Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Uncanny Valley of Social Media

You know it the moment you see it. You get an email, or a Direct Message, and it's friendly, outgoing...and wholly automated.

"Hi /Your Name/!" It says in imperturbably cheerful tones. "Here's what I can do for you!" Build your website presence, advertise your business, get more friends/followers/contacts, whatever. When you don't know that person and you don't need that thing, you just dismiss it as spam and move on.

But it feels even weirder when you do need that thing, or know that person and are creeped out by the lack of real connection between you, that person and the message you're reading. Who is it for, you wonder? Why am *I* getting it?

You are looking at the Uncanny Valley of Social Media.

Automated Social Media seems like the most obvious and helpful tool. One message across all your platforms will reach the most number of people with the most efficient use of your time. But this is where the Valley lives. In the same way that Advertising works better when you invest money in it to saturate your audience with your message, Social Media works best when you invest time to make your interaction with people authentic and relevant.

Your audience will be able to identify automated Social Media Marketing instantly. You, your business and your message go right into their mental spam filter and not only have you missed your opportunity to connect this time, you've blown it for next time too. Depending on your industry, this could be anywhere from minimally damaging to massively so. A website designer is going to have a harder road to hoe to make a connection on the second try than someone who is selling, say, chocolates.
Your "efficient" form of communication may be perceived as even creepier than you intend it to be. Watch this:

In the above video, you know *exactly* the moment you can see that the face is human, and when it is not. The video was created to study what factors people use to understand when a face looks alive. You can understand instantly when that face is an animation and when it is human. Even knowing that you are watching a simulation, it's hard not to be creeped out by it. Equally, even when I sign up for your newsletter, the tone of your communication might indicate to me that there is no one in there. Like eyes, words are incredibly powerful. Sending generic messages, spammish offers of business development help and automating one message across multiple platforms are dead giveaways. It doesn't take a sophisticated user to identify when a communication is fake.

To avoid the Uncanny Valley in Social Media focus on messaging that is actually relevant to your audience and addresses their needs directly and individually. Take time to get to know your audience, otherwise, you're just another 'bot.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Social Media Means Helping Others

It's the time of year when reports of acts of kindness fill the news. Average people reach out to make life easier for other people who are trying to get by, making the world just a little better, one moment of decency at a time.

Social Media is no different. Your Twitter stream is likely to be full of links to non-profits, stories of good-hearted people helping others and celebrities using their popularity to support causes of importance to them.

Popularity can drive passion. The more followers/friends/contacts you have, the more impact a simple request for a donation to a charity can make.

But you don't have 10,000 followers, you say. You can't make that kind of impact. No, maybe you can't with one tweet...but you can if you focus your niche into a cause that resonates with your audience. Using the Social Media you already have access to and no more, you can rally your existing customers into a force for good.

Once again, I offer my other blog as an example. On Okazu, I review books and other media. One of the habits I have formed over the years is to donate some of what I review (and other books I read, but do not review) to my local library. One of the pain points for many of my readers is that their libraries do not carry books they are interested in. Over the years I've encouraged readers to donate their unwanted graphic novels to their libraries, to use Interlibrary Loan to expand their reading and generally assist their libraries in developing strong graphic novel collections. This has expanded into a strong support of libraries world-wide among my readers. For Banned Books Week, I offered any Library that requested it a complete library of all my publications.

I have received emails and comments from people all over the world about their donations to their libraries becoming a kernel of a new collection. And some of my readers have begun buying extra copies of what they read specifically to donate to their library, something my wife and I now call "Feeding the Library." I often add books I might not otherwise get to my orders to give to the Library - and I've encouraged a few local companies to donate books and even DVDs.

Supporting my local library may not change the world, but that's not the point here. If it makes a positive difference in one life, it makes a difference. Like Toys for Tots or giving school supplies, the goal is to make life better for a person. If I encourage the reading, the writing, the artistic endeavor of one person by my donation, I've succeeded. And so can you.

You know your niche. Whether your focus is to be the best sandwich shop in town, the fastest and friendliest tire store, the best accountant, the vet doctor that everyone loves, there's a way to turn your niche into support for a cause that will light a fire in your and your customer's hearts. Run a restaurant? Why not ask folks to contribute to a food donation drive, then lead the way with a gift of your own? Sell shoes? Maybe the local Battered Women's shelter could use some of those left-over stock from last year, or donations of  barely-worn, good shoes for the kids in the Shelter.

The niche you live and breathe every day can become a cause that brings your passion to your customers. You can make a few people's lives a little better and cement your reputation as an important member of your community.

Donate your time, your expertise, or your skills to a cause that means a lot to you and that ties in with your business. Use your Social Media to spread the word of the cause that warms your heart. Build your reputation, your audience and your community up with one act of kindness.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ROI Means What in Social Media?

One of the things that most confuses people about using Social Media is the concept of Return on Investment. Confusion about ROI in Social Media stems from several different areas of the overall process of trying to map traditional marketing tactics to a Social Media model. Today we'll look at exactly what "Investment" you're making in Social Media, so it will make more sense when you think about why (and how) one should measure them and any Return on them.

Money - In reality, there are two major things that can be invested in Social Media. Money is the first.  Whether you hire a Social Media Professional to develop a strategy or Twitter for you, have someone on your internal staff build a Foursquare presence, have a writer blog for you, or put ads on Facebook, you are investing money in Social Media. If you are reaching out to your internal staff, the cost appears to be less, because they are there doing work for you anyway and all that's left is an opportunity cost. But any way you slice it, you're still paying for that work.

Because traditional marketing was based on investment of money, with well-established formulas for marketing campaigns targeted to specific media, specific demographics, times of day, expected number of viewers/listeners, etc., it all seemed rather straightforward.  Any mathematical formula applied across variables will yield *some* kind of number. Online advertising doesn't yet have established formulas, and measurement has to change to account for changes in technology. Since technology is changing at a rapid pace, things like Pay-Per-Click become obsolete as soon as they become standardized. Ultimately what gets measured most are the easiest, least useful numbers.

Throwing money at Social Media will make it easy to measure the investment, but there is no tried-and-true formula to measure the return.

Time - In the currency of Social Media, Time is the Gold Standard. Every business wants to be able to send out a single status update to all their Social Media presences at a single click of the button and have business pour in. But Time is a counterintuitive spend. When it comes to relationships, the *more* time spent, the more you are indicating that this relationship is important to you. Consider the power of a lunchtime chat when catching up with a friend as compared to a holiday-season "update from the Smith family" letter. Which is more authentic? Which do you think shows that the other party values you? We know that we spend more time with people who are important to us than we do with people who are not. The truth is obvious to anyone who has ever received a letter from a company with the greeting "Dear Valued Customer."

Time is the one thing you *must* spend in order to create any sustainable relationship.


Time and Money are the biggest spends when executing any kind of Social Media plan. But they aren't the only things you're spending....

Reputation - When you've been in business for any length of time, you have built up a reputation. When you start to put yourself out there for people to communicate with, one of the first things you are doing is investing that reputation. If you've built an awesome reputation, people will want to be part of your network, to be part of your team. Conversely, if you've got a reputation for avoidance and obfuscation, when you venture into Social Media, you may be taking a gamble that your reputation will make you a target.

Investing in your reputation means you'll have reputation to invest when the time comes to enter the Social Media world.

Creativity - This seems obvious, but almost no one considers their investment of Creativity when they look to create a Social Media presence.  For instance, you may look at your creative team and ask for something cool, innovative, engaging, but easy to manage and measure. And you want it in a reasonable time frame. In order to get even most of what you want, you need to invest a lot of Creativity in the process. There are limitations to hardware, software - and people. Imagining something completely new sounds great, but do you and your team have what it takes to get there? Or are you going to fall short and get something that's easy for you and less functional for your customers?

Consider the amount of Creativity you and your team have to invest before you start to dream.

Stake - Big corporations talk a lot about stakeholders. Stockholders, employees, customers all have some stake in the well-being of a company. Even in your small business, there are more stakeholders than just you - your family, your customers, your vendors all have some stake in your business.

You can leverage this stake if you need to, to invest in your ability to develop, support and grow a healthy Social Media presence.

Before you question what the Return on Investment of Social Media is, know what you're Investing in Social Media in the first place.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Social Media

There are Rules in Social Media.

This comes as a surprise for a lot of intelligent, creative people. They are sure that, mavericks as they are, the Rules don't apply to them. They'll stride right in there and show the pundits and self-styled Gurus what's what. They'll Walk the Walk and show everyone how it's done.

There are Rules in Social Media?

Of course there are Rules in Social Media! For the same reason that walking into a room and screaming at the top of your lungs that your arches in your feet have collapsed, there are simply some things that are not done - whether you use Social Media personally or professionally.

