Sunday, August 30, 2009

Don't Have Time, Can't You Do That For Us?

Imagine walking into a store. You ask the guy behind the counter a question about one of the products. He looks at you and says, "I don't have time to tell you, but here..." he opens up a door and pulls out another guy, who looks a little shell shocked. "This is Sam," the store owner says. "He'll talk with you about our products."

Is this just about the most ridiculous thing you can imagine? A store owner who doesn't have *time* to answer a customer's question? What kind of a business is he running?

He is running nearly any business in America right now.

Think about your business. Doesn't matter if you are an accountant, or selling hot dogs on the street corner, or baseball hats in a mall - you're busy, crazy busy, just trying to keep things running.

When some person looks at you and say, "You ought to get on Twitter/Have a Facebook Page/Use LinkedIn," you naturally reply, "I don't have time for that."

And when you hire someone to help you with your Social Media, you look at the strategy they provide and say, "I don't have time for that, can't you do it for us?"

Call me Sam, but, I don't know your business one tenth as well as you do.

The confusion here comes from the typical service model we have. For instance, when you contact an accountant, if he handed you a plan and said, here's the strategy, go ahead and do it yourself, you'd be pretty disinclined to pay him. Likewise, when a painter gives you an estimate.

Social Media though, like all forms of promotion, is about the relationship between you, your business, your products/services and your consumers. It may seem like the most reasonable thing in the world to have your Social Media consultant blog for you, but do you really want a complete stranger being the person between your brand and the entirety of the known world?

Yes, you can absolutely hire Sam to ghost blog for you. Or have Sam Twitter prepackaged public relations lines for you. But what happens when someone asks Sam a question? Will he really know anything about your business? And every thing he says will have already had to go through a few layers of approval before he can "officially" say it. In reality, you could say it yourself in 1/10 the time - and answer those questions right away.

Imagine this scenario.

You walk into a store and a guy with a nametag that says Sam is behind the counter. You ask a question and he looks at you blankly, says, "Uh..I have to check with the manager..." but makes no move to do so. You ask him if there is someone you can ask, and he looks around, "Maybe over in that department?" he waves at some random corner of the store.

Is this the most ridiculous thing to imagine? Hardly. We *all* recognize a typical big box store situation when we see one. Those stores are full of Sams, people hired to do one thing, with a near complete lack of engagement in anything they do.

Think about *your* business. The business you created, the business you want to grow - who is the person who knows the most, knows your message, knows your strategies best? I sincerely hope the answer is "you." :-)

But you don't have the time, you insist.

It took me 20 minutes to write this blog post (with editing.) It takes 10 seconds to send a Tweet. It takes about 30 seconds to write a Facebook or LinkedIn status update.

You probably spend more time telling your Social Media consultant that you don't have the time than it would take to actually do three Social Media tasks. You check stock prices, sports scores, new apps for your have time to check who is talking about your business and what they need to know from you. You had time to read this have time for Social Media.

You don't have time to *not* do this, your business needs you to make the time. If you don't care enough to talk to your potential customers and clients, why should anyone care to listen?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Nobody Wants a Virus

One of the most amazing bits of snake oil salesmanship in the Social Media world is the sure-to-rock-your-bottom-line guaranteed "Viral" Video.

Let's look at the nature of viruses and virality for a moment.

When you get a virus, it's no laughing matter. It's a bad thing. You're not pleased when your computer gets a virus, either. In both cases, the virus is not going to help you - it kills critical functions, uses up resources and in general is something you very much want to get rid of as fast as possible.

Virality, in marketing, is meant as a shorthand for "compelling enough to be shared." It makes sense that everyone uses the term, but think about it for one moment and you'll see the problem. People don't want a virus...and they want to get rid of one if they do have it. In effect, they want to share the misery, so they don't suffer alone.

I know what you're saying right now - that a "viral" video is not malware - it's just something that people find entertaining or informative and want to share with friends.

That's true, but let's look more deeply at some very viral concepts and what they *really* consist of.

If you are old enough, you might remember the "Where's the Beef?" campaign Wendy's ran on TV in 1984. In the ads, an old lady, played with sufficient crotchetiness by Clara Peller, looks at a competitor's hamburger and grates, "Where's the Beef?" This was a much parodied, much lambasted and oft-repeated phrase. Hundreds of rip-offs appeared in every media possible at the time. It was as viral as a video clip could be in 1984. It now lives on YouTube, as all viral videos should. If you've never seen it, take a look.

