The Delicate Art of Letting Sacred Cows Go

Forced change is one of the hardest aspects of communications today. With consistent technological evolution and its impact on the Internet and media, change we must. Often change requires letting go of sacred cows, meaning those marketing and communications initiatives that are important to us or the company yet we know their not working.

Why would a company continue efforts that produce little or no results? Precious “must have” initiatives can pale in comparison to other efforts when it comes to delivering actual results. Still internal stakeholders feel these programs are the way business should be done.

External perception and trends can provide as much if not more peer pressure. You need look no further than the perception that every business and nonprofit should be active on Facebook.

This is where data can offer a great marinade, the evidence that helps spur a conversation about change. But you need to have that conversation, probably many of them to get an organization to let go of its sacred cows. The process of helping people move beyond set beliefs also requires a deft hand that allows them to save face.

Begin with Clarity


Every organization should have a mission that helps the company or nonprofit determine its communications goals. When you understand where you are going, you can build key performance indicators (KPIs) that clearly show whether or not a particular tactic or initiative is meeting its goals.

KPIs are a black and white type of measurement, specific in their intent. You may even want to break goals into types of actions. Consider some of these possible KPIs:

  • Engagement will be determined by the amount of website traffic referred from each social network (branding). A successful social network post will yield 5% click through.
  • Successful website content will be determined by a) amount of shares, totaling 10% of visitors (branding) and/or b) amount of email sign ups, a goal of 5% (lead gen)
  • Successful social network communities worth investing in will produce lead identification through email sign-ups, online chats and contact forms. Five percent is the target for all social networks (lead gen).
  • Eventually customers should be produced by identified leads. We expect a 10% conversion rate for identified leads (ROI)

It’s fairly easy to set up these types of goals with a combination of web analytics and CRM. Almost every marketing automation system empowers this type of tracking.

However, the real yield in these efforts is gaining clarity about your customers. While your sales people may understand customer profiles in general, data yields exact profiles. For example, they work in mid-cap companies and are either directors or vice presidents. They tend to work in technology or security concerned industries. You may be able to determine gender and age. Sixty eight percent are women aged 30-49.

In addition, you can map customer behavior. They interact with us on Twitter, but share our content on LinkedIn, too. Those that like our page on Facebook never share the content, nor do they click through.

What Your Data Allows You to Do


Suddenly, you have a clear picture of how your customer interacts with you and who they are. It is important to identify what is working and what may be failing, including your sacred cows.

I think its critical to look at the data with an attitude of discovery. If you go in and say this isn’t working, then people act out of fear. Covering up and saving face becomes more important than changing. This is the conversation to have: Look at what this data is showing. Maybe we can better meet our KPIs if we tweak our current outreach. What do you think? Make it a safe conversation where everyone has a voice.

Don’t push to cut things unless everyone or a majority of your team is in agreement. You may need to go through a cycle or two in your program before prescribed change is agreed upon.

Perform an audit of your communications and content. Experiment to see if you can get more yield on social networks, email, ads, etc. Instead of generic content, you can now drill down and offer specific content that may be more compelling (e.g. contextual). For example, instead of offering photos of men at work, show pictures of women at work. Perhaps offer custom content for your top industries as the reward for signing up for emails.

If getting authorization to experiment is difficult, data should help to justify A/B tests. Try it once and see if the results are different. What CMO won’t give something a one-time try to see if they can get more engagement, leads, and potential customers?

As you experiment, you learn more about the role of each medium in your networks. Poorly performing sacred cows continue to stink. Each time you present the data about which actions are meeting KPIs and which ones aren’t, it becomes clearer that some initiatives must go. The question may be changed to should we cut this? And then when should we cut this?

The process of experimentation helped vested internal stakeholders see the poor performance, try to save it, and realize it was simply no longer a viable communications path or method. You may have known through this whole process that your sacred cow needed to be cut. Going through the process was necessary to create palatable change within your organization.

Usually, we see change as a moment in time. But in reality change is often an evolutionary process. This was the case when Tenacity5 announced its stance towards Facebook marketing last week. We experimented and changed approach a couple of times before letting the overhwelming and consistent data inform our decision.