Some of these Rules are written. For instance, in order to create a presence on most networking platforms, you have to register and create a profile. When you first go to logon to that system, you will get a notice saying that you need to do Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3. There will be an agreement you will make about the use of that platform - what is, and is not, acceptable. These are obvious, written rules.

There are also Unwritten Rules. These are, perhaps, more awkward to understand, as they are not specifically stated.

The most important Unwritten Rule in Social Media is - the Point of Being on a Social Media Platform is to Expand Your Network on that Platform.

You may think this is self-evident - why go to a party if all you plan on doing is standing in a corner and not talking to someone? But that's exactly the point. Many people do go to parties and do just that. Why? Because they have some other reason for attending. They may be there out of Obligation (your boss requires you to have a presence on Social Media); Peer Pressure (Your restaurant should totally be on Yelp!) You might even have a presence for Fans to follow you.

Recently, I read an incredible article. It was a head-nodder. Yes, I kept saying, yes, exactly. I saw that the writer was on Twitter and thought how nice it would be to follow them - until I saw that they follow one person. I told the folks who had RTed the article to me and they also were confused by this person's use of Twitter. One person? Why be on a platform whose first and most important Unwritten Rule is to connect with other people?

The author commented that they use Twitter "differently." Ah, I said, a maverick. This is a person who does not need to follow the Rules, because they only apply to other people - thus rendering Twitter into a one-way form of conversation. That person speaks, we listen. That's the second most important Unwritten Rule of Social Media - Be social. It's a conversation, not a monologue. The author followed our comments up with a pretty stiff-armed attempt at intimidation, which convinced us all that the person was an excellent writer...but kind of a jerk as a person.

Which brings us to this third Unwritten Rule - If you act like a jerk on Social Media, expect to be called out about it. Jerkishness is alot like the old adage about a duck. If you seem like a jerk, talk like a jerk, etc... On Social Media, because of the "social" nature, when a person notes that your response was awfully jerk-like, you can expect that other people will take note. Of course you have the right to be a jerk online - no one can stop you from making a fool of yourself in public - but freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

As a company, you might be tempted to tell a customer to frigging wait, the damn thing was shipped already!, but you won't, because it would affect your reputation. So will following 10 people when there are 10,000 following you. It shows that you are more interested in being heard than in listening. It shows that you are, in other words, a jerk.

Walking the Walk and Playing By the Rules are not mutually exclusive in Social Media. The best use the Rules, both written and unwritten, to develop excellent relationships with their customers, peers, vendors and potential audience.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Who Needs to Know About Your Blog?

In descending order of importance, here are the people who need to know that your blog exists:

People who Care About Your Topic

Blog Reporters in Your Field

Major Blog Aggregators

Social Media Aggregators

Search Engines

This seems horribly counterintuitive, because most people will tell you to keyword up so people who are looking for information on your topic will find you through search. But how do you actually rise in the search engines? By getting links to your blog from other, reputable sources.

The people who need to know about your blog most are the people who are *already* interested in your topic. They may be hanging out in forums, on mailing lists, Facebook or Google Groups, Twitter or IRC. Unless you find them and tell them about your blog, and about what it can do for them, they may never find it. Why? Because they are *already interested in your topic.* They have established hangouts and sources of information - they aren't searching for sites or information on the topic. These are the people who would comprise your core audience - if they knew about your blog.

Every industry, hobby and interest has someone, somewhere, collecting information and sharing it. Whether that person calls themselves a reporter or a linkblogger, online journalism has greatly expanded the sources a person can potentially use to learn about a topic. A few minutes with a tool like Alexa, or a Search Engine can lead you to the top sources for information and news in your field. Contact the editor - offer to write a piece on your topic, add some material to their encyclopedia, provide news for their feed or links through Twitter - do whatever you can to get noticed by them. This gets you on their radar and turns your blog into a source of information. News sites and news blogs often have a lot of followers - many only tangentially interested in your angle, but your name will get out there in front of a lot of people who would otherwise never have heard of you - and who *might* be interested if they knew your blog existed.

While you're out there looking for Links In to bolster your search ranking, don't forget blog aggregators in your topic area. Some are automatic, and will scrape your content through your RSS feeds (probably without permission) but others will require registration and/or submission of your blog. These aggregators are surprisingly excellent ways to get attention for your recent posts.

Social Media Aggregators like Reddit or Digg are incrementally useful if your topic is specialized, or you're entering a field with established opinion leaders. For instance, a Mashable post is going to get way more Diggs than anything I write here. It's not an expression of quality, but of quantity. If you have a small, but devoted following, asking them to share your links won't hurt. Don't expect them to bring in a gazillion new followers, but they might bring you incremental growth in people who actually care about your topic.

If you've done all the above - and you've got a blog built on a foundation of relevant content - the final step is a no-brainer. Search Engines will find you, because your keywords and phrases are well-placed, you have links in from reputable pages and people are looking for your blog, specifically. Set the other pieces up and the Search Engine piece will fall into place as naturally as it can. Be mindful of the relative size of your audience, the other sites and blogs with which you compete, so you're not delusional about the importance or impact of your blog on a Search Engine - and don't assume that being on Page 3 of a Search Engine is the end of your blog.

Work outwards from a small core of people who care, to build a solid blog audience that will support you in your expansion. Drop stones carefully into your pond and watch the ripples move outward to create a greater impact.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Life in the (Comments) Field

Once again, Twitter is to thank for today's post on the care, feeding and maintenance of Blog comments.

Comments are many things to a blogger - they are a measure of engagement, a way to determine the health of your blog, the reach, the coherence, the interactivity.... Comments are the way you know you're not just talking to yourself.

And so, when Social Media star ShellyKramer mentioned the other night on Twitter that she deeply disliked moderated comments on blogs, I thought that would make a stellar topic for discussion.

With thanks (and apologies for not attributing quotes directly) to Melinda Beasi, Daniella Orihuela-Gruber, Johanna Draper Carlson David Welsh and many others I'd like to summarize the Pros and Cons of Moderating Comments:

1) When You Delete, You Are Moderating...and Censoring

We all pretty much agreed with Shelly that anytime we chose to delete a post (aside from spam) we are making a decision to censor. This is not a universally bad thing, because as a blogger it is both our right and responsibility to keep the conversation in the comments relevant and friendly. (See #2.) But it can also lead to needing to have the last word.

Just as you toss out mail that is junk, there is nothing wrong with deleting spam, or shaping the conversation towards an end, but there are powerful pitfalls associated with deletions of posts. You can throw out mail that touts causes you don't believe in at home, and on your blog you *can* get rid of dissent or irrelevancy. It's important to know when you are riding that line.

2) Curating the Comments is Part of Your Job as a Blogger

Another commenter pointed out that, as a reader, there was an expectation on their part that the blog owner *would* curate comments and shape the conversation to keep it friendly, lively and non-toxic.

This will of course, depend on the purpose of your blog. Some are designed to *be* incendiary, some are meant to be educational, informative, conversational. Some blogs encourage dissenting opinions (I like to think mine are among those) and others are meant as a forum for a particular perspective. They way you curate the conversation should be in line with the mission of your blog. Maintain and support that position as consistently as possible, so commenters know what to be able to expect - for instance I now have this statement posted on my other blog:

...any comment that contains the word "objective" or "objectivity" is subject to rejection. This is a review blog - it's all personal opinions, all the time. Mine and yours.

Which was to expressly state that objections to my opinions are welcome, as long as they don't take the position of being in some way "objective," which opinions never are. ^_^

Setting ground rules helps your readers know where they stand.

3) It's Your Blog, You Don't Have to Apologize For Closing The Comments

A number of bloggers and forum moderators said flat out that if someone was misbehaving overtly, they had no compunction about closing that thread. The phrase bandied about was "Is that person being a dick?"

I and a number of other people weighed in with a slightly different perspective - people are allowed to be opinionated, but when they cease to be entertaining/informative/unique, the thread will be closed. In my case I have explicitly stated that "it is time to stop now" or "you have ceased to be entertaining." In both cases this means that the fourth incredibly long, single-spaced rant you have written on why I am wrong is pretty much exactly like the other three that have already been allowed. Nothing new is being said, so I'm going to stop approving posts.

4) Having The Last Word is Overrated

At least one person argued strongly that deleting comments or closing threads is always tantamount to needing to have the last word - and this can absolutely be true.

I frequently allow commenters to continue the topic as long as they want - even if they post serially until, as above, they start repeating themselves or are simply rehashing the same grievances in different form.

I rarely, if ever, require the last word. To be very honest, I prefer to let the craziest, most delusional posts stand for themselves, because I find that more amusing than any attempt I can make to punctuate that person's insanity on my own. (Mean, I know. But that's how I roll.)

