Lee Odden

Answers to Social Media Questions You Should Know

Lee Odden     Social Media

rodin thinking about social mediaIn the course of providing consulting services and conducting training programs for companies on social media marketing & PR or a combination of SEO and social media, there are some common questions that have come up. I thought it might be useful for readers if I documented a few of them here along with answers.

“If we open up to comments, won’t people criticize us?”

This is one of the most common questions I hear. Companies have traditionally feared negative content posted online because bad news travels fast and most businesses aren’t entirely sure of how to deal with online criticism.

Even more of a concern is the fear that after creating social content for the purpose of building goodwill, positive buzz and influencing sales, an angry troll decides to use that platform for their sinister purposes.

To begin answering the “won’t people criticize us” question, let’s start with a “Yes, they may”. The reality is that if a company has angry customers, they are already talking. It’s amazingly simple for anyone to publish their opinion online. Mobile phones make every customer an instant window into the service quality of your company. So if they already think what they think and are posting their opinions online, why not have them do so “in your own backyard”?

You’ll likely never “control the conversation” but if dissenters can publish on a company web site, there are moderation options to display or not display that content. Additionally, customers appreciate how companies respond to legitimate criticism. Such feedback can be helpful insight into customer service and product quality issues. Brand evangelists are often quick to come to a company’s defense when unreasonably negative content gets posted.  The opportunity is not to worry about negative comments as much as to identify and empower brand fans.

I heard Gary Vaynerchuk say at a conference, “Now is the time to get rid of the cockroaches in your kitchen”, meaning everything is wide open and people are going to talk. If your company has things to fear then there are other issues to deal with more important than wondering what to do if someone makes a negative comment on a blog.

social media

“Where should we participate?”

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”, so find out where your customers spend time on the social web. What roles do they often play? What are their information discovery, consumption and sharing preferences? Where and how your customers spend their time with social media sites as well as the objectives for your own participation should guide the decision as to which specific services to start with.

A few ways to discover where your customers are on the social web include:

  • Participation – Search, get recommendations and follow links to social applications and join them. While time consuming, there is no substitute for being actively involved with a community to learn about customers.
  • Social Media Monitoring – There are numerous tools for keyword based monitoring that can provide near or real-time insight into the discussions customers are having about topics of interest, what media they’re interacting with and on what social channels.
  • Logging existing traffic and behaviors to your web site from social media web sites.  Talk to whoever manages web site reporting in your organization and see if you can get them to construct an ongoing report that segments social media sourced traffic that is already visiting your company web properties.
  • Surveys of your existing customers – Sometimes the best answers are simple. Want to know more about your customers’ social media preferences? Ask them.
  • Referencing demographic information supplied by social media sites that offer advertising. There may be debate about how specifically useful the information offered by Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social network sites that offer advertising can be, but at a high level, it can offer important insights.
  • Third party data sources – While information from Quantcast, Hitwise or Microsoft adCenter Labs Demographics Prediction tools isn’t the same thing as what you’d get from some of the other suggestions above, those data sources familiar to senior management can augment your other research and get their attention for important things like, funding.

interns social media

“How many interns do we need for this?”

Social media as a whole is a shiny new object to many companies and is often characterized as something that “Gen Y does” or is subordinated as a collection of small tasks, such that it is relegated to entry level staff or interns.

Corporate social participation can be a lot of work depending on the size of the company, it’s goals and more importantly, the level of social activity of its customers. Some of that work is indeed appropriate for interns and if there is deep user experience with specific services, there is insight to be gained that can be immensley valuable.  Segmenting social tasks and forecasting hours should enable most companies to determine how many entry level staff or interns are needed.

However, the question about interns in a discussion about a company’s decision to engage social media needs some consideration.  Social media has strategic and tactical roles and public facing activities need to be guided by individuals with deep experience and knowledge regarding Customer Service, Marketing, PR, Sales, Talent Acquisition and even Legal.

Is an intern the best choice to be the face of a company? Pizza Hut thinks so. In the case of the Young and Free campaign by Servus Credit Union, yes. But only with very careful consideration and selection.  Other companies put seasoned marketing, customer service or communications professionals in those positions. While the funding debate goes on in terms of justifying the expense of a senior person for a community manager role, the question to consider is, “Who is best qualified to represent your brand?”.

