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January 24, 2012


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Michelle -

This tracks perfectly with personal responsibility. We have to be responsible for what and who we listen to, and which sources of counsel are most appropriate. Equally important is to continue to ask questions, to explore, to push beyond the boundaries of comfort if firms truly want to innovate. If innovation was easy, everyone would do it (and then it wouldn't be innovative anymore). Social media remains one of those things that firms aren't asking enough questions about. I hope all of the Old Guard reads this post. They need it.

Rebecca Ryan

Michelle, I cringed when I saw some of the tweets/quotes from Winning is Everything this year, because of this issue. What the heck is David Maister doing talking about social media? Last time I saw him give a presentation in 2008, he was using an overhead/transparency system!

You’re being very generous to suggest that listeners need to parse expert’s opinions. I think experts and consultants (and I am one of them) have an even greater responsibility. We need to be more thoughtful about what we choose to respond to. Simply saying, “This issue is beyond my area of expertise,” or “I’m not qualified to respond to this,” is far more professional than giving potentially bad advice.

I challenge all consultants (including my Advisory Board partners and the guest at Winning is Everything) to recuse themselves from offering advice in a public forum on things they have never tried or have no experience with, e.g. Allan Koltin on social media, and Gary Boomer or Gary Shamis on women’s issues.

Julie Lindy

What we're neglecting to discuss when we discuss "social media" -- and what's so CRITICAL to it -- is MEDIA LITERACY.

Any discussion of ROI regarding social media MUST take into account basic media literacy, and that's really the bottom line of Michelle's post -- it appears that she witnessed media illiteracy in action at this conference. In the accounting world, we discuss "financial literacy" quite a bit, but social media makes overall media literacy more urgent and critical than ever.

I believe an essential part of any training program -- and in fact, basic childhood education -- nowadays MUST include media literacy. It's no longer enough to know how to read and write: you have to be able to read, listen, write, speak and process messaging as a critical thinker. The ability to evaluate the credibility of the massive messaging that is thrust upon us is essential, and we're not teaching anybody how to do that; we're just responding to the bombardment almost as a knee-jerk reaction.

The noise nowadays is incessant -- everything from "I had a bologna sandwich for lunch" to State of the Union and related critiques, and we're not teaching anybody how to filter appropriately. The result is an eroding ability to distinguish between fact and opinion, as well as a diminishing skills for establishing what we want to measure and how to actually DO it (and, in fact, if it actually can be done).

The effectiveness of ALL messaging is dependent on the audience's ability to use appropriate criteria for evaluating it, including the emotional factors related to it. That evaluation can't be meaningful without asking the right questions: "Is this relevant? Is it coming from a reliable source or sources? Is it confirmed? What are the counterpoints and downsides? What's the messenger's agenda? Do I agree, and is that a logical response or an emotional response, and how to I support my position?" Etc.

So to discuss "ROI of Social Media" is really pointless without starting with the ABCs of media literacy. Are you tweeting for dollars coming in within 7 days? Well, that's probably pointless. Are you using social media to increase brand recognition and measuring that in "likes" and followers? If so, is that an adequate metric?

As social media explodes, we're neglecting to teach media literacy: how to evaluate credibility, how to set standards for the messaging we allow in, and what our actual goals are for sending AND receiving messages. Social media is snowballing with no attention to how to filter (especially in our younger people who are SO social media savvy). Businesses need to be teaching media literacy now, and schools need to be teaching it too.

Until we do that, discussions of measuring ROI in the context of social media are akin to pulling the trigger on a landscape: Are we shooting at a target, and if so, are we aiming with skill at the one that brings us the meat we're shooting for? It's a little like trying to teach an algebraic equation but omitting the stuff in parenthesis. You'll end up with an answer, but not the right one.

Ron Baker


Great post. Of course this is the problem with the "management consultancy industry." They are experts in everything, because they are an immature--rather than a rigorous--discipline.

All you have to read is The Witch Doctors, The Management Myth, and the most recent (an update to the The Witch Doctors) Masters of Management. These are damning indictments of this so-called discipline, and all one can say is: buyer beware.