5) Know Toxicity When You See It

Overwhelmingly, bloggers felt that when comments became toxic *for the readers* was when it was time to close the thread. No one I spoke to cared much about ad hominem attacks, but several of us felt that when the attacks addressed the readers, or the posts were close to threats against readers, they had to be stopped.

Toxicity goes back to #2. Part of the blogger's job is to make reading the blog enjoyable for the readership. If you run a very controversial blog and invite that kind of commenting, then as long as readers know what to expect, that's fine. But imagine the slap on the face effect when a person is reading a comments thread only to be told that if they disagree or agree, they are /something really insulting and rude/ or /terrible thing should happen to them/.

Serial ranting can also cause a thread to become toxic, just as a serial ranter at work can ruin the team environment.

6) Use an Engagement/Conversation Strategy

I use what I call the "3-comment" rule. I will engage with and respond to commenters up to 3 times on any given thread. Since I have written the original post, I'm willing to clarify or comment but, after 3 comments, I stop. This allows the commenters to comment on each other...and allows the comments thread to start to shift organically to other topics. I don't stop that and I often encourage it with ex-site conversation (for instance, encouraging someone to comment based on something we're discussing elsewhere.)

Other bloggers use questions at the end of a post to encourage responses. Of course some rely on strongly worded opinions (not any of the above bloggers, but it is a fact of blogging that some do) and some folks explicitly request feedback and/or suggestions.

On WordPress, bloggers can set auto-approval, so once a person's comments to a blog have been approved, that person no longer needs to be moderated. This feature is not available on Blogger. I wish it were and have already requested it.

Moderation is especially invidious on online magazine-type blogs. It's unlikely that Mashable, for instance, is getting loads of hate mail to need moderation. But if you have a topic (or a personality) that attracts strongly worded, insulting or plain old crazy responses, it makes sense to have a gentle, firm hand on the comments.

Lively commenting is a good indicator of the well-being of your blog. Encourage comments, don't make moderation a tedious process for your readers, keep both eyes on your mission as you approve those posts and you'll develop a thriving ecosystem in the comments field.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How Social Media Sent Me To Japan

I often see requests for case studies on how businesses use Social Media effectively. I offer up a recent experience I personally had as an example. I want to be as honest as I can about this - there is a trick in this story. I'll tell you the trick at the bottom of the article.

I write another blog, Okazu. It's a blog attached to my avocation, the promotion, creation and publication of Japanese comics. To be very specific, I promote, create, publish and review Japanese comics and animation with lesbian themes. I state this only so you can understand how small the niche I'm positioned in is. My blog is the oldest in the world on the topic and I bring a fairly unique perspective to the issue.

There is a series of novels from Japan that are pretty popular there and mostly all but unheard of here in the West. Recently, a live-action movie was made of the first of these novels. Of course I wanted to go see it, but didn't expect to be able to.

I was on Twitter, discussing it with a friend from Japan. He originally emailed me because of my blog. We've stayed in touch by Twitter and email.

My friend let me know that he had purchased one of the commemorative tickets to the movie for me, so I could get the extras that came with them. Of course I thanked him and immediately started to look up prices for flights. My friend was in a particularly silly mood that night - everything I posted on Twitter, he relayed again, in Japanese. I commented that I would come for the movie, but that flights were more expensive than I was comfortable with. Actually, what I said involved the phrase "highway robbery." He cheerfully translated that I felt the airfares were too high. And then he started to tease me - if only one of your fans would fly you to Japan to see the movie! I posted back that I would certainly go, if someone flew me over...

...and a fan of mine tweeted that she would sponsor me.

Which is how, not two months later, I was able to stand on line in Osaka, Japan and see that movie.

I am not joking about any of this, or making any part of it up. But I did say there was a trick.

The trick is...the story starts almost nine years ago.

Nine years ago I started Okazu. I have been posting reviews, news, opinion pieces, discussions guest columns there for nine years. For nine years, I've been building a readership, a following, a fan base and, for good or bad, a reputation.

The trick here is that Social Media is about building relationships and developing them over time. I met both my Japanese friend and my benefactor a few years ago and we have communicated through email, Facebook, Twitter, sometimes phone, ever since.

This is not an overnight success story - it's not a story about ROI. This is a story about how Social Media really works.

P.S. - The movie was excellent. (^_^)b

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Twitter is not Facebook is not Email is not FourSquare

Remember that birthday? You had friends over for a party, but your parents also invited a few family members, with the result that grandma told that story about you to your school friends and the next day you had the nickname "Monkey Boy?" I'm joking of course. Today we're talking about the awkwardness that occurs when you mix and match your networks.

Whether you are a company trying to grasp how to use Social Media, or you are an individual balancing you time with friends, colleagues and clients, it's important to remember that networks often don't (and shouldn't) mix.

Fellow blogger Sean Gaffney and I were discussing a company we both follow. This was on a day when the company had some fairly big news. They had clearly sent out press releases, because industry news sites were buzzing. But on Twitter? The last post had been almost a week ago, and it was one of those "hey, which of our products do you like best?" kind of tweets.

Which prompted Sean to comment, "Yes, Press releases are good, but really, Twitter is not meant to be composed of your 'buddies' the way Facebook is. You don't friend a company to be their pal. Or if you do, you aren't worth it."

Twitter is not Facebook. Nor is Facebook a Press Release. LinkedIn is not your Mailing List, Foursquare is personal, not public.

Here's a few ways companies mis-use the most popular Social Networking platforms:

Twitter - Twitter is not, as Sean points out, the same as a press release, nor is it a bulletin board for your press releases. Twitter is a place where people who follow you expect a mix of news, conversation, customer service and insight. The best Twitter accounts supply all this and mix in a good dollop of contests and fun things on top. Making everything you say pithy and retweetable may not be possible, but keeping yourself open for communications is. Don't become the company ticker, unless you don't care about the people who take time to follow you on Twitter.

Facebook - I've said it before, Facebook is easy. Too easy. Facebook gives you a false sense of engagement when your "Fans" have only to click a button to show how much they "like" you, your news, your newest promotional campaign or product. Even if they are your friends, are you really reaching folks on Facebook? "Likes" are the least effective way to tell. Do your fans/friends respond when you post - if not many, there's a good chance that a large number of those "fans" have hidden your posts. Do they see your page as a place to hold a conversation, or jump in with a comment? Or is it all about you, you, you? Facebook can become a mirror filled with nothing but yourself quite easily. Be careful that you're not adding to the delusion of popularity.

Email - Email is a privileged position. You have personal access to your audience. You have time and space to attract their interest. This is your best opportunity to make your point. How many emails do you delete a day? Why? Think about how many ways email marketing fails to be relevant to you. When you have a chance to send that message - make it count.

FourSquare - Publicly posting Foursquare check-ins is the equivalent of having an intimate conversation with a romantic partner in public. It's all well and good for you and your customer, but those of us who remain uninvolved in that relationship are left feeling awkward, maybe embarrassed. Nuzzling your partner in public is not necessarily the right way to show what a great lover you are and having people check in with you for freebies and discounts doesn't really express how great you are to do business with.

LinkedIn - LinkedIn was designed as a professional networking space. Unless your business is truly Business to Business, the chances of you finding your audience, much less your market, on LinkedIn is small. These are your peers, perhaps your vendors or contractors - not your audience. Treat the people there as you might coworkers, or prospective clients. But don't assume that every Answer is an open invitation for a pitch.

Each platform you choose is different - each network you build is different. It's not impossible to mix and match, but being aware when you're doing so. Treating your Facebook Fans like they are your email list, or your Twitter followers like they are your "Fans," is likely to cause conflict and defection.

Enjoy time with your relatives and enjoy time with your friends, but think carefully before you invite them to the same party.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Memo FR: The "Yr Doing It Wrng" Dept

You remember how to write a business letter, don't you? Your name and address in one corner, the date, then further down, the title, name and address of the person you were addressing.

Your business letter began with an intro - "Hello, my name is...I am writing to in regards to...." It ended with "Sincerely," your name, contact info.

Nowadays, that's all old news, right? No one does that anymore. Email and Twitter means we can jump right in and tell people what we want. Everyone knows that!

Except...that is simply not true. In fact, in this day and age it's even more important than ever before to provide people with context for your communication.

I received an email this week. The person introduced themselves, told me that they were working for an organization I am aligned with and that, because they could see that I was active in Social Media, I should retweet their communications.

I stopped when I got to this line, I admit. Okay, intro, check. In regards to, check. You're getting paid to do a thing, so I should retweet you? I re-read the line a few times, trying to see where the connection was.

Then I backed up. This was an email.

An email from someone hired to do Social Media.

An email from someone who saw that I was active on Social Media.

Telling me to RT their tweets.