And far more recently the truly "viral" video, The Sleeping Technician, in which a Comcast technician falls asleep at a client's house waiting for Comcast to pick up the phone.

What do these two "viral" videos have in common?

They are annoying.

Viral videos use humor, it is true, but it is very often the humor of outrage, of disgust, of shock. We do not just find "viral" videos funny, we find them outrageous.

Remember Budweiser's Wassup campaign? Remember how FAST you grew sick of it, long before the wave of parody and 'clever' pass-along jokes faded away?

Or the outraged laughter that you heard when people viewed Phillipine prisoners performing Michael Jackson's Thriller?

These were strange, funny in a irritating way and, like each winter's flu, you were sick to death of them long before the epidemic peaked.

"Viral" videos share a key trait with their organic namesakes - people get sick and tired of them as fast as they get them. They suffer from Next Big Thingese. You can tell because with at least one of the above mentions, I bet you rolled your eyes.

Now, think of your business - how do you feel at the thought of someone rolling their eyes at your expensive media campaign? Not so good? Well - that's what a "Viral" video will get you.

I'm not dissing video as a media, please don't think I am. It's incredibly powerful - especially for generations like mine and younger, who grew up playing with, learning from and being entertained by a screen of some kind.

But, if any company promises you virality, take a step back and ask them what they mean by that. Ask them to be specific. What are they going to do to encourage that video being shared, what will it gain you, how is it going to be good for you? What part of that virus will be beneficial to your system?

"Sharing" can be encouraged, promoted and even rewarded, but "virality" is not something you should seek.

Because, nobody wants a virus.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Before We Even Talk Social Media 101

Many people do not understand what Social Media is. This is complicated by the fact that many Social Media "professionals" do not understand what Social Media is.

Before you can ask intelligent questions about what Social Media can do for your business, it helps to have a framework for those questions.

Today we're going to look at some basic concepts without the delusion provided by frenetic sales tactics or Next Big Thingese.


Social Media

Social Networking

Social Media Marketing


These words are being thrown around like they are a known quantity, but they are not. To most people right now, "Social Media" means the specific popular platforms du jour.

First - take away the word "social" (in the last case "social media") and see what you have:





Media are forms of communication.

Networking is communicating with people who have interests (personal or professional) in common with you.

Marketing is communicating the value of products and services.

So, what does it mean when we put the word "social" back in front of these words?

Social Media is the media you use to communicate with people. It does not mean "online" or "Facebook." Any medium you use to communicate - to be social - is social media. Twitter is a form of social media. So is a forum or discussion group. So is a cocktail party.

Social Networking is using those media to make those personal or professional connections. A social networking site is just a site on which you can make those connections. It is not a whole new way of thinking. LinkedIn is a social networking site. So is a trade event.

Social Media Marketing is using social media to communicate the value of your products and services. If you are good at your business, you do this every time you talk to a customer. If you have a Fan page on Facebook, or a site on MySpace with updates and promotions, you are also doing this.

Facebook, Friendfeed, Orkut are all "Social Media," but "Social Media" is more than just the sites we are social on.

As I will say over and over here - the medium is not the message. It is merely a medium. If you can think of "talking to people" as a kind of medium - that's Social Media. You communicate something to them (wherever, however) and, if you do your job well, they communicate it to other people. The medium is "being social."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So, A Client Walks Into A Bar...

A client walks into a Bar, orders a beer and starts talking to the bartender.

"Man, it's so hard to figure out what's what these days. My business could really use some punch, and everyone's saying Facebook this and Twitter that.

I was at the cleaners, and his wife was talking about email marketing, about how she uses some company to send out coupons. But the guy at the pet store told me that Facebook was the way to go - Fan page, he said people love it.

My daughter keeps saying, 'Dad, you need a blog!' but I don't want to talk about what music I'm listening to or tell funny stories - who has time for that? And Twitter...I don't even understand what Twitter is! The Librarian was talking about how the Library twitters and is using that to build their user base, but I took a look at Twitter and it's crazy! People talking about what they ate, and acronyms I don't know and words with symbols - it's like some freaking code. I don't have time to learn that.

I wish I knew what to do. What do you think?"

The bartender replies...

Well, let's face it, the bartender probably replies, "Can I get you another?" because his job is selling drinks and listening to people gripe. And he's good at his job.


There are two separate things going on here.

The first thing: If you are a marketing professional, you may read this story smiling wryly, because you see the obvious problem. This guy, he's asking his dry cleaner, his librarian, his bartender for social media advice. What's missing on this list? Someone in social media, of course. You're probably thinking "People don't ask their babysitter about their car engine repair, and you shouldn't ask the tailor about advertising."

