How Failure Improved This CEO's Social Media Marketing
How Failure Improved This CEO's Social Media Marketing

A few years ago, I developed what I thought was the perfect monthly financial newsletter, aimed at my client's audience of active investors – i.e., people who trade in the markets day in and day out.

Figuring we had a pretty sophisticated group of readers, my team and I came out of the gate with deep dives into complex investing and "aspirational" trading strategies. The newsletter we created for our client delved into esoteric topics like futures, options and foreign exchange trading, along with a sprinkling of articles on investing, retirement and personal finance.

After we tracked engagement for a few issues, to my surprise, readers weren't giving their time and attention to those sophisticated strategy pieces we were most proud of, but instead to those that focused on retirement investment strategies and 101-type trading information, such as "How to Read a Stock Chart."

What were my choices? I could ignore the data and risk losing the audience, or I could alter the strategy by bumping up the retirement and personal finance articles and reducing the number of complex trading articles. Figuring it's not worth having a great newsletter that no one reads, I went with the second strategy. Not too hard a choice, in retrospect.

In time, the audience grew more sophisticated and began showing an appetite for articles on more complex subjects. We'd had the right idea, but we were too early. The audience was learning, and every month, my team and I listened. As we tracked engagement, we eventually returned to our original article mix.

The epiphany came after I read the room. Though we stumbled at first, I learned the importance of understanding my audience and using the right tools to engage them. It's not enough to simply know your audience. For niche topics like active investing, you need to be ready to scrap your best-laid plans to meet your audience on their turf. This requires effort. You have to find out where they are and listen closely for what they need.

Social media marketing allows you to find your audience, listen to them and respond in the right ways by taking the following steps.

1. Hang out on your audience's street.

There was a time when it was relatively straightforward to find customers. The corner-drugstore owner picked a neighborhood with foot traffic and a growing population and simply threw open the doors. Today, it's more complicated, with so much business done online. Your potential customers might be anywhere in the digital world. To narrow the search, it helps to use some common listening tools that automatically monitor posts and communications to track what customers are saying.

You can first try using Google's free Keyword Planner and Google Trends, or go straight to something more powerful like BuzzSumo or Moz. Other options to consider are social media tools like Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Talkwalker, all of which can identify trending topics, seek out specific mentions, and spot leaders and influencers in your industry.

2. Quiet down and listen.

Once you find where your audience gathers, it's time to listen. If you don't know how to listen to your customers, you'll have a hard time attracting and keeping them.

My newsletter would have ended up in subscribers' "round file" had I ignored what they were reading. Don't look to conversation marketing as a way to stroke your ego, nor to book immediate sales. Instead, think of it as a research process where you'll develop a better understanding of your potential customers so you can eventually join the conversation, engage and interact.

3. Consider enlisting outside help.

Once you have a good sense of your potential customers' areas of interest, one idea that often lets you jump into the conversation without tooting your own horn is to harness the energy of respected experts and engaged customers already taking part in the discussion to help tell your story.

Having a micro-influencer who's a "super fan" of your product is like having a built-in brand ambassador. In one case, a butcher-paper manufacturer found online evidence of a group of customers who were passionate about the product. The company then featured these customers' plaudits in a social media campaign that highlighted actual experience using the brand's distinctive pink butcher paper for barbecue. Hearing straight from users was far more influential than from a paid copywriter, and it helped draw trade media attention as well. Sales grew more than tenfold.

You may not run a newsletter. And you probably don't sell butcher paper. Whatever your business, however, the same rules apply about reading the room and using the right tools to connect to your audience. When you start a conversation, you need to be on the same page as your audience. In my case, I could only do this by shutting up and actively listening. Pivoting the editorial strategy ultimately led to improved audience affinity for our client's brand because we met their information needs progressively.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.

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Can entrepreneurs help address the society’s biggest challenges — without burning out?

These are pressing questions. According to Deloitte, private businesses are increasingly expected to help solve the most challenging social problems of our times — health, poverty, and the promotion of sustainable development — in the absence of, or in conjunction with, government action. And many are eager to step into this role: the consultancy’s recent survey of more than 11,000 business and HR leaders worldwide found that almost 80% say “citizenship and social impact” is very important or important today.

But is it reasonable to expect a for-profit enterprise, and its employees, to address large-scale social problems? Helping those most in need and running a commercially viable business at the same time can create conflicting of goals. Our research, which explores how this conflict manifests itself in the lives of entrepreneurs working within for-profit companies, provides the first robust evidence that it can have serious repercussions for their health and wellbeing.

We based our study on original longitudinal survey data gathered from employees and entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom. We recruited 1,388 respondents from among 3,525 employees selected randomly from a representative database of the British working age population — a response rate of 39%. This sample was made up of 25% entrepreneurs and 75% employees. Our research focused on the entrepreneur subsample, and we collected over three waves of survey data from this group administered at two-month intervals. We asked questions about prosocial motivation and the desire to help others to gauge the extent to which individual entrepreneurs had such tendencies and interests. We also asked about their ability to control and cope with important things in their lives, and whether they ever felt that difficulties were piling up so high that they could not overcome them. We analyzed the data using statistical techniques that allowed us to identify the causal structure of how the pursuit of social objectives causes stress and ultimately affects health and wellbeing.

Our analysis revealed that, generally, stress is a significant problem for social entrepreneurs. When trying to achieve commercial goals and give back to the community at the same time, these entrepreneurs are likely to overload themselves with too many responsibilities and, consequently, deplete their personal resources. The cost of resource depletion can include reduced time with family and poor sleep quality.

