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Bop Design: Hi everyone. Welcome to the B2B Marketing Bopcast. My name is Caroline Gilbert. I am Content Marketing Manager at Bop Design. I am actually re-recording my intro to our second podcast which is with David Oates, President of Stalwart Communications, a PR and Marketing Firm in San Diego. We originally set out to discuss who should run social media at a company. Is it internally? Is it an agency? Is it a marketing department? Is it a PR department? As the discussion unfolded, it turned into a broader idea of why social media should be a part of your corporate culture.
David made some great points about how obstacles and goals are unique to every business, and provided some tips on how evaluating your social media strategy ultimately leads to success. Let’s get started. Here is David Oates of Stalwart Communications.
BD: David, thank you so much for coming to the podcast today. If you could just explain a little bit about Stalwart and what you guys do and what your scope is.
David Oates: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure. I started Stalwart Communications just a little over seven years ago with the intent on really changing the way PR and what I call “Marketing Communications Agencies” operate. We call it “pay on performance.” Instead of a retainer, our fee structures are organized very similar to how a sales person gets compensated. We give unlimited hours for the client engagement. The client engagement is set on a proposal that we say, “Here is the business problem,” whether it’s new sales, leads, new investment partners, new distribution partners, brand elements, whatever the case may be.
We outline a series of initiatives that we think will help bring about an awareness and interest from those various audiences whether that’s public relations, whether that’s social media, direct marketing, email marketing, even marketing or points in between. In the bulk of our fees, the overwhelming majority are tied to specific metrics as to how we are actually delivering upon those results. Those metrics could include positive press coverage in key media outlets, increase web traffic, people coming to an event that are of the audience that we’re trying to attract, responds to advertisements, email marketing and point in between.
We’re really trying to put our money where our mouth is we say in delivering upon a marketing initiative that actually is going to drive business results. We’re more concerned about the outcome as we’re generating instead of the hourly output of, “Hey! Look how many press releases we’ve written,” or that nature.
BD: I think that price structure is really interesting and something that you don’t hear a lot from agencies.
DO: We don’t hear enough of to be honest particularly from other PR firms that are still very similar structure to how law firms operate, which for law firms makes a lot of sense. When you’re a lawyer particularly in a corporate transaction world, your job is to mitigate the risks of a business, whether it’s because you have good solid contracts that give you mutual indemnification, whether you have good HR policies, whether you have good ways to operate. You’re mitigating those risks moving forward, but a marketing and PR is designed to increase the awareness and create the buzz. That has less to do with the amount of time that you invest in it, and more to do with the effectiveness of it.
I come from a Navy background, and specifically a Navy public affairs for the latter half of my career. No one cared in the service how many hours I’m working because we were all working 24/7. It was, “Did we get the mission done? Did we actually do what we said we were going to set out to do in an objective format?” If we’ve met that mission, that’s how we gauge our success or our failure. I want public relations and marketing communication agencies to act accordingly because businesses demand it.
BD: In terms of social media taking that pricing structure and that philosophy, what are some of the success metrics that you apply, that you report back to?
DO: The combination of different success metrics with regards to social media. It could be simply the increase of followers and fanbase whether that’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine or whatever the appropriate social media platform is depending on the audience. But also we would like to take it a step further. We view social media as one of the spokes in a hub model if you will or if you look at airline analogy where you’ve got service central hub, and then planes fly to different destinations.
The goal is just to generate the conversations not only on the social media platform, but bring them back to their core website or call to action—whether it’s sign up for an event or something like that—where you can engage in one-on-one conversations on your turf. Bring them in to your office. Show them much like a retail store. You want to bring them in to your store, experience all you have to offer in addition to the product stats.
That’s how we want to drive social media, so another metric is how many people are actually coming to your website? How many people are inquiring about your products or services? Are they coming to an event that you have going on there? That’s another success point we want to drive through social media, and we think that’s important for anybody who is doing that there. The conversations on social media are fantastic, but only if they’re going to drive a business result, ultimately.
BD: How do you determine those business results is it just opening the communication with your internal contact? Do you find that you’re often just at one point of contact within an internal team, or are you breaking the silos down even with other departments of your client’s company?
DO: That’s a great question. We really will start any conversation with a prospect on the business goals first. We will outline what it is that they’re trying to achieve and how they believe marketing is going to be a determinant factor in getting those success metrics. From there, we’ll look at what the platforms are, how best we think we can communicate with the audience for a call to action. With social media, it will encompass a lot of different people within a company to make that vehicle work because you’ll have operations. You’ll have sales. You’ll have product. You’ll have service areas, and they’re all going to have to have some level of input in a comprehensive strategy that starts a conversation.