I stared at this concatenation and my first thought was to Tweet this response: "Re: Yr email. Yr doing it wrng."

Obviously, I did not. I have not yet replied to the email, either. I probably will not reply, because this person is a professional. You can tell, because they are getting paid for this. I know that because they told me so. This person emailed to tell me that they are being paid by this organization to do their Social Media.

A business letter is more than just a communication - it's a proposal. This person failed in the part three of good business letter writing. There was nothing at all in this for me. Sure, retweeting is a matter of hitting a button, but...why? This is their job, they are getting paid to be the Social Media expert. They were not talking with me on Twitter, building a relationship with me. They aren't even communicating *at* me on Twitter. And like so many people who presume to know what's good for me, they forgot to ask for a favor. They just told me - you like Organization A, so you should Retweet me.

On behalf of all people who have been subject to this kind of ham-handed misuse of Social Media, I would like to offer advice to companies who hire "professionals" who can't be bothered to talk with people and build relationships, who obsess about quantity rather than quality, who build metrics, rather than relationships:

You Are Doing It Wrong.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sustainable Strategies 101

Among the most overused words in the business world today is "sustainable." Companies claim that their technologies, communications, even their energy sources are sustainable. It's pretty apparent to most of us that this is merely buzzword bingo and has no actual relationship to sustaining anything except profits.

But when we're starting fresh, sustainability is something we can actually bake into a strategy to allow for changes over time. Here are a few broad topics to consider in order to create a truly sustainable strategy.

Everything Changes

You will create your strategy with an eye to the current state of your industry and, perhaps, a recognition of recent past circumstances. You will understand what your competitors are doing and what you are doing that works and doesn't and all of that will be rooted in your *now.*

There is a famous saying to the effect that no military strategy survives the moment it's taken onto the actual battlefield, and the same is totally true of business strategies. Consumers will not react the way you want them to, a natural disaster in a different part of the world will set off a series of events that effect your business, etc, etc.

Take into account the possible changes, both positive and negative, to allow you freedom to move in an ever-changing world.

Your Mileage May Vary

We all weigh all circumstances in the scales of our own experience. It's useful to walk in someone else's shoes in order to understand different impact of that same set of circumstances. It's easy to take a position that your view is correct, but in order to create a sustainable strategy, you should remember that it is correct for you and may in fact not fit all situations.

Only You Can Change Your Mind

A business strategy is remarkably similar to an opinion. You THINK things are this way and, based on your professional opinion, they are likely to turn out that way if these certain things are done or not done. It's true that some arguments have better data to back them up than others, but invalidating other people's sources is tantamount to taking a fixed, inflexible position. The data you're using is as biased as the data they are using. There is really no such thing as truly unbiased data. Step away from your attachment to a particular source and search more widely. Look for dissenting opinions to understand the perspectives of people who disagree that your strategy will work or not to find the weaknesses in your viewpoint. Shoring up the weak points will provide you with a more sustainable position.

So...what's the trick to creating a sustainable strategy? Flexibility.

A strong, sustainable strategy contains the best understanding from every perspective of a situation and options and alternatives for varying circumstances. Allow for dissenting positions, learn from them and see what that new information can bring to your table. A strategy based on an inflexible set of criteria is doomed, as your industry and the industries around it will constantly flux and shift. Knowing what your nay-sayers say and understanding why they are saying it, will be far more useful than simply dismissing them out of hand. Plan for failure when you are succeeding and success when you are failing.

The more flexibility you build into your strategy, the more likely you are to be able to weather the ups and downs of business and the more sustainable your strategy will be.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Social Media, Not Intrusive Media

Q: When does a "foot in the door" become a "foot in your mouth?"

A: When you fail to take into account the relationship between you and the other person.

There is a kind of person who can't stop themselves from pitching their business to everyone they meet. You've met them, the person on the train who strikes up conversation and ends up handing you their business card for custom candies with your logo on them.

On LinkedIn you encounter them in the Groups and in the Answers. Not the folks who answer a question with their elevator pitch no...the really smart ones ask a question and when you answer them, they thank you with their pitch in your Inbox. "what can I do for you?" they ask in their email and you think
"What? Nothing. You were asking me for help."

You see them on Twitter all the time. "Hey," shows up in your Mentions, "We have some product that was tangentially related to a conversation you had that we didn't actually read, so how can we help you?" (In a recent case I know they hadn't read the conversation because it was about how much I *disliked* the thing they were trying to sell me.)

And on Facebook, you "Like" a business or person and the next thing you know, you're pounded with invites to Pages, Causes, Specials and Events. Um, I "like" your sandwiches, I don't feel the need to donate to your charities, attend your events and vote Sandwichian. Thanks though.

You know that one uncle? The one who - no matter what the conversation - always brings it back to whatever obnoxious topic he rants on about? (It's always an uncle and we all have them....) How everyone in the family has a ten-minute tolerance and you all would just let it drop, but one person *always* has to get into a fight with him? You're sitting there trying to eat Thanksgiving dinner and you sigh and wish they wouldn't be so intrusive about it. When you bomb everyone you meet with the pitch, that's what you've become. Intrusive.

Are you using Social Media...or Intrusive Media? Do you treat every follow as a pitch opportunity, every person who answers a question as a new contact to add to your mailing list?

No one wants a constant stream of untargeted marketing ringing their doorbell, filling their mailboxes, or clogging up their inbox. A handshake isn't a marriage proposal.

Don't Be Intrusive. Keep it Social.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Best Practices for Promoting Your Blog

How do I get my Blog Noticed?

What's the best way to spread the word and get visitors to my blog?

Based on the number of times I see these questions, and their various iterations, these are the top concerns for people thinking about blogging. Related questions like "which WordPress theme should I use?" and "which hosting platform should I blog on?" still come down to the real meat of the matter - how do you get noticed?

Once you've decided to blog, regardless of what Wordpress theme you use, SEO strategy you choose, directories you list your blog in, here are three best practices which are the key to being noticed by people who count.

Cultivate contacts in your industry

Know the other bloggers who write about topics relevant to your audience. Comment on their blogs, follow them on Twitter, meet up with them at networking events. Take the time to build relationships with your industry news sources and blogs similar or tangential to yours. Relationships with others in your field will get your blog added to Blogrolls and link pages on profiles and sites that people with similar interests and concerns will visit. Feel free to link to them in your posts, engage in conversation with them, move that conversation across both your blogs (and on to other platforms on which you interact) and you'll find that you can expand each other's audience in a totally organic way.

Provide an open environment for discussion

It's very easy to state an opinion. Strong opinions will sometimes provoke strong reactions. But to get a true conversation going, you need to provide an environment that encourages and inspires diverse ideas. Asking a question of your readers, or inviting them to chime in with their ideas is a way to open the floor and get some noise going. The more people who feel free to comment, the more they will feel free to share your post and links to the comments among their contacts.

Reward your most engaged readers

Promotional campaigns aren't just for companies. Finding a way to "promote" your readers when they promote your blog can make a huge impact, in a simple way. On my other blog, I award Hero badges to people who sponsor a review, and Correspondent badges to people who provide tips for our weekly news report. Make your most engaged readers feel special and they'll want to support you even more.

These three tips all involve incremental additional work. Rather than spending time on LinkedIn asking how you can get your blog noticed, you can get out there and comment on a related blog, share some knowledge on Twitter, talk to someone at an event. In the same time it took to ask "how do I?" you'll see continued growth in your readership, more engagement in the comments and more passion from your advocates.

Now it's your turn: What do you consider a "Best Practice" in promoting your blog and expanding your audience? I'll collect up the answers for a follow-up post!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Time to Revise Your Social Media Strategy

If you are not new to the Internet, if you have a website or a presence on any Social Media Platform then it is long past time to revise your Social Media Strategy.

How do I know this? Because I've read the job descriptions for Social Media positions out there. Everyone is looking for someone with years of proven experience (translation: You made a lot of money for your client) through Social Media campaigns (translation: Online advertising that had a little traction through Word of Mouth.)

It is very hard for large companies to understand Social Media. They hand it off to their Marketing people who are used to buying space and time for a projected (translation: made up) return on investment. The formulas are all mathematic, but the results are as fictitious as any narrative might be.

But you don't run a large company. You are not a CEO crowing about your company "leveraging new technologies." You are a small- or medium-sized business owner and you don't want to "leverage" just want to grow your business in a sustainable manner.

Whether you are a Social Media novice, or are current on all the most popular platforms, it might be time to rethink your Social Media strategy. At any level of use, it may be time to revisit what you're doing to step up or step back, and use your time wisely.

Current Strategy: You are not on Social Media at all

Do you have customers and vendors asking if you have a Twitter feed or if you are on Facebook? If you are answering "No" more than two times a day, it is definitely time to consider being where your customers want you to be.

