Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Creating Your End-of-Year Social Media Review

Because the calendar dictates that it is so, this time of year we're all looking back at our year (and, this year, a decade) of what we did. Best of and Worst of lists abound and Twitter, particularly, is a love-fest of Top this and Top that in Social Media. :-)

So, while we're talking about reviewing the year in Social Media, it's probably past time that you took a look at your own Social Media Strategy. Large companies have entire departments devoted to tracking metrics, but when you are a small or mid-size company there may only be you.

Here's a few questions to prompt you to figuring out what worked and what didn't.

Put your answers down in plain and simple language. Do not use business buzzwords or jargon. Be as specific as you can.

1) State your Social Media Strategy for 2009

2) State Your Top Three Tactics for the Above Strategy

3) State the Estimated amount of time/money each tactic took, per month

4) State your Objectives for each Tactic

5) State your desired measurements for each Objective

This *should* all have been established when you created your strategy. If you lacked any of the answers for these questions, that indicates that there was a big hole in the strategy to start with.

Now, draw a vertical line next to these statements and put in what you actually *did.*

For instance, you may have estimated that your Facebook page would take an hour a week, and your Foursquare page might take 3 hours a week, but you found that your Twitter feed actually took the bulk of your time, and your FB page languished as a result.

Looking at your objectives and the measurements you used for them is critical - did you, in fact, gain 10,000 fans/followers, sell three boats, get that recommendation or are your efforts to entice users to "Fan Us" work poorly? Or, conversely, the non-committal nature of Facebook may have worked awesomely well for you and you've more than made your numbers, but you may find it hard to get those followers to *do* anything.

Look at the gaps between the expectations and the execution. Analyse them without delusion. It's not your users fault that your content isn't compelling or that you don't give them reason to join your exciting /fill in the blank/, or your action language consists of "check us out!"

Look at what worked better than you expected. Did you find your sales rising when you posted that link on Twitter? Did you presence on Friendster cause a peak on your Shop? Maybe that hashtag you used on Twitter brought in new visitors to your site.

Note which objectives of your strategy each successful tactic was connected to. If you have a specific tactic that was unexpectedly successful and it was *not* part of a specific objective, note that, as well.

After looking at all this, walk away. Talk it over with a friend, or drop me an email - I'll listen. Focus on one thing that worked and one thing that didn't. Figure out *why*.

When you've looked at what you've done without delusion, once you know the why of what worked and what didn't, answer this question:

State your Social Media Strategy for 2010

Then take it from there. ;-)

Have a Happy New Year and I'll see you in 2010!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Simple, Delusion-Free Guide to Monetizing Your Blog

You've got a blog.

You like blogging and you get a a nice number of readers every day. It seems like a natural choice to monetize your blog and get something back for your efforts.

There is a lot of press about people making a living from their blogs - and some people do, it's true. There are a small number of professional bloggers out there who can make reasonably significant money from their blog, part- or full-time wages.

In many of these cases, these people had a large following *before* they began to blog. In others, they focused on celebrity gossip and related topics. It's unfortunate, but celebrity is the easiest way onto the money train. Today's post is for the rest of us.

I'm writing this post with two assumptions - 1) That you enjoy blogging in and of itself and; 2) That you are not trying to game the system and create an income machine. If you want to know how to fake your way into fast money, this is definitely not the post for you. If you have a blog you love and want to understand what you can *reasonably* do, read on. :-)

Here are Four Methods for Monetizing your Blog:

Banner, Block and Interstitial Ads

It's probably safe to say that the biggest ad network used by bloggers is Google Adsense, but it is not the only ad network out there. Many ad networks, both big and small, allow for creation of ads that can be placed in a variety of locations on your blog.

Banner ads were very popular in the early days of blogging. Many free blogging spaces put their own top banners above your blog to pay for your use of the space. These days banners are less common on blogs, because they separate your content from the audience in what is a very crucial space in your blog - below your header and above the cut, where they have to scroll down in order to keep reading. Banners across the bottom of a blog are often ineffective, because people read what's above the cut on your page and may not read all the way down.

Today, ads in the sidebars and in between posts, known as interstitial ads, are quite common. Block ads can be placed just about anywhere on a blog and can be practically any size. Interstitial ads separate posts or separate the top of a post from the bottom - you see this quite often on news/magazine sites: "Continue reading below." Interstitial ads that separate posts add distance between one post an another, but can also appeal directly to an audience with properly targeted ads.

Strengths: These kinds of ads are very easy to set up and, with most ad networks, a certain amount of targeting to your audience and topic is available. You can manage size and location so that these ads are not *that* intrusive.

Weaknesses: Your audience may not respond all that kindly to obvious monetization of your blog. Non-intrusive ads might not receive any attention at all. Bury your ads in the bottom right hand corner of the blog and no one will click on them. Many experts recommend avoiding interstitial ads, because they say it looks cheap. The irony is that at least two of the experts I saw with that advice had an ad planted squarely in the middle of their copy. So take your expert advice with a grain of salt. :-)

Be Aware: All ad networks have rules against you clicking your own ads to drive up rates. They also have rules about you making a point in the blog to encourage your readers to click the ads. Furthermore, many smaller ad networks have rules about mixing and matching advertising networks on one blog. Be careful to read the Terms of Service and not get on the wrong side of an ad network, or you could find your earnings held hostage or revoked altogether.

Contextual Advertising

Should your blog reach a certain number of visitors per month, you may be able to add contextual ads to your copy. These are, once again, served by a number of advertising networks. These ads appear as double-underlined links in your text and usually provide a pop-up ad as the reader scrolls over them. There isn't that much targeting available to you through these networks, since the words in your copy provide the context. Sometimes, the ads are hilariously off-topic.

Strengths: These forms of advertising are small, reasonably non-intrusive at first glance and sometimes actually useful.

Weaknesses: Contextual Advertising is not as targetable as banner/block ads and the pop-ups can be both annoying and are often blocked by readers.

Be Aware: There's no legal way to point out to your readers that these are not some evil virus put there by your blog host, but are, in fact, a way for you to make money. You have to hope that your readers are sophisticated enough to get what you are doing - something you can't rely on, realistically.

Affiliate Marketing

This is probably the most tried-and-true method of blog monetization. If you have a strong, focused topic, there are probably folks out there selling related items. There are any number of affiliate marketing networks, a little time searching around will surely come up with the best one for your blog.

Affiliate marketing works best when the blog actually discusses the items being marketed. This draws the reader's attention to the item directly.

Strengths: Affiliate marketing works well for review blogs, subject-enthusiast blogs, blogs in niches where information about relevant products and services are hard to find.

Weaknesses: Bloggers that rely heavily on sponsorships and received items can appear biased. There's a fine line to walk between unbiased, honest reviews and making yourself either unpleasant or a stooge.

Be Aware: Reviews of featured products are now reportable to the FTC and to the IRS. Bloggers should be aware of the new regulations and disclaim properly when reviewing received items.

Your Products and Services

Ideally, you have a unique idea or, at least, a unique approach to an idea. Perhaps you've written a book about it, or have branded T-shirts and coffee mugs or...something. Don't be afraid to commoditize you. Book, shirts, your services - these can all be featured on your blog as a way for your readers to show that they are part of your "team."

Strengths: You are selling youself, your ideas, your creativity. These are (or should be) your areas of strength - what you do best.

Weaknesses: No one cares until you make them care. Have a book? How nice. Having a book does not mean anyone will buy it - until that book becomes the most relevant and interesting thing for them.

Be Aware: The more you put yourself out there, the more you will draw attention - both good and bad. Be ready for negative reviews of your book, bad client experiences and nasty commenters on your blog. Note that they exist, then move on.

None of these monetizing methods give you a bye from promoting your blog, expanding your network or doing the work to create good, relevant, compelling content. If you are already doing the work these methods still might not bring in $$$ while you have 100 readers. But, when you have 100,000 readers or 1,000,000 readers, you might be one of those few who can say they make a living at blogging.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Facebook FanPages Make You Lazy

Facebook is easy.

With one click people can show that they are a "Fan" of you, your business, your brand. That click allows their friends to see that they are a Fan of you, your business, your brand.

Facebook is too easy.

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value." said Thomas Paine. And he was exactly right. Something given freely becomes a trifle, something fought for becomes a treasure. People are like that. We only value what we have strived - or paid - for.

Facebook Fan pages are easy to set up. They are easy to advertise and they are easy to join. If you already have a nice-sized following elsewhere, many of those people will be glad to click that button and Fan you on Facebook. Why not? It's easy...and it doesn't mean a darn thing. As I wrote in an essay for my other blog, there are only two real measurements of commitment, and therefore value - Time or Money. Facebook removes the strain of either from your audience leaving you with...what?

