Monday, August 30, 2010

and now I leave my cozy blogger home

I've finally given in.

I've imported my blog to WordPress. You can find me there at reallifemadman.wordpress.com.

Looking forward to seeing you over there!

Beware of the Buckeyes: An interview with Stanford Smith (PushingSocial.com)

One of the weirdest things happened about a month ago. I was on Twitter chatting with my good buddy Stanford Smith (@pushingsocial). Somehow, we got to talking about his hometown. As it happens, we grew up probably no more than 10 minutes apart. Even though Mr. Smith no longer resides in our forlorn Buckeye state, I still count him as ahometown hero. In addition to being native Akronites, we share a lot of the same views when it comes to Social Media (except, as you will see, when it comes to blogrolls). So, I asked the always gracious Mr. Pushing (as I like to call him) if I could interview him. Here are the results.

The Mad Man: At PushingSocial.com, you write a lot about authenticity. There seems to be a lot of buzz these days that authenticity in Social Media is at a premium. Do you agree? How do you define when someone is being inauthentic?

SS: I believe someone is being inauthentic when they are not speaking from a place of passion and experience. For me, blogging is about introducing yourself to the world. I think that many of the problems we grapple with spring from poor communication. Social Media excites me because we can finally create and respond TO EACH OTHER in ways that make a real difference.

The Mad Man: You've already made a lot of waves with people listing you as an important resource and a blog to keep an eye on. What are you hoping to accomplish in 2011?

SS: I'm really focusing on creating deeper experiences for my readers. I feel in my gut that reading a blog should be an ACTIVE experience where you get inspired, get equipped, and get whipped into action. So I'm working on an ebook that will be ready in the next month or so and actively helping people to get their passions and blogs noticed. I'm also taking a serious look at how we can revolutionize cause related social marketing. Cool stuff.

The Mad Man: As a fellow Akronite, it must pain you, like it pains me, that the major hubs for Social Media activity are Boston, Chicago, and then the whole West Coast. Do you think we can make the Midwest a respectable player?

SS: Absolutely, I'm proud of the growing SM community we have in Southeast Michigan. I would love for you to organize and get Akron/Cleveland pushing the boundaries...Although Social isn't confined by geography you definitely can see its impact locally when people take what they learn and apply it to their businesses and organizations.

The Mad Man: What do you think is the biggest mistake people are making in their Social Media marketing right now?

SS: Following so-called Social Media Rules. I can't stand hearing people parrot the latest "formula." As you know, I feel strongly that your rules are set by your audience. I'm 110% dedicated to my readers. If they only need to hear from me once a month then I'll put my heart and soul into it. If my audience hates Facebook - I won't be there. Simple.

The Mad Man: Just for the record, tell me what think about blogrolls again... :)

SS: I swear...blogrolls represent everything that is wrong with the world.

You can learn a lot from Mr. Smith. I'd direct you to link to him from my blogroll, but out of respect, I don't have his blog listed there :)

Thanks, Stanford, for the time!

How can my company use Social Media?

A lot of people agree now that Social Media has become an integral part of marketing. A lot of people know what Facebook is. Fewer people might know about Foursquare or Gowalla right now, but it's all catching on. In perusing what's out there in Social Media, it's easy to find a lot of information about Social Media. Whether you believe there are "experts" or not, there is a lot of content that tells you how to succeed using Social Media. There is even some content that tells you how to fail.

If you are new to this world of Social Media, or if you are new to marketing in general, what you are probably not seeing a lot of is how all of this information can be adapted by you and/or your company. There isn't a post or an e-book that speaks directly to you. I can't promise that this blog will be all that different. After all, without talking to you I can't really give you customized information. But what I can tell you is how to go about answering some of the questions that can help you get started.

Go where the customers are.

One thing you can learn a lot about is the importance of relationship building in Social Media. You see a lot of sites that help you learn how to nuance your blog posts away from language that sells. You read a lot about how important it is to be yourself. But there's one really important thing you need to do first. You need to go where your existing and potential customers are. There's nothing wrong with networking with people who are interested in fishing when  you manufacture CNC machines, but it's probably not going to generate the levels of success that you've been hearing about.

How do you know where your customers are? Well, you need to do some research, something that Clayman Advertising can help you with. And what do we help you research? There are two things you need to find out right away. First, are your customers actually out there using Social Media? Second, if they are out there, how are they conversing about your industry? A close third, of course, is, "are they talking about you."

One thing that concerns me about the current marketing environment is that the whole feel is like a college party, and Social Media is the drink of choice that everyone thinks you should have. You should, in fact, totally go bonkers for that drink, and if you don't, you're a bit of a party pooper.

The thing is, sometimes we conduct research and we find out that Facebook is not fertile ground in which a garden of great results can be planted. That's not to say that Facebook is bad or that it will never come in handy. It just means that existing and potential customers aren't there now. Sometimes there is only relevant activity on YouTube. Sometimes there just isn't much buzz at all (I talk about this conundrum in more detail in an earlier blogpost called "The Social Media Case Study You'll Never Hear About").

If you find that Social Media is not heavily populated by customers or potential customers, the next step is to find out if your competitors are out there.

Go where your competitors are.

There are two things you want to look at when researching the Social Media activity of your competitors. Again, this is something we can help you with, but generally, you want to a) see if your competitors are using Social Media and b) You want to see how they're doing. What do I mean by that? It means you want to look at that competitor's Facebook page. You can look at how many fans (I guess we should call them "likers" now) the page has. But more importantly, you want to look at the activity. It's relatively easy to get fans or followers, especially if you're a big company. If everyone at the company likes the page, you could end up with a commendable 500 fans right off the bat. What you really want to look for is the nature of the posts that are being made and what kind of reactions those posts are receiving. If the same person is posting a news release every Wednesday to a room of crickets, you can assume that the page is not successful. If people other than the page's host are posting to the page, if there is a lot of conversation, if there is a lot of liking going on, then that is something you want to make note of.

Same rules apply for YouTube and Twitter. A company could end up with 1,00 followers almost by accident. Are they conversing with those followers? Are they using the tool appropriately? Are they getting responses?

If you find that your competitors are having a fair amount of success even despite your research showing that the conversation rate is low, it adds more weight to your consideration. If your competitors are mostly talking to themselves, it's safe to assume that the time is not right for you to join the lonely crowd.

Go where you can shine.

The final consideration in the first round of identifying where in the Social Media world you should go is where you and your company can shine. Where can you provide the most value to your customers so that you can start to build that online following? What kind of content do you have already that could easily be used for other purposes? If you have a lot of white papers, for example, maybe a blog is a good place for you to start. If you have a vast video library that's getting dusty on your website, enter into YouTube and start letting people find your company that way. Play to your strengths. That is what ultimately will win you business and help you maintain business.

Go carefully.

These are all important things to consider, and they are just the beginning. Once you figure out where you want to be, you need to figure out what you're going to do there. Avoid the temptation of falling victim to the excitement or the peer pressure. Your customers will be there tomorrow if they're there today. Determine how you can integrate your new Social Media efforts with other existing marketing initiatives. Determine your corporate policy. All of those are part of the nitty gritty on how you and/or your company can actually set forth on the path to Social Media success.

Did this help? Do you have any questions? I'd be happy to answer them! Just leave a comment below.

1st image by ostillac callisto. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ostillac
2nd Image by Gabriella Fabbri. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/duchesssa

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Do you follow through or do you ask for feedback?

Thanks to my status as a life-long Cleveland Indians fan, I've seen my share of announcers trying to explain why pitchers are so incredibly bad. I've seen pitchers literally dribble the ball towards homeplate. I've seen pitchers walk 6-7 people in a row. Inevitably, when the game gets too painful, the announcers start talking about the pitcher's delivery. Most often, they talk about the fact that his follow-through seems poor. His arm is in the wrong position. His foot is 5 inches off the mound instead of 3.