It's true you don't have a lot of free time, but Social Media doesn't have to take much time. A logo and your name will give you a presence. Take 5 minutes in the morning and evening to mention a special, comment on someone's thought, answer a question, thank people for being supportive. Then...log off. It's not as much of a time drain as you think, as long as you budget your time.

Current Strategy: You have a profile, but don't really know why or what to do with it

Before you do another thing, back up and decide *why* you want to be on a Social Media site. Of course you want to "grow your business" but what, specifically does that mean to you? Do you want more people in the door? You can use Social Media to promote "bring a friend" campaign. Do you want more book sales on Amazon? Then a Social Media promotion is a good way to encourage others to get the word out for you.

Before you post that status update know why you are posting it, who you're talking to and what the outcome needs to be. Craft that update to support all of those qualities to move your Social Media Strategy forward.

Current Strategy: You're everywhere. You've got three specials, a new ad campaign and coupons going out weekly

Your sandwich shop can be followed on Facebook and Twitter and reviewed on Yelp and Patch. Is it...useful to you? Is your star rating on Yelp maintaining that high quality, or are the reviews slipping slowly down? How about those coupons and specials? Are they going out into the black hole of the Internet and never coming back? Now may be the time to read those reviews and revise what's going on internally, or maybe those constant coupons are getting you unliked as fast as you're being liked. Taking a few minutes to re-prioritize where you are and why could make a big difference in your bottom line.

Current Strategy: It's about saturation

You are on *everything*. You've got twelve icons on your store door, telling people they can, follow, friend, connect, check-in and review just about anywhere they are online.

Now it's time to take a deep breath and review and revise. How many of those sites are getting any traction? If only one person ever reviewed you on Yelp, is it worth promoting that? Take the cream of that crop - the profiles that have traffic and conversation and conversion and throw more resources into them, letting the others fall to the bottom of the pile. No need to spend all day keeping all the plates spinning when five of them are hidden from view.

Maximize your time and effort, by keeping your Social Media Strategy fresh and relevant to your customers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Being a TwitterFace

You've been asked by your company or a client to do their Tweeting or Facebooking for them and, for better or for worse, you've said yes.

Here are some really good - and really bad - things to know about being someone else's Social Media mouthpiece.


Direct Interaction - You get to be the one who makes a difference. You get to set the tone, talk with people the way you want others to talk to you. Set the bar high, be the example other people use - this is your chance to shine and make a Social Media presence you'd want to engage with.

Influence - Everyone knows the adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." When your squeak has the weight of customers' opinion behind it, grease is sure to follow. Do the customers love the color green, want larger sizes, need more information? As the Twitterface of the company, you get to hear it first. Conversely, when the company shares good news, it's you who shares it. The customers will come to see you as their go-to, you as their voice and their inside man. The company will see you as being in touch with their market.

Promotion/Messaging - You know how it is. A company comes up with an idea that everyone kind of wonders..."yeah, but who is it for?" or "why?" You can be the person who shapes the messaging on both sides - let the company know what their customer base wants and let the customer know that the company is listening. If there's a promotional campaign, you get to make sure that it's relevant to the consumers and totally authentic from beginning to end. Every message and every campaign is a chance to show the consumers that the company "gets it."


Decision Making - The biggest downside to being someone else's mouthpiece is that you don't get to chose what you say. Or when. If you're an outside consultant, you may even have to scratch at doors to find something *to* say.

When the decision-making is out of your hands, you have to hope that you've got critical support at the company, or you may inadvertently say the wrong thing at the wrong time or have nothing to say at the right time.

Reporting Facts - There is nothing more truly awful than being the person to deliver bad news. The higher-ups want you to tell them that you got 10,000 followers in a week for their high-end watch business Facebook page and they don't want to hear that the people who buy custom watches in the 6-figure range aren't *on* Facebook. Likewise the fans of that popular kids series of novels don't want to hear that the author is ending it with her next novel. The truth hurts, and unfortunately, you may be doing the hurting.

Customer Service - Putting a company out there means that that company becomes visible, perhaps vulnerable. Reasonable or not, there will be complaints. And those people will expect - perhaps demand - attention. There *has* to be a policy in place or you will be fielding angry fastballs with no help. Make sure you have a contact or a customer service number to direct people to - and hope that they can handle the pressure, or you'll be getting the rebounds.

Being the Twitterface of a company means that you can build great relationships from the ground long as the company has got its own priorities straight.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Social Media - the Eternal Cold Call

Cold calling is the most feared activity in business. Before Social Media, everyone struggled to find the golden ticket that would transform the sword-bridge of cold-calling into a stairway to heaven.

And here we are in 2010. Every day, I see the same questions over and over - how does Social Media convert leads to sales, what's the ROI on Social other words, how do we transform this new sword-bridge into a carpeted stairway?

Every moment in the world of Social Media is a cold call. Someone comes to your blog - can they tell *instantly* who you are and what you do? Can they identify the point of your post? On Twitter, do you have consistent messaging? Or are you all about professionalism in one update, and talking about beer and pickles for lunch that day in the next?

The basics of Cold Calling are the basics of Social Media. Your profile must answer questions any visitor might ask:

Who are you?

Why should I visit your profile?

What makes you better or more interesting than everyone else?

Why should I care what you have to say?

Go hop on over to Facebook and check out one of the pages you've "Liked." If you were pitching this page, could you answer these questions for that company? You know why you "liked" them - but was it something they've communicated through their page, or did you have prior knowledge or experience with them that motivated you?

Now take a look at your own company's profile. Ask the same questions of yourself. Are people coming here because they have heard of you from somewhere else, or because they are seeking you out here? Do you give them compelling content or are your drawing them in through offers of discounts and contests?

Every time someone takes a look at your profile on LinkedIn, are they getting a good cold call pitch; the who you are, what you can do for them and why they should care?

Cold calls are really a misnomer. Few calls are genuinely cold. You have an industry in common, or an interest, or a need, or a mutual contact. Emphasize the mutual, the fact that there is a reason that the two of you need to be in contact.

Tweak your Social Media to do your cold calling for you and you'll have one less step towards carpeting that stairway.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Managers are from Mars, Leaders are from...

It's time for a true story!

I was speaking with a colleague about a stressful situation at her workplace. When the chips were down and the entire team was about to implode, the manager stepped in and said, "Don't worry...if Department A didn't get us everything we need, then do what you can and I'll let them know what they'll be getting and when and why."

This served to calm the jangled nerves of the team and the project got done. (Well, as done as it could be without info from Department A.)

As my colleague talked, I suddenly realized why this didn't satisfy me at *all.*

I do mentoring for young artists periodically. The project we work on gives them a published credit, and I get to acquaint them with "real world" issues like deadlines, understanding and accepting editorial guidance/critical feedback.

One of the things I do when I welcome new people into the project is send them a timeline of requirements AND an explanation of 1) Why those deadlines will come up much faster than anticipated and; 2) Which excuses for missing those deadlines will be accepted and which ones will not.

In the case of the project above, the supervisor did a fine job managing. She saw her team about to crack, stepped in, rewrote criteria and timelines and smoothed over rough edges. But, I thought, how much better might it have been if she had set those criteria *ahead of time?*

A Leader looks at the bigger picture first, anticipates the most obvious flaws (not getting input from another department on time has *got* to be an obvious issue to anyone who has ever worked on anything in any company) and sets expectations. Taking into account that the critical information one needs might never arrive is the sign of a good Leader. Having contingency plans is the sign of a good Leader.

A Manager manages a crisis, a Leader anticipates one.

In terms of your Social Media presence, be your own Leader. Understand that "being out there" means sticking your neck out, too. Someone, somewhere may have a grudge, an issue, a complaint. Anticipate this. Don't be taken by surprise when all of a sudden there seems to be a rise in "you suck" messages. Take a deep breath and implement the plan you came up with for cases just like these. Is there a genuine issue that needs to be addressed? Address it; quickly, politely. Is this a disagreement of philosophical sorts? Apologize for any impoliteness/insult, state your position clearly and then DO NOT ENGAGE further. Let the rage wear itself out.

You can Manage your Social Media Presence, or your can Lead people to see *your* vision of the future. It's entirely up to you which you'd rather be.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Most Important Questions You'll Ever Ask

Hit the Big Time

Make a Difference

Win the Lottery

Target Your Promotion

Action language is compelling. If you read promotional ads for marketing companies, the most natural thing to assume is that success is as easy as flipping a switch. All you need to do is this *one* thing and all of a sudden new leads/customers/revenue will be flowing through your doors.

It's pretty obvious to anyone in business that this is not true. Building a better website, or a blog, or a Facebook page or being on Foursquare can build your business incrementally. For most of us, "incremental growth" is the reality of being in business.

