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tweet-retweet(Read time = 3-4 minutes)  One of the first investigations that marketers tackle when entering the social media game is likely to be Twitter. Near the top of the Twitter investigation will likely be re-tweets (RTs):  their value, characteristics, and strategies for gaining traction as will impact message persistence.  For those less Twitter savvy: a retweet is when someone re-posts a Twitter message that they received from somebody else. Re-tweets are usually preceded by an “RT” or “Retweeting” and then the source person’s name in an @ reply format to assign credit (akin to footnoting the original source.

So why the fuss to understand RTs? In simple terms, “authority” and the ability to sustain market messaging/buzz.  Being cited as an information source reinforces thought leadership and brand importance; gaining any level of viral messaging further impacts the marketing campaign.  But is it science… or just artful prose?

Consider the audience size:  Twitter June visitors wwide – 44.5 million (comScore). FYI, cS only counts traffic to Twitter.com; since many users instead use Twitter apps to consume/publish, Twitter’s total audience is significantly larger.  cS does provide a consistent measure, however, of Twitter growth.  Even when some research indicates that ~40% Twitter traffic is “pointless babble”  ( Pear Analytics study), the potential audience/traffic is large, indeed.

For a real-time Twitter traffic counter, GigaTweet estimates that the number of tweets recently passed the 5 Billion mark

Update 11/11: related video here; thanx Muneer.

Studies and Research

Microsoft employs social media research scientists: Here, Danah Boyd and Gilad Lotan (MS) joining with Cornell researcher Scott Golder to investigate the conversational aspects of retweeting: (draft paper on RT here) , scheduled to be published early in 2010.

Another social media research scientist, Dan Zarrella (bio here) pulls apart re-tweet trends and success analytics.  His data presentation is posted at SlideShare here.  Zarrella spent nine months analyzing ~5 million tweets and 40 million retweets.  He investigated when posts occurred, wording, link inclusion (or not), and much more. 

Briefly, some thought starters for consideration:

1.  Leave Room:  Write your original tweet shy of the 140 limit to both allow for the (RT @ Twitter User Name) addition, and avoid requiring that the pass-along author re-write your original text.  While challenging, an original character count of 115-120 should provide sufficient room to encourage a viral re-tweet.

2.  Timing matters:  4pm Friday EST!  I didn’t see that Zarrella’s data factored for content-type (ie B2B v. Consumer, etc.) but certainly the charting should give marketers pause;  A trend beginning to appear are marketers tracking their own experiences and building their own benchmarks, by industry target, as to most effective times/days for tweets and re-tweets.

Tweet-Graph

 3.  Include links:  Tweets that included additional content sources were 3x more likely to be passed along.  Interestingly, the research also noted that the shorter the URL link out, the more likely a retweet would occur.

4. Choose your words wisely:  “Please”, “retweet”, “check out”, “blog” and “new blog post” all appeared in Zarrella’s most frequently used word list.  In the least retweetable category were a number of “ing” verbs (going, watching, listening…”).  Takeaway: idle chit-chat, slang, and over sharing does little to prompt message persistence.

5. Original content:  Well, duh… original content is way more poular than news previously circulated.

6. Grammar:  Tweets that rely heavily on the  use of nouns and 3rd-person verbs (what we typically refer to as headline-style) were more likely to be retweeted

Monitor and Benchmark

The diversity in audience target segments, social media objectives and marketing goals demand that most B2B marketers establish their own benchmarks over time.  Tools are beginning to appear (think Tweetmeme, Retweet.com, etc.) but ROI for social media remains hotly debated.  By experimenting with approach, content and campaigns, individual benchmarks can evolve.  Would welcome reader insights and experiences as additions to the conversation.

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Overlaping ColorsSome companies approach employee social media participation from the starting point of: “we hire smart people… they will do the right thing… we trust ‘em and the company benefits when our people are participating in the larger conversation…”  Other firms are deeply cautious of the new scale/scope and install policies as an extension of the PR/AR/IR process: “only a very narrow approved list can play and then, only with copy that has been pre-approved with a Legal dept. scrub…”.

Perhaps it’s a natural evolution, from one end of the spectrum to the other. 

If you happen to be a B2B marketer caught anywhere else than in the “we trust you” space, using social media networks, Twitter in particular, can be unexpectedly challenging.  Here, let’s explore solutions to two of the more common challenges for navigating the real-time and tweet approval maze.