Take a look at the businesses you've become a Fan of on Facebook. How many of them have actual conversations with someone from the company? Chances are that many of the posts on the wall are news from the company (with some percentage of folks who "like" those) and the few and far between comments, mostly composed of "Fans" talking to one another.

A Facebook Fanpage encourages lazy, one-way, no-committment communications on the company's side, and no involvement at all on the "Fan's" side. The organization posts an article and Fans "like" it...or not.

Worse is when your Wall becomes a complaints board. It's unlikely that you have the plans or the resources to handle every complaint your see on the Wall, so the natural tendency is to either limit it to one-way communications, so the Wall becomes that tried-and-true press release service or close it altogether, so your Fan Page is now nothing more than an ad.

The ease of setup and use is actually a significant barrier to engagement - there's hardly any opt-in for your audience; just a single button click and then hiding that page is just as easy, effectively creating a dead mailing list with valueless numbers of "Fans.".

The other problem is that corporate communications are actually quite difficult on Facebook. It was designed to be about an individual. For a company, that presents multiple problems. It's not as cute as it sounds to create a mascot and have them update the status. Most small companies have very little to share and almost no exciting topics to talk about. Mid-size to large companies really can' talk about themselves, since "themselves" is a multitude of various people doing various things. What's left? Publicly released news.

Even on a topic that people have interest in, it takes a lot to move people to communicate about their interest on the page itself. Conversations on Mailing Lists, Forums and other communities may be lively, but the Facebook Fanpage will be moribund - because it's too easy.

When crafting your Social Media Strategy, be mindful that Facebook is the bottom of the river - water has fallen elsewhere, from Twitter, from your website, your other communities, and it's likely to settle into a calm pool of "likes" and "shares" on Facebook. Plan for the occasional ripple, and plan to offer something unique for your Facebook fans to stimulate them into action. Or, get used to a quiet page full of overexcited company hype and press releases that your Fans "like."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Importance of Being Social

You know what I've been doing recently? When I am in desperate need of a genuine smile, I smile at someone else first. I ask about their day, or wish them a wonderful weekend. Like magic, I almost always get a smile back in return. :-)

This holds true on Social Media spaces too. It's not enough to "have" a Twitter account, or be a member of a mailing list. On the web no one knows you exist - until you speak up.

"Build it and they will come" only applies online if what you've built is a network and a reputation for being interesting, relevant and fun.

Today's post comes with some homework. Sometime this week, pick a Social Media space you have a presence on but have neglected for lack of time. This could be your own company mailing list, or your Plurk account, or whatever. Take 15 minutes and go find a conversation to join, or a person to connect with. Use the site features, answer a question, join a group and a conversation - be social.

Go smile at someone.

You'll have increased your network, your presence and your reputation. And, dollars to doughnuts, you'll get a smile back.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Online Communities 101 for Social Media Marketing

It's always important to understand one's roots.

In the case of Social Networking, roots go *way* further back than 2002, as was implied by (and subsequently quoted by newspapers across the country,) the article by D.M. Boyd & N.B. Ellison in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. I won't beat you over the head with the history of ARPANet, but I do think that it is important to realize that:

When you attempt to engage your audience online, you will be entering the dynamics of an Online Community

For the benefit of the many folks new to the Social Network bandwagon, I thought I'd talk today about the lifecycle of an online community. Today's post is not about sociology or marketing - it's a backgrounder on people and their relationship to the online community you build - the dynamics of the community. I like to think of it as Online Communities 101.

Regardless if your company is starting a blog, or forum, or a Facebook page or group, a Yammer or Ning group, whether you're new to Twitter, have a mailing list or are pushing your presence through Foursquare, you are working with an online community.

Here's a quick-start guide to how online communities work and the kinds of people you'll find on them:


Beginners range from people who are new to this community to people new to all online communities. These people are likely to come into a community bristling with enthusiasm and energy and ask all the same questions that have ever been asked a million times until the luke-warm reponse they get from the more senior members causes them to calm down...or go away.

Implications for your business: The former can be informed simply with short, smart guidelines for use of your community. These people understand "netiquette" and get the whole idea of an online community overall, and may only need to know that you do not accept Not Safe For Work (NSFW) pictures on your group, or outside links in your blog comments.

The latter, you may have to retrain to be able to interact with people at all. Possibly by teaching them how to type, even how to hold conversations and reply to the group. There are people who really don't understand the implication of TYPING ALL IN CAPS, what RT, FWIW and @ mean, or how to disagree with an idea without insulting a person. You need to decide at every level of the conversation how much (re)training you are willing to do and build that into your community guidelines.

Intermediate Members

These folks have been around for a few "cycles" (see below) and have seen the same questions asked and answered a few dozen times. They know who is who on the community and will sometimes weigh in with responses where they have knowledge or links, or refer a "newbie" to a more senior member for an answer to a particular problem.

Implications for your business: Intermediate members are still enthusiastic enough to want to help get the word out - if you ask them. But they might act as if they know what they are talking about even if they don't, so keep an eye on communications made on your behalf.

Senior Members

Senior members of the community have posted so often that the system has automatically awarded them a higher rank or, in communities that do not have automated ranking, they are assigned Cognitive Authority by other community members. Senior members might be asked to moderate or administrate, which often takes them out of the cycle of posting and responding, as those duties quickly suck the fun out of a community. (I'm not kidding here - I have admined and moderated dozens of groups over the years and the number one way to make it no fun is to be the person in charge!)

Implications for your business: Senior members are highly engaged in the community. They have put a lot of time and energy into it. They will promote the community because they *want* to. Even if you have never empowered them to do so, when they speak it may sound like it's coming from you. (This is one reason why so many Senior members are moved to official Moderator positions.) Pay close attention to attitudes at this level. Disenfranchised Senior members, burnout, exhaustion or just plain being nasty will reflect very significantly on you at this level. Do yourself a favor and make sure you reward and note the achievements of these members. Don't let them labor unnoticed.


Moderators are almost always members of the community that have been around for many "cycles" and have proven themselves to be knowledgeable about the topic - and, hopefully, sensible and thick-skinned, as well. They are meant to keep the boat running evenly, and handle problems that occur within the membership.

Implications for your business: Moderators ARE your mouthpiece, even if the site is littered with disclaimers that they are not. Everything a moderator says comes from you, so be very careful to look for personal agendas, incomplete knowledge or bad atittudes.


Typically Administrators, known as Admins, have the final word on people problems, but they are usually busier with technical details and have little time to handle people issues. Admins are the Executive Officers of Online Communities; rolling out features, fixing breakdowns and making sure the sails are up and the whole boat is on course.

Implications for your business: The tech guy has few people skills, and the server is down - don't make him deal with the trolls.


Owners may be Admins, but they may also just be a business person who created the site for one reason or another. In the case of a Facebook Fanpage for instance, the Owner would be the company for whom the page was created, the Admin would be the internal or agency person who created it.

Implications for your business: There are tons of "Owners" in Branded spaces who have no day-to-day interaction with their community. This means you don't know your posters, your problem-makers or why no one cares and your online community is dead. Get involved, be your own mouthpiece, get the conversations started - *own* your community.

Online Communities "cycle" roughly every three months

Think of a cycles as the "dog years" of the Internet. Every three months sees a new crop of newbies, folks who were newbies move on or move up into an Intermediate position and Intermediates who have been around for 2-4 "cycles" find themselves acting as Senior members.

Implications for your business: Make answering those same questions simple. Even though no one reads the FAQs, display them prominently, and make them easily linkable. Watch the questions so no one who has a real need slips through the cracks. Find engaged Intermediate and Senior Members to assist you with routine work and *reward* them with recognition. Expect to lose Intermediate and Senior Members every three months, and be ready to replace them. And be prepared to face the same three or four problems over and over and over.

Bonus Member - Troll

Trolls have no agenda other than to cause you grief. They may be twelve (physically or emotionally) or they may be angry (See my article about the "Anti-Guy"). Their idea of fun is to be mean, or rude, or just loud until your community has become a place of misery for everyone. Trolls are like warts - if you try to remove them gently, they come back for more - remember, driving you crazy *is* their agenda.

Implications for your business: Drown their noise out with great content, good conversation and everyone having fun or you'll find yourself locked in an endless battle to shut up a squeaky wheel that will never be sufficiently greased. Be aware of the trolls, but do not engage them.

As a blogger, for instance, you might find that a few people are consistently commenting - these are your Intermediates. If you're gone for the week, they may even reply to a simple question or two with a link. Your Senior member-readers will defend you against trolls, engage in conversation with other commenters and promote your posts and idea.