How many times have you read a magazine article on an "easy" way to feel better/lose weight/learn a skill/change your life? And how many of those ideas were sustainable over years?

Today I read a post by Amy Oscar on the unintended stress that "empowerment" places on people. As I read, I realized that the problem is that promotion, marketing, self-help people all set their "solutions" up in this "flip the switch" format.

"Update your website!" they say, like this is one thing, and not a series of 30 things that are interconnected and often out of your control, so the delays and communication issues pile up more stress upon you. Or "Build a following by blogging!" as if this is not a fairly large drain of time and energy that has to be sustained over a long time frame in order to be effective.

In every case, it *seems* like a good idea - it *seems* like it ought to be easy. And in every case, there' questions that aren't asked.

The most important question you'll ever ask is, What's the First Step? And the second most important question is, Why is that Important to me?

Be Empowered? Sure - what's the *first* thing you have to do to make that happen? Is there a first step that's actually doable? "Be Empowered" is not something you can do. It's something you are. Why do you want to be empowered and what, *exactly,* can you do to make that happen? It's not a hypothetical question - it's a cry for guidance and concrete ideas in an area that is saturated with the abstract.

Build a New Website? What is the *first* thing we need to do before that happens? Probably the first thing is to decide if we really want a new website. Why do you want a new website? And if you do, what is the very first thing you can do to make it happen?

Get a Million Followers on Twitter! Why? What reason (other than ego stroking) would you want that? Would you rather have 20 followers that mean something to you or 20,000 that don't?

What's the first step to getting more, being better, changing? Asking the right questions. First, we need to know what, if any, that first step is and then we need to evaluate if that first step is something that has any real meaning or value to us.

Ask the important questions, to get the right answers for you and your business. That's the most important switch you'll ever flip.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pound the Boards, Shake the Bell, Lend a Hand

When you're running a small or mid-sized business, it sometimes seems as if all you do all day, every day is give the "elevator speech."

You're already pressed for time with your current clients and customers, but you still have to make time to get the word out there. And the things *you* want to do, the things that you care about most, get set aside more often than you'd like.

Social Media is your ticket to combining the things you care about AND promotion of your business. Every time you get out there, every question you field, every cause you embrace, every time YOU are visible, is an opportunity to promote what you do.

Be Part of an Online Project

One of the things about the Internet is that there is absolutely something for everyone. You may want to support a health cause, perhaps you have an interest in politics, or social service. Maybe you'd like to get involved more in sports or entertainment. Everything and anything you can think of will have a Facebook group or a Foursquare page...or they will *need* one and you can be that person.

It doesn't matter what the project is - a short video message, an uploaded art design, a sponsorship, a few hours a week as the Twitter person for that group - anything you do as part of a larger project can get your name in front of thousands of people who might not otherwise have heard of you and your business.

Being part of something larger than yourself gives you more than just a promotional opportunity, but the promotional opportunity is definitely there.

Be THE Resource in Your Field

You're the master of your own domain. You answer questions and post items of interest in your own spaces. And as you do, your sphere of influence grows slowly and steadily.

There are many places outside your own lists and pages and profiles in which you have something significant to offer. Whether it's general questions on Yahoo! Answers, or groups related to your field or even a site like LinkedIn, you have a chance to let your knowledge and experience shine.

Reach out with a helping hand and you'll be shaking the bell and getting attention at the same time.

The further afield you go, the more exposure you'll get so don't be afraid to start making some noise out there!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Not Saying Anything is the Best Response

In a world of unlimited contact and communication, normal boundaries often get set aside. You probably would not pursue people out of the room and around the corner to make a point in a face-to-face conversation, but we often allow ourselves to do so on various networking platforms. The same conversation/discussion/argument can ignite fires in multiple spaces as we feel compelled to add "just on more thing."

Despite common knowledge that wisdom often keeps its mouth shut when others are screaming, it seems even more common for most people to weigh in with their two cents when words and emotions run high.

Because almost everything you say on Social Media is sharable, public, searchable and you can and will be held accountable, it's smart to recognize those situations in which the best possible answer is none at all.

You Don't Understand The Context

You know that sensation when you and friends are joking around and someone hears you and either misinterprets or misses the in-joke entirely? It's awkward and embarrassing...and you have to wonder, "If they didn't get it why did they say anything?"

In a professional setting, you might not understand the programming language, the tool, the jargon or one of the pieces of information being discussed. There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. "Hey, I've never heard of that tool, is it a good one?" is a perfectly acceptable question and shows that you're interested in learning more and being well-informed. But pretending you do know a thing and trying to fake it will only make you look...well, kinda lame.

It's pretty hard to set our egos aside, but when we're in the public eye, honesty about our limitations and lack of delusion about how cool we are goes a long way to avoiding awkward situations.

You don't know the facts

You come onto your Facebook page and find an angry message from a client or customer. Their tone of "voice" is insulting and their complaints seem completely unfounded. It's totally human to tell them they have no idea what they are talking about, reality, *you* don't know what you're talking about.

Take a deep breath before you post a response. Walk away. Talk it out with someone. The most important thing is to not do more damage when a relationship is already cracked. Not posting right away is the most important thing you can do right now.

When you've stopped seeing red, remember that you don't have enough information to make a good decision or response. If you must say something, apologize, tell the customer you'll find out what happened, then will contact them. Don't forget to follow through with this promise. Part of the problem with "I'll look into it," is that the words have lost any impact from years of companies saying that, then simply dropping the matter and hoping you'll go away. Put some action behind those words and you may well be able to repair a potentially negative situation. And you can take comfort in the fact that you didn't make it worse with a hasty response.

The post is reallllly rude

This one is one of the very hardest times to remain silent. You get a comment or email that calls into question your family, your intelligence or your scruples. When we get angry, we stop breathing for a moment. The blood pulses hard in our bodies and uses up even more oxygen. Which leaves us reacting on adrenaline.

This is not the time to shoot off a response. The best thing to do is to simply walk away. If you cannot stop yourself from typing out a response - type it in Notepad or Word or somewhere offline. Read it out loud. Breathe. Think about how you might react if you received this response. Wipe out that first response, because it's just as petty and mean as the email your received. Retype your response. Delete that too. Keep breathing. Retype your reply until it's as mild as a kitten. Then delete it and move on.

The absolute best response to a truly outrageous, insulting, petty comment is to let it, and it's writer, speak for themselves.

The poster is a serial troll

You can't be expected to know every troll on the Internet, but it's wise to be familiar with the spaces in which you and your business are spoken about - at the very minimum. You don't have to be a commenter on every forum in your field, but if there's someone crossing spaces, making a name as a "gadfly" (the rest of us consider them obnoxious trolls, but they see themselves as provocative,) it will do you a world of good to know that the hateful comment you just received was by someone who has nothing else to do but post hateful comments on related spaces and see what firestorms they can ignite. The best defense is simply to wait it out (and encourage friends and supporters to avoid responding.) When they get no reaction, they'll move on to the next victim.

In these days of instant contact and communication, the wise business knows when to speak - and when to stay silent.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Common Sense=Social Media Expertise

In my years of working in Social Media, I have watched Marketing people lemming after every single trend, Next Big Thing and meme that pops up on their radar. In Marketing, it seems, people are always drowning and everything that floats by looks like a life raft.

I'm not trying to be mean here, but from my perspective as a consumer, your company is just not as important to me as it is to you. I am not convinced that I need my sheets to be "spring breeze fresh" every day. I'm not convinced that your customer service is the best, when I ask you a question and you never bother to respond. Nor is your exciting new /fillintheblank/ probably half as exciting or new as you think.

Good marketing is about understanding the needs of your market. Your market is people who will actually *buy* your product or service. This is not the same thing as your audience. Your audience is everyone you speak to on the street or at networking events, your friends and your family, anyone who nods vigorously as you describe what your plans are. These people think it's a GREAT idea, but probably aren't rushing off to buy that better mousetrap.

Scott Adams recently wrote about the Artist's Secret - a foolproof way to be successful in cartooning. He summarized it as, "It's not a career until you learn to create products that normal people like." When the Marketing department is shaking with excitement about the newest (most hip, cool, it was on Boing Boing yesterday!) idea, you have to think to yourself - is this something normal people will like?

You can learn Social Media by reading expert's e-books or finding life lessons in 80s cult movies.
But it's going to come down to common sense at some point.

Marketing always boils down to three options; is this something normal people will like OR, if it isn't, are there enough non-normal people to make a go of it OR if there really is a small audience, is it worth it to you to pursue anyway, even though it will never be really profitable? If you can't answer "Yes" to at least one of those questions, it won't really matter what you're trying to do.