Social Media ROI

“What is the exact ROI from social media?”

The inevitable ROI question is an important one.  How do you measure the ROI from public relations, community involvement, attending industry events, focus groups or recruiting?   What is a relationship with a customer worth? Or with an industry analyst, journalist or blogger that writes about your company?

Social media participation can serve many outcomes for a business.  The key with measuring Social Media ROI is to identify specific goals, build a strategy and execute either a full program or a pilot with the ability to measure outcomes.  Those outcomes have value and the goals/measurement piece is the first step.

If a social media effort is focused on connecting with influentials in an industry, aka digital or social media PR, KPIs might include social connections, comments, mentions, links, stories or contributed content. Jason Falls and Katie Payne have some interesting thoughts on that. For example, one of the goals for TopRank’s Online Marketing Blog is to achieve 10-20 unsolicited mentions of our company or key staff by industry blogs, publications or influentials each month. We’ve exceeded that by far.

Another example might simply be list building. Basic Facebook marketing might involve setting up a company page with useful info and discussion, promoting it to attract fans and then providing offers and incentives to join email lists that provide other useful information and benefits. Once a social subscriber/fan/follower opts-in to an email list, you can provide profiling options to ensure they’re getting relevant value and marketing offers.

In the case of 1-800 Flowers, fans can buy directly from the first online store to be launched on Facebook. There’s no question about how to measure the ROI from commerce in that situation. But online commerce is not appropriate or reasonable for many companies, so measuring outcomes that influence sales becomes the “social media ROI” answer.

What social media questions do you have? What answers would you like to add those offered above?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Another good post! Being an intern myself I have gained a lot of great experience and I feel both the company and I have benefited. I have to always be aware of what I say and to whom, because what I do reflects somewhat on the company I work for. A company cannot be too careful when hiring- even if it is just an intern!
    Michelle Chun-Hoon
    CKR Interactive Intern

  2. Excellent point in establishing achievable ROI outcomes that are measurable before jumping into the social media arena.


  3. Hey Lee,

    The unsolicited mentions each month is a fantastic angle. I love it.

  4. Nice post. What’s with the fear of somebody saying something negative? I hosted a Social Media Summit. It was a cross functional internal team and four outside industry experts. The first question from the internal audience was “What if someone says something negative?”. Do companies really think customers have never complained about them before? I keep trying to explain that now we get to eavesdrop and respond accordingly.

    • Lauren, companies are like some people. Do you know people who really can’t stand feedback let alone critical feedback? Some companies are either arrogant or insecure that way. A lot of the social web is new territory so its incumbent upon those that have worked in the social media space for a long time to help companies gain perspective and get a grasp of what role social media can play in reaching business goals.

      Two organizations working on that are Social Media Club and in the direct marketing industry, there’s a new DMA Social Media Council.

  5. I am not sure one can always measure exact return on investment or set a realistic goal. However, it is good to recognize it when it happens. Since we have no staff, only dedicated volunteers, ROI should be in the positive side.

    • Vernon, I suppose if you have no cost, anything you do is “ROI”. The question is, are you accomplishing your organization’s goals using social media? It doesn’t need to be a financial goal.

      • Hi Lee,
        The answer to your question “are you accomplishing your organization’s goals using social media” is yes. However, we can do much better as we build experience. One of our goals is to meet the needs of volunteers. I am a volunteer and leaning about social media is helping me meet my volunteer needs because I like learning about new things.

  6. One of the things I like about marketing with twitter is that it has the potential to give a small business owner nearly as much marketing power as the large corporations.

    Regards, Eric

    • Eric, I think that’s right on. One of the amazing things about the ease of online publishing and social networking is a leveling of the marketing playing field. In the past, big budgets won because money scales advertising easily. The difference now is that many consumers ignore advertising and gravitate towards what gives them value without the same kinds of commitment.

      Small companies that are nimble and able to participate socially can build community and direct customer relationships before large company marketing departments can begin to get approval from legal.

      In a sense it may be “as much marketing power as large corporations” but I think it’s more a matter of big companies needing to catch on and catch up. Once they do, the playing field won’t be so level.