Companies are not uni-dimensional. They have a wide range of things that make the company what they are. Even something like a Starbucks, it’s not just about the coffee. It’s about the Starbucks experience. It’s about the other products that they have for sale and things to that nature. It’s how people actually order whether it’s through the drive through or at the counter or things like that. All those type of things are going to play into a good social media strategy. You have to really break down the barriers to your point to make that a reality.
BD: I liked that you mentioned a lot of the additional departments that need to be involved. It’s also a sales strategy. It’s not just communications or marketing. There is also a legal side to it as well, and for some, there is even a human resources element. Have you had experience with some of those departments that you come in, and they are more hesitant to the social media tactic because they’ve seen it be not as successful from a legal standpoint or an HR standpoint?
DO: Yes. The question on the legal and maybe HR standpoint probably has multiple facets to it. At least that’s how I am interpreting it, so let me take it in a couple of ways. There are certain industries that are very much regulating the communication to the audience. You see that in financial institutions primarily where you and particularly investment management funds, they can’t just disclose one off. They’ve got to be more public and they are regimented in how they communicate. Some simply shy away from social media because they are concerned of some regulatory body backlash to get that, but that’s few and far between to be honest with you. Those are ones that you can still develop good communication strategies on social media platform that still fit the regulatory requirements and able you to endure yourself to the audience.
I think another aspect to your question for HR people is well if you communicate one of to an employee, they could feel either discriminated against or that they’re being watched outside of their work environment particularly if you have an employee that maybe vents about a boss on Facebook or something like that. You know, and I get that. The reality is that they’re doing that in the course of the day anyway, and it doesn’t preclude you from being one that is open to regular communication. Companies have open-door policies within the office. I think the discussion on Facebook and so forth is another way to have that open-door policy.
There are certain things that you can and can’t do if a person says something disparagingly about a company publicly, but I do think that there are still ways in which you can have a real good dialogue with the overwhelming majority of your employees who are happy, and start putting it in perspective. Just because you may have one or two people that maybe have an issue with their boss, I don’t think that that should necessarily inhibit a good comprehensive discussion on them. I think it is an important perspective. Hopefully, that makes sense.
BD: Have you had experiences where you’ve mobilized good employees in social media who maybe weren’t the immediate guess for being involved in that project?
DO: Are you asking me about getting employees to start talk well about their companies?
BD: Yeah, in getting an employee buy-in and increasing the excitement around social media for a company.
DO: Well, I think that happens as a matter of course. This probably gets to the core issue with any successful marketing plan. If you have a good internal corporate culture. In other words if your people believe in the company, believe in the management team, find value in what they do. Those type of things will happen naturally. They’ll endear themselves to wanting to talk about, “Hey! It’s a great company that I work for. We’re doing some really cool things in the office.” Then you see that is a matter of course with your Facebook friends. Somebody takes picture of something that happened in the office. That’s really cool. Everybody is jazz. There’s a party going on, or everybody is celebrating a big win or things like that. You know good companies when you see it, when employees are taking pictures and talking about how cool that was and things of that nature.
What I think companies can do is offer them a vehicle by which they can have the communications in a more concentrated manner. That’s with their own Facebook pages, that’s with the Twitter feed that they could hashtag or they can certainly include in their tweets. It’s also on Pinterest when they talk about having a Pinterest page or things of that nature. I think the way in which companies—if they have a good corporate culture—can help with that is just facilitate the platforms by which they can have those conversations. They’ll necessarily think that encouraging people to use social media on their own will work unless they wanted to do it themselves. If you have a good corporate culture, that’s going to happen anyway.
BD: In terms of getting involvement not just injecting a business within people’s personal profiles, but having a diverse group of individuals in a company who runs the social media accounts. I’ve hope and I think I see a lot of corporate cultures shifting from at the start of social media where it was, “Let’s give the 20-year-old intern the social media job because they get it and they are using it already.” It’s now shifting up, and you’re starting to see more involvement from directors of VPs or Senior VPs or even the CEO of a company who is getting into it, because they see the results, and they see the value. Would you agree? Would do you think that some companies are still behind the curve and a lot of social media is being run by too entry level of a position?