Ultimately, it's still up to you to create an atmosphere that encourages dialogue between your members and between you and them. People come to your community/forum/blog/Twitter/Facebook etc because they have some interest in what you have to say. You still need to engage, inform and transform the dialogue into a relationship for your community to blossom.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Medium and the Message

"The medium is the message," Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964.

Marketing departments understand this to mean that the media used affects the *power* of the message. This power is measured by such things as "reach," "impact," "click-through," and "virality." In other words, marketing people measure *how many* people see the message and from there, how many of them take action based upon that message. This is, obviously, why advertising during major TV events is more expensive - it is also why large companies seem to always be running after the most popular online space to "have a presence." More eyeballs = more possible action.

What McLuhan meant, however, is that the medium affects the meaning of the message - in effect, every medium changes the message and affects the society in which that medium plays a role.

Your choice of medium affects your message.

This seems simple on the surface. But think about companies that try to communicate the same message across several media platforms. How effective is that same message portrayed in the same way in several media? It's a rare campaign that can manage this.

So how does this apply to your business?

It means that for every Great Idea TM you come up with, there is likely to be only one or two really good media on which to execute that idea.

Let's start with a simple idea - a store is having a Holiday Sale. They develop a 30-second TV commercial and buy media space on a Holiday special on TV in primetime. It's straightforward, simple. Now here's the Great Idea TM - someone thinks, "well, we already have a 30-second video...why not put it on a site like Youtube, where people can see it?"

Except, the medium changes the message. On TV, you have a captive audience. If they want to watch this show - unless they actively opt out by muting the sound or changing the channel, they will see your commercial. Online, you have to entice them to want to watch that commercial. Of course, you could buy ad time on a online show of some kind, and still have the captive audience (who has fewer options to opt out) but if you put your commercial on your website, or on a video sharing site, that ad better be darn interesting or people won't bother watching. In fact, the message needs to be completely different. There needs to be some entertainment value intrinsic to the video or you run the risk of viewers parodying it to add entertainment value for themselves.

You might have great label copy on your product - whimsical, slightly offbeat. If your Twitter writer keeps that tone, without understanding that sometimes a question has to be answered, not parried cleverly, the message is going to disappear in the "look at us, we're so cool."

Every time you come up with a Great Idea TM, consider the media that that idea is truly suited for. Don't try to multipurpose what isn't meant to be multipurposed. A website contest might work really well for people already inclined to visit your website, but could fail horribly as an ad reaching a broad, not necessarily interested audience.

Choose your medium, choose your weapon; from branding to sales to contests. Target the medium to the message and the message to the audience. Or risk the message being changed the moment it leaves your mouth.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

3 Questions Your Social Media Strategy Must Answer or, Why Social Media is Failing You

One of about every five conversations I have about Social Media ends up sounding like this:

"Oh, yeah, I tried /fill in the blank Social Media platform/ but it didn't work."

"What were you trying to do with it?"

"Oh, you know - promote me/my business."

"Right," I say, "but what were you trying to *do* with it?"

Then, the blank stare.

Yes, Social Media is comprised of an amazing series of tools to communicate with people. If you have a reason to. If you don't have a reason to want to communicate with people, then it doesn't matter that you don't *get* Social Media.

If you do want to communicate with people, then there are 3 Questions every Social Media presence you have must answer for your strategy to be effective:

What is this Site/Page/Profile About?

Small businesses have an unfortunate tendency to conflate the owner with the brand. In some cases you *are* your brand, especially if what you bring to the table is your personal skill set. But in many cases, your brand may be more than just you and your individual knowledge. For instance, a building contractor's profile might include information about Bob the Builder, but it ought to also include information about Bob's buildings. It's not that I don't want to know Bob, but his interest in golf is less important to me than his interest in completing jobs on time, on budget and up to code.

When you look at your Social Media spaces, what do they say about you? Is it about you on a personal level, is it about your business, does it say anything at all?

My favorite energy drink has a Facebook FanPage that says absolutely *nothing* about the brand. Spend an hour there and all you learn about are corporate communications about things that have no relationship to the actual drinks or the people who drink them. I love the drink - I am not a fan on the FanPage. Why would I be? I have no idea what that page is about.

What Are You Promoting?

Everyone brings something unique to the table. You bring a LOT of unique things to the table. If you put all those incredibly unique things in front of a person at once, there's no way to determine if any of those unique things are actually relevant to the visitor. We're back to that old standard signal to noise ratio - more of your communications must support your brand than are about "other stuff."

There's a fine balance that has to be achieved. Using Social Media means you're also going to be saying "Fine thanks, how are you?" and "What a great meal!" Too much of that and you dilute the brand - too little and you're churning out spam.

If you run a dog breeding service, then maybe people would love to hear from your dog Miffy on your page or profile, but when you sell tires, that picture of you and Miffy is taking up valuable real estate - and Miffy's Twitter feed is not really promoting your brand.

The third and absolute most important question your Social Media strategy *must* answer is:

Why Should People Come Back?

There are a million ways to get people's attention, but very very few to keep it. Only two, in fact.

1) You must be Relevant to their needs or interests


2) You must be Compelling

When I look for new pony, my need is specific. I want a company that understands that when I say I want Welsh Cart Pony, I really don't mean a Tennessee Walker. If you write about Welsh Cart Ponies, I'll drop by. If I get to your blog and it's full of advertisements for diapers and discussions of your nephew's job hunt, you've failed to maintain relevance - and you've provided no compelling reason for me to come back a second time.

You are an expert in your business, a master of your skills. I'd *really* like to hear your insight into the things you do. That is Compelling material!

One last time, take a look at your Social Media spaces. Are you sharing Relevant and Compelling information?

Interestingly, all three of these questions were just as relevant for Web 1.0 as they are now for 2.0, or beyond. Because while technology changes...people don't.

Before you throw yourself out there into the wild world of Social Media, have clear-cut answers to all three of those questions and I promise, Social Media won't fail you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Social Media Without Delusion Live in NYC!

Join me on December 9 at 6:30pm at the SLC Conference Center, located at 352 7th Ave (at 30th St), 16th Floor. Pre-register online at Meetup, but it's not required - feel free to show up at the door and pay the $10 admission there.

Thanks to Elaine Lee and the Traditional2Digital Media Group for sponsoring the talk.

Feel free to suggest questions you'd like me to address in the comments - I'll look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Social Media - It's Who You Know

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know.

This phrase has never been more powerful than it is right at this very moment. The worth of your Social Network is based on this solid foundation of ancient wisdom.

You are the center of your universe. Your personal and professional contacts have at least one point of commonality with you - something that allows you to make that connection with them. The same is true for your business. It might be that you have nothing more than a LinkedIn group in common, but that is enough to make a connection between you and another person. Sometimes you really do find yourself in an elevator telling someone what you can do for them. :-)

Your network is the currency by which your Social Media value is determined. It's easy to ask someone you already know and trust to help you out - it takes a certain belief in yourself and your network to ask someone you don't know for help.

Take an honest look at your network - is it strong? If you needed to talk to someone about custom watches as a gift for an amazing client, would you know who to ask? What about relocating an office? How about an developer? How about a contact at a major cable television network?

I picked these things only semi-randomly, of course. My network includes at least one of each. Your network might not have all - or any - of these but just like the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" a strong network means you're only a few people away from knowing someone who can help you. As you develop your Social Media Strategy, give some thought to expanding your network. Every day, follow someone new on all the sites you're on. Introduce yourself to someone new at work, or at a meetup, or an association meeting.

Build in time to expand your network, because it's not what you know - it's who you know, that counts

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Importance of Internal Communications in Social Media

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll have read my adventures in tortuously bad customer service this past holiday weekend. I won't belabor the specifics here, but the company I dealt with is large, well-known and once had a great reputation.

As I posted my difficulties on Twitter and Facebook, I received a lot of comments that were the digital  equivalent of eye rolls. "Big companies are all out to screw us" was the general consensus.As it happens, I don't agree. I've worked for big companies (global big) and in general "screwing the public" isn't ever on an agenda. If you talk to most individuals at a large multi-national company, you'll find hard working, decent folks.

So, one has to ask one's self, where's the gap between intent and execution? If everyone is working hard and is decent, how is it that customer experiences are so incredibly awful?

The gap - fueled by delusion, of course - is that internal communications have eroded to the point of surreality.

The delusion these companies buy into is "We save money by paying less for (a service we need.)"  That delusion might mean outsourcing, it might mean internal consultants or contractors on the job. That delusion -and the decisions that come from it - take that service, that piece of the production line, that part of customer relations out of the direct line of responsibility of the company. There's one gap.

