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 way...as 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.

Project Wonderful