Sunday, February 27, 2011

When A Direct Message Sends the Wrong Message

One of the most versatile functions on popular Social Media platforms is the Direct, or Private, Message. I've written about good DM/PM etiquette here before, but it's worth taking another look at the power and pitfalls associated with using the Direct Message as your elevator pitch.

Recently, I was followed on Twitter by a philanthropic organization. "How Can I Be Useful, of what service can I be?" was the Direct Message I received from them. This was a great message, I thought. We all could use a little help now and again, couldn't we?

So, I replied.

And within 30 minutes, this philanthropic organization had unfollowed me.

...yes, they *unfollowed* someone who replied to their pitch. Isn't that a great way to build a reputation as a philanthropic organization?

Direct/Private Messages are a single moment of privilege you have when you reach out to a new contact. What you say and how you say it will make or break that relationship. Presumption or intrusiveness will be instantly rejected. Smarminess will be perceived as untrustworthy. And do we even have to be told to *mean what we say*? Don't ask what you can do to help, then run away when your contact replies. There really is no better way to send the wrong message when your Direct Message is empty words.

Use your privilege wisely - make each Direct or Private Message count. Stand behind your words, so you never send the wrong message to a potential contact.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Can you Just...?" or When to Go Above and Beyond

We all do this - we need something done, so we turn to the person we're talking to and ask, "Can you just do this for me?" We ask doctors at parties for advice about a weird pain in our arm, we ask our friend the designer to make us a logo. We really do know that what we're asking isn't just one simple thing, but we've decided to pretend it is. After all, if they asked us we'd...

...but would we, really? How many times have you been approached by someone you know and asked for "just" one thing - you know, something simple like a promotional campaign or an explanation on the best way to do email marketing for their business or how to get a million Twitter followers quickly.

Erika Napoletano (@RedheadWriting) says it bluntly in her article about Theory vs Teaching: How NOT To Give Away Your IP : ...if you keep trolling the interwebz and your local professional events in search of people who will tell you how to blow your business out of the water for free, you’re an asshole.

Let's admit it - we're all assholes from time to time. At some point in time, we've all said, "Can you just...?" even (sometimes, especially) when we know that that "just" isn't simple at all.

On the other hand, how many times have we read articles that tell you customer service is about going above and beyond what the customer needs to really provide excellent service? How many times have we spent hours hand-holding clients, or talking them off the ledge of a really bad idea?

One of my very first clients was extremely needy. I had to spend a lot of extra time on the phone with them, did far more work than the project warranted and in the end...they stiffed me. No pay, no return calls, they blocked my emails and ability to contact them on a shared social network. I learned a very hard lesson with that project. Now, no more hand-holding new clients. They pay me, they get what I promised. That's it. They have to prove themselves to *me* before they'll get that extra time and effort.

Recently I was called by an old friend. She could not pay me, but she needed advice. There was no question in my mind - I immediately helped her out. Luckily, she's also quite sensible and wasn't asking for a ridiculous commitment of time, but even if she was, I'd have jumped to help - because I *know* that if/when I need her help, she'd be there for me to "just" do that one thing.

So, when do we "just" do something?

Here are a few Guidelines you can use to know who you should do "just" one more thing for:

Client Advocates - These people don't just use your services, they sell your services to everyone they encounter. They may be friends, peers and/or customers - they are part of your trusted inner circle. For these people, if you're not going above and beyond, you're missing an opportunity to thank them for all their work on your behalf, and a chance to make them that much more enthused about your services.

Repeat Clients - Despite the fact that competition is tough and there's always someone out there who will lowball, these clients come back over and over. These are the people to whom you first offer new services and goods, and when they ask if you can "just" add on one more thing, it's a good bet that it won't be wasted time.

Referrals - These people have been told that you are really good at what you do. Don't throw the whole book of tricks at them, but this is an incredible opportunity to pull out an extra stop and do that one last thing that will take the edge off their concerns. Get their shoulders to relax in relief, and you've got a client for the long haul.

On the other side of the coin here are some folks for whom "just" one more thing is likely to be a time-sink:

Family - I won't elaborate here. We all know this is true. Family has no idea how *hard* what you do is, because they so often don't really understand what you do. Draw clear lines right at the very start of the project, and be firm that no, you can't "just do one more thing."

On Again-Off Again Clients - These folks ping-pong back and forth looking for the best deal. They love you, until you quote a price, then they insist they can get a better quote down the road. Once they agree, they'll niggle and nag until they've weaseled a whole other project out of you...and they'll be the last ones to pay the bill.

New Clients - This sounds counterintuitive, because of course we want to wow new clients right out of their seats. Well, yes - wow them with what they contracted for and what you promised. Do an *amazing* job at exactly what they asked for. When it's all over and you have that check in your hand, suggest next steps, and be more open to doing just one more thing for them.