For a pitcher, "feedback" is what happens to his pitch once it's thrown. If it's a good pitch, the pitcher attains his goal. In the case of most Cleveland Indians pitchers, the feedback is bad.

In business, we have often been framing things like a pitcher would. We make a pitch, we look for feedback. Hopefully in your case you are hoping for a homerun rather than a strike-out, but otherwise, it's the same general concept. If your feedback is bad, or begins to decrease in quality, you look everywhere, trying to find the core of the problem. Well, much like a pitcher, your problem may be your follow-through.

A symptom of the old days

One sign that companies, for the most part, still haven't adjusted to the Age of the Customer is that we are still asking for feedback. What do you think of this website? What do you think of our product? Did you like our pitch? Did you like me? Did you like my speech?

"What's wrong with that?" You may ask.

Well, in asking for feedback, we are putting the burden on our customers, or on our audience. We're saying, "We appreciate you buying our product, now tell us if you like it." Moreover, asking for feedback is still making the whole issue about us. It's kind of like the insecure person who always asks you how they look, even after you compliment them 2-3 times. After awhile, you start to wonder if you're missing something.

The art of follow-through

Instead of making it about you the company, the interest should really be in your customer. You should follow up with your customers. I'm not talking about automated surveys, either, although those are at least going in the right direction. We should emphasize to our customers and potential customers that we are sincerely interested in how they perceived their experience with us. Did your product or service meet their needs? Did it solve their problem? Are they satisfied? Do they need anything else? Imagine a real live person contacting you the way you said you wanted to be contacted, with the communique just saying, "Hey, saw that you bought xyz product or xyz service. Wanted to make sure everything is okay and that you don't need anything else."

What a wonder.

The thing is, it's not just customers that we should follow through with. In these days where integrated marketing is growing in importance, you should also follow through with other departments in your company, or if you work on your own, follow through yourself to make sure different initiatives are supporting each other. Instead of just asking for feedback on a marketing initiative, marketing should follow through with sales to make sure the ad or email campaign is indeed effective. Instead of asking for feedback on a PR campaign, PR people should talk to customer support to make sure that customers feel better about the company and the product.

Poor follow-through can yield poor feedback

Just like a pitcher who has a kink in his follow-through, your company will start to notice that your feedback will decline in positivity if you have poor follow-through. If you don't follow through with your customers, you might not get any feedback at all. If you don't follow through with other departments to make sure that everything is working as it should, things might not work, and no one would be the wiser.

On the other side of the coin, of course, is that really good follow-through can set the stage for extremely positive feedback which you won't have to ask for. Making sure that a customer is "good to go" can make a huge impression. They will rave about you and spread the word. Just like a surprise present for no apparent reason, positive feedback that is received without being requested is all the sweeter.

Are you following through or are you still asking for feedback? There are extremely positive and fun ways to follow through with customers, regardless of what you have offered them (product, service, webinar, trade show experience). Maybe Clayman Advertising could step in as pitching coach and help you with that follow-through mechanism.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Extend beyond your comfort zone

Every morning, I wake up and do the same things in the same order, pretty much without fail. I do this for a few reasons. First, my IQ is basically not present when I first wake up, so without a set plan I would very likely end up trying to walk to work with shoes that wouldn't match and with my PJ shirt on. You might think I'm exaggerating, but yesterday I woke up at 6:30 and couldn't figure out if I was late for work. We open at 8. I also do the same things in the same order because it's comfortable. I know that I will get everything done that I need to get done. I know how long each step takes me. I can do it with my eyes closed. Sometimes I *do* do it all with my eyes closed. Makes the drive to work exciting sometimes.

Comfort, I fear, has become both dangerous and an endangered species. If you become comfortable, it's easy to get in ruts. It's easy to think that the comfortable way is the only way. Our fear of changing things, of becoming uncomfortable, gets a hold of us. On the other hand, who among us feels comfortable these days? How many people do just 1 job and focus on that alone? How many people feel that their profession is going to survive this mad ride that the economy has us on (still)? Comfort is something we crave and avoid these days. No wonder we are all going crazy.

That's Marketing, Too

I've been writing a lot in this blog about the newly defined integrated marketing. The first step in adjusting your company's philosophy to one of accepting this revolution is stepping out of the comfort zone. I understand that this is complex. Talking about change in a blog is easy. Doing change is hard. Leaving your comfort zone means you are doing and trying new things. It means you are leaving yourself open to failure as well as success. It means things you used to be able to count on are now gambles.

When we talk about employees being asked to work in new ways, we are talking about real people. We are talking about your head of marketing who just adopted a child from China. We are talking about Suzie, who is very worried about her father. If you're in a company where you are being told that all of this new integrated marketing "stuff" is coming your way, everyone is going to have to leave their comfort zone to some extent, because all of this is new, or is being seen in new ways.

A little story

Let me tell you a little story about how leaving your comfort zone, while scary as all get out, can be worth the transition.

A few years ago, a lady went to Google to find out some more information about a television show she liked. In doing so, she found a bunch of results on a website, so she naturally went to check it out. What it turned out to be was a message board run and populated by fans of the show. The lady started posting to the board. She started talking to people.

After a few months, the lady became pretty involved in the board because she found a few kindred souls that she ended up talking to every day. But the lady always used a pseudonym, and she was so paranoid about putting her information out there on the web that she created a "real life" pseudonym, an email account tied to that pseudonym, and she made private every post that she had made to her blog. Even as it became clear that some of these people were becoming real-life friends, even after talking to some of them on the phone, giving information out over the internet did not become any easier. It was uncomfortable.

If you guessed that this story is about me, you are correct. There is still a lot about this online world that I find uncomfortable. Businesses go through similar palpitations. "What if I reveal too much?" "What if my competitors use information against me?" "What if a customer bad-mouths our company or our product?" Maybe you are having these doubts right now.

What have I received as the result of leaving my comfort zone online? Invaluable friendships. Growing networks. Vast amounts of knowledge that only increase every day. Potential for growth. Potential for new connections. Has it been worth it to leave my comfort zone? So far -- yes.

Marketing as it exists today is full of ways to leave your comfort zone. Take a look at new publications. Take a look at how to tie your advertising campaign to a direct mail campaign. Examine how sales and marketing could work better together at your company. It's true that there are risks. But what could you gain? A stronger brand. Happier customers. A better ROI. A winning story. A happy company. An evolved and happier you. Is that worth the risk?

Maybe it's time to get a little comfortable with being uncomfortable. What do you think?



Image by Andrea De Stefani. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/deste

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Departmentalization and the Death of Discussion

When I say the word department to myself, after worrying about the fact that I am talking to myself, two things come to mind. First, of course, I think about departments in a company. Next, I think about department stores. The general definition of "department store" is a retail organization that offers customers a wide range of products. A department, however, generally brings to mind a piece of a greater whole that probably just specializes in one thing or a handful of things. Department stores have departments just like companies do. If you work in the women's clothing department, you are not also responsible for selling lamps. In the marketing world, at least up to this point, if you work in the PR department, you are responsible solely for PR. If you work in a marketing department, you are responsible for "just" marketing.

Departments in companies that are responsible for marketing are experiencing something that department store departments are not, and that is revolutionary change. One would never expect women's clothing to turn into bags of candy, but in the world of marketing, that's sort of what is happening. PR is finding that a lot of their shelves are getting filled with stuff they think of as "branding." And those marketing folks? They are finding that their little island is being invaded by everyone.

If you were told that you were responsible for a department in a store and someone suddenly started putting their inventory in your section to take care of, how would you respond? Most likely, you would resist this change. "How can I sell lamps? I sell dresses. I've sold dresses for 15 years. I know nothing about lamps, and more to the point, I don't want to know about lamps. Women's fashion is my "thing." And I want to stick to it."