The next delusion is "Our contractors are responsible for their piece of the job." Well, without establishing accountability for their actions, then basically - no, they aren't. There's your second gap.

And finally, with customer service outsourced and delivery outsourced and no one in place who can match the two, all those cost-cutting efforts end up with customers in a whirl of miserable, incompetent and powerless customer "service."

A horrific example of this is the #Amazonfail of last summer, in which Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Feminist books were suddenly de-listed en masse by Amazon. What many chose to see as a conspiracy, I saw as a complete breakdown in internal communications (read down to the final update.)

It's easy to roll your eyes at the "obvious" mistakes being made by another company, but take a look at your own business. Even if you own a small one-person business, you're liable to outsource work. For instance, your Search Engine Optimization, or your fulfillment. After all, you can't do *everything* by yourself.

Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing - does it even know that you have a left hand? Is the "quality" you claim in your corporate communications supported by your internal and external communications?

When you say you are engaging with consumers, is that reflected by actual interaction with them - or is your "Social" media really just more of the same one-way communications? Perhaps your attempts to be cutting edge are being hamstrung by your legal department.

Good External Communications Comes From Good Internal Communications

Before you launch that Twitter feed or new blog make sure that you can devote the right resources to your message. If Communications is in charge of the blog, and Sales is in charge of the e-Commerce site, make sure they - and the store clerk at the register - know about the holiday sale. This may seem amazingly obvious, but in my above bad retail experience, not only did the store associate have no clue at all about what I was asking, but the website was broken in three unique ways. And then it got hairy, with delivery and customer service who could not and did not help in any way, because they were clueless, disengaged, and not accountable for solving the problem...among other issues.

Good internal communications is not the same thing as having your stakeholders' buy-in. Communications can be borked at any level of your organization. From people at the top who wave their hands and say "make it so," without any real comprehension of what "it" is, down to the guy on the call center phone with a script and a quota, every level of engagement with your customer has a million opportunities to be the best - or the worst - experience that consumer has ever had.

Align your internal communications, and you'll find that your external communications will take off. When management, legal, communication, marketing and sales are all talking a common language then you have a solid base from with to launch your Social Media program. Otherwise, you're just creating more opportunities for confusion.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Don't Automate - Communicate

"Where can I find a one-click automated solution to all my social sites?"

I see this question constantly and, frankly, it sends up all sorts of warning sirens and flashing red lights in my opinion. The need to automate is a sign that a company is more interested in their time than mine.

Let's take a step back and look at the gap here.

Why do people use Social Media? They use Social Media to talk with friends, clients, professional and personal connections. In other words - they have conversations.

How do people use Social Media? They share pictures and videos, comment on each other's statuses, play other words, they communicate with other people.

People do not join a Social Network to be advertised to. Yes, we're all aware that that pays the bills, and we're willing to tolerate it in return for a free experience, but - the moment you think the point of a Social Network is the advertising, you have fallen into delusion. This is why just having a "presence" in a Social Network has no real meaning and why people aren't jumping aboard your Fan page, or following you on Twitter.

The Keys to Great Social Media are Relevance and Authencity

How authentic are your communications? If you are automating one message across multiple platforms, the answer is - not at all. You're using a broadcast model, and not only are you not accomplishing what you hope to do, you're alienating the very people you hoped to engage. Essentially, you have turned your business communications into Spam.

How relevant are your communications? Do you post the same message over and over on Twitter? Do you "target" people by keyword, then reply to them out of context with a pitch for your site, product or service? Getting involved with a conversation about your area of expertise shows you can listen as well as talk. Communication is more than one-way.

Talking with people takes more time than talking at them. But it also provides your potential customer with the knowledge that you are more than just a faceless drone, spitting out press releases. And it assures them that you value their time as much as you do your own.

Be real - don't automate, communicate.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why Companies Are Afraid To Talk To You

It was my sincere pleasure to be asked to write a guest blog post this week for Web Marketing Therapy. The topic is one I think about *every* day, as I try to find companies that treat me not as a "valued resource" but as a genuinely important part of their business. It's maddening to see companies treat clients, customers and consumers like animals in a cage, teasing us with bad sales tactics and beating us with terrible customer support.

Of course, after any bad experience we can't help but think, "Why?" And so, please join me on Web Marketing Therapy for Why Companies Are Afraid to Talk To You.

I'd love to hear your feedback - and your good and bad experiences with large companies and small!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Social Media Game for the Holidays

It's the eve of the amorphously named "Holiday Season" in the U.S., which means tons of parties (many obligatory,) excessive eating and rampant consumerism.

What the holidays also mean is that you will be, through any number of circumstances, in close contact with many people - family, friends, and complete strangers. Because I find these affairs excruciating, I've developed a game to amuse myself, and the people around me. I call it, simply, "The Social Media Game."

In Social Media, the first step is to find a point of commonality with a person. If they are a priori interested in your product, that's great, but if they've never heard of your, then you can't just jump into a conversation with "Hey, buy my book!" Relevance is the way to open up a conversation with someone who cares.

In Social Media, you want to engage people. The easiest way to do this is to get them talking about themselves. Asking open-ended questions is hit or miss. "How are you doing?" often gets unhelpful replies like, "Fine."

In Social Media, your consumers want you to listen to them, they don't want to hear the same old blather about you.

And, in Social Media, customers want to feel like they've been rewarded for engaging with you.

In the Social Media Game, you'll do all these things on a small scale, just for fun.

Here's the rules:

1) When you find yourself in proximity with a person, stranger, relative, friend, open up the conversation with an observation about them. Try to avoid hair or weight comments. Pick something with a brand, or a specific characteristic that you can relate to. "Oh, you like chestnuts in your stuffing too?" or "Where'd you get that Bill Blass coat? I've been looking for one" or a random semi-literate comment about a sports team they favor. Anything you can add a "me too" to. Now you've created a point of commonality.

2) Ask them questions first relating to the common point, then branch out. See how much you can get them to talk about themselves. when you don't need the questions anymore, you've got engagement.

3) Listen well. Repeat things they've said to you, showing that you agree and care.

4) Keep the conversation on a positive track, and leave them with a smile. (Reward!)

I was playing this on line at the food store (Find) and not only did I garner an invitation to dinner (Engage,) but the woman I was talking to thanked me for making her time on line fun (Reward.)

Is this social media? You bet. Is it also being a decent person? Absolutely. Which is exactly what good social media needs. This is a silly game that allows you to practice your basic social media skills in the most basic social environment, talking with another person.

Extra points for getting dates, dinner invites, clients or any other plus. :-)

When the holidays are over, sit back down at your desk and look at your social media strategy - are you really doing these things for your business? Playing the Social Media Game with individuals will not only make you more fun to be around at parties, it will help you look at your Social Media Strategy without delusion.

To all my American readers - have a very happy and healthy holiday!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Social Media in the Land of Oz

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends make a difficult and perilous trek to see the great and all-powerful Wizard. At the end of their journey, they find that the power they sought resided within themselves and that the Wizard wasn't really all that or a bag of chips.

How often have you contacted a company and thought, "Who on earth is handling their customer support?" or worse, "Is there anyone in charge of this at all?"

The truth is, for many companies, there is no one at all behind the contact curtain. Or the great and almighty Wizard is probably an intern.

As a customer, we'd like to think that a company's Social Media is being handled by their best and most powerful Wizards. After all, every company spends money and time telling you that *you* are their most important resource. What would the Wizard be, if Dorothy and the others hadn't bothered trying to see him? The truth was that the Wizard was a rather inadequate man, with less resources than the average Munchkin.

Then there is Dorothy. Although her goal is to get the hell out of Oz, along the way she makes a number of friends and allies. She does this by talking with them, telling them her story and her goal. She's totally real and human. Logically, you'd think the denizens of Oz would be a little offended at someone who so clearly wanted to be somewhere else but, like most of us, they start pulling for the little guy and support Dorothy.

Big companies look like the Wizard to us. They have giant towers and loud voices that bellow over broadcast media, telling us how great and beneficent they are.

But it's Dorothy who uses Social Media - not the Wizard - and, as a result, she's the one who leads the way.

Think this is a ridiculous parable? Just for fun, replace Dorothy in this post with "Apple" and see what happens in your head.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three Dimensions of Social Media Engagement

A little while ago, we discussed how to Reward the folks who make up your market/fan base. Today I want to take a look at the lynchpin of every Social Media strategy - creating Engagement.