What do you think?

The Dog Bowl of Big Data

Big data continues to confound the average marketer. The issue surrounds comprehending the data that matters.

Marketers need to understand how to use the technology. Big data has no value unless you can mine information sets to achieve better business outcomes.

Which data sets make for richer relationships with prospects and customers? How will it impact business? What should a marketer look for?

Go back to key performance indicators (KPIs). One worthwhile KPI might be return customers. Let’s apply that to both a hypothetical B2C and a B2B scenario.

If you are a retailer, instead of examining the immense amount of data produced from web site and social interactions, intentionally predetermine what will matter to your company. One thing we know about social media is that People Love Pets! They post pet pics, talk about them incessantly, and like everyone else’s pet pics.
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Strength of Community Supersedes Influence

Chasing Windmills
Image by Annie Siegal

With the current overfocus on influence metrics, companies and nonprofits are left to wonder at the digeratti’s navel gazing via participation scores. While influencers play a role in social media, for a company or nonprofit that role is ultimately very small. After the influencer “graces” everyone with their presence, the organization’s community remains. After a sales or advocacy campaign winds up, the community remains. When those initiatives are needed again, they require a strong community in place, openly receptive of such overtures. That’s why the most important metric should always be Strength of Community.

Direct ROI — i.e. sales, donations, tonality and other key performance indicators (KPIs) — also represents a critical measurement set. It can be easily measured using KPIs and a corresponding strategy (though often overlooked). Businesses want loyal customers who buy their stuff, and refer new clients. Nonprofits want donors. However, to get hard ROI organizations need a vibrant accepting community. The juxtaposition between strength of community and direct ROI cannot be underestimated.

Strength of community measures the health of an organization’s core social network. Core aspects of community strength cannot be measured in a quantifiable manner by an algorithm, for example members’ interest in taking responsibility for aspects of the community such as moderating a group. But there are plenty of activity metrics that can be quantified with a well integrated social graph; return visits, pull through visits to the main web site, repeated comments, performance and volume by demographic, recency and frequency of posts (hat tip: Paul Fabretti), repeated actions, advocacy outside of the community (Facebook, Twitter and individual blog posts), etc., etc.

Yet, there’s no real focus on developing social media based strength of community metrics. There’s a series of tools that can help like Facebook Insights, Google Analytics loyalty measures, AddThis Analytics, and a small group of emerging hybrid solutions like Badgeville. But without a robust enterprise tracking solution like Eloquoa, one is lost.

Instead the market is left with an increasing dearth of influencer metric solutions, catering to the PR 2.0 community and its need to qualify influencers. To be fair, some of the influencer metrics have community details to them such as total number of community members who like or retweet a post. At the same time they are woefully inadequate in providing a composite community picture.

Influence is being touted as the measurement set to understand social media, but of all the metrics, it’s the one that is least needed. In fact, the influencer conversation (read Shonali Burke’s discussion) is like watching Don Quixote chase windmills. That’s why Twitalyzer CEO Eric Peterson’s post discounting the use of influence metrics in personnel decisions was so refreshing.

(Image from AllFacebook)

Instead of getting distracted by influence, focus on strength of community metrics. They mean more to an organization than any other social measurement solution out there. Strength of community is the fly wheel that drives desired business outcomes as defined by KPIs. An organization would much rather have a vibrant community of 150,000 members than a sexy influencer program that garners 50 unique blog mentions. This is the next frontier of social metrics.

The opportunity has not escaped some minds. Badgeville, a community rewards and analytics company, is building a new set of analytics to provide organizations a deeper view of how their community’s engagement behaviors. Communities can usually integrate Badgeville’s solution via an API within a week. In a conversation with Badgeville’s Adena DeMonte, she discussed how critical it was for an organization to measure individual community member actions, including a visit(s) a store, and whether or not purchases were made.

As organizations become more savvy about social properties and their corresponding role within the larger mission and strategy, it is only natural that they will want to focus on strength of community. Measurement solutions that provide diverse analyses of community actions across networks have their role in determining the health of an organization’s effort.