Well, similar conversations are happening in the marketing world. The more things change, the more people want to grasp their specific department, their departmental titles, and their departmental ways of doing things. Eyes are shut. Ears are plugged.

Hello, good to meet you, please buy this hat.

The problem is that Social Media serves as a company's mirror as well as its magnifying glass. These little blemishes of departmental prima donas become much more noticeable in the Social Media world, and there's one simple explanation for that. When you only can speak from one point of view, your ability to fully engage with people, the key to success in Social Media, diminishes. Moreover, your desire and/or ability to engage as part of an integrated team on behalf of your company also falls by the wayside.

Let's say, for example, that you work for a manufacturer of chicken coops. You've only ever worked in customer support. You feel pretty competent and you feel comfortable with how you've been doing things. Now, all of a sudden, your boss tells you that you, like everyone else in the company, need to start building the company's presence in the world of Social Media. You go to Twitter, start your account, and one day someone tweets you about an offer they saw in one of your ads. You have no idea about that. Advertising is a different department. You tell them to go to that person. A month later, someone tweets you about a new product announcement they saw. You saw the announcement too, but can't offer any more information. That's PR's job. You direct them to that person.

As time goes on, the number of tweets you receive continues to decrease. Now why would that be? Isn't it good to direct people to the person at your company would know the answer? Well, the problem is that in this new world of marketing, if you are out there representing your company, you lose credibility, you lose trust, and you look incompetent if you can't answer questions about what your company does or doesn't do. Customers no longer care about departments. They care about the fact that you list in your profile that you work for Smith Chicken Coops. They care about the fact that they need a new coop or that their coop needs to be repaired.

It's often easy to tell in the world of Social Media who is still operating from a departmental point of view. If you are a sales person who has failed to integrate with other departments, you may simply go out into the brave new world and tweet your wares. If you're a PR person who refused to learn the ways of other marketing channels, you may feel inclined to simply upload all of your press releases to your blog. Individuals who are failing to integrate are afraid to converse because they can't be sure what the company line is. Are you allowed to talk about your personal life? Are you allowed to mention the competitor? It seems safer to squawk at people rather than talk with people.

Signpost, Engagement, Discussion

Mitch Joel recently wrote a post he titled "The end of conversation in Social Media." I ended up conversing about it with two of my Twitter friends, Paul Konrardy (@PaulKonrardy) and Andrea Townsend (@AndreeaC_T). In particular, we discussed the fact that we were conversing (yay), but also that we were not conversing in the comment section of the blog that had inspired us to talk. The author was not involved in the discussion. We were also not engaging with the numerous other people who had commented on the blog.

This raises a lot of questions in my mind. I'd be interested in your input.

First, as Mitch Joel asks, has there ever really been conversation in Social Media? Is a trading of tweets a conversation or is it swapping semi-related sound bytes? For people who do not know how to integrate and engage, the folks whom I refer to as signposts, conversation is not what they use Social Media for. Are they winning the game?

Second, even if we are succeeding in dissolving our company departments, are we now departmentalizing our Social Media presence at our own peril? We are outputting. We are sharing. We are building bigger and bigger networks. As Eddie Izzard asks when he talks about reading food labels, "Is that good?"

Third, who is the more successful Social Media user, the person who receives a ton of comments on a blog post, resulting in a great conversation, or the person who receives a few comments on Twitter, a few on the blog, a few here, a few there, creating lots of molecular (departmentalized) discussions?

Departmentalization Versus Integrated Marketing

That's right. These are two diametrically opposed concepts. If you work in a company where departments are about territories, competition, ownership, and resistance to change, there is no point in learning any more about integrated marketing. You will not be able to do it. The Social Media example above, hypothetical though it may be, is just the beginning of why such a company will not come to a happy integrated ending. Integrated marketing is about integrated thinking, integrated planning, integrated systems, and integrated actions. All of the millions of parts in a car work together to get you where you need to go, but a key is required. If you are fortunate, all of the millions of body parts you have work together, but the key is a brain that orchestrates everything.

In a company, integrated marketing means that everyone must work together, and there must be some over-arching force that ensures that the cooperation lasts and grows. A philosophy of departmentalization is removing the key from the ignition. It is paralysis. It is a loss of functionality in the new world in which we live.

The existence of departments is not inherently evil. The philosophy of departments, however, will be one of the obstacles that separates companies who succeed and companies who fail.

1st Image by Jyn Meyer. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/jynmeyer
2nd Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/frumoaznic
3rd Image by ilker . http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ilco
4th Image by Gabriella Fabbri. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/duchesssa

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Consider Your First Impression

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." It is such an important concept. I would like to say that I learned about this idea via some sage guru or expert, but in fact, the fact that this saying resides in my head is nothing more than the result of me watching lots of television when I was a kid. I learned it in the context of a Head & Shoulders commercial.

Regardless of how I learned it, the saying has stuck with me throughout my life, never more so than during these days of business. It's hard to believe that your company, whether it's 2,000 people or just you, could be completely unknown to tons of people. Your company consumes more time than your family and friends. If you are passionate about your company, it encompasses a great deal of your thought capacity, your energy, and your passion. And yet...there are people who have no idea that your company exists.

Now that we have gone through the stages of grief, it is time to take a pragmatic approach to this sad truth. So, there are people who have never heard of you. That also means there are people who are going to, at some point, hear of you, see something from you, or interact with you for the first time. How can you make the most of that first chance at a first impression? If you think that integrating your marketing campaign has nothing to do with the answer to this question, let me try to change your mind.

The Family Reunion

Summer is ending, and as it does, many of you may be reflecting on family reunions you got to go to. Now, let's say that I have no idea who you are, but via a friend of a friend of a friend, I end up at this big family reunion. I meet 7 of your aunts, 8 of your uncles, your grandpa, and your little cousin. I don't get to meet you, however. Do you think that by meeting all of those very different people I'd have a pretty good fix on who you are and what you are all about?

If your marketing campaign is put together piece-meal, or if it is not backed by an extremely solid strategy that integrates everything together, people will learn about your company the way I would have learned about you through that hypothetical family reunion. They might kind of get an idea of what you do, but the messages might be a little blurred or contradictory, and there might not be anything that stands out enough to make that first impression really outstanding.

The Army

Thanks to Trust Agents (Brogan/Smith), the word "army" is becoming a common buzz word in Social Media. I like to expand the concept to include all of your marketing initiatives.

In Social Media, your army is your entire network. Your Facebook friends, your blog readers, your Twitter followers, your LinkedIn connections -- all of these people with whom you interact have been drafted. Some of these people may work themselves up the ranks to become one of your "brand evangelists," which would be like a general. The great thing about formulating this army is that even if you yourself are not in a specific location, your army knows you, they know your message, and they can represent you to people outside of your army (or network). This would be like going to a kind of freaky family reunion where everyone would say exactly what you want them to say about you, and it would all be for a purpose. Your purpose.

How can this concept of the army expand beyond the Social Media world? Your website helps to bridge the gap. It's your fortress, if you will. Anything you do, whether it's a print ad or a Facebook page, should drive traffic to your website, and everything should reiterate the key messages that you have breathed into your hub. From there, consider everything you do a solider, just like people can be soldiers online. Your ads, your email campaigns, your direct mail pieces, your booth graphics -- they should do exactly what your Social Media army does. They should represent you exactly the way you want to be represented. They should be able to stand in for you when you can't be there. They should be your handshake, your introduction. They should be your first impression.

I like you. Now what?