However, we found that social entrepreneurs who enjoy a high degree of autonomy at work are less inclined to experience the same levels of stress. When these entrepreneurs can organize their business so they have control over how, where, and when they help others, they are better able to manage any work overload and stress levels. This autonomy is critical for entrepreneurs to create social impact without their mental and physical health plummeting, but is absent in the lives of many in our study. Specifically, new or smaller enterprises often find themselves dependent on a single client whose organizational procedures dictate when, where, and how entrepreneurs work.

The big question is: Can we help all social entrepreneurs safeguard their autonomy and reduce their stress levels to a manageable level? And how? The answer is important because, even as we recognize the importance of of social enterprises in today’s business world, we might be be encouraging entrepreneurs to jeopardize their health.

While our research doesn’t yet explore which specific interventions might be most helpful for preventing burnout, we do know that leaders promoting social entrepreneurship initiatives within should be aware of possible adverse personal consequences for their employees. They should also help entrepreneurs organize their work to permit personal autonomy whenever possible. Social enterprises cannot continue to deliver sustainable impacts if the people running them are exhausted.

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The audible, global sigh of relief in the wake of last weekend’s decision by Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping to negotiate trade war issues over the next 90 days was well justified. The deal is a big step forward for all concerned.

Let’s quickly dispense with the scoffing critique voiced by several professional doubters that little can be accomplished in 90 days and that the agreement therefore is nothing more than an arrangement to kick the can down the road. While it is true that a comprehensive deal is very unlikely to be completed in the next 90 days, it should be obvious that presidents who can agree to talk for the next 90 days can also agree to talk longer if the first 90 days seem to augur something promising. If they don’t, then it probably makes sense to shut the talks down — and at least it will then be clear that we didn’t move rashly ahead to impose massive tariffs without giving negotiations an honest try and will garner more domestic and international support for some form of further trade actions if talks fail.

Indeed, this was the only sensible alternative. It was clear that the Chinese were not immediately going to yield to American requests, and it was equally clear that imposing American sanctions without any further effort at negotiation was likely to be counterproductive.

A second important step forward was the clear designation by President Trump of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as the key leader of the U.S. negotiating team. Because he is known to be a knowledgeable and tough negotiator, the Chinese have tried over the past two years to drive discussions through Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Advisor Larry Kudlow. These two were perceived to be softer, less knowledgeable, more pro-globalization, and more concerned about financial markets than Lighthizer. By specifically pointing to the trade representative as the guy in charge (as his title indicates he should be), Trump made it clear that the United States is serious. Lighthizer knows the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the global trade rules upside down and backward. He is a leading strategist and a seasoned negotiator who knows all the key global players as well as where all the bodies are buried. He won’t be deceived, and he will demand concrete, measurable results.

One of the most interesting statements to come out of the Buenos Aires dinner was President Xi’s comment that Qualcomm’s offer to acquire NXP Semiconductors might now be approved if it were to be proposed again. Qualcomm scrapped the deal in July after the Chinese antitrust regulator didn’t make a ruling by the deadline for consummating the deal. In other words, the Chinese government’s objection had been political rather than legal all along.

Qualcomm quickly stated that there would be no new proposal. But the important point here is that the main U.S. complaint about China’s trade/globalization policies is precisely that Chinese trade and industrial policies are political and lead to government intervention in markets that contradicts China’s stated commitments to the spirit and rules of the WTO and to market-oriented globalization.

This issue is not new to veterans (like Lighthizer) of the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-South Korea trade negotiations of the 1980s and 1990s. The heart of the problems in these cases was the commitment of these countries to equaling and surpassing the capabilities of the United States in targeted industries such as chemicals, steel, autos, semiconductors, aircraft, computers, machine tools, biotech, ship building, and computers. These governments intervened in markets to provide investment guarantees, trade and R&D subsidies, dedicated government procurement, and trade protection, including “buy national” policies.

China has been a careful student of the Japanese and South Korean strategies as well as of those of Taiwan and Singapore. It has adopted the key elements of each and then added its own. Particularly significant has been China’s approach to foreign investment. While Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan largely eschewed foreign investment, China has welcomed and promoted it. But, of course, it has done so on its own terms. So foreign investors have often been required to enter joint ventures and to transfer technology as a condition of being allowed to invest. They were required to export a certain proportion of their production and subject to extensive theft of their intellectual property.

Even in the cases of Japan and South Korea, it was always difficult for foreign companies to have their complaints heard. The biggest problem was that government bureaucrats had extensive informal power. They could wink or nod at corporate leaders and the complaints would be buried. Or they could wink and nod and distributors would suddenly no longer buy foreign products for distribution. They could also impose new testing standards or ignore requests for testing. There were a hundred ways in which the bureaucracy could quietly carve up a company, and the company would have no effective recourse. In China, this situation is even more difficult. There is what is known as the “death of a thousand cuts.” A company may find itself wounded and not have any idea of the source of the cut.

Lighthizer’s task will be to find a way to compel China’s policymakers and bureaucrats to minimize intervention and to conform to the spirit as well as the letter of the WTO’s rules and of the broader free-trade doctrine to which they aver they are dedicated.

It will be no easy task. Lighthizer deserves the support and good wishes or all who hope for a friendly resolution of U.S.-China differences and for the continued success of globalization.

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