an extra street block. Someone there cared about me and I will reciprocate the service.

While this story has nothing to do with innovative social CRM strategy, it has everything to do with how a social savvy shift supervisor connected the dots and leveraged Facebook to send a high impact signal to a customer.  Of course, what the shift supervisor did was a no-brainer to her.  While social technology can automate and innovate many processes, I still believe it is the human behind the technology that makes best-in-class customer service. To that end, connectedness is a quality I would recommend Starbucks preserving and nurturing at the front lines.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe connectedness is an important quality for customer service?

The flow of air traffic

Now that I am a frequent flyer, I think it’s interesting to observe the world’s air traffic.  This satellite video shows air traffic around the world for a 24-hour period in 2008 (condensed into one minute).  Notice how the heaviest concentrations of flights occur where there is daylight and how flights disperse from these hubs during the night.  The flow of air traffic from North America to Europe and back in this video illustrates how we follow the light.

Crowdsourcing Choreography

In 2009, I returned to Boston-based dance company Tribe as a dancer and choreographer after a four-year break.   Last month the company produced its annual concert at Boston University Dance Theater.  I choreographed the opening number titled “The Beat of Tribe.”  Through this experience, I realized the benefits of crowdsourcing choreography.

As a perfectionist, I typically demand precise execution of carefully defined movements from the dancers I work with.   Four years of college dance team drilled precision into my head.  The first time I choreographed for Tribe five years ago, I designed a challenging seven-minute piece based on a grand vision.  I was so tied to this vision that my choreography did not factor in the diverse background of each company member.  Tribe is not your traditional, cookie cutter dance company with more than 30 members of various body types, levels of training, experience and skills.  Because I did not take Tribe’s diverse composition into account, the process of choreographing intricate dance movements with little flexibility generated stress for me as well as some of the dancers who initially struggled with the movement.  Of course, Tribe prides itself in challenging its members with different styles of dance.  In the end, Tribe realized my vision with “Grace” and the piece turned out beautiful.

Looking back, I would have allowed the dancers to share more in the creative process.  I believe giving the dancers a sense of ownership would have made the learning experience more enjoyable.  This year when I choreographed for Tribe, I decided to open up sections of the piece for the dancers to contribute their own choreography instead of defining movement for every minute of the dance myself.  The key was that I established style guidelines for the dancers.  Then, I set the dancers free to create movement.  My job was to orchestrate the transitions of the dancers in these open sections.

The choreography that I crowdsourced emerged as the most vibrant movements of the dance.   During rehearsals, I enjoyed watching the dancers come alive in these sections.  Clearly, having some input into the process was rewarding to them.  I realized that Tribe members knew their bodies and abilities better than I did, and therefore developed choreography to match.  The dancers, not the choreographer, have to own the movement when it comes time for the performance.  This experience taught me the benefits of letting go of artistic control and inviting the company of dancers to contribute to the process.

Photo description: Destinations, Rainbow Tribe, Inc.

Photo credit: Dan Minkkinen, 2005.