Engagement is more than enabling comments on a blog or on your Facebook page. Engagement is more than just posting a random question from time to time. Engagement is more than two-way communication.

Social Media Engagement is Three Dimensional

One dimension is a single point. You are that point. You're standing on a blank page talking about your business. Your website, your blog, your advertising campaigns are all that single point. One dimension is you, your words, your point of view, talking to the outside world. Someone may see it. Someone may care about what you have to say. But you won't know, because your communication is in one dimension.

Two dimensions are represented by a line. You add a Contact Us link or form to your site. You enable comments on your blog or Facebook page. You can now receive communication back from people who are motivated to contact you. You have, quite literally, opened a line of communication. When you receive that comment or email, you might be motivated to respond. That response goes back up the string to the customer's tin can.

Three dimensions add volume. No longer just a single line, there is now depth and breadth to your world. You communicate not just with the individual that commented, but with anyone who might potentially have the same thought. There's your breadth. And...if you do it in the right place in the right way, with the right people - they want to share what you said with other people. Bam! There's your third dimension.

Engagement is both harder and easier than most companies realize.

Contests and giveaways does not actually engage people. It's a quid pro quo transaction. People enter contests for prizes, for ego, for bragging rights. People do not become engaged in your brand because you give them stuff.

People become engaged because they *believe* in your brand. They have a hole in their heart that your brand fills. Your brand - and only your brand - makes them feel as if they are where they want to be.

The secret to engaging people is to forget about that first dimension. *You* are not the point. (As Karen Rosenzweig says, "It's Social MEdia, not Social YOUdia." Great Social Media is about the customer - it's all about what they like and want and need...not about what you have to give. Incidentally, this is also the basis of good Sales technique - which is why, when people ask what division of a company - Communications or Marketing - should handle Social Media, I often say, "Sales." Sales already has the skill set needed for Engagement, where Communications is often locked in that first dimension and Marketing in the second.

To create good engagement, start by commenting on something some else says. Don't wait for a comment on something you said - go out and find someone to talk to.

@Bob You had great service at our store in Townsville? Great- thanks for letting us know!

Ask a follow-up question, which will solicit a reply.

Was there anything you were looking for that you didn't find?

Invite a third party into the conversation.

@Townsvillestoremanager, @Bob say he had a great store experience. How did that sale go?

Then invite the first party to invite someone into the conversation.

Hi, @Sue, @Bob tells me that you're a regular customer too.

Converse with all sides. You're the expert - you guide the conversation.

@Townsvillestoremanager, how about we give @Bob and @Sue a "Team discount" for the next sale?

This conversation is a bit pat, of course but, the point is, it was never about the business - it was always about the customer. And if you've been following me here, you'll recognize that the conversation included a Reward for being your market, not just your audience. A Reward that encourages Bob and Sue to extend the network.

Engagement comes from a feeling of being part of something. Bob and Sue aren't just customers and they aren't "valued customers." They are part of the Team.

Your Team is everyone and anyone who can extend your network. Blogging isn't enough. Comments aren't enough. Comments that lead to conversations on and off your blog; comments that bring other blogs into the conversation - and your comments in those spaces - that's the third dimension you need for Engagement.

I'm going to wind up today's post with a quick shout out to some of the many folks on my Team: Dean C, Bruce McF, Katherine H. Ana M, JD - I can't thank you enough for all you do! Step up and take a bow in the comments, and let the good folks who read this blog meet you. :-)

And, if you are a regular reader....please feel free to shout out to your own Team! I'd love to learn who you think makes your network hum. :-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blatant Self-Promotion or Awesome Social Media?

Hi, my name is Erica Friedman, I help small and niche businesses learn to use Social Media tools with a method I call Find-Engage-Reward, short for Find Your Audience - Engage Your Audience - Reward Your Market.

Get 10,000 Twitter followers with three easy steps!

Which one of these is Blatant Self-Promotion and which one is Awesome Social Media?


The line between Awesome Social Media and Blatant Self-Promotion is not *nearly* as simple to define as you'd imagine. Because this is a blog post and not a long conversation between us, I'm going to oversimplify horribly for convenience and readability.

Awesome Social Media is Descriptive

Is your statement as fully descriptive as possible, or do you hold back crucial information in order to get people to click a link? Awesome Social Media shares information freely. Sure, you have your own skills that you bring to the table and there's nothing wrong with saying "That's where I come in." But if you're relying on one-liners with no real content, it's probably Blatant Self-Promotion.

Awesome Social Media is Relevant

Take a look at your primary Social Media. Are you addressing client issues, answering questions, sharing information in a space where people want to know these things? Or does it basically look like a Press Release page on a website? Awesome Social Media talks to people who care. Blatant Self-Promotion stands on a box on a street corner and shouts at passers-by.

Awesome Social Media Interacts

When someone addresses you directly, do you respond meaningfully? That sounds simple, but fewer companies get this than you'd imagine. "Contact customer support" or "take a look at our FAQs" is not actually a helpful response. Awesome Social Media solicits feedback and interaction by setting up situations in which your audience feels welcome to weigh in on an issue - and then responds in a way that shows that you really care about what they have to say.

Awesome Social Media is Human

Real. Authentic. Human. Not a prepackaged set of party lines, but something that one person might say to another. A major telecommunications company made a splash reaching out of the customer service comfort zone and really addressing client issues. That's Awesome Social Media.

Blatant Self-Promotion is not actually a bad thing - every once in a while. It's smart to let folks know about sales, discounts, promotional offers and the like. Awesome Social Media is all the time. When you develop an Awesome Social Media strategy, your audience will be perfectly fine with the ocassional Blatant Self-Promotion, because they'll know that when it's about them, not you - you'll be there for them.

Now it's your turn - what are *your* key indicators that someone is using Awesome Social Media as opposed to Blatant Self-Promotion?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tips and Tricks Do Not Equal A Social Media Strategy

You've seen them. Headlines that chirp 10 Tips for Effective Twitter Use or 5 Ways to Use Social Media Effectively, and others like them.

There is nothing wrong with these articles. I've written a few of them myself. There's something comforting and stable in a short list of basics that anyone can use. However...if you're relying on Tips and Tricks, it's a sure sign you don't really know what you're doing.

Here's a few tips on how to break out of the cycle. ;-)

First, does every tip or trick you see make you rush off and rethink what you're doing?

When you see things like "Retweet to share good advice" do you know what that means - or can you think of the last time you have retweeted something?

Are you asking questions like "How (Where) do I promote a new blog?"

Take a step back and think about what you want to accomplish with Social Media.

Most importantly, look at your skill set and schedule without delusion. Do you really have the time or the know-how to develop a Social Media plan?

There is nothing wrong with being new to Social Media. And there's nothing wrong with asking questions or reading Tips and Tricks. But, there's also no shame in contacting a Social Media professional, just as you would call an electrician if a rewiring project was more complicated than you could take on.

Tips and Tricks are great - but they aren't a strategy. The very best thing you can do for your business is to recognize when its time to move beyond a trick and develop a real plan.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Power of Appreciation

When I engage a new client, I explain my simple three-part process for Social Media, something I call - Find-Engage-Reward.

Today we're going to talk about Reward.

But first, a story. This week on Linkedin, I noticed someone asking about "Appreciation Marketing." Exactly as you might expect, this is a "new" marketing technique that makes customers feel appreciated. I choked on my coffee. New? Are they kidding us? It's the *oldest* technique in the world. You learn it first, too, when you're told to say "please" and "thank you."

It takes a marketer to take a basic social skill and turn it into a convoluted customer retention plan. Think of Customer Loyalty programs like air miles and point cards. These were meant to be a reward - a way of making you feel appreciated by the company you support. Take a moment to reflect on the difficulty of redeeming those points for that reward; how many different ways companies have of making *you* jump through hoops to get that reward.

How appreciated do you feel when you've just spent 45 minutes on the phone trying to get a flight?

I'm on a loyalty card for a major retailer than does nothing but send me coupons and discounts for things I never buy. That's a good way to make me feel rewarded don't you think? "We see you buy a lot of labels and mailing envelopes - here's a coupon for binders!" Gee, thanks.

Rewarding your customers should not be complex. Or expensive.

And, with Social Media you have exactly the right tool to do it, because the best reward in the world is someone noticing everything you've done for them.

Here's a few scenarios in which Rewards can be simple things that make all the difference in the world:

- You do a promotion to increase pre-orders of a new product. When the product comes out, send them a hand-written - not fake hand written, but real - note with their order thanking them for their support.

- Thank people for Sharing and Retweeting your links. If the same guy is always Digging your blog, shoot him off a note to say you noticed...and you really appreciate it.