Challenge 1:  Content Approval Not Aligned to Risk

For B2B, Twitter catalysts group very naturally into predictable categories.  The list here is a starting point, depending on your segments and how granular you might want to get.  Chime in w/others that you think make sense.

  • Events/tradeshows and associated panels and presentations
  • Educational opportunities, webinars
  • Content Assets (new whitepapers, videos
  • Product and/or Technology milestones/launches
  • Re-tweets of posts by others to keep the buzz alive
  • Product and trade news
  • Investor relations/financial-related news

A starting point for conversation w/the approval/Legal team:  conceptually, present the idea that Twitter participation falls into predictable categories:  many very low risk, some with higher risk, some peppered with significant risk.

A solution: Strive for an agreement with the approval team that risk levels vary and that approvals should scale in alignment to risk.  Then, focus on the content types with little/low risk.  For high risk content like financial transactions, earnings calls, acquisitions, etc. content may always need to undergo a rigorous and very specific scrub.  As well, AR/PR/IR tweets will usually be in the hands of company media professionals rather than the day-to-day marketing leads.

Challenge 2:  Marketing Participation Real-Time

When social media participation policy is an extension of PR/AR/IR practices, a consequence is that the thinking around review/approval is tied to historic and old-media cycle time.  Twitter and buzz opportunities move faster and break the mold. Marketing needs a pathway to participation that is both corporately safe as well as sales-useful.

A solution:  Narrow the Twitter participant list to approved spokespersons from the marketing and product teams already media trained. Add additional training on the nature of the social media beast. Partner w/Legal on the training content so governance and risk issues are illuminated and addressed.

A solution: In advance of need, work w/the approval team to pre-qualify Twitter content and approach.  The strategy is to define an approved architecture for tweet-types which then both complies with the approval policy and frees Tweeters to participate spontaneously w/out risk or delay.

As examples, here’s a few generic approaches relating to event/tradeshow speaker presentations, panel discussions and downloadable media assets:

“Check out (company name) and boothxxxx at (event name); stop by for (a chance to win… product demo…  special presentation… etc.).”

“Attending (event name)? (Name/Title) from (Company Name) will present a paper on (topic) in (location)(time). Listen in, join the conversation (link to presentation/paper abstract)”

“Listening to (names and companies) and the (panel title) discuss (panel topic). For a deeper dive, visit (your company name) at (link)”

“New analyst whitepaper on (topic) for download.  Visit (link) for a closer look at (product and/or technology description).

You get the idea.   By being armed w/ a pre-approved architecture, marketing should be better able to participate.

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squarepeg_roundhole sm(Read time = 3 minutes) Forget  for a moment, the promises of “messaging in the stream”… of “conversational marketing”… and/or the rush for “knitting together a branding fabric”….  At a practical level,  early, B2B pros need to be able to discuss social media up the management chain using old-school terminology like: reach and impressions… like: messaging persistance, quality and velocity.

This is one conversation that helps gets social media initiatives approved… and funded.

But where do you find benchmarks… tools for consistent measurement?  And what of Twitter’s “fuzzy math”?  Ah the joys (and risks) of this new, social media space.  The recent Harvard study (6/09) is worth the read…  Separately, I did find one reach/impression benchmark for Twitter.  It suggests that Twitter reach calculations should be in the 10-12%:   of a follower list;  CTR  1-4%  I can’t vouch for the research or conclusions, but it’s a starting point.  Big brand companies may be able to spent the budget and time evolving their own benchmark standards.  Dell has documented Twitter as a sales channelP&G has done interesting test to demonstrate the Twitter reach… Most B2B marketers, however, will need to rely on traditional measurement terms/comparisons to argue for and evaluate social media performance.

And don’t forget “Twitter Fuzzy Math” (nice blog post here). Please point out others, if you know of any resources/links.

Until such time as “new media” channels like Twitter, Facebook, et al are able to establish industry-blessed benchmark media standards, I fear much of the fuss and buzz will stay experimental to the larger B2B community, at least.   Useful, certainly… but more novelty than moving to mainstream, strategic outbound solution level.