As with all things dealing with people, there is no one simple answer for this. The most important thing is to be mindful of who you're willing to do "just" one more thing for, and stick to your guns. And while we're at it, let's be mindful of who *we* ask "Can you just...?"

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is go above and beyond. Sometimes there's no question, you'll do the extra work because the relationship is worth it Knowing the difference is critical to knowing when you can do just one more thing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Facebook Fan Pages - The Newsletters of the 21st Century

"We need to have a Facebook Fan Page, so we can communicate with our customers."

Some years ago, I was working at a company which had been acquired. Our department was shaved thinner, person by person. Until one day, I was approached to write a departmental newsletter. I knew instantly that I was next. There were four people left in the department - my supervisor, a supervisor to whom I reported with a dotted line and their supervisor. And me. I asked politely which *one* of them would be the editor and they replied that they all would. What would the point of the newsletter be? "Communicating with our clients and other departments," I was told. I began a new job search the next day.

Now I see departments, companies and colleges all racing to build Facebook  Fan Pages to "communicate with our customers." And every time I hear that, I can hear my old manager saying, "We're going to do a departmental newsletter."

Are the people you want to reach on Facebook?

If yes, great!

Do they want to connect their personal lives on Facebook with their professional or academic lives?

The first question is a McGuffin. If you are a university department, plenty of your students will be on Facebook. How many of those want to be on your Fan Page? The same goes for employees. They use Facebook to communicate with friends and family. Do they want to have their professional lives intersect that?

If yes, then we can move on to:

What reason do you have for them to join?

This is a huge hurdle. "Communicating with them" doesn't actually have much meaning.
Communicating what? To whom? Why? These are not just irritating questions - they are critical pieces of information you need to be able to answer in order to shape your new Fan Page into something useful.

Communications to employees are not the same as to customers. What might interest one audience is likely to be entirely irrelevant to another. For a university, communications going out to students, staff and faculty all are - or should be - different. Students won't care about faculty or administrative procedures, unless they affect them.

What reason is there for them to ever come back?

You can make it mandatory for every employee to sign up on your new Facebook Fan Page, but you cannot make them read and comment on every post. (Ideally, they would, but that's not a realistic assumption.) As we've discussed before, it's easy to "Like" a Page and just as easy to "Hide" it.

Customers can be drawn back by special deals, new services or contests. If your goal is to communicate with employees or students - what do you have to draw them back? Of course, it is reasonably simple to proclaim that this is the main form of inter-office communication now, but there will always be someone who didn't get that memo. In order to draw people's attention to the site, there needs to be something to make them look. And what drives a customer is not going to be the same thing that will drive an employee. What drives alumni to check in is not the same thing that interests current students.

How often are you going to publish and curate?

One of the least fun aspects of putting together the departmental newsletter was chasing down stories. Most newsletters only survive a short period of time, because there's not *that* much to say about a department and resources get shifted to more important work at some point. Facebook Fan Pages are no different. It's not simple to maintain content over a long period of time - especially if you have multiple audiences, with different agendas.

I recently visited the Fan Page for the school I attended for my Masters degree and was amazed - the entire page was filled to the brim with spam, and most of the "People Who Liked This Page" were fake, spammer's profiles. Clearly this had been set up with good intentions, but left unresourced. I declined to "Like" a school I love, because the page was toxic.

It's a nice idea to have a departmental newsletter Facebook Fan Page, but until you can honestly answer who its for - and why they should care- it'll end up being a white elephant.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How Easy Do You Make It?

Today we're going to look at three key components of customer contact and ask ourselves: How Easy Do We Make This?


You have News - a new product or service, a new hire, a positive benchmark or certification.

How Easy Do You Make It to share?

Can readers share your blog post? Can they check in on Foursquare or Gowalla? Can they review you at Yelp or Hotpot? If you're reviewed in a local paper or interviewed by a Trade magazine can people Digg it, or mark it up on Reddit? Is your headline Tweetable?

The more ways you provide to share your news, the more ways the news can get out. There is no "overkill" when it comes to making sharing easy. Services like Share This make the process so painless that there really isn't any excuse for you to not offer as many ways to get the word out as possible.

Realistically, you can only focus on a few spaces yourself. There's no way to give the same time and energy to every Social Media space on the Internet. You need to budget your time between the spaces that are most critical to your market and most productive for your business. Give your advocates as many  methods to get the word out as you can and you can be nearly everywhere at once.

Reward Programs

You couldn't do it without your customers. You want to tell them that you really appreciate their commitment to  your business.  

How Easy Do You Make It for them to collect their rewards?