Considering what your first impression will be across all of your marketing channels is not the end of the story. All of your soldiers should allow people who are meeting you to get to know you better. In marketing terms, this means that a person new to your company who likes your first impression should find it easy to learn more about you. A prospect should find it easy to reach your sales force. A lead should be nurtured and get to know on a more personal level. Even though this extends beyond a consideration of the first impression, it does not extend beyond what you need to account for when planning your first impression. Why? Because just as you only get one chance to make a first impression, it only takes one mistake to ruin a good first impression.

Take, for example, the scenario I talked about a few months ago (I'm sure you remember but I'll remind you anyway). I received an email from a trusted source that promoted a white paper from a second source. Since the trusted source had made such a good impression on me, I opted to download the other source's white paper. I read it. I liked it. I promoted it via Twitter. The first impression had been very good. But then I started getting 1-2 emails every day from the second source, and the emails were very "sell-oriented" rather than educational. This left a very bad taste in my mouth. I felt that I had opted in to spam and that both sources had misled me to an extent. I have since not downloaded anything from either source. First impression was ruined.

The nurturing of a good first impression is a delicate balance that needs to be planned carefully. Your ultimate goal, of course, is to make a sale, and your prospects and customers should find that transparently obvious. Even so, you do not want to move too swiftly from an educational approach to a BUY NOW!!" approach. Not only can you ruin your good first impression, but you could also find that a potential soldier in your army has also been turned away.

Are you wearing a black shirt yet?

In that old shampoo commercial, it seemed like part of making a good first impression was wearing a black shirt, preferably without snowy dandruff decorating each shoulder.

In marketing, appearance is important, but it isn't everything. Are you analyzing every step in your marketing campaign from the perspective of an existing customer as well as someone who might be seeing you for the first time? What do you need to change so that your marketing makes sense to your entire army and everyone they may encounter?

1st Image by Bo Hansen. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/filax
2nd Image by Billy Alexander. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ba1969
3rd Image by conna lee. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/connalee

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blending is more than integrating Facebook with Twitter

Do you ever stop to think about how much blending we do? We wear clothes so that we can blend in with others in our profession (I wonder how many business people have begun wearing hoodies thanks to Zuckerberg). We blend make up into our faces so that it looks like we're not wearing make up. We blend different kinds of alcohol to make drinks (or so I hear). Indeed, we are all blending machines. So why is it that we are not successfully blending our marketing efforts?

Blending requires more than one ingredient

A lot of people have begun talking about blending different marketing solutions, but the questions that I am seeing reflect a lack of understanding about what blending means, exactly. I see questions like, "How can I blend Social Media with email?" "How can I blend efforts on different Social Media sites?" "How can I blend Social Media with SEO?"

Notice a problem? The questions aren't really asking how to blend. The questions are about how to make Social Media 100% successful as a stand-alone tactic or how other "subservient" channels can be used to support Social Media efforts. This is comparable to saying that you want to learn how to make cookies, then asking if it's possible to make cookies with just chocolate chips and maybe a little bit of flour. Some people do indeed believe that Social Media is now the most important part of any marketing campaign, but the whole cookie is what the experience should really about.

Update Twitter and do other stuff? I'm overwhelmed.

For some, the idea of trying to mix anything with Social Media is terrifying. Indeed, some find this concept so intimidating that they wait to jump into the Social Media pool. The way that Social Media experts can get around this, in part, is to point out a lot of automation techniques. That's not auto-posting or auto-direct messages, mind you, but there are ways to kill multiple birds with one post. FriendFeed, Tumblr, Networked Blogs -- all of these things sell the idea of posting once, and then, just like when you blow on the fuzzy white petals of a dandelion, your ideas will float everywhere.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately since I love my job) there is no easy way to integrate an entire marketing campaign, not to mention an entire company. There is no "IMCFeed." There is no magic button (Sorry Staples). This is not a reason to despair, however, or to limit yourself or your company to one channel and one channel only. There are ways to save time. There are ways to make it all happen. You just need to make sure you have your eyes and your ears open, right along with your mind.

I've talked a lot about ways to maximize concepts and creative input. To get your engines going, take a gander at this post outlining 30 ways to use a single paragraph of copy.

Blending Thoughts and Philosophy

Equally troubling is that there seems to be more, not less, of a tendency to separate people, positions, or departments that should really be blended together. In part, I think this is because all of us have so much more access to information tied specifically, in a niche kind of way, to what we do. Customer Service specialists can immerse themselves in books about customer service. Social Media managers have a treasure trove of books they can read about any number of facets to the Social Media story. We are building each facet of marketing as its own fortress where no one else may enter, and that fortress is built upon beliefs regarding how we should do things.

This is something we must put a stop to immediately as marketers, as business people.

There are lots of ways to begin this process. Have a marketing person (yes, even an agency person could do this) shadow sales for a day or customer service for a day. If your PR department is separate from your advertising department, have a couple of people shift positions for a week. One of the easiest ways to build barriers is failing to grow understanding. If marketing has no idea what the sales department is facing, and if the opposite is true as well, how are they ever going to be able to meet and move forward as a single unit? Answer: Can't be done. Sales needs to understand why some marketing concepts may be more about branding and less about lead driving. Marketing needs to understand that ROI is what makes the world go round. On and on it goes.

As we experience each others' problems and obstacles, as we familiarize ourselves with what our peers experience on a day-to-day basis, we will be able to offer a fresh perspective. From that point, where thoughts are geared towards productivity and efficiency, blending, leading to integration, can begin.

Time to blow someone's mind

The next time someone asks you how to integrate Facebook with Twitter, Social Media with SEO, or Social Media with email, consider answering the question in an unexpected way. You could say, for example, "I have no idea, but I'm integrating my print campaign with email, my trade show presence with Social Media, and my product development department with customer service." They'll never see it coming.


Image by kasey albano. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/superfloss

Monday, August 23, 2010

Always Focus on the Customer

A little after I joined my family's advertising agency, I came upon a diagram that illustrated integrated marketing. There were two charts, actually, one more simplistic than the other. The simple chart showed how online advertising, email campaigns, direct mail, print advertising, and literature (along with a few other things) should all work together to create a brand. The other chart added more to the soup, including employee training sessions. In neither chart was there much mention of the customer. Oh how times have changed. In fact, Beth Harte, Integrated Marketing expert, details this change in her blog post titled Failed Icon.

To put it simply, the charts that I learned from way back when (five years ago) are no longer relevant. Brand is not at the center of the chart. Your customer is.

Problem Number One: We don't have step one down yet

Have you ever heard the story about the plumber whose sink is always leaking? The electrician who barely has workable light in her house? The teacher whose children do poorly in school? This kind of problem is a perpetual plague to business of all types. We get bogged down in our day-to-day routines, whatever those may be. We prioritize problems, and our customers' problems must come first. That's how we stay in business. This is not the same thing, by the way, as focusing your marketing campaign on the customer, but I'll get to that in a moment. In all of this rushing around, we tend to overlook ideas, strategies, or helpful tips for ourselves. Marketing firms seldom do a good job of promoting themselves. A manufacturer may promote the sales force, forgetting that the company itself needs to be promoted.

Because of this pattern of behavior in the business world, a lot of companies are still struggling to get the basic definition of integrated marketing, as defined in those charts of mine. I am seeing a preponderance of questions like these:

- Which is more important, Social Media or print advertising?
- Who should be the dominant force in Social Media, sales, PR, marketing, or customer service?
- Is going to a trade show more or less important than creating a new brochure?

This tells me that companies are still approaching marketing the way people build tacos. You put some onions on, then maybe some tomato, olives, 5 pounds of cheese, 3 pounds of lettuce. You don't really keep track of what you're doing. You're just grabbing stuff that looks good and you are trying to make it work as a meal. But what do we know about overstuffed tacos? They fall apart. They create a big mess.

Now, approaching marketing piece-meal might work some of the time. The temptation will be to not do anything to the max so as not to to tip the delicate balance between "full" and "mess." But it can work. However, do you want your marketing campaign to be something that "could work" or do you want it to be delicious?

