All boats float to the top. If you work with me on a project, you will hear me say this, or a variation of it, at least once. It’s my way of illustrating that a group effort often goes farther than an individual’s efforts can to get something done, and that working together well carries everyone to success.
Lately I’ve been thinking of this in terms of meetings, meet ups, and groups. Somehow, somewhen, folks got the notion that starting a group or hosting a tweetup* was a great way to increase awareness of a brand or person. This dramatic increase in self promotion changed the dynamic of those groups and meetups and such dramatically.
One thing I hear often about Social Media Breakfast NH is how much people like the atmosphere. Half the time, people in attendance don’t even figure out right away that I started the group up here – they come in and get coffee, breakfast and knowledge on new topics, followed by discussion, and they like that there is no sales pitch from any speaker. That’s very purposeful. As anyone who has helped me plan SMBNH or sponsored it before can tell you, I am militant about not marketing to the attendees. Yes, you’ll get passive marketing, marketing by association, you’ll see small logos here and there, but no one gets to grab the mic and sell their brand or wares to a captive audience – the focus is on the learning experience.
That’s one example of how not making events branded or promotional can work well, to be sure, but keep in mind that I’ve been doing this a while and I’ve had a lot more time than most to make the organic, solid connections that make that kind of event possible. The problem of having events that are more about the branding than the connections is a bit more recent – growing more prevalent within the last two years. It goes hand in hand with the other issue that seems to be occurring: creating a new group instead of partnering with an existing one.
I’d love it if folks took a minute before planning their next event or tweetup or launching a new group to look around and see if there is already a group in existence or a tweetup planned that they could help with, become a part of or enhance. Not only will this strengthen your community ties and help grow your own organic network over time, it will strengthen the audience for everyone. By not asking people to divide their attention like so many shards of glass, you will start to see a more dynamic group forming around the cohesive whole created when folks don’t have to pick and choose, but feel welcomed into a group that is willing to expand and adapt to include new ideas and people.
* tweetups were originally informal and unplanned meetings of folks you knew on Twitter based around a spontaneous location, but now people use Foursquare to reclaim that user driven functionality
I did an interesting session at a company in Boston yesterday that has a problem many businesses coming into Social Media share: they have a business that deals with a product or service that has a low “interesting” quotient. This problem is faced by loan companies, insurance agencies, tax consultants and a few hundred other types of businesses. For these companies, generating interesting content is possible, but getting people to go and view it can be a challenge.
What then, should the social media outreach for these companies include? So many social media consultants only preach content and persona, but that is a solution that does not work for every type of business. The particular company I worked with yesterday had decided to focus their initial efforts on Twitter (single platform deployment is not a strategy I often recommend, but in their case, fully appropriate based on their time constraints and resources).
In the case of a business that falls into this “uninteresting but useful” group, my advice is:
1) Be Helpful – make it a point to share your knowledge about your topic. In these cases, people may find unusual content increases your attractiveness to them as a destination site from your social media outpost, but it most likely isn’t what will get them there. Having resource pages for linking to and referencing and a willingness to have a human in your company answer questions and give helpful advice will work far better than funny videos or other content as the initial point of conversion. Then the “add on” content may help increase length of stay once you get people to click through to your site. The recommendation with this approach is a clear profile on your social media outpost that lets people know your policies (if there are restrictions on what you can answer from your industry, for example, or if you have a certain time of day you can make yourself available).
2) Be Honest – people are looking for companies they can trust in this tight economy. Be willing to say you don’t know something, be willing not to exaggerate or give false information just to land a sale. Make sure your information is accurate and your employees are interacting with integrity.
3) Be Human – much of the interactions with companies begin with customer frustration. That’s just the way of things – we should tell companies when we’re happy as often as we tell them when we, the consumers, are disappointed, frustrated or angry, but the tendency is not to do so (side note: Twitter is one of the few places where you’ll find more equal parts company satisfaction vs company dissatisfaction mentions). What this means for you is that even if your social media outpost is a message channel, a place for advice or a peer network for you, you will run into customers who will bring you customer service needs via that channel from time to time. Handle them in a way that leaves the customer with a god emotional aftertaste from your interaction, and make your company more human.