Way back in the day, I was awarded a gift card for an outstanding job at a company I worked for. The gift card had a very limited set of stores that it could be used for and many of them were irrelevant to my interests or needs. When I found a store that I could use the card in, I registered on the website as I was instructed to. I picked out an item and got that approved by calling the 800 number, was transfered and hung up on several times. When I got to the store, I had to call the 800 number on the card and get approval for the store location - because that approval only lasted an hour or so, so it had to be done at time of purchase. That completed, I went in to the store, picked out my item and proceeded to checkout...where the card was denied. After being placed on hold three times and hung upon once, I was told that I had to get approval for the *register* I was being checked out by. I did get my item, but wow, what a ridiculous set of hurdles to go through to get a reward! It felt more like a punishment by the time it was all over.

In stark contrast, I recently signed up for a Klout perk. Signed up, filled out the form, the item arrived as described, with no hurdles or conditions. I got what they said I'd get. (As per Perk policy, I would like to disclaim that I was given a free product or sample because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company or about Klout. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.) Now *this* felt like a Reward. Kudos to Klout for getting it right.

Customer Service

Your Customer Needs Help .How Easy Do You Make It for that person to get their problem resolved?

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed knows that I am a vocal advocate for better consumer communications by companies. I share my experiences, both positive and negative, with customer service calls. Yesterday I had the perfect customer service call with Fantagraphics.  I called the company up, explained the problem, they apologized, offered to send me a replacement and, if I sent the first item back, they'd credit me the postage. Our conversation was not scripted, they did not parrot required lines. I spoke to a person, who fixed the problem.  No hold time, no transfers, no repeated information, just good, solid customer service. It was almost a physical relief to not have to jump through hoops.

It's true that, as a company gets larger, problems need to be handled by more specialized help. Most consumers realize that. But labyrinthine phone menus, customer service levels that can make no decisions or are simply filters for other levels, are a sign that something is terribly out of control. In the Social Media world excellent customer service experiences are worth their weight in gold. An influencer in that field can make or break a company's reputation with a single tweet.

Having a XYZCo_Cares account isn't good customer relations. 

Good customer comunications means making it easy for your customers to like you and making it easy to tell other people why.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Smart Corporate Blogging for Smart Companies

A major topic of conversation in business circles right now is the worth versus the risk of having a corporate blog.

There are several competing perceptions about the use of a corporate blog.

Consumers want to feel that a company they support is reasonably transparent, that their decisions are made in the best interests of the consumers and the global community, as well as stakeholders.

Bad corporate blogging sets consumers' teeth on edge, because it actually gives them the opposite of what they need. Attempts at humor can fall flat or be seen as incredibly insensitive. Lack of depth means that no one but lazy industry journalists can use the information provided.

On the corporate side, executives are often severely hampered in how they can address the public and what they can say when they do.  Even outgoing, accessible thought leaders can feel hurt, puzzled or plain, old pissed off when they are criticized publicly.  Even when they want to be transparent, industry regulations might keep them from talking about anything real.

I've worked with small, middle and large (Fortune 100) companies, and I can honestly say that size is not a contributing factor to excellence in corporate blogging. In fact, the company I worked at with the best grasp of and use of Social Media was one of the largest. The difference between this company and all the others was that someone positioned at a high level "got" Social Media and really carried it through all levels. This included corporate blogging by the CEO - for both internal and external readers. Within the company, the CEO was perceived as a forward-thinker and his use of Social Media meant that there were many company advocates who were engaged both internally and externally.

How did this work? What were the factors that allowed this multi-national company to embrace corporate blogging where so many other companies in the same industry lagged?

There are three key points for creating a culture that adopts and thrives in Social Media:

1) Someone at the top has to "get" it.

If that isn't there, then nothing else will ever work. It'll all be rendered into marketing speak and fake bonhomie that will probably make the company look more asshatish, than if they just didn't do anything. No one likes to be talked down to - neither employees nor consumers will respond to an insincere or superficial effort at connection.

Social Media has to have someone at the executive level setting the bar for use, or it is likely to become a mockable attempt at communication.

2) A culture of sharing.

This is harder than it sounds. If people are glued to their desks and never talk to one another in real life, it's gonna be a bitch to get them to talk online. In one of the worst cultures I ever was part of, everyone used Social Media - to talk to their friends. There was no internal group, no one actually talked with one another.  And despite the fact that the company was supposedly focused on Social Media, their blog doesn't allow comments.

3) Clear directives.

It's all nice and fine to say, "we should be more engaged" but if employees don't have very clear, very explicit guidelines on what can and can't be talked about on the corporate blog, there will be confusion, even if they are given freedom to post. In a regulated industry, that confusion can have repercussions for many years.

Without these three qualities, any corporate blog will immediately become another means for publishing press releases. The blog will fail to support the corporate communications strategy, or the business, and will be completely ignored by the consumers.

With these three key points, a corporate blog, whether internal or external, will survive and thrive.

Project Wonderful