Tracy Coenen

Michelle - As you know, we disagree somewhat on the usefulness of social media for accountants and lawyers, as well as whether measuring ROI is the right thing to do. I do believe you should measure your success with social media, even if you can't isolate it (as you mention). There will certainly be intangibles that can never be measured, which is okay. But I firmly believe there ought to be SOME sort of measure that is meaningful to the firm. Our time is limited, and so we must know where it is best spent.

I don’t agree that measuring social media ROI is akin to measuring the ROI of a telephone or email account. It’s just not the same. The latter are critical tools that are necessary to conduct business. The former are tools as well, and can be used very successfully, but are not necessary to run a successful business. They have the potential to make business better for you, but they don’t allow or prevent you from doing business.

Last year I quit Twitter, and advised attorneys and accountants to do the same. I laid out my experience and the (lack of) ROI for me. I got publicly flogged for daring to tell people to quit Twitter. I’m not sure how my advice was any more evil than their advice that everyone should be using Twitter.

So how has that whole “quitting Twitter” thing worked out for me? Splendidly. I took the time that was going down the Twitter black hole and use some of it on blogging. I was already an avid blogger and getting significant business from the blog. By focusing a little extra time on it, I was able to create a measurable increase in inquiries and paying clients. I used the remaining “leftover” time to begin writing for a couple of higher profile publications, which is looking promising in terms of results I will be able to measure.

The proof is in the pudding for me that ROI is an important thing to measure as it relates to social media. Certainly it is not the only thing to consider. And how it is measured for your firm should change over time. But we all have limited time, and we are doing ourselves no favors by trying to do everything. We must evaluate what works in our businesses, and modify our activities accordingly.

One of the things I heard a lot from accountants and lawyers during the “quitting Twitter” dustup was that they couldn’t actually point to any increase in business or potential business. But they said they enjoyed it. If that is enough reason for them to stay involved with Twitter, then I respect their decision to do so.

P. S. I love Rebecca Ryan too!


What's the ROI of Peer Education...The hours saved because I can call someone and ask how do something insead of figuring it out myself. The innovators are on twitter. If you want to hang with cool innovators get on twitter...If you are happy with status quo go back to your chamber or you state CPA society (excluding Maryland) and learn something that is obsolete.

Michelle Golden

So many great comments! I'll answer a few at a time...

@ Melinda Guillemette, I love your points about exploration and innovation. I really think formal benchmarking and informal surveys (picking other CPAs brains) play an evil role in close mindedness.

@ Rebecca Ryan, It's interesting... I'm not sure who exactly made the remark I mentioned in my post, or the women's issues comments, but I'm okay with the idea of consultants sharing their/our observations because we've all been around the block and have seen quite a lot. The thing is that we all come at it from different angles and with different lenses and this makes our perspectives more valuable.

The more thought I give it, I really do think that the audience needs to take the responsibility for vetting the content given its context. The audience KNEW none of the panelist were women. I hope they knew none are social media experts. Well, I take that back... David Maister (until he retired) had a phenomenally successful blog... he did blogging right, engaging his community and humanizing himself. He even retired from the blog very gracefully and left it live for posterity. A very generous contribution of his intellectual property. I know we discussed the merits of blogging and (early) social media on his blog but you're right, David is not, to my knowledge, a social-media tactical expert or strategist.

Back to opinions, context is key. Think about how, when we read Shakespeare or Aristotle, we have to consider the eras in which they lived for their ideas and scenarios to hold their intended meaning. And when Romney talks, we have to consider his background and biases. Why would it be any different when we talk?

I don't think I want to ask consultants like Allan Koltin, Gary Shamis or Gary Boomer (or you or me) to stop opining. I like diversity of thinking and want to hear others' ideas and observations. Maybe it was the tweeting that got to me... tweeted quotes can sound so damn authoritative!

I do know that I, personally, will definitely be more conscious of qualifying my statements on areas where I dabble versus specialize. But I really look to the listener to take what they hear with a grain of salt until they assess things themselves and test the ideas against their realities. The audience should ask questions and prompt the speakers to provide more context and not take everything at face (ear?) value.

I think it's (to some degree) laziness that makes us cling to what we hear, especially when it supports our biases. And, to Melinda's point, there's no excuse for leaders doing that!

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