DO: I think that the larger question is where do they do marketing in general. There are still some companies to your point that view marketing as a call center. That probably means that the strategy is wrong. They are not looking at it from a standpoint of how can marketing accelerate demand generation and accelerate the current sales pipeline, an investment pipeline or a partnership’s pipeline. Marketing is never going to take a person that is disclosing anything around the funding out of business. They’re not going to take away the job of a good sales person. What they should do is make those two jobs a lot easier, and have discussions like close deals much faster.
If companies don’t view marketing in that vein, anything including social media is not going to be something that they’re going to spend a lot of time, and they’re going to put a lot of experts in to operate that whether it’s an agency environment or internally. Those organizations still exist, but to your point, I think more organizations view the benefit that a comprehensive marketing program has, and being able to reach out to prospects to their core customer base, to their partners in a much more direct and immediate real-time fashion.
I mean, there are companies who pay a lot of money to have a feedback from their customers and focus groups and surveys that social media can offer you. Also, it allows you to leverage at a very cost-effective manner the abilities that advertising promote new products and services to your base that loves you anyway.
I think a lot of companies are leveraging more seasoned expert marketers in that regards. Sometimes it’s internal which is fine. Sometimes it’s agency because they view agencies as being more cost-effective because you have this bench team. You have not just one person. You got multiple people on an agent team for about the same cost of maybe for an in-house person. Hopefully you have in agencies like ours that are tying their fees to a result, to a success metric. It all depends. Really, it all depends on how they view marketing first and foremost. The internal net versus agency discussion is secondary to are you looking at marketing in in terms of social media for the ROI that it can provide.
BD: I recently came across a Ragan PR study from December of 2013 where for internal [social media] only 5% of companies found their efforts to be highly satisfying or highly successful. Do you think there needs to be then a discussion to bring in an agency at a certain point, or re-evaluate the internal strategy if there is such a disappointment?
DO: Yeah. I think it comes down to what are the issues, how is the strategy being developed, who’s executing them and what’s the rationale behind it. I will tell you, there are still some companies who may value it, and even if those who do may not have the correct strategy for that. We see that a lot of times there when we go into a company and we say, “Do you have a social media presence,” or we viewed it and we’ve done an analysis or an audit from that and we say, “What’s your content schedule?” One of the things that you’re doing on a regular basis to try to endear yourselves to the audience, and expand that, and how is that going.
Sometimes, we get the blank stare, right? “Well, we just post on a daily basis.” Well, do you retweet? Do you comment? Do you like? Do you ask questions? Do you seek feedback? Those kinds of things, and into what frequency do you do so? The other thing too is depending on what they’re posting. We go by an 80/20 role, 80% education, 20% of hard sell with promotions. If the company does the opposite, which we see oftentimes, the result is 80% hard sell and 20% education-based. It turns people off, because now you’re viewed as the same way a television ad is viewed or a radio ad is viewed, sort of you’re not talking to them; you’re talking over them. That usually turns folks off. So whether it’s an agency or an internal environment, the strategy needs to be comprehensive and effective.
Now, to your point, a lot of companies will look for an agency’s expertise because we do this on a daily basis to devise a strategy, and execute on that strategy that’s going to work. Maybe that’s a reason to bring in an agency, but again it comes down to, “Is the strategy successful more than it is … the resources you have?”
The beautiful thing about social media, let’s talk about some of the benefits of it, is particularly in this day and age, I think it has an incredible benefit more to the PR side than let’s say the advertising or the direct marketing. Not to say that there isn’t value on that one there. But the PR landscape is changing in such a fashion that you are seeing less and less opportunities with the traditional media to get your stories across. They’re hurting for business. Their ability to expand upon the stories that may or may not include organization are inhibited. In some cases, some of the outlet are pure paly-for-play. The only way you’re going to get a good story out of them is if you buy an advertisement.
The consumer read right through that, and have largely looked upon the traditional media outlets as well maybe some value but not quite the value they were beforehand.
Social media allows you to create essentially your own broadcast channels, your own communication dialogue where you can espouse certain things that you’re doing well, and bring in others and talk about what they’re doing well in such a way that like the PR of maybe 10 to 15 years ago, traditional PR, has as much of not greater effect to bring people in interest, dialogue, lead opportunities and that kind of thing.
I do believe in the value of social media. We use it. You could follow us on Facebook and Twitter and more on LinkedIn, and certainly a lot of other social platforms that we communicate regularly. I think we’re big proponents to that, but I think it has to be one in which you look at it almost in the same way you will look at PR from days of all. It’s about endearing yourself to an audience without selling them.