- When you get an email asking about what a customer can do to support you more - have a plan. Make it easy. "Follow me on Twitter and Retweet my links, thanks!"

Your most devoted customers want to be part of your team

Make *that* the reward. Turn them into an affiliate branch, not through affiliate marketing, but with a sincere appreciation for what they've done. If you wear a baseball cap, give your heavy-hitters a baseball cap. Got a "team" t-shirt? When someone places a massive order, throw in one of those, just to say thanks. Make it easy and fun to be part of "the team."

Above all, remember to say thank you from time to time.

Reward your customers, your clients, your followers and your supporters by making them feel appreciated.

It will make all the difference in the world to your business.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's Time To Upgrade Your Social Media Infrastructure

I can't comment on countries other than my own, but it's pretty clear that America is terrible at infrastructure. Roads, bridges, rails and networks - all are pushed well past their limits on a regular basis and, sadly, often left to limp along until a crisis forces a patch.

American businesses are no different. Networks, servers, customer service, research, development all take massive hits in the name of cost savings. The functions that support a business are the first things to go in a time of crisis and the last to feel the ripples of a windfall. No one bothers to upgrade the network until the old one is gasping its last breath.

You may wonder what this has to do with Social Media - after all, you (or your client) probably thinks that Social Media is lumped under Marketing and you already have a budget for that. Social Media is not a piece of your Marketing, Marketing is a piece of Social Media.

Social Media is part of your infrastructure.

The information you gather is crucial to your business. The better your information, the better your decisions are. Do you read trade journals, blogs, news, competitor's sites? If you took these away, what would be left for you to base your decisions on?

Social Media is a critical tool in your information gathering and disseminating toolbox. You can use Social Media to keep abreast of your industry and your competitors. Most importantly - you can keep in touch with your customer base. In real time. With authenticity.

Social Media is your people network - people you know and want to know and maybe could use help from. Social Media is your information server - a repository of things you need to know to make critical business decisions, and the way those decisions get out to people who need to hear them.

Social Media is your superhighway tying you to every customer, every client you've ever had - and every one of their clients and customers.

When you start building your company's Social Media infrastructure take a few basics into account: What will you talk about; Where will you talk about it; How Long can you give it; Why should anyone care? Plan for growth because you're going to have more people, more customers and more communications coming in and out...more cars on the highways, not less.

Don't wait for a crucial bridge to collapse - the time to update your Social Media infrastructure is now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hazards of Social Media, Part 2: Online Reputation Management

As I mentioned yesterday, we have a guest poster today, Christine Pilch, partner at Grow My Company. Please welcome Christine, who will be talking about yet another risk factor of Social Media activity and what to do about it.

Hazards of Social Media, Part 2: Online reputation management - protecting yourself when someone puts you in an awkward position

You have likely worked hard your whole life to be perceived a certain way, and this has likely transferred from your offline to online life. You're probably careful about how you speak to people and the things that you say, so they are not misconstrued. You likely have your own personally acceptable code of conduct.

But what if somebody else threatens the reputation that you so carefully guard? What if someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable and could possibly threaten your reputation?

I recently encountered a situation on LinkedIn where a connection of mine wanted to be connected to an author who was connected to someone that I am connected to. So the request had to follow this track:

My friend > Me > My connection > His connection

This is a relatively common request on LinkedIn, and in the spirit of the community, I didn't think twice about forwarding it to my connection, who was a LION (LinkedIn Open Networker.) Such people connect to as many people as possible on LinkedIn for the purported reason of being a resource to the LinkedIn community.

But it quickly became clear to me that this particular LION wasn't interested in doing a good deed without payment. He asked that I write a recommendation on his LinkedIn profile commending his willingness to forward the introduction request.

Huh? This guy wanted me to commend him for doing something that probably happens 10s of thousands of times daily on LinkedIn by people who are just acting in a decent human fashion, doing a favor? After all, this only requires the click of a button, not much effort.

I was uncomfortable with this request because if I recommend someone who treats others this way, then my reputation is tarnished by association.

I tweeted about his request, and once reinforced that indeed, this was an unreasonable request, I messaged him via the LinkedIn network that I only recommend people that I have worked with extensively and know well. But he wouldn't let go without two return emails.

In the first he mentioned that he has 2,500 recommendations from people like me that he has helped. And he's very busy running his own business, yet he still makes time to help others. "Okay," I'm thinking, "Just like all the rest of the LinkedIn community." And I didn't bother to respond.

A couple days went by, and a received a follow up email from him, stating that I must have misunderstood his request. "I was not asking you to recommend me as a person you know or trust, but "my service" as pay-it-forward advocate who helps others."

I still didn't respond. He apparently has a different view of courtesy than I do, and there was nothing to be gained by pointing that out.

In another circumstance, one of my clients had one of his LinkedIn connections request that he pass along a introduction to one of my client's connections. His connection was in the professional services field and he wanted to position himself as a resource. The problem was that my client didn't think very highly of this person's skills, and he didn't want to forward the introduction, thereby associating himself as an inferred reference. I told my client that his instincts were probably right, and he should trust them.

In both of these scenarios above, requests were made that could have potentially damaged someone's reputation simply by association. The people making the requests didn't seem to have a problem doing so, and they obviously had the confidence to do so, but they had not successfully impressed those to whom they made their requests.

The message here is to not allow anyone to bully you into doing something that makes you uncomfortable online any more than you would allow it to happen face-to-face. Like it or not, your reputation is affected by those you associate with, and a false recommendation can certainly come back to bite you.


Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social media marketing enthusiast. She trains clients to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media tools to grow their businesses, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative brand strategies. 413-537-2474;;;; "Miracle Growth for Your Company."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hazards of Social Media, Part 1: The Anti-Guy

Clearly, I am a huge advocate of Social Media for research, for communication, for promotion and for fun. I have built a global organization through Social Media platforms (long before Facebook and Twitter) and have administrated, moderated and owned dozens of online communities in one form or another.

I don't want to say "I've seen it all," but I have seen a lot. And so, while I unabashedly support and promote Social Media as the way to go for any business, I think that it is important to talk about the darker side of the Social Media equation:

Using Social Media means you're in the public eye.

This can lead to complications, for both business and individuals. There any number of ways you can damage your business with Social Media - from mixing business and pleasure to being rude to anyone for any reason anywhere.

This post is going to look at one of the downsides to Social Media, something I call the "Anti-Guy." In a companion post this week, we'll be getting some feedback from Christine Pilch of Grow My Company on another key piece of Social Media risk - reputation management.

Let's start at the Beginning. You have a product or service. You build a website to promote it. Maybe you start to blog, or build a Facebook or MySpace page, or Twitter about it. Maybe you wander the smaller spaces of the Internet, the forums and discussion boards, the mailing lists. In every case, you are out there promoting your product, your service...yourself.

One day, you get a *very* angry response/comment/email from someone who is *very* angry with you. This person may be angry at an opinion you posted, or with a detail of your service or product. You reply as mollifyingly as you can, without selling yourself out. And suddenly...the deluge starts. This person is not satisfied. You *upset* them. A *lot*. Any justification on your part just makes them angrier. And any offer to resend/fix/change the service or product is met with increasing mania.

It doesn't stop there. That person not only fills your blog comments or email box with righteous indignation, but hunts you down on any public platform you post on. Worse, s/he maligns you in spaces you don't have any presence in. You have just met the Anti-Guy.

What do you do to counter the Anti-Guy?

Obviously, at first you must calmly reply. Offer a reasonable refund or replacement - or even an apology. Be real, be upfront, be honest. Then stop.

If the Anti-Guy is typical, this will not be enough. S/he is not just angry now - you've made an enemy for life. The Anti-Guy has seemingly limitless time and energy. The fire of righteousness drives them to rant endlessly on what you said or did or didn't say or didn't do. And it seems like it will never stop.

Do NOT reply to the Anti-Guy. Everything you say will be misconstrued or parsed for insult or other delusional behavior. All you will be doing at this point is to feed the fire.

If you have a good reputation, people will come to your defense. Sadly, this will not actually help, as the Anti-Guy is now lost in a maze of cognitive dissonance. S/he will actually convince themselves that you acted (did not act) out of malice towards *them* and will often, at this point, insult you personally. You can't change that. There is only one thing you can do.

Don't listen to it.

Don't follow the forum, read the opinion letter in the newspaper or let your friends tell you the story of the online rant. It won't provide you with any constructive criticism and you'll lose confidence in yourself and your business. Work to your strengths for a while and solicit positive - and loud - feedback from satisfied customers. After a while the good will drown out the bad.

