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.

Project Wonderful