BD: I love your point about how PR firms nowadays are struggling, because I am seeing a huge overlap between marketing and PR more so than ever. I think because of the overarching team of whatever buzzword you want to call it whether it’s content marketing or brand journalism. Marketers see the value in content. PR’s been doing content for decades. And marketers now see the value in getting that content published. So marketers are so used to the maybe a little more transactional relationship.
It’s interesting to see how they’re taking that to the publishing side of providing the content upfront. They’re doing now influencer research and journalism research similar that PR agencies do of trying to find their audience and all of that. I like the idea of social media is still the connection between the two where you can guarantee at least your own voice can be heard.
DO: I disagree with you on that one there. I don’t think social media is one in which you can ensure that your voice is going to be exactly how you promote it. Let me take a step back. I mean, I see where you’re going. The marketers of 15 years ago were one-directional communication. It was largely through an advertising medium or sponsored a trade show event, and those kinds of things where you have your say. It isn’t the language and the vernacular in which you two are comfortable with. Then you’re broadcasting it to the masses. With the exact expectation that maybe half of them will be somewhat interested and smaller percentage of that will respond on some level.
That dynamic is really gone. Thanks to the availability of technology like social media. We now have the capabilities of having multi-directional conversations with our core audiences: prospects, customers and partners. That’s something that PR has done for quite some time. Now, the lines have blurred because any marketing initiative—whether it’s a direct demo marketing, whether it’s non-traditional advertising, whether it’s the traditional PR or social media—allows the audience to give the originator real-time feedback.
Now to your point about being able to get your message across, that real-time feedback affects the messaging of an organization. There is a understanding when you engage on something like that that you’re allowing the customer or the partner or the investor to have a say in how you are perceived. I think that’s a really good thing. It scares a lot of companies to death, but if you endear yourself to an organization that they are giving your feedback and telling you how they would like you to be, how they view your value to them, that’s gold because you can adjust and flex to what is going to actually ultimately drive you revenue.
I always talk about that in terms of a baseball vernacular. It’s the fanbase for San Diego Padres or Boston Red Sox that are commenting on talk radio. They’re blogging about you. They’re commenting on Facebook. They’re saying, “I want this. I want this. I want this.” Some of them are outliers to be sure, but they’re telling the organization why they’re so interested on what things they expect from them because they really like them or they want to like them. They want them to meet expectations.
If the organization responds in kind, well that’s just going to draw more people at the ballpark, that’s going to draw more people to watch the games on TV. Which will draw more advertise ultimately revenue for the base, but you have to be willing to let yourself out there and be open to the response you’re going to get in real-time.
BD: I agree about the struggle with the real-time response. That certainly also goes back to the strategic aspect that you need to have avenues in place and steps along the way that, “Well, we’re putting ourselves out here. What if it’s not responded to us favorably? How do we address that issue?” Everyone goes into it thinking that they’re going to be welcomed with open arms. Then if it doesn’t, you got to have the strategy in place to handle it.
DO: There’s always the outlier who will never be satisfied.
DO: That’s just part of the deal. That’s the nature of any business. I don’t care what industry you’re in. But I will tell you that if you’re getting in a real clear systemic negative reaction on social media platforms like Yelp, Facebook, Trip Advisor or the Better Business Bureau, if you’re getting negative comments from customers and it’s such the degree that Better Business Bureau say ranks you on a lower scale; you might want to just take a step back and say, “What is it that we’re not doing right,” because there could be some real valid points that your customers are trying to tell you.
Maybe you’re not servicing them in a manner with which you’ve led them to believe you will through your communication up to that point. Maybe your the quality of your product needs to be elevated. Something along those lines. I think that that’s ultimately where a company needs to start. “What am I doing that I need to do a little bit better?” If you find that there are things you can improve and you convey that your customer, those negative reaction that you got all of a sudden turn into positive because the customer believes they’ve actually been listened to. And the company is responding because they value them, and they’re actually going to work hard to make things better. Customers will love that.
Customers will always give a company a second chance if [a business] acknowledges the genuineness and sincerity of their concerns and compliance to which they’ve taken the time to express from you. What a better way to do that. Because the time that an organization should be worried is not when there is a negative Yelp review; it’s when there’s no Yelp reviews.
BD: That’s an awesome point. I think capitalizing on when there is quiet to reinforce your brand promise, and to reinforce that you’re there for your customers ultimately. In terms of bringing that back to just B2B versus business to consumer, of course they still have customers, but what do you say to a B2B company that says, “My customers aren’t on social media. It’s not really a priority.” What is your response?