Problem Number Two: Step two is a revolution

One of the results that occurs when companies (or people) approach marketing in a truly integrated way is that divisions, departments, barriers to cooperation, and lots of other annoyances fall by the wayside. This is why we really need to master step one before we can move on to what the new integrated marketing is all about.

Why is that so? Consider the question that people are bantering about quite a bit these days: "Who owns Social Media?" Now, if a company is engaged in a fully integrated marketing campaign, this question would not even register as sensible. "We all own Social Media just like we all own all facets of our marketing campaign and corporate identity." But if a company is not strung together that way, debates erupt. "Well, I think PR owns Social Media." "Oh no no no, customer service does."

Now extrapolate those kinds of arguments to customer care. If your company is not used to approaching things as a single cooperative force, who is going to answer the call when a customer needs support or when a prospect needs to be nurtured into a lead? You run the risk of bickering over exactly what kind of call it is, whose fault it is that the customer needs support, or who should get the credit for bringing that lead in. It's entirely possible, in fact, that your multiple identity syndrome may chase your lead or customer away entirely. It is not possible to create a customer-centric integrated marketing campaign when everything is a struggle.

What a customer-centric integrated marketing campaign might look like

So what kind of revolution are we talking about here? Well, it would be kind of like the French Revolution in that the entire society of the company would have to change from the top down (hopefully no beheadings, however). It would be kind of like the American Revolution in that the company would need to collaborate, declare independence from departments and silos, and create new ways of doing things that had not been tried before. It would be like the revolution that resulted in the Berlin Wall crumbling to pieces because barriers would be torn down in a like fashion.

A customer-centric integrated marketing campaign would begin with PR, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, the C-suite, creative, and other relevant parties sitting down together and asking one question in unison: "What do our customers need?" Sales would learn how marketing and PR would be delivering leads to the company. Customer Service would learn the branding and messaging that customers would be receiving. The C-Suite would learn how the entire company was going to present itself to the industry and to customers and would sign off on the plan from the foundation up. The campaign would incorporate behind the scenes communication that would be ongoing between all of the facets of the company and between the company and its customers. Did that lead turn into a sale? Where did the lead come from? Tell marketing to hit that place harder. Did one of your CSRs receive a raving review or a raving mad string of obscene complaints? Sales, marketing, PR, and the c-suite should know.

Keep the car but drive it in a different direction

The one thing that remains the same in this new era of customer-focused integrated marketing is that all of your marketing tactics and indeed, all of your corporate functions, must work together to achieve the same goals and to present the same message. This extends beyond but also includes the aesthetic. You should have a company-wide tagline, but it should be a message that the customer would value and appreciate. You should have a common look to your marketing materials, but perhaps it is a look you decided on after receiving reader study results or feedback from a customer think tank. Everything you send out should make it easy for customers to understand why and when they might need your products or services. They should not have to struggle to find you. You should be at the trade shows your customers go to. You should be in the print publications they read (and yes, people do still read print publications tied to their profession). When they want to refer you, you should line their path with rose petals. When they have a concern, you should be available 24/7.

Where are you?

Are you working on step one, which is to approach marketing with an integrated mindset? Are you viewing Social Media and trade shows as 2 peas in a pod or as two entirely different plants? Are you mindful of your customers? Do you know where your customers are coming from, why they are staying, or (hopefully not) why they are leaving?

Regardless of your answer, which may take some to think about, your customers are on the move, and make no mistake, they have their drivers' licenses and they have power steering. If you do not begin to market in the way that your customers demand and need, you will not be applauded for standing your ground or staying true to the old ways. You'll just find yourself short on the customer end of your business, which means you could end up with no business at all.


1st Image by Gabriella Fabbri. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/duchesssa
2nd Image by Svilen Milev. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/svilen001
3rd image by Lize Rixt. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/lizerixt
4th Image by SsJ Toma. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ssjtoma

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Integrated Marketing: Easy as Your ABCs

There's a lot of talk regarding integrated marketing floating around. Maybe more specifically integraTING marketing. I feel like we are drifting further and further away from what integrated marketing is all about as we try to incorporate more and more technologies, sites, and methodologies into our marketing efforts. Really, this should not be. Integrated Marketing is as easy as your ABCs.

To conduct a successful Integrated Marketing campaign, just remember...

Always focus on the customer.
Blend traditional media, new media, departments, and people.
Consider how someone new to your company or brand would view any facet of your campaign.
Departments are obstacles. A campaign cannot be integrated until the people are.
Extend beyond the same aesthetic. What is your unique message?
Follow through on everything with everyone, most especially your customers.
Go where your customers and competition are. Meet them where they are comfortable.
Have a plan based on research and strategy.
Include everyone in the plan, from customers to sales to your C-Suite.
Jousting over who generated new business is the best way to kill a company.
Kick the "this or that" mentality. Almost always, "both" is the right answer.
Lead nurturing is the only path to make your marketing efforts matter.
Making leads is marketing's responsibility. Managing leads belongs to everyone.
Never assume that someone has heard of you or cares about what you do.
Overselling through any channel is the best way to kill your campaign.
People want to learn. Everything in your campaign should assist them.
Quit wondering who owns Social Media. Everybody does.
Random acts of kindness should be integrated with everything else.
Strategy should incorporate everyone. Also, silos are signs of disease.
Tactics should support each other, not work against each other or overpower each other.
Understand what your customers need, even if they don't. Then educate.
Very few companies are maximizing integration of Social Media with other channels. Pounce.
Whatever you do, be real, authentic, genuine, and human.
Xenophobia when faced with new technologies, trends, or opportunities no longer cuts the mustard.
You have to know your corporate soul before you can integrate your marketing successfully.
Zappos didn't find success accidentally. They are integrating customer service into their marketing.

See? Easy as your ABCs.


Image by Josh Klute. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/Onatos

Content is not king

For the last at least couple of years, there have been two sayings that I've heard ad nauseam. The first is that one about Wall Street and Main Street -- that's a topic for an entirely different post. But the one that is relevant for this blog is "Content is King." In a time when the internet is making everything seem kind of fluffy and "of the ether," content has been our anchor. How do you make a blog really good? Good content. How do you become a thought leader? You provide good content. Content is to Social Media users like blanket was to Linus. So I am going to lay this news on you gently.

I don't think content is king anymore. Ideas are King.

What's the Difference?

Let me define my terms. To me, content is the meat on the bones of a blog, a white paper, a Twitter update, or a talk. It is something you can point to and say, "Here is my content." An idea may be verbalized via content, but sometimes an idea is something more mushy like a concept or the beginning of a concept or idea that isn't fully formed yet. An idea is a thought that has some direction and knows what it wants to be when it grows up.

What's with the Coup d'etat?

As I was signing out of Twitter last night, I saw a post from Ray W. Johnson. For those of you who don't know (because I didn't), Ray W. Johnson has made a name for himself over the last year via twice-weekly YouTube shows that review viral YouTube videos. He's funny. He's authentic. He provides a lot of content. He's become a success, in fact. Would connecting with this fellow do any good for me or other marketers or companies? Probably not.

Now look at some of the thought leaders that I have mentioned here a million trillion times (or even some of the ones I have only mentioned 999,999 times). They also generate a ton of content. They also have done well for themselves. But what do I gain by associating with them and learning from them? Ideas, my friend.

Content is important. It's how you verbalize what's going on with you or your company. But now, with technology and social networking the way it is, anyone, truthfully, can generate "content." If you don't think you are a good writer or blogger or vlogger or Twitterer, you can find people who will do those things for you for a small fee. Content is no longer the mysterious wonder that it used to be. In fact, even if you want to just wing it as a writer, you can do alright for yourself if you know a little about keywords and if you know how to play the game.

