the Bicycle Method


Why the bicycle? To me, it’s more of a reminder that the really hard work starts once you solve the motion part, because now you need to decide where you want to go.

The Rear Wheel is a lot about a disciplined process, executing well and in the right order.

The Front Wheel is a lot more about understanding the situation and leading attracting as many supporter along the way; leading is not easy and – in many ways – not very rational: at some point, just just have to follow your instinct and not worry too much about getting every detail under control.

What I find fascinating is this rational / intuitive duality – you need both, as in a bicycle.

Rear #1: Insight

Any well-developed Digital / Social Media program starts with understanding the landscape in which we want to develop the Client presence: be it a simple product launch, or a complex multi-touch point strategy, understanding who is talking out there about something is essential to avoid embarrassing mistakes and resource waste.

The insight exercise in a nutshell entails the definition of a search seed made up of a variable number of search keywords (typically in the 20-30s range) defined together with the Client.

These keywords are then submitted to the search software which is most appropriate for the task, irrelevant mentions are discarded and the opinion-forming ones (in our experience between 3% and 9% of total), are analyzed to prepare a report four key elements:

  • WHO is talking (types of participants, but also key influencer profiles)
  • WHERE are they talking (a list of the online places where the discussion is spontaneously clustering)
  • WHAT are they talking about
  • ABCD maturity analysis (for B2B sell cycles)

To obtain the last two elements relevant hits are read and taxonomyzed hierarchically creating the actual, weighed ontology resulting from the observation, in the given timeframe, of the topical ontology represented by the keyword set (WHAT); moreover, our B2B experience demonstrates that relevant hits can be classified according to the phases of a complex sell-cycle, distinguishing users who are merely considering market scenarios (A), those who are discussing whether a certain product, technology or solution is appropriate for the problem they are trying to solve (B), those who are benchmarking different marketed solutions (C) and, finally those who have the product/solution and seek support (D).

Obviously, the better the keyword set, the closer the ontology will represent reality as expressed online, and the higher the penetration of Internet in the target group, the closer the online representation will be to overall reality.

Understanding also includes applying our experience to the situation to identify potential areas where our Client can proficiently engage its target for the given purpose; again, the better the marketing objective is described, the more relevant our suggestions will be.

Rear #2: The right content

A typical Digital / Social Media strategy includes an Interim Destination (see below #3) to attract users to; once this destination is in existence, we will make sure it is populated with the right content, where “right” means the content which supports the potential areas for engagement identified in phase #1.

This must be performed according to an agreed editorial program (number of posts per week), sourcing original content in ways not dissimilar to the ways we use e.g. for Media Relations work: Corporate website, white papers, executive interviews, product announcements, sales literature, case studies, analyst reports, etc.

In designing this phase, it is essential that the Client identifies, appoints and enables (e.g. through an appropriate education program) Subject Matter Experts who will support the Social Media team and engage user if / when appropriate. These SMEs will also be the source of knowledge for the editorial team; expectations as to the amount of time needed to fulfill this role should be set realistically, and line management buy-in is vital lest we choke our primary source of conten

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The Rear Wheel in infographic form

 Rear #3: Interim Destination development

If the ID does not yet exist, one must developed; a tight connection to the Corporate online assets (banners, sole sponsorship, etc.) is recommended, but the ID has its own set of requirements to satisfy, often incompatible e.g. with the Corporate website:

  • flexibility – not being under the umbrella of Corporate sites, it enjoys the freedom deriving from its tactical nature
  • indexability – developed from the get-go with the purpose of being SEO-friendly, we typically piggyback it on the innate indexability of open source platforms such as Blogspot, WordPress or Facebook
  • speed – quick, parameter-driven prototyping makes it simple to adhere to corporate image standards without requiring massive development efforts
  • cost – a requirement deriving from the tactical nature of such a a presence and achieved through the smart use of freely available Social Media software.

We use the term ID instead of “website” because we’re very well aware of the variety of forms the ID can take: in some cases it will be a full-blown website, but in some cases it might be a Media Room or a blog; in some cases it will be mobile-oriented or it could be a content consumption app for tablet or smartphones.

It is a case of Form follows Function and therefore can only be designed once the need is fully understood.

Rear #4: Targeted promotion

A well done ontology includes the information about “WHERE” a topic is discussed, offering us ready-made platforms for targeted promotion of our ID.

We always recommend full disclosure of Conversation Consultants, and in our experience this very rarely causes backlash from community administrators; in an unlikely such event, full disclosure protects the Client brand from unethical behavior accusations.

Conversation Consultants must therefore create profiles in the target communities and participate in their discussion, looking for opportunities where information about existing content on the ID can be promoted and linked.

They also monitor influencers profiles (WHO element in phase #2), looking for posts that could effectively be cross-posted to the ID, managing also the outreach to identified bloggers and building and maintaining the relationship with them.

Rear #5: Community building

Over time, a community will slowly accumulate on the ID and in the connected Corporate online assets which it complements nicely; it is unusual (but not impossible) for spontaneous communities to accumulate around corporate assets; when it can, it will, but if it has not so far, chances are your Brand is not the exceptions.

Almost any Brand, however, can benefit from nurturing a community and develop a sense of belonging based on the participation to such community; don’t fall for the illusory distinction between B2B and B2C markets:

“B2B markets don’t exist. B2C markets don’t exist. Failure to understand the consumer at the end of your business pipe is suicide.”

Gianni Catalfamo

Whatever the reason, once a community starts to develop, it requires management: enrollments must be approved, discussions must be monitored, queries must be followed up…

Rear #6: Sales leads generation

The idea therefore in a nutshell is that of matching the content we create to the needs / desires of our audience. It goes without saying that such need evolve over time; in particular we have realized that the quest for information in preparation for a purchase goes invariabl through four distinct phases, regardless of the product or service being considered:

Scenario – this is the “big picture” phase; people are lookig at the broader picture, trying to figure out what’s the state of the art in the market for the product or service they’re becoming interested into.

Solution – as information is gathered and digested, the person is now moving to a closer stage of its consideration. Given his/her specific problem, the question now becomes “Is this problem solvable with this product / service category?”

Benchmark – at this stage, the answer to the previous question was obviously affirmative, and our casual tire-kicker has moved into a full-blown comparison of the available solution. S/he’s ready to buy and is now looking for the solution that’s just right for him/her. Paramateres here include price but also after sales service, quality, reliability, design and a myriad others. Often the very user will specify what parameters are more important to him/her.

Support – someone made a sale. Maybe it was you, maybe it was a competitor. The user is now returning to the boards to resolve an issue s/he have with the actual product / service use.

It is not difficult to find the appropriate content type for each situation:

Scenario White papers, Long term evolution predictions

Solution  Case studies

Benchmark  Analyst reports

Support  route to after sales support / CRM

Building simple “gates” or mildly sophisticated analytics into the various sections of the online asset we’re creating allows us to track users as they move from one stage to the other, approaching the critical Benchmark state, in which we can finally pounce with a proper selling proposition that would be premature or belated in the other situations; the Benchmark state becomes therefore the outer rim of our sales funnel, contributing hot leads to our closing process, whether direct or indirect.

Front: Leadership

What could I possibly say that has not been said a billion times on the subject of leadership? So instead of mashing up other people’ work, I prefer to show you leadership at work.