  7. Avatar Donna Liens says

    Dear Lee,
    I heard about this kind of “Linkwheels System” of web 2.0 properties which interlinks to itself in a wheel structure, and aims to raise the search engine rank of a central hub or money site. Its great and the best thing about linkwheels, is that I find myself dominating all sorts of other related keywords that I’d never even thought of before. Its also the best thing of Web 2.0. Isn’t it?

    • Donna, there are many ways to realize link and search ranking benefits from social media participation. The thing to consider is whether what you’re doing adds value to the community, does it carry any risk of penalty and is it sustainable? Will it hold under scruitiny? If so, link wheel yourself happy. 🙂

  8. Nicely done, lee

    Just wanna add with the commenting stuff.
    Company should be willing to see the fruits of their service through comments. They shouldn’t be overprotective of their reputation, since they’ve established it in the first place. Clients do acknowledge if company responds to their concerns. By that, they can feel that their valued somehow. I agree that you might encounter detractors but you can also discover people who will defend the company as well.ss

    • I agree Alex, companies need to be open to feedback and many would be surprised at how many brand champions they have. The time to cultivate such customer relationships through opening up a dialog is now, not when dissenters poke their heads. It’s a matter of being proactive vs reactive on the social web.

  9. Great article! Social networking is such an invalueable tool for the small business. Re-tweeted to friends. Thank you!

  10. Avatar Affiliate Ahole says

    One thing that I have learned about negative comments is that you have to let them get out. If you run a forum and you start deleting posts that have negative comments the posts will start screaming that they are getting censored. Which starts creating a poison in your forums. Then they talk about your censorship in other forums and the poison spreads. I think you have to be as transparent as possible. Bad news spreads fast on the internet, the best thing you can do is address it.

    • Affiliate Ahole aka Wayden, would you say a certain type of individual or company persona attracts negative comments more than others? The way some represent themselves, they’re troll magnets.

      • Avatar Affiliate Ahole says

        I have noticed that cocky individuals or companies will get targeted by trolls a lot. But I also think that whoever is on top will attract a lot of attention from competitors. Especially in really profitable niches. When there is a lot of money on the line, the more aggressive the competition gets.

  11. There is nothing wrong on participating on social media sites. In fact, they get popularity simply because people like to visit them.

    But ofcourse, it will not be advisable to use them all. We just need to put our focus on which social sites we could effectively grab customers 🙂

  12. Companies can’t be scared to take criticism online. Any company that grows will eventually have to deal with this at some point in time. The important thing is how companies guard against it.

  13. Great insight! Thanks!

  14. another way to measure ROI on social media for companies that do sell something is to try a tweet-away of a fairly inexpensive item. My sister’s website http://www.overallbeauty.com sells an up and coming brand of nail polish at $9 a bottle. She has a dedicated twitter following of 700+ that I helped her build. We have her twitter auto-post to her facebook page. Last weekend we did a series of three tweets…

    “win a bottle of Diamond Dust nail polish (URL)”
    “answer (trivia question pulled from blog post) answer here (blog URL”
    “first correct DM reply wins a bottle of (item URL)”

    We kept re-tweeting them until we got a correct answer which took about about 10 minutes. Kim was watching the site traffic live. Within 10 seconds of the first tweet she had 50 people on the diamond dust page. During that 10 minutes, she had over 100+ visitors to her site and blog.

    I think that exposure is worth the hard cost to her of $8 for the item and shipping.

  15. Good stuff! The customer actually can help the company with product developments…Take the critics to help you develop your service and products!

  16. Avatar Nicholas Ye says

    At this point in time, I feel as if we do not need to recruit any interns to perform these social media platform activities. It has come to that era that we can have our children or teenager monitor these sites and “properly” fit into that network, of course with a little parental guidance involved. It just takes a little time and practice for any individual to get a good grasp on any of these social media platform.

  17. Avatar Nicholas Ye says

    At this point in time, I feel as if we do not need to recruit any interns to perform these social media platform activities. It has come to that era that we can have our children or teenager monitor these sites and “properly” fit into that network, of course with a little parental guidance involved. It just takes a little time and practice for any individual to get a good grasp on any of these social media platform.