But what makes content really visible and unique? The idea behind it. Ray's content may not be stellar or useful, but his idea -- his concept -- that's what makes him really stand out. What makes certain blogs and websites common resources for people in the marketing biz? Ideas. New ideas, ideas about how to do things, sharing ideas.

Ideas in the wind

I had a very interesting exchange this morning with Cindy Bagwell Chrysler and Glenn Le Santo, 2 Facebookers who also hang on Chris Brogan's FB page. Essentially, we talked about how to share ideas. Both Cindy and Glenn feel that if you are a person who has tons of ideas, some of which you are not using, you should voluntarily give unto others the ideas that are kind of waxing and waning in your brain. As Glenn said, ideas do have a time stamp on them. Is it better to let the idea just die, or is it better to give it to someone who can run with it right now?

I entered the conversation from a bit of a different point of view. I am all for sharing ideas. I wouldn't know a lot of what I know if people more experienced and smarter than me hadn't been willing to share ideas. I've also given a lot of ideas to other people and I think the ideas have served them well.

However, I have also seen numerous scenarios where ideas are simply not valued. A lot of the thought leaders are experiencing this and I have witnessed it at times. They share tons of ideas. Then someone comes and says something like, "Can you give me an idea for..." or "Can I have your book for free?" At that point, if the thought leader says no, people seem to get kind of ... itchy. A lot of people seem to have a sense of entitlement when it comes to ideas. That's a big problem.

Farnsworth vs. RCA

What I worry about is scenarios like that which resulted in us all receiving the invention of television. Philo Farnsworth filed the patent for what eventually became television technology. Immediately, RCA said, "Wait, that was our idea!" RCA then made improvements to Farnsworth's invention, claiming it as yet another patent. Farnsworth said, "Wait, that was my idea!" The debate still rages on.

Because we are not being reminded that ideas rather than content are king, we are not valuing our ideas enough. When David Meerman Scott talks about losing control, he is not necessarily talking about letting your creativity or your genius or your ideas run wild. He is talking about your content getting out there, finding a job, and starting a family. Your ideas are what make you and your company who you are. They are what will define the paths you take or don't take. They will be behind your new service, your new product.

If we are careless with our ideas in this day and age, there's no telling who could take ownership of them. Proving that you had the idea first and did not intend on "giving" it to other people will be extremely difficult if you are giving your ideas away, essentially, on Facebook, Twitter, and your blog. On the other side of the coin, if we solely depend on "idea people" for our ideas, we will be doomed once that faucet gets turned off.

That's why Ideas are king

The thing that a lot of people will never be able to fake is ideas. A lot of musicians say, "Ugh, the Beatles...all of their songs are so simplistic. Rarely do they stray from a single chord progression." People say, "Ugh, these Social Media experts. They say completely obvious things in different ways and get applauded for it." The thing that makes these kinds of folks different is that they have ideas on how to use things in different ways. Just like many musicians can play a C chord, many of us can understand right from wrong, sharing, and other basic principles. But not all of us can create music like the Beatles did. Not all of us can apply basic principles from other facets of life and make them work for business. Ideas are what separate us. Ideas are pieces of our soul that go off and plant themselves into something new.

Do you really want to part from that just because you can't get to everything NOW NOW NOW? I don't know. I enjoy helping people. I enjoy sharing. But to give all of my ideas away now rather than saving them for a rainy day? That makes *me* kind of itchy.

What do you think? Tell me what your belief is. Do you agree with Glenn and Cindy or do you see things more like me, or are you in a totally different park?



1st Image by Fabrizio Ginesi. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/fabridea
2nd Image by Milan Jurek. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/milan6
3rd Image by Julia Freeman-Woolpert. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/juliaf

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh boy...Vlogging

So, I have been hearing about all of this Vlogging now. My blogging wasn't enough for you, Social Media World!! (I am raising my fist right now).

Anyway, it's not exactly a Spielberg or a Lucas, but it's a first! The quality is not very good, which I don't really understand. Ready to learn!




video

Why Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places keep me up nights

I went to the mall today (I took a day off) and was generally horrified by the experience on many levels. There were so many overly fragrant smells that my allergies clicked into full gear. The whole experience was made more strange by the fact that the mall's general sound system was playing some sort of ambient music that made me feel like I was an extra walking around in a movie. But what really bothered me...what really stuck with me...is that I saw two little boys playing on one of those little toy car rides. Neither could have been much over 8. And they were completely unattended. Now I am not a parent. I do understand that 2 young boys can be quite a handful when you are trying to shop. But I can't really think of a good reason to find this acceptable.

Paranoid Android

I had always been really sensitive to the "stranger danger" approach. My parents trained me very well. Even so, in fifth grade, I was left unattended on a field trip to a nursing home (we had to "adopt" grandparents for class) and the son of my "grandmother" took me to see the nursing home chapel. No harm came to me, but when I related the story to my mom, you can imagine her response. It ended okay for me. It easily could have been otherwise. I wasn't a dumb kid. I just felt secure and didn't give it a second's thought.

Then, in 2004, I saw something that drew even more attention about the dangers for children out there. I was watching the news and saw a video of a young girl named Carlie Brucia actually being led off by the man who would eventually kill her. Conversations sprang up everywhere. Did she know the man from a chatroom? Look at all of the other kids who were being kidnapped by people whom they thought they knew through the online world. Spotlight on.

Fast Forward to Now

About a year ago, I guess, I started seeing Foursquare updates. As I learned more about it through my job in marketing, I had red alarms flashing on and off in my head. Then I saw foursquare updates showing up in my Twitter stream. And now, this week, there is the news about Facebook Places.

Now, as a friend of mine would say, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer here. I am all in favor of continuing to advance new technologies, and the marketer in me sometimes drools at the thought of what geo-location technology could mean for companies. But...

I have an 8-year-old cousin who knows how to text. Kids younger than that are getting on the web to play Webkins. Kids are growing up immersed with this stuff, and it's all part of the fabric of their lives. Who is making sure that they know about the dangers of the online world?

Not even ten years ago, the big danger was awful people who would go to chatrooms, befriend kids, lure the kids to a meeting place, and often the story would not end well. What I am finding so troublesome right now is that if a person wants to cause harm, all they have to do is go on Twitter and search for terms that would help them out. They don't have to have an account. They don't have to sign in. Even Facebook is searchable if accounts aren't locked down, and guess what? When I went into my account yesterday, all of the permissions were turned OFF for Facebook places. Are we making sure our kids and teens know about this stuff?

Maybe we could consider this before the first big tragedy happens.

You could say this all seems pretty obvious. Of course parents are going to monitor their kids' accounts. And I'm sure YOU would. But I saw two kids unattended at the mall today. Do you think those 2 boys are going to be educated about the dangers of things like Foursquare?

Think about it?






Image by Svilen Milev. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/svilen001

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I never thought it would happen to me: Lessons on community

This morning, my Dad/boss and I attended the annual "Shelter from the Storm" fundraising breakfast for ACCESS Women's Shelter. ACCESS is kind of like the little engine that could. Founded in 1984 exclusively to help single homeless women and their children (2 groups often neglected by other shelters), ACCESS has had to deal with continuing cuts in federal support and increasing demands on their time and facilities. At the breakfast this morning a video was shown that was simple yet powerful. The concept was based on a sight many of us are all too familiar with -- a homeless person holding up a tattered cardboard sign. In this video, current and former residents of the ACCESS shelter held up a cardboard sign showing the challenges they were or are coping with, and then, the cardboard sign was flipped, and they proudly showed the progress they have made. Needless to say, there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

A couple of years ago, Josh Gippin (who happens to be a cousin of mine) developed a short documentary on ACCESS for the same event. In the documentary, and in general when you talk to current and former residents of ACCESS, you hear 2 things a lot. "I never thought it would happen to me" and the word community. Many of these women lost their jobs and their homes because they became extremely ill, didn't have adequate health coverage, and just couldn't cope. When they call ACCESS, they are feeling a range of emotions from shame to guilt to ineptitude to who knows what else. When they arrive at ACCESS, though, they feel welcome. They feel like they have been invited into a community. They are residents, not numbers.