Some baseline definitions:

  •  Reach = the total number of people “in the audience” for your message; reach refers to the size of the unduplicated audience.  Multiple exposure of a message to an individual does not increase reach.
  • Frequency = the number of times an individual is exposed to your message w/in a particular medium.  Frequency can be increased by message repetition, regardless of creative type.
  • Impressions: Essentially, the # of ad repetitions x the total placement source circulation.  For B2B clients, usually marketers quickly move past simple impressions to some more meaningful measure regarding conversion:  direct sales, asset downloads, lead generation, and the like.
  • Relevancy = how relevant your ad/message is to an individual at the time and in the context of exposure. If content is “king”, relevancy is “queen”.  And remember, relevancy for an individual changes over time, based on need and behavioral context.  Relevancy most drives response.

Why it’s important.  High-volume follow lists are all the rage – until you start to understand the Twitterverse of bots, spammers, porn peddlers  auto-follows and the fast-buck wanna-be’s that bloat circulation lists to laughable propostions.  Peak just one click under the follower count to see how quickly “circulation” falls apart.  If the target community isn’t well represented in the follow list, who cares how large the list is.  Three recent examples of a Twitter list scrub  reported to the Scoopdog team turned up an average 35+% fat when subjected to a subscriber audit (one was actually 60% junk).

Twitter tools for seeing/understanding reach and impressions

As a starting point for the rest of us, here’s a list of Reach/Impression/Velocity tools that can start you down the path, even if it’s only to compare one flight of tweets to your next… or to track the value ad social media coverage brings to the traditional news release drop without even a single tweet (yes, others will read your PR and very likely recirculate it w/out you’re even knowing.

Tweet Reach – A  favorite starting poiint. Very simple, quick/easy.  Reach and impressions presented in traditional media language. Key is in selecting the appropriate keywords for the search analytics.  For one narrow-niche client we took two keywords from a traditional news release headline and used the tool to track 40+ tweets/re-tweets adding 47,000 reach to the messaging platform – all w/out the client doing a single tweet themselves.

Twinfluence v2.6:  Anaother well worth using if only that the tool provides a quick calculation of your followers’ followers (only one I’ve found that does that).  Measures the combined influence of you and your followers. Some social network statistics as a bonus: reach, velocity and social capital.  Attempts to take into account “influence”, ie that some followers have more influence than others.  CAUTION:  the sign-up defaults to a permission to tweet your influence score.

*   Twitalyzer – Compare your tweets to another user’s tweets (think comparing yours with your competitors over same period, etc.) Charting capability.  Useful, if only to gain social media advocates a bit of leverage up the internal ladder when discussing social media marketing.  A presentor at the #140 conference (video presentation here)

TweetStats:  Hour-by-hour and for any 24-hour period, track up to three keywords (think competitors) w/g/t click volume.  Useful if, for example, there’s news being dropped during the same time period and/or an event/tradeshow and you want to compare message volume/activity around keywords or companies.

Twitter Analyzer: Google Analytics for Twitter users.  More than 50 statistical measures displayed with graphics and maps.  Among the views:  Reach, Subject Matter, Follower Growth, Follower Density Map, Follower Activity, Sharing capability.  Primarily a tool for Twitter users to analyze themselves or their friends.

Tweet Effect:  Provides information to you on how many followers you’ve gained/lost in the last X hours + (more importantly) which tweets might have helped you gain or lose followers.

As always, data is just data.  Without marketplace perspective, human analytics factoring in target audience community, anecdotal experiences and dialogue – the numbers are just numbers.  But… gaining social media information in the context of traditional media evaluation terms makes the conversaton easier at the baseline.

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analytics(Read Time 2-3 minutes, unless you link out to play)  “Need to know…”  drives much of the marketing conversation.  Who’s listening, what’s competition saying, reach and extended reach.  For Twitter to evolve to a useful B2B platform, metrics must keep pace.  So…you’ve succeeded a B2B Twitter initiative- whether as a client with a first internal campaign, or an agency pro finally coaxing  clients to engage, or the marketing consultats whose careful coaching has tipped the balance.  And results were positive.  Where do you go from here? 

Our observation is that the blush of starting is quickly followed by a “need to know…”  about you your follower community compares to others and/or the competition;  about which topics are trending up;  about norms and numbers and what you don’t know that you should. 

Tweeps.info  Nifty free tool that lets you track on individual Twitter accounts (think YOUR competitors). Inside look at #tweets per day, current and prominent keywords, to what degree the account is using hashtags, following snapshot. Also has a keyword search which is useful if you’re looking to build your follow list around a particular topic.