That positive, calm, reasonable reply will stand as *your* response to what will become an increasingly unstable rant. People will look at it and think, "I don't get the problem - you offered a refund...what's this person complaining about?"

And then the Anti-Guy will move on. S/he will, because it's not fun to play with boring toys. And by then you will have long moved on and not even noticed whether the Anti-Guy was still around.

The ironic thing about the Anti-Guy is that his/her outrage will have provided you with a lot of publicity. And sure, some of those people came to your site ready to be angry, but if you really do your best to engage and communicate, more than a few of them will become your allies.

Keep your cool, stand your ground, then turn away and let the Anti-Guy beat his/her head on a wall of their own making. You've got way more important stuff to do than dealing with the Anti-Guy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why You Still Don't *Get* Social Media

There is, as I always say, a *lot* of confusion in Social Media, much of which breaks down into a few obvious categories:

1) Companies that don't understand Social Media at all and act like it's a new advertising channel.

2) Professionals that don't get Social Media and sell it like it's a new advertising channel.

3) Individuals that think Social Media is a meaningless buzzword and it's *all* confusing.

If you are one of the many people who feel like the whole Social Media thing is just...a confusing mess, then today's post is for you.

In fact, today's post is for a specific person. He's someone I know and like. He's the regional director of a large manufacturing firm. He's very smart and very successful and has a wonderful family. And he doesn't get Social Media - any of it - at all.

There are a number of excellent reasons for this. Here's the most important one:

He doesn't need Social Media.

He calls his friends. He emails his clients. He sees his family for dinner. He is the successful regional director for a large manufacturing firm and is not involved in marketing or sales. Or promotion. Or communications.

In fact, there is no reason at all for him to learn something new. He has an admin at work and kids at home. It's not critical for him to be on Facebook and see what junky stuff his friends waste time with, and Twitter is too much of stuff he doesn't care about.

My friend is not the only one who doesn't need to understand Social Media. If you are selling high-end art, for instance; Dealers, Gallery Owners, Agents, Museum Buyers *might* be amenable to a text, but you can bet that they're not playing Farmville with you.

You have to be where your audience is, where your peers are, where the people who care about what you have to say and who are saying what you have to care about, are.

Here's what you can get from Social Media even if you don't *get* Social Media:

1) News - Trade journals, professional associations, analysts can all be found on various Social Media platforms. Instead of writing a letter to the editor, your comment can be transmitted (and hopefully received, read and replied to) instantaneously.

2) Peers and Vendors - You attend trade shows to connect with peers and vendors. You can connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, etc, and have faster access to business critical information.

3) Competitors - Same as above. I dealt with this in my post about Social Media for Competitive Intelligence. The information is out there, and all you have to do to find it is follow.

4) Customers/clients - People want to know they can reach you for an answer. The great thing about Social Media is that you *can* walk away at any time. Turn off the computer, put down the phone. It's not (yet) embedded in directly your brain, so it doesn't have to take over your life...unless you want it to.

5) Friends and Family - Okay, maybe you *don't* want to know what your kids are up to, but maybe it is time to contact that cousin you never see. Social Media is a great, non-committal way to keep in touch without keeping in touch.

If you don't need any of these things, then you definitely don't need Social Media. Don't worry that you don't get it. It's not for you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Managing Change With(in) Social Media

Change, as I like to say, is the only constant.

Things change fast these days - just as soon as you've adapted to one thing, the circumstances change and you're thrown off...again.

If we look at our business without delusion, we will see that *technology* constantly changes...but solid business strategies don't really change. The key to managing change in your business can be found within Social Media.

Social Media is talking with people.

Social Media is not where or how you talk with people - it's any place or method by which you talk with them. Social Media is the name we choose for the tools we use.

Let's take Facebook as our example today. If you have a Facebook account, you know what I mean about change. It seems like every month they are moving things, changing the look, the functions, the features, everything. And *every* time they make a change, the first thing that happens is someone creates a group calling for a return to the old format!

This post isn't about Facebook as a Social Media tool - it's about Facebook as a teaching tool.

When I joined Facebook, the page was oriented horizontally. They switched that to vertical orientation and people flipped out. Why? The buttons were all still there - they all worked the same way as before. It's really very simple - people are not comfortable with change. Facebook had guides and tutorials for the new format, but the bottom line is - people do not want to bother learning new things...but they will always adapt.

This week, Facebook switched again, offering a "live news feed" and predictably, people flipped out, wondering what it was, and why it was there. Facebook could have made a better effort at explaining what the changes were meant to accomplish. (I would have suggested a popup box upon rollover that had a one-sentence explanation, if they had asked.) The problem isn't really with the specific changes, just that anything changed at all.

The faster things change, the harder people cling to keeping things the way they were.

Now, let's apply this to your business.

If you've been around for longer than a few years, you've seen a LOT of changes. Cel and smart phones, check cards, music players, Internet access, ATMs even. (Remember when you couldn't access your money from Friday night until Monday morning?) Most of these changes have made your business easier - but chances are you resisted those changes at first.

Look at your business honestly. What changes have you made that have expanded your business and what active changes have you made that have not grown your business? My guess is that technology is almost always on the "plus" side. It may not have been your choice at the time, but market pressure made you accept those changes.

Now - go to a website that you feel is "old-fashioned" or "stale." Take a long look at it. What about it makes you feel that way? Is there a lack of interactivity, or no sense of movement or change? Write down three things about that site that make you feel that it is stale.

Then go to a social media platform that has made you feel uncomfortable . It could be a closed community, like a forum you registered for, or Facebook, which changes too often to ever be comfortable. Write three things down that make you feel it's not a comfortable fit.

Take those two lists and apply them to your own business.

Does your site have a sense of change and growth? Do you shift things around in the store too often for people to be comfortable? It doesn't matter if your business is on or offline - people have one set of criteria for change. They hate it. Yes, they will accept it eventually, but you may lose people along the way. Look critically at your business. Do you make it *easy* for people to find what they want when you change things, or do you make changes and leave them to figure it out? Remember how you feel when you visited a site that's changed too much. Apply that to your online site - or your offline store.

Do yourself a favor - get a Facebook account. It can be a personal one, or for your business. It really doesn't matter. The exercise is in accepting and understanding change. Watch what they do when they change things - watch people's reaction to those changes.

Learn to accept and embrace change using Social Media, then apply those lessons to your business.

The tools may change over time, but the lessons and the strategies will always be the same.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Golden Ticket Inside Social Media

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the eccentric candy-maker Willie Wonka hid Golden Tickets inside a select few candy bars. These tickets allowed the recipient and a guest into a world full of wonder and a lifetime supply of candy. This prompted a whirlwind of candy bar buying, followed by shortages and a Beanie Baby-like frenzy, until all the tickets were revealed.

Regularly, companies leap into the world of Social Media, expecting that they will uncover the Golden Ticket to wild success and great riches. Or they hope that a Social Media presence will spur a craze of buying and speculating in their products, as the "cool factor" kicks in.

In 1996, companies ran to build Web Sites. In 2009, companies rush to create Twitter accounts. What's the difference?


In 1996, companies sought to show how cool they were or to promote their existence by building a Web Site. Often it was no more than a tri-fold pamphlet uploaded awkwardly onto the screen. The information was one-way, there was no reason to come back after visiting once and getting the store hours. Communities on websites trickled out as it became clear that questions would remain unanswered, and registration meant spam an email newsletter in your Inbox.

Today, companies build Social Media presences that includes multi-media, but in essence are still the same one-way communications of the past. Watch this, buy that. Leave a comment, but don't expect a response, except an automated "thanks for your comment."

Despite this, there *is* a Golden Ticket inside every Social Media long as you keep a few things in mind when you make the initial candy bar:

Consumers require a closed circle of communication.

If someone asks you a question, answer it. Then go one step above that and make sure they have *all* the information they need. You can learn their general location on nearly any kind of Social Media site you're on (or you can ask.) Use this to suggest local store locations, mention late or early hours, or offer to put their name down for a reservation. It's your responsibility to make sure the gaps are filled in. You know what's needed, the consumer may not.

It's not enough to follow someone who talks about you.

It's so easy to create an automated system that searches for your keywords, then automatically follows the person who used it. But...what does that get you? It's up to you to convert that follow into a customer. Was it an one-off use of your keyword? Then make a comment to them about how it brought them to your attention. Maybe there's no real connection - but you can create one, by being real and human. (For instance, I once found myself followed by a NHL Hockey team because I used their team name. It was completely out of context, but they could have said something and made me like them, care about them, follow them back. Instead, they followed me for a while, then unfollowed when I wasn't talking about hockey. What was accomplished by that? I have no idea.)