Sometimes, "I never thought it would happen to me" can be good news

This talk of community wound its way through my brain and crashed into something that happened yesterday. Chris Brogan wrote a beautiful piece about my friend Suzanne Vara. He talked about Suzanne's capacity for community-building. He talked about how smart she is, and even mentioned her love of the Mets and Jets. For once, Chris wasn't telling me something new. However, the really amazing and mind-blowing thing is that Chris noted that he and Suzanne had mentioned me, of all people, as a friend and as a professional with potential. Suzanne wrote today that she considers me a part of her community. I never thought it would happen to me. Indeed, when I think about the people who populate my various communities -- my Social Media community, my family community, my community of long-time friends, I ponder how it is I got so lucky.

Flip over that cardboard

I think that a lot of people associate building friendships and communities with sharing sad news, supporting each other during hard times, and always being ready to serve as the shoulder to cry on. These are all important functions, but it is only the sad part of the tale. The women of ACCESS have been able to build a community based on a shared will to survive and thrive. I have been invited into communities where respect, admiration, adoration, fun, and dedication march by perpetually in a ticker tape parade. Why don't we try to build communities on the new side of the cardboard? Why look for the company that misery loves when we could look instead for the lifeline that leaves misery behind?

Since this is a marketing blog...

So what does this have to do with you? What does this have to do with marketing or business? Well, quite a lot, actually. You see, people are talking a lot about how business in the 21st century is about being human and developing one-on-one connections. But now, after thinking about this for a couple of days, I'm not sure that's quite right. I think that businesses that will thrive in this new era will do so because they have built communities. Those communities won't be built upon shared cynicism or shared angst. Those communities will be built on some central positive core that the business builds. I can't tell you what the little nugget will be. It'll be different for everyone. But people will latch on to that positivity. They'll start talking to each other about how welcoming the house is that you have built. They'll start talking about how nice it is that you provide whatever special thing you provide. You'll listen when they talk, they'll listen and talk to each other, much like people gather around a campfire.

Creating this community could begin with a simple change of wording. Many of us marketers write ad copy (and some experts in Social Media advise blog posts to be like this too) that is focused on a problem. What if we alter our focus to the solution? Everyone knows what problems there are. Our houses are always getting dusty. Roofs are always leaking. Kitties and puppies are always having accidents on new, freshly installed carpeting. We all know that stuff. It's all part of the shared human experience. Can the message be changed? Can the creation of good feeling build a community as much as complaining about a problem?

"You know I love you" is not enough

The real glue in a community like this is showing appreciation. Verbalizing appreciation. Do your favorite customers know that they are your favorite customers? Do your top sales reps know that they are your top sales reps? Does that person you talk about at the dinner table know that you are really amazed at how they are kicking butt?

The amazing thing about so many people I have met in the Social Media world, people like Suzanne and Chris and Maya Paveza and Stanford Smith and Lisa Alexander and Danny Garcia and so many others too numerous to name is that they aren't shy about saying a kind word. It doesn't have to be your birthday or a holiday. It doesn't have to be a reaction to a tragic tweet or a funny Facebook update. They just lift you up because that's what they do. That's why they are great community builders, in the end. You know where they stand with you, and if you stand well, it's an honor.

Translate that to all facets of your life. Lift your family up. Lift your friends up. Lift up your customers and your co-workers. Build community. Create in people around you that wonderful version of an oft-heard phrase. "I never thought it would happen to me." What do you think? Can we do it?

2nd Image Credit: Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/leovdworp
3rd Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/spekulator

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Social Media Success Depends on T&A

There are tons and tons of books out there on Social Media, and I get the feeling more are being created as we speak, but the whole secret to finding success in Social Media can really be summed up by two words. Talking and Answers.

What? What were you thinking of?

What does Social Media success look like?

Before I explain myself, I feel it's important to clarify that "success" is a three-tiered monster when it comes to social networking sites.

In no particular order (with 1 being the most important in my book), those three tiers are:

1. Meeting brilliant, amazing, wonderful people

2. Creating professional networks that can serve your business in the future

3. Creating money-making scenarios for you and/or your business

Now that we're on the same page, let's get back to T&A (talking and answers)

Talking

Last night during the inaugural #techchat on Twitter, some ideas were thrown around regarding how to interact (or react) on Twitter. As I've mentioned before, when I first started tweeting, I was generally a link posting machine. It was boring for me, and I'm pretty certain it was boring for any folks who were following me at the time. So I decided, "Well, maybe I'll just start talking to people. Like how we used to do in real life." That decision, I am convinced, is what made Twitter become a resource for me rather than just something to post to.

There's a lot of pressure on people to post nothing but meaningful and interesting things when using Social Media for business. We are constantly told that we need to make ourselves stand out, we need to prove we are thought leaders, etc. I'm sure a lot of that is true to at least some extent. However, it's okay, and sometimes extremely rewarding, to talk about things that are perhaps not as valuable to your general cadre of followers. Sometimes you will see me talking about baseball. Sometimes you will see me talking about Monty Python. Yesterday I lamented my failing reading skills as I kept reading news about China Unicom as China Unicorn.

My rule of thumb? No one wants to talk to an encyclopedia, and no one wants to talk to that annoying relative who talks about colonoscopies and doggy doodoo all the time. Stray away from those ends of the spectrum and you'll have the talking part of the formula down.

Answers

That being said, talking about things, whether ethereal or boring, won't necessarily help you meet people who are in your profession or who are interested in the same things you are. That's why answers are also key.

Answers can be kind of tricky on sites like Facebook and Twitter. It's very easy to come across as a know-it-all sometimes, especially when people don't know how to read your tonality. If you think about it though, most of what thought leaders and other successful Social Media folk post consists of answers to questions you may or may not realize you have. Why are people like Denise Wakeman, Mari Smith, DM Scott, Ann Handley, Beth Harte, and Chris Brogan successful? Because they are providing you information you didn't really think about needing. The information is provided before you even know what to ask.

Answers are the engines of success behind sites like PushingSocial, CopyBlogger, and ProBlogger.  People go to these sites, retweet posts, and comment because there is always a feeling that the information being provided is important. It's a constant stream of important answers.

On LinkedIn, giving answers is something that is requested. The "answers" section is a treasure trove for building this part of your Social Media portfolio. What I have come to enjoy is not just offering my opinions or solutions, but also seeing how other people answer and interacting with them. A combination of talking and answers can reveal many of your strengths simultaneous and can also be a great way to make strong connections.

You may be saying to yourself that there must be something beyond these two words that could lead to any type of Social Media success. I have thought about this and find that most of my responses pretty easily fall into either or both of these categories. I'm open to being proven wrong, however. Go ahead, make my day :)


1st Image by Michaela Kobyakov. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/michaelaw
2nd Image by Nate Brelsford. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/runrunrun
3rd Image by Julia Freeman-Woolpert. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/juliaf

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Social Media Case Study You'll Never Hear About

Every morning for the last couple of months, the first thing that I reach for is my Blackberry, which sleeps comfortably on my night stand. I don't reach for my alarm because, annoyingly, I tend to wake up 10 minutes before it's set to go off. I reach for my Blackberry, and inevitably there is a little flashing red light signifying that I have email messages. Then I check Facebook and Twitter in a skimming kind of way, and then I begin my day.


Does your day start in a similar fashion?