Twitteranalyzer  Google Analytics for Twitter users.  More than 50 statistical measures displayed with graphics and maps.  Among the views:  Reach, Subject Matter, Follower Growth, Follower Density Map, Follower Activity, Sharing capability.  Primarily a tool for Twitter users to analyze themselves or their friends.

Twitterstats  Hour-by-hour and for any 24-hour period, track up to three keywords (think competitors) w/g/t click volume.  Useful if, for example, there’s news being dropped during the same time period and/or an event/tradeshow and you want to compare message volume/activity around keywords or companies.

BackTweets  A real-time, conversational-tracking tool which allows for keyword and/or URL searches to find conversations related to a post or article; connects: WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, Tiwtter and Friendfeed. Useful for community buzz centralized listening, brand monitoring. An “alert” function.

TwitterFriends A “reach/extended-reach” tracking tool that helps you discover information about the network behing your follower/their follower lists.  Identifies meaningful users you should be talking to, or who are feeding you useful links.  Capability to account search/compare (think comparing your company to your competitors, or thought leader accounts, etc.)

 

BONUS: Articles that Business Professionals Can’t Afford Not to Read

Omniture Adds Twitter Analytics to SiteCatalyst for Enterprise Clients (3/09) Omniture/SiteCatallyst is one of the most widely installed enterprise website metric suites

Twitter.com on Analytics  Twitter themselves, on Twitter.  Seriously… the company’s Twitter account that discusses Twitter analytics.  If you’re not following, you’re missing good conversation.

Social Networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope (1/09 by HP Fellow and Director of Social Computing Lab). Not the easiest read; research and academic but well worth the time it takes.

 

The Tool I Want But Haven’t Yet Discovered

If there, probably user-error that I haven’t stumbled upon it: an app that easily counts the sum of my followers followers.  Essentially, an  “extended reach” calculation in old-media terms.  Anyone know of such a beast, please clue me in;  Share any others of particular value, particularly if you’ve got a favorite likely to have been overlooked.

 

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passon(Read time = 2 minutes) To all of you  energetic, enthusiastic marketing, communications and social media  mavens… to the consultants, the wanna-be’s and the interns in-the-making… Whether you’re on the client side or agency side, here’s a piece of career advice from a seasoned, savvy, and oft-scared veteran.

Turn back now!!!  Get out while you can!!  This business is addictive!!! 

If the American Cancer Society knew about B2B marketing communications, they would make every publisher slap a warning label on every marketing textbook, every blog and every single tweet: ” Warning – this job will stick to you forever; ingest at your own risk; if the conndition persists, count your blessings and seek professional mentoring.”

  I know this from proud and  personal experience.

You see, I had this plan.  Retire after my multi-decades as a branding, PR and marketing communications professional.   Play golf.  Teach at the university level.  Play golf. Explore Social Media. Play golf.  Entertain the grandkids.  Play golf. 

But I only got it less than half right. 

I “retired”  six odd months ago, and I had accepted an adjunct teaching job at a CA prestigious university;  ponied up some pennies and took my wifeand self  on a short second honeymoon.  Then, I got caught up on LinkedIN and started my Facebook Page which, of course, resulted in signing I up for my Twitter account.  I even played golf.  Once.  I even had time to start a corporate learning business to take marketing training to technology companies. 

Twenty-seven days later, I was back at work. 

First my former employer followed through with a consulting contract.  Then a long-time colleague put me together with an extremely promising company with a great strategic communications challenge.  Then there were the graduate students who needed tutorial assistance with class projects and the papers to grade.  Within 45 days I felt alive, challenged and having the time of my life. 

Oh, and then this voice from my PR past called with an offer to blog, test the social media waters and stay intellectually current. Damn you, my old-dog friend!  You see, B2B communications is not job, it’s not career,  and it’s not a profession.  To be done well, it has to be a passion.

The beautiful thing is I’m doing what I truly love to do: teaching some of the best and brightest students at a university and on corporate campuses; molding ideas, positioning them, fighting the marketing fight on two fronts.   And now writing a blog.   In other words, I’m making a mockery of retirement.

So … run, hide, become a lawyer or CMO of a start-up, or a knuckle-baller in the grapefruit league.  Whatever, ’cause once the marcom bug bites, you just can’t shake the fevor, you just can’t stop.  And that’s all goodness, it’s just (thank goodness) not real retirement.

Oh, one good piece of news.  I’ve dropped two strokes off my handicap.  It must be because I’m retired.

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