That was the candy bar. Now it's time for the Golden Ticket.

Build your audience to build your market.

It's absolutely true that the number of friends you have on a Social Media site means next to nothing. It is also true that the number of connections you have does not have an exact relationship to sales. However, advertising has always been about saturation. The more people who see your message and the more times it is seen, the better recall people have of you, your brand and your product/service.

The more people you talk to, the more people who see you talk, the more they think of you when they are looking for something you sell.

Consumers desire more than passive participation in your brand.

When someone is a regular at a restaurant, the perq they get is feeling like one of the family. Servers know what they drink or what they like to eat, the manager knows their favorite table.

Before you build a Social Media presence, think about how you can bring that feeling to your friends/followers/connections. How can you make them feel like part of the team? After they've clicked "Become a Fan" how are you reaching out to them so that they advocate for you? Creating that kind of engagement is the crux of your Social Media strategy. *This* is the Golden Ticket inside Social Media.

When you read reports on the wildly successful use of Social Media by independent musicians, writers, artists etc., what you see is the end result of two important, distinct behaviors.

First, the artist sought out people who cared about them and their work. They built their audience incrementally, and encouraged their audience to increase it further. Music clips, pictures of works in progress, snippets of writing, all were pushed out to the audience, with encouragement to share these with their friends.

Second, these people reached out to their followers and asked them to help. They offered acknowledgement and other intangible measures of worth, along with tangible forms of recognition, like being listed in the liner notes of the next album.

By encouraging people to share and by asking for help, they turned their audience into their "team."

Giving your audience attention is the candy bar - letting them be one of your team is the Golden Ticket, and the path to long-term success and a lifetime of candy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Short Case Study of Wasted Social Media Opportunity

When a company finally comes around to the decision that Social Media is worth the effort, there are many questions that have to be addressed in order to develop an *effective* strategy. However, instead of focusing on how to use Social Media, companies often run invest in over-complex, under-utilized systems, when all that's really needed is a simple, clear strategy. Today's post is a look at an example of a wasted Social Media opportunity.

I'm currently in Salem, MA, where I find I've run into a little problem - I can't get a decent cup of coffee. After trying coffee at a number of locations, I'm beginning to despair. I turned to Twitter, to reach out to locals that might be in my network. Within seconds I received a simple, direct answer from the Hawthorne Hotel. They said that they stand by their coffee. Cost to them? 30 seconds of time. We immediately decided to give them a try.

But, when we arrived to partake of this decent coffee, the maitre d' couldn't find us a seat in a half-empty dining room. We were told that they were booked, and if we waited more than an hour, they might be able to squeeze us in.

It was such a brilliant example of why Social Media Strategy needs to be planned. Did last night's message need to come with a warning to reserve a table? Did the Hotel tweeter need to check w/the restaurant first? Clearly there was a massive disconnect between the one and the other. And the loss was more than just two meals - if we had loved that coffee, we might have been back over and over. And I might have raved on all my Social Media spaces, driving more business to them.

I've seen this before - Social Media that offers with one hand, and reality that takes away with the other. Before you tell your viewers to "Fan us on our Facebook Page" think about what you will be offering them - what is their motivation to be your "Fan"? Will you offer enough to keep them there? And if you run a promotional campaign through that space, will they get what you're offering?

It may be true that "If you build it they will come," but on Social Media you're going to want to know what you are building and what your customers will see when they get there. Otherwise, it's a wasted opportunity.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Media for Comptetitive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence: the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing Intelligence about products, customers, competitors and any aspect of the environment needed to support executives and managers in making strategic decisions for an organization.

I have spent two decades gathering Competitive Intelligence from public sources and I have to tell you, with so many companies jumping on the Social Media bandwagon, this is the best possible time to know your competitors like you know yourself.

A skilled and experienced Competitive Intelligence (CI) professional will use sources other than those in the public domain of course, but, without hiring a CI professional, there's still a great deal of information out there for you to discover. I don't want to tell you that CI is easy, because it's not. It takes some work and you need to look at yourself and your business critically. But here's a few thoughts to getting a better snapshot of the bigger picture.

Know Your Competitors

Whatever industry you're in, you have competitors. Even if you make a truly unique widget, you are competing against makers of other, less unique widgets. Some of these widgets will be made by companies that are ubiquitous and have instantly recognizable names. Some widget companies are the flavor of the month, and you'll need to get through all the noise of the buzz of those widgets before anyone might hear about yours.

Take a delusion free look at your business. If you run a local diner, in theory you are competing against the Starbucks across the street. But when you really look at your clientèle - are they the same people who visit Starbucks for a half-caf mocha frappachino? Or are they totally different people, who come in for a cup of coffee, a fried egg, toast and to read the newspaper before work? Yes, you should keep an eye on Starbucks, but also know your *real* competition - which may be the McDonalds down the road. If you run a small business software company, you *are* competing against Microsoft - just not directly.

List your top three competitors...these are companies that sell the same thing you do the same way you do. Players in the field that have resources beyond your wildest dreams are not really your competition - they are your benchmarks.

Follow Your Competitors

Once you've made this list of competition, direct and indirect, start hitting the boards. Visit their websites, check out their news, subscribe to their RSS feeds, their Twitter feeds, their mailing lists - then READ them. They will tell you about deals with other companies, upcoming projects and investments they receive and publishers they use. A list of potential resources, ideas and contacts will be handed to you on a plate - because if a company is doing anything, they will talk about it. Some companies, especially large ones in regulated industries, will report only what they have to, but the more regulated an industry is - the more they have to.

In largely unregulated industries and/or private companies, you may need to read a lot of press releases before seeing a pattern. That pattern may or may not be valuable to you now, but chances are it will be eventually.

When you find yourself in a similar situation, it is smart to reflect on the kinds of press and the sources your benchmark companies use to sing the praises of their newest product. Use their standards to push your own forward.

None of this is online dumspter diving, although that is possible. For more detailed Competitive Intelligence on your industry and competitors, hire a CI professional to do the dirty work. These two above steps are the minimum amount of Competitive Intelligence you can do and still, if you do this regularly, you'll find that you have a much stronger grasp of your own business and your industry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Social Media, Strangers are Following You....

After a number of recent conversations with people who are wary of Social Media, it occurred to me that something important had never been said to these people.

When you use Social Media, people you don't know will begin to listen to you...and that's a *good* thing.

You want this. This is the way you build your audience. The more you talk with people, the more people will talk with you.

Here's a few Dos and Don'ts for effective Social Media relationship-building


1) Let People You Don't Know Follow You.

Don't waste time going through your Followers/Fans/Friends/Connections weeding out people you don't know. Every single new face is an opportunity. (Spammers are an exception, but unless they are actively filling your inbox or feed with ads, ignore them.)

2) Follow People You Do Not Know

Take five minutes one morning and type in your business keywords into the Twitter or Facebook or MySpace search. Look for people who talk about your keywords and groups that are interested in your keywords....even competitors in your space. Friend/follow them. You want to be able to at least *listen* to what they have to say. Consider it free competitive intelligence.

Every person you connect with/friend/follow is a new relationship waiting to be built. Perhaps a new sale down the line. Perhaps a new vendor. You won't know until you talk with them.

3) Jump Into Conversations

Don't worry that it seems kind of rude to answer a Tweet from one person to another person. It's perfectly fine to jump in and add some comment of value. In fact, it's a great way to meet more than one person at a time, if a number of folks are in that conversation.

4) Turn Off Email Notifications

One of the most vexing things about Social Media is the way that every little comment, response and event clutters up your email box. Before you jump into significant Social Media use, turn those notifications off. Use Facebook to get your Facebook notifications, and Twitter to see your feed. Keep these out of your email box and you're guaranteed to have less clutter in your Social Media life.


1) Fear the unknown.

In Social Media, the unknown is your friend. It's is the legendary "white space" of ideas, of connections, of relationships. You don't yet know who you will meet, or what ideas you will get, and you won't know, unless you fearlessly jump into conversations and try it out.

2) Keep things tidy.

Too many companies want to control what kinds of things that can be seen on their Social Media space. They don't follow people, so the only communications are theirs. This creates a sterile, unfriendly environment. Let people talk! Let them chat amongst themselves and when you need to weigh in with clarification or comment - do. Social Media is not a hospital lab, it's a playground. Get dirty. Make mud pies...and friends.

Social Media is a conversation. When you talk, people will talk with and listen to you. Talk more, listen more. Don't try to keep your feed/page noise free. Encourage noise and encourage signal. Engage your followers/fans and encourage them to engage with you.

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