Social Media seems to be everywhere these days, and its power and potential seem palpable. Every day there are case studies explaining how social media helped a start-up become a corporate giant. There are stories about how individuals went from a computer and phone to an industry leader. There is a different kind of success story available. It's not as sexy. It may not sound as exciting. But it's just as valuable.

The Zen of Standing Still

Late last year, we launched a Social Media services program we call ClayComm 2.0. There are two parts to it. The first part is research and the second part consists of various ways to implement an agreed upon Social Media strategy. We always recommend that our clients start with the research part before we begin any kind of implementation.

There is one story in particular that I want to tell you about.

One of our clients asked us to research what Social Media tactics should be pursued for their company. We ended up with research that suggested there just isn't a lot going on in this client's particular industry except for on YouTube, where there was a fair amount of relevant videos. We suggested keeping ears and eyes open on other channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but we said that YouTube seemed to be the best place to start. Instead of investing a great deal of time in a Facebook strategy that would have taken an extremely long time to bear any benefits, we targeted our client's focus to something that would jump start their presence in social media. In the long haul, videos highlighting their particular strengths will be ideal building blocks for any type of Social Media campaign that follows.

The Difference Between Making Money and Saving Money

A lot of case studies point to a specific metric of improvement. We increased sales by x%. We grew by x%. There's of course nothing wrong with such measurements of success. You've probably noticed, though, that there is not a lot out there about companies who jumped on to Facebook or Twitter and then abandoned the accounts. It doesn't take much searching to find examples of these orphaned efforts. How much time and energy was invested in those accounts before the realization hit that it was not the right time or the right environment? What if a company hires a social media manager only to find that, as is the case sometimes, social media is just not as integral to that industry yet?

We advocate researching on the front end. Sometimes, the result will be that social media is just something we need to monitor. That's not to say that it will never happen. That's not to say that you can never be a pioneer. But we measure the risks on the front end, before the time (which we all know equates to money) is invested.

It's not the kind of success that is easy to point to. It's noticing what's not there -- a Facebook page with a few product promos, a company Twitter page with 3 tweets. It's using time, energy, and money wisely. It's the kind of success that can alter a company's path for the better, even if the hows and whys are not known from the start. There may not be an acronym for money saved through researched strategies, but perhaps there should be.

Have you experienced a similar kind of success? Feel free to share it here.

Image by Bethany Carlson. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bewinca

Monday, August 16, 2010

The danger of "Online Marketing Tools"

I was wading through Twitter this morning, coffee cup in hand, when I saw a post from Ann Handley. She had been quoted in the Wall Street Journal! Being a fan, I decided to see what she had to say. Although I'm still happy that Ann got quoted by such an important source, the article itself left me deeply troubled. Titled "A Guide to Online Marketing Tools," the article essentially is a "cheat sheet" for people who are starting their own companies and want to "easily design fliers, stationery, and business cards," etc. Some might see the article as an invaluable resource, and others might see it as a sign of the times. My own perspective, as an agency person and as a believer in the highest quality work and the most integrated, cohesive marketing campaigns possible, is that the article represents numerous potential pitfalls that today's companies, start-up or otherwise, could easily avoid with some guidance.

In order to explain my point of view a bit, let me review some of the points that the author, Shara Tibken, details.

"Get It On Paper"

Ms. Tibken begins by explaining how companies can use online templates to create stationery, fliers, and business cards. These websites are certainly no secret. Companies like Office Max, Staples, and FedEx have been touting these services for awhile. I won't lie either - most of the time, you'll get a serviceable product. Serviceable. How does this differ from what a marketing firm or agency can do for you, however?

Fliers: I'm not sure if the reference here is to sell sheets or something else, but let's assume we're talking about a single-sided sell sheet. Can you plug an image and some copy into a template? Sure, of course. Here is my concern for companies that take this route, however.
     • Are you integrating important keywords and phrases into your copy?
     • Is someone proofreading your copy?
     • Are you making sure that the images used will translate well in print as well as online?
     • Are you using a stock of paper that speaks to high quality, or is the stock kind of thin?
     • How are you going to use the flier? Are you going to post it to your website for download?

Stationery and Business Cards: It's really easy to take things like stationery and business cards for granted. However, when we work on these projects, we refer to the entire project as "corporate identity." This tends to lend a little more gravity to the situation. The article notes that creating stationery and business cards is as easy as point and click, but there are other considerations that are not as intuitive. For example, if you are a start-up, what is your logo? What is your corporate tagline? Do you want or need one? What is the most important information to include on your business cards? These are all things that marketing and agency folks think about. If done correctly, creating a corporate identity for yourself (which could also include an email signature convention, packaging, and more) is much more than simply plugging in your contact information.

"Making Pictures Perfect"

Next, the article talks about photography. Ms. Tibken begins this section with an indisputable truth. A good photo can be a real key to success for any kind of campaign, or even for just getting a company off the ground.

The first thing that is a bit misleading about this section is that Ms. Tibken mentions all of the various sources a person can use to "clean up" a photo  if it's not ready to go from the start. You can remove red eye, you can add a background. Again, these things are not secrets. I knew about photoshop before I joined the business. The thing is, the kind of touch-ups that really show quality are things the article does not mention. How do you strip out an image, for example? Why do you need to do that? What is a hi-res versus a low-res image, and when do you need to use one or the other? What is the difference between a .jpg file and a .tif file? Which one, for example, would you upload to create your flier?

Next, the article discusses professional websites where you can purchase images. Again, nothing mind boggling here. These sites have been around for quite some time. Again, though, the issue is more complex than simply carrying with you a willingness to purchase a professional picture. One important thing the article does not mention is that because everyone has access to these sites, the chances for two companies in the same line of business to end up using the same stock photo are extremely high. Without the guidance of a marketing firm or agency, the burden will be on you to research what your competitors and peers are doing with their marketing materials. They may gravitate towards the same images you do. Do you want your ad or website to meld with your competitors in peoples' minds?

Less philosophical is the problem of usage. Many photo stock sites offer low resolution, high resolution, and different sizes. Different sizes have different prices. How do you know, without professional knowledge, which you will need? If you guess incorrectly, that is more money out of your pocket.

"Don't Go It Alone"

Interestingly, I thought this section was going to encourage readers to at least seek out consultation from marketing experts. Instead, however, this section details sites like crowdSpring LLC, which Bob Garfield talks about in The Chaos Scenario. The jist is that you don't have to create all of your work yourself.

Well,  you can probably guess what I'm going to say.

Yes, it's true that all kinds of work can be generated by all kinds of people. Let's use this hypothetical situation. You are launching a new product that you think is going to put your start-up company on the map. You know that you want a website, a sell sheet or brochure, a product-specific logo, and some ads. It is 100% possible to go to a crowdsourcing site for each of those products. However, without the proper guidance behind each project brief, you are very likely to end up with projects that bear no relation to each other. This is problematic for several reasons. It's difficult to build a brand without recognizable features. It's hard to stand out in a crowd without a cohesive campaign. It's hard to translate your corporate and product mission to 20 different people, most especially if you don't have that information at hand yourself.

Can crowdsourcing sites work? Oh, absolutely. But if you are trying to create an entire campaign, it is quite dangerous to think that using this methodology will save you time and money with a positive ROI in the end.

The ending of the article, which is where Ann Handley's quote appears, does mention some good points. Make sure you have a call to action. Don't just create content to do it. My concern is that if you begin to rely on these open source solutions for the execution of your work, you may miss some of the background thought, research and strategy that will make all of those separate pieces come together as one giant, successful jigsaw puzzle.

Will working with an agency represent more of an investment than some of these "online tools"? The answer may not be as black-and-white as you may think. Although some of these online tools look cheap or free, the costs can add up if there are mistakes, constant changes, or updates made necessary by a lack of planning. Something to consider.

1st Image by Hector Landaeta. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/coloniera2
2nd Image by ilker. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ilco