However, that that is *exactly* what people do. They ask their electrician about plumbing and their brother-in-law about that lump in their knee, even if he's not a doctor and the person who they think is smart about that new software/technology/restaurant, etc....

People ask about what they want to know *wherever they are at that moment.* I know this because nightly I hang out on an IRC channel dedicated to a particular genre of comics, and people ask about...everything. Guns, food, rules of comportment, good hotels, proper spellings of words and, of course, social media. Take a look at the questions on LinkedIn. Many of these questions can be better addressed on Tech forums, or be answered in two minutes on Google. People ask whatever wherever they hang out because they have learned to trust the people in that space.

Which brings us to the second issue, the one that is a little less obvious to those of us in the social media world, but really obvious to everyone else.

"Social Media" is the new black and everyone is saying they do it. Everyone is the cheapest, most effective, build your bottom line solution. Since most people have just heard of this social media thing, telling clients that you've done this since before there was a name for it really don't make things any clearer. And every third person is selling a get-rich quick scheme using Twitter or some other social media platform. That guy, staring at his beer in frustration, can't open a phone book and look for "social media specialist." These people do not know what SXSW is. They have never heard of Guy Kawasaki. They need your help but, don't know who, how, or even that they need to, ask.

When someone asks you what you do for a living, do you launch into the elevator speech about social media and what you do and what you've done for other people? Or do you ask them what they do, then tell them what you can do for them?

Another IRC story - One of the owners of that IRC channel that I am on, in the middle of a crazed, unfocused chat about twenty different topics said to me, "What the hell's the point of Twitter?" I replied cheerfully, "What's the point of IRC?" She said that it was a place to talk to people about stuff she cared about. The same is true for Twitter, I explained. I gave her a few basics about how to engage on Twitter and by the end, she actually conceded that it sounded not so dumb when I put it that way. No, she is not on Twitter yet but, hey..."not so dumb!" That's a victory, in my book. I'll get her on Twitter one day. Soon. :-)

To return to our bar story, the ideal situation would be that you're sitting right next to the guy in the bar and you say, "Hi, I'm /your name/. What do you do?"

You may not be able to be in that very bar at that very moment, but if you stop by that bar every once in a while and talk to the bartender, and the owner and anyone who will listen - you know, be social - one of them might remember you and mention you to the client at the bar. That's the second best situation. Even better if that person knows your work or best, hired you and thinks you're great.

Don't explain, train or educate. Talk with people - let them tell you about their business and what they need.

This way, the next time a client walks into a bar, you'll be sitting right there, ready to help.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Parable of Social Media ROI

What confuses people most about social media is that they think its a new way of doing business, a whole new paradigm. In fact, it's really the exact opposite - it's the oldest way of doing business. Talking with people, the people you want to sell to, is the very oldest way of building a good relationship with your customer base.

Social media ROI is puzzling to many businesses. They are used to measuring concrete numbers - conversion rate of site visitors to purchasers, and click-through rates. Because in social media marketing, the emphasis should be on the "social" part, the concept of ROI seems awkward. That's because good social media is not just a form of marketing - it's a whole business model.

I created this parable to illustrate the matter:

Imagine a town. There are three fishmongers in town. All of them have roughly the same fishermen's catch to choose from.

One of them seems to get slightly better fish, but he's a taciturn guy and rarely does more than grunt when you do business with him.

One talks a great game, about how his fish is the freshest (it's the same-day catch as the other two) and the cheapest (he's actually sometimes cheaper by a very little bit.) He talks a lot - always about himself or his fish.

One is a really nice guy. He knows your kids' names and what your business is. His fish is fine. Neither the absolute best, not the absolute cheapest, but he throws in a little bit of fishhead for your cat, because he knows she likes that.

Q: Which one are you going to go to first when looking for fish?

More importantly

Q: When a friend asks you for a recommendation, who are you going to recommend?

Chances are, you'll go to the third fishmonger first, before you go to the others. It doesn't mean you'll always buy from him - maybe he doesn't have the fish you want today, or he's not on the way home. But mostly, you'll try to buy from him.

You're most likely to recommend him, too, because shopping at his place is a pleasure. The guy who makes you feel good, who asks after your spouse and feeds your cat - he *cares.*

Here's the third and most important question....

Q: What's the ROI on the third fishmonger's strategy?

Let me know how you would describe it.

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