Everyone can be a Social Media Expert. Use Common Sense, Avoid Delusion, Be An Expert.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Plot Idea is Not a Story, A Business Idea is Not a Strategy

When I teach writing workshops, the most common question I get is "where do you get your story ideas?" My answer to that is, "I live. I wake up, I eat food, I talk to people, I see things."

What no one ever asks is, "So you get story ideas from everything - but how many of those become actual stories that get written?"

Having an idea for a story is not the same thing as plotting one out to completion or actually writing it.

The same is true in the business world. On LinkedIn, I constantly see questions like, "Which is better for a business, to fill a new niche, or provide a better mousetrap?"

This is pretty much the same question - in other words, I don't have an idea, and I'm trying to figure out where to find inspiration. Help!

Of all the people you've ever met with an idea for a business - how many of those ever became an *actual* business? Many? Few? None?

As I tell folks in my writing workshops, it is incredibly easy to come up with an idea. Smart people have ideas all the time. You probably have business ideas, and invention ideas...maybe even story ideas.

An idea for a story is not the same thing as a whole story, and an idea for a business is not the same thing as a Business Strategy.

Before you move forward with crafting a Social Media Strategy for your idea, you have to do some research.

1) Does this idea already exist?

Many people do absolutely no research on whether there is someone out there already successfully building the exact same kind of mousetrap as the one they envision. (In part due to the assumption by smart people that their ideas are smart, and therefore revolutionary.) Knowing who (if anyone) is already doing it, how and why, can make a big difference in how you build you business - and the strategy for marketing it.

2) What makes this idea special?

Just because someone is doing a thing already, doesn't mean you can't do it better. Decide what you bring to the idea that gives it something special - but forgo delusion as you do. You being you (unless you are among the Hollywood or Washington DC A-listers) is probably not enough to appeal to a large audience. The more niche your field of interest, the more you will need to have a slow-steady-growth, long-term outlook on your business. Those unique qualities are going to be your springboard for your Online Marketing/Social Media Strategy, so know them well and become comfortable within your niche. Spend time developing a reputation as an expert, as opposed to you just knowing that you're an expert.

3) What is your message?

In writing, I tend to discuss the importance of the first three lines of a short story or the first three paragraphs of a novel. These *must* be compelling or people will simply stop reading.

Whether you are pitching a business idea to an investor or crafting your first Social Media campaign, you must have more than, "Here is my idea." Your first sentences need to answer questions like, "Why should I care?" and "What can you do for me?" If you cannot answer these questions, the rest of what you write is meaningless.

4) What is your goal?

I've run into this a number of times, in which a person's true goal is to get attention and they basically want to do it anyway possible. Their idea isn't about the people they hope to attract to their business - it's about the attention they desire for themselves. In almost every case, these people are sure that they are way ahead of the curve on idea construction. Again - smart people are smart. The problem is that in most cases, they don't *actually* have anything concrete. Just a vague set of ideas that might work out. Blogs, sites, Facebook pages, whatever gets them in front of an audience.

Before you create a Social Media Strategy, you really have to know what you want to do. Approaching this issue without delusion allows you to focus where you spend your time and why.

Think of your business as a story. Start from the beginning with a strong, hook-y opening, then work the plot out until the final bit of the conclusion. Your plot is your strategy, your crises are your tactics and your climax is the return on investment. Do the work up front, and you'll have plotted out a successful Social Media Strategy for a strong Business.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Power of Social Media is the Power of Choice

Once again, I claim Twitter as the inspiration for a post here on SocialOptimized. Power Twitterer and really nice person Susan Elaine Cooper (aka BuzzEdition), wrote a post in response to people who demanded she Retweet a message they had sent her privately by Direct Message.

In subsequent conversation with her, Susan said to me, "I just need them to respect my right to choose..." And it occurred to me that that, in a nutshell is what is missing from so much of marketing. Choice.

Choice is an incredibly powerful selling tool. The best sales people let you choose your own way into a sale, by offering you two or three options, one of which will increasingly seem sensible to you. The more you reject other options, the more the one that you don't reject seems like a good idea.

For a number of years I sold swords at a Renaissance Festival during the summer. It was fun, and exceptionally challenging, as the items we were selling were 1) REALLY sharp and therefore utterly impossible to carry around and 2) INCREDIBLY expensive. These weren't replicas made out of stainless steel - they were hand crafted, in some cases hand-forged and all individual works of art. At average, a sword would run about $1000. Not an easy sell. The way we sold swords and knives was to offer a choice. "Of these two, which do you like least?" was a common phrase at the booth, followed by removal of the one that was less appealing. We'd offer another option, and ask the customer to choose. After a customer had chosen the same item three or four times, we'd stop extolling the virtues of that item and just listen. Listen to the decision-making process, encourage it, derail friends attempts to stop it. It always had to be the buyer's choice to buy.

On Social Media you have an unprecedented chance to provide your audience with choice. You can't *make* people care about your business...but you can offer people a choice to care. They can follow you, check in with your business, like, retweet and share. All of those are choices made by your audience. Once they've chosen, it's up to you to listen to them. What makes them care - what are they responding to? Offer them options to do more of that and less of this other thing. Being on multiple platforms allows your audience a choice of ways to communicate with you. Having multiple messages means your audience can choose what best suits their interests/needs.

Not everyone who came up to our sword booth bought the first time. In fact, the standard was that a person would come up three or four times - sometimes they would come back another weekend, just to convince themselves that their choice was the right one.

Forcing, insisting, demanding don't work on Social Media. No one has an obligation to care about your message and no one has an obligation to promote it for you. Offer them a choice and if they choose not to care or promote, it's time to walk away. (Throwing hissy fits is never a good business practice.)

The power of Social Media is the power of choice. Offer your audience the ability to choose; respect the choice they make and those that become your market will be that much more motivated to support you, since they have chosen to care about you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Curating Healthy Relationships With Your Consumers and Avoiding Unhealthy Ones

Everyone says that Social Media is all about "building relationships" with your consumers. The problem is that everyone says that like it's a really easy thing to do - something that should somehow be obvious and intuitive.

Unfortunately, people are rarely simple, obvious or intuitive. Our graphical user interfaces are pretty communicative - smiles and frowns go a long way to communicating our feelings - but when we move to text, we're back in the old DOS days of human-to-human interaction. In other words, you can't really hear tone of voice or see a smile in text.

Here's a few thoughts on building, curating and managing healthy relationships with your customers:

A discount is not a relationship

Because humans are complex, building a relationship is rarely as simple as giving a discount. A discount might bring someone through the door, but only good service, high quality and/or perceived value will keep that person coming back. Of those, "perceived value" is the only one that will get someone to spread the word for you.

A new friend is not the same as an old friend

Old friends have stuck with you through thick and thin. They support you in times of need. Well-established customer relationships are like old friends. You can skip the introductions, the polite banter and go right to the meat of a message. New friends, however, don't really know you, your business or what their place in your network is. Take a little more time to listen, to respond, be a little extra patient, go out of your way just one more time for them. And avoid the pernicious habit of assuming that every inquiry is a sales lead. Not every comment, like or share is the same a request for more information.

The larger your business, the creepier and less sincere personalization is

If I stop drinking a particular major brand of cola, it would be beyond creepy and disturbing for me to receive a communication from them asking what had happened. On the other hand, if the local coffee place noticed I stop drinking regular coffee and had switched to decaf, it would be pretty normal for them to ask what was up.

Know what reasonable limits you can have on personalization. Keep to them. The bigger your business is, the less like a healthy relationship it will seem to your consumer if you know everything about them.

Pay attention to verbal cues

Once you have a relationship established with a consumer, it's critical to pay attention to their verbal cues. Signs of personal pride associated with your business is good. Signs of brand loyalty is good. When your consumer becomes your advocate, you'll see them talk about you without prompting. Respond anyway, so they know you're paying attention...and so that you can manage the message. No matter how enthusiastic your customer is - often because s/he is enthusiastic - your message will get garbled. "Telephone" is not just a silly kid's game. It's typical of the way humans communicate.

Watch for Red Sirens and Blinking Lights

In a personal relationship, it's easy to see that your friend is becoming needy or detached. In business-consumer relationships, it's not quite as easy. One of the simplest cues to the fact that your customer and you do not have a healthy relationship is when they respond to your general communicatios as if you are talking personally to *them.* Avoid responding to this, unless you need to manage perceptions. General comments should remain general, personal conversations personal. Don't mix and match and don't allow the customer to mix and match for you. Boundaries are critical between you and your business relationships, just as they are in personal relationships.