DO: One word: LinkedIn. LinkedIn is truly the Business to Business social media platform now. In addition to having your individuals that are on there that all have their, “I’m working for this company X at this point.” You should really look at your company page. You should make sure that you’ve got links appropriate to the website, that you have updated information. There are ways also to port in. If you’ve got a blog, how you port in your blog to either the founders or the CEOs, the executives and add to their LinkedIn profile or things like that.
Business to Business transaction can start with LinkedIn. It starts with LinkedIn largely from a research. Now, as a software company who is selling to let’s say a government agency going to get a lead from LinkedIn, probably not, but again if you look at marketing as an accelerant to closing the sales cycle, there is an opportunity for during the RFP process or even beforehand when you’re talking to specs for maybe an upcoming initiative. That whoever is writing that check, who’s making the purchase order from the HP standpoint is going to go search you on Google. It’s going to search the organization. Things that should come up are LinkedIn. They’re going to look up who you’re connected with, what people are saying about you and your organization. They’re going to take those seriously, because LinkedIn is viewed as almost the business social network.
Is that as important to do Twitter, Facebook? Maybe, maybe not. It may help from purely a search engine optimization standpoint and make sure you rank on there. It shouldn’t just be automatically discounted, but I would agree that there may be other platforms that aren’t social media platforms that aren’t viable for business to business. I would argue the same thing for a consumer. I’m not sure that a consumer product targeting a male audience let’s say between the years of 18 and 44 needs to be on Pinterest. Pinterest use very much toward the female demographic, and there is may not be a value in going on there, but there may be let’s say on Instagram, or Twitter or something else like that.
If you’re targeting the teens and tweens, Facebook may not be where you want to go, maybe Vine. You have to look at social media platforms for their individual value and how it integrates well with a comprehensive marketing plan that’s going to drive you the increase awareness from a business metric standpoint.
BD: Wrapping it back to the overall corporate culture that you need to create to embrace social media. If there are obstacles, how do you suggest overcoming them? Whether it’s people’s unwillingness to get involved, budgetary obstacles to creating that culture. What are your suggestions for solutions?
DO: Thanks. That’s a great question. Usually, it has to start with what’s the current pain point. What are things that they are frustrated with that they can’t do? Typically, companies of any size is going, “I need to get more people to know about us. I need to close more deals. I need to do it faster.” Deals again could be potential customers, partners or investors.
You start looking internally as to how much effort it’s taking individuals, whether it’s on the direct-sale side, the investor relations side or the customer service side to attract and retain good customers or partners. How much time it takes to do explanations or find those individuals, hunt them down or respond in kind that a social media, a direct communication linked between those individuals could solve. Either increasing your productivity, your efficiency, certainly your closure rates, your conversion rates particularly when you talk in sales and things like that.
Identify what the pain points are. Set up your marketing platform in general of which social media may or may not be a good component of that, and figure out what the business metrics are. Maybe this here, we were talking early about the difference between internal and agency. If you’re not sure if you have the strategic expertise in-house to do so, maybe you want to talk to an agency that can help you devise a plan. Then you can determine on the execution side whether something you want an agency to handle or whether something you want maybe an internal person to do maybe under the tutelage of an agency.
Again, the issue of whether it should be an agency or internal is a secondary question to, “What is it you’re looking for marketing to do and social media to do? How are you going to tie those into a business metric?” I think once you start explaining that to an executive team on a business metric, then I think you’ve got their ear. Maybe this is my call to action at the end, and that I’m passionate about that because as I had mentioned we’re a performance-based marketing and PR firm.
If agencies don’t start talking from a business executive standpoint, not just a marketing initiatives or a tactical marketing perspective, if you can’t show a value from a end quantifiable bottom line business metric, the conversation becomes very difficult to overcome when you have obstacles in front of you going, “Why am I going to spend this money on that. It’s really the responsibility I think of agencies to start thinking less like marketers, and more like executive business people.
BD: Great! Well, I think some amazing points were made today in terms of social media and even if you’re just starting out with social media or even if you think you have a seasoned social media plan, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate especially if you’re in that other 95% of companies that aren’t particularly satisfied with the current outcomes.
I’d like to thank David Oates again for coming. We really appreciate your time, and hope you enjoyed it as well.
DO: Absolutely. Thanks for the time. Thanks for the opportunity.
This podcast has been edited for clarity.