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.

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