Take time to address your relationships individually and you'll build healthy relationships with your consumers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Twitter 102, aka You Are Your Twitter Stream

Today I had the pleasure of reading a ridiculously sensible post about Twitter use by Christine Pilch of Grow My Company. Ironically, the post was inspired by something I said on Twitter, and today's post is inspired by something Christine says on her blog:

Go ahead and take a look at your own twitter stream. If you don't see any @s, RTs and DMs to your followers, chances are you're missing the point

That line really resonated. I had just found a Twitter account that was >this< close to being the single best business use of Twitter I have ever seen. It had humor, it had relevant, unique content, was personal and fun. The only thing it was missing? Talking with people. There were no @s, RTs or, I'm betting, DMs in their stream. How frustrating, because otherwise it was a gold standard of the platform. The simple truth is You are your Twitter stream.

It's not just what you do (or don't) talk about on Twitter - what your contacts talk about also affect how you look. In a sense, your Twitter stream is what you wear in public. You might be dressed in a nice suit to go the office, but if your friends are wearing ripped jeans, it'll surely affect people's opinion of you and your choices.

Before you start RTing every quote or link that floats by, you might want to consider what that Retweet says about you and your business. Inspirational quotes can be inspirational, but what does a never-ending stream of platitudes express about your business? And those tips and news links - check 'em out before you RT them, because they might not reflect what you actually think.

Direct Messages (DMs) are a great way to initiate private business, or conduct a sidebar conversation away from the public eye. They aren't really a good way to initiate a conversation with a stranger, or to introduce yourself. Imagine yourself at a cocktail party, talking with a bunch of people, when someone drags you off to a quiet, private corner just to say, "Hi, I'm Barb! How can I help your business today?" Save the DMs for people you really need to talk to privately.

And then there's @. "@" on Twitter means you're talking with someone. They said something and you've replied, or you are saying something to them. It's the first thing I look for in someone else's Twitter stream. Why? Because a lack of "@" means a lack of conversation. I know that Twitter started as a microblogging tool, but it's more of a chat tool now. No "@" means that person is talking to themselves. And who wants to listen to someone talking to themselves?

In conclusion, I hope you'll be inspired by Christine's comment and take a look at your own Twitter Stream - because that's truly who you are on Twitter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

4 Messages for 4 Audiences Means 1 Great Social Media Plan

Social Media is not actually one thing. It is an umbrella term that covers a multitude of approaches to communicating with consumers.

Because Social Media is often seen by Marketing and Communications people as yet another channel through which to distribute corporate materials, many companies forget the basics of branding and marketing when it comes to Social Media.

Like Social Media, People are not one thing. They are not a demographic, or even a psychographic. There are 4 unique kinds of audiences, each of which has to be approached in a different fashion - with a different messaging strategy.

4 Unique Audiences of Online Consumers

1) Your Market

These people know who you are and what you do. They look for you, follow you on Twitter, check in on Foursquare, look for weekly specials on Facebook.

Your Market is already engaged with you. When you talk they, listen...and they respond. They promote your work, retweet, "like," participate in contests, etc. These folks are your bread and butter.

Your message to these people should be filled with rewards for loyalty, insider deals and specials. Talk to these people as if they are friends and comrades - give them information and encourage them to share it. Get to know these people by name and thank them publicly for their support. They are part of your team - treat them like it.

2) Your Audience

These people know who you are and what you do. They may follow/friend you, they may not. When you do something noteworthy in your industry and the news hits all the big trade sources, then these folks are likely to hear about it - you hope. Your audience may or may not be your market. Just because they know you, doesn't mean they buy from you.

Your message to these people should encourage conversion to market. These are folks who may be on the fence, or for whom a small discount can mean a sale. Don't beat them over the head with sales material - they may or may not care - but encourage with discounts, extras, and other incentives.

This is the group you can exhort to follow you, but you *have* to make it worth their time. Just shooting off press releases at them or forgetting to run that weekly special isn't going to make you any friends.


Most companies do all right targeting these two audiences. They know that they are being listened to, and are glad to see conversations on the Wall, or on their Twitter stream.

But the constant pressure to Friend/Follow/Like often goes nowhere, except to a Wall where only the customers talk, or a Twitter feed that offers nothing but links back to the company website.

There are many opportunities that engaging with these two audience offers. Don't miss your chance to dial up your engagement with them - or theirs with you!

Which brings us to the two Unique Audiences that are frequently left out of companies' Social Media Strategy entirely.


3) Your Potential Audience

These people may have heard of you, but they don't care. You're not on their top of mind and they have no reason to seek you out. They are not following you, liking what you have to say or checking in at your location. These people don't know where you are online, but if they did, they could very well be interested.

There's a huge gap here in many industries. Companies have their spaces and ask people to come to those spaces, but rarely do companies move out of their comfort zone to seek people out. There are multitudes of places online where people are asking questions that *you can answer.* They don't know about your forum, or your blog, or your "Ask An Expert Tool," even though that would be just what they are looking for.

It's your job to find these people. Look for them where they hang out, don't ask them to follow you to get help - just help them. Give them that answer, that link, that reference. And, when you have satisfied their immediate need, then you have an opening to suggest greater engagement.

This is your potential audience - wow them.

And finally there is...

4) The Rest of the World

They have no idea who you are, what you do and most importantly, why they should care. Companies rarely use Social Media to expand brand recognition into related or unrelated but relevant territory, yet Social Media is the best tool for that job.

Your message to people in related or unrelated but relevant spaces is "We're here - and here's why you should care," in a way that draws attention not to you, but to what you can offer them.

Perhaps you publish horror comics. You find a horror film community that has no idea your company exists, but you engage them with insight into creating horror stories. These people might not have reached out to you, but you reaching out to them could drive a lot of potential business your long as you let them know that you are one of them.

It's critical to a long-term Social Media Strategy to account for all four of these audiences. It's not enough for a fast-food restaurant to only tell people already in the store about a new burger - it's important to use that news to bring new people into the restaurant.

Adapting you message allows you to reward your dedicated market, engage with your audience and your potential audience and make new people aware of what you can do for them.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Creating an Amazing Social Network on Twitter Without Spamming the Universe

I recently volunteered to help out an organization I work with from time to time with their Social Media initiatives. When I logged in for the first time, their Twitter account had three followers - one of them was me. After a day, that had increased ten-fold - still small potatoes in the numbers game, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. And more importantly, we had a lead for a headliner guest, a sponsor and a few great panelists. In one day.

As the follower gauge crept slowly up, I was thinking about how easy it is to create a truly *amazing* network on Twitter. And I thought I'd write it up and share it with you today.

1) Start by Following Someone/Something You Know

I've mentioned this before. A new classroom or new job doesn't seem as scary when you know someone there before you start. It gives you a person to sanity check with, a guide and a mentor.

Talk to the people you know who are on Twitter. Learn from them, emulate them. Use them as references for behaviors, acronyms, abbreviations and actions.

Read what they say and notice how they say it. Take note of their balance between work and life, personal and professional.

Use all of this as a guideline for your own interactions. When you get a little freaked out, shoot a Tweet over to that colleague or friend and just have a nice irrelevant chat. It's great for the soul and you'll be blown away by how many people follow you once you relax and just have a conversation.

2) Follow The People The People You Follow Follow

You follow people you respect, information sources you trust, peers and colleagues and people against whom you benchmark your business. Take a look at who these people follow. Who do they get their news from? Who do they consider valuable members of their network? You don't have to follow all - or any - of these people, but the people you follow are a great resource to find more people to follow.

3) Don't Follow Everyone Just Because They Use A Keyword Or Phrase

There's nothing stranger than noticing you've got a dozen new followers and they all seem to have the word "soap" in their names. Suddenly, you realize that you mentioned the lovely new soap you bought last weekend. These people have created a search for a single keyword and automatically follow anyone who mentions that word. It seems like a good idea, but you already *bought* soap. You don't need or want more.

Having a keyword search set up is a great idea. It might net you a few new folks to talk with, a conversation about your business to track, some new contacts - but it's not a catchall basin. Pick and choose your connections so that there's some meaning in it for both you and the person you're following.

4) Follow People You Want in Your Stream

Everyone you follow will pop up on your home page. This and your own posts are your "Twitter stream." It could seem like a great idea to follow your cousin, because she knows a lot about Twitter, but when she starts late-night or drunk Tweeting, is that what you want showing up in your *public* stream?

Follow people who provide your stream with the level of quality and professionalism you want your business to express to the world at large.

5) Talk to People!

It may seem weird at first, just jumping in and asking a question, or introducing yourself to someone online without context, but, really, it's okay. That's normal on Twitter, where the conversations are public, so anyone can join in.

There's even specialized chats that use hashtags so you can follow the conversation with a simple search. Feel free to join in on a chat and learn what people have to say about topics of interest to you. Chats are another great way to find new people to follow.

These are all pretty basic things, but if you keep them in your mind as you get to know Twitter, you'll be well on your way to building an Amazing Network!

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