4) Landing Page – I can not stress the importance of a great social media landing page for all businesses enough, but especially businesses like these. You want to make all of your outposts easy to find, you want to make your reasons for being in social media clear, you want to integrate your offline marketing efforts clearly into the page, you want to tell people what you can do for them succinctly, and you want to have a site that is easy to navigate by a person who knows nothing about you or your industry.
5) Listen – set up monitoring sites and analytics trackers in as many places as possible. If you are on a site that offers analytics, like Facebook’s Insights on fan pages, make good use of those as well. Set aside time each day to focus on what people are saying about your company, industry and staff. Make sure you hear what they are actually saying – often a customer’s perception of a company is quite different than the company’s perception of itself! Then use your outposts to do daily outreach, always being human.
If you are a business on Facebook that set up a personal profile page, you should probably go back in, delete it and start over with either a fan page or a group. If you are a business or brand with a personal profile page who has tried to add me as a friend, you’ve gotten a polite note from me telling you that same thing, without going into detail, along with an “ignore”. I thought I’d give a brief summary of the choices and the basics of what the three options mean to your business or brand.
Personal Profile Pages
Before Facebook changed its interface to be more like an aggregator or life stream (FriendFeed) and microblog (Twitter) plus personal network, there was a bigger difference in how personal profiles and fan pages worked. Now, they look and act in a much more similar fashion. This means that the only real difference between them is in how they limit your brand growth on Facebook. Personal profile pages can only have 5000 friends. This isn’t a big deal to the average person, but it is if you are Gary Vaynerchuk, Robert Scoble or Jeff Pulver and others like them where your name IS your brand, so to speak.
What it means to a business is that you can only get 5000 friends. Businesses need to reach, listen to and engage far more than 5000 people on a social network to achieve measurable results. This makes the personal profile an unwise choice of message delivery, listening and engagement for a business or brand – it is like putting a cap on your own growth. That leaves you with two options: the fan page and the group.
The group page works very well if you are an organization, brand or business who is trying to get controlled discussions going and go viral to a target audience. The group interface makes it easier for people who belong to it to see where to put their content, how to set up a new threaded discussion or view ongoing ones to add their two cents, upload photos and more. Like all things in Facebook, groups share similar content capabilities with fan pages and personal profile pages, the user interface is just slightly different.
One key benefit to a group page that a fan page lacks is the ability to generate viral marketing. Not only can you bulk invite and bulk message in a group – your group members can bulk invite as well. This makes it much easier to populate a group with people quickly, generating almost immediate activity. It also makes it easier for a good, fun group to become viral. This makes it key to keep adding fresh content and topics to your group, and to encourage your group members to participate as well. Word of caution: be careful how many messages you send! Too many will have people unfollowing your group because it is spammy.
Groups have some fun participatory features that encourage involvement. Once of these is the ability to make people “officers” of the group, publicly recognizing their contribution to your brand without having to give them administrative privileges. This goes a long way toward encouraging goodwill (and on some group pages, the titles chosen are also a way to inject some humor into the page, like a roast). Other features that encourage involvement, like adding links and photos, can also be found on fan pages, though they get their own very easy to locate sections on the group pages for reference later. In fan pages they are part of the larger stream of information that is more relative to what’s going on in the moment.
Fan pages are important if your brand needs to be indexed on Google. Currently, fan pages are the only Facebook area that can be fully seen by the search engine crawlers, so if you are looking for more exposure for your brand outside of Facebook as well as inside of Facebook, a fan page is the way to go for SEO. Fan pages are not quite as viral as groups: the invite feature limits the admin of the page to a few invites at a time, and does not let fans do much in the way of sharing the page at all. Also, you can’t make fans into officers to show appreciation on fan pages.
A fan page works a lot more like a profile page now that Facebook has made the changes mentioned earlier. This means that information goes to the wall or stream for continuing, real time updates similar to sites like Twitter. Not only that, it gets sent to your fans’ streams as well, just like a personal profile page would. You can add a small box to your sidebar to show photos and links, and a box for information on your company, such as business hours and similar hard info; however, not all people think to look there, whereas in the groups the design draws the user’s eye naturally down the page to the various categories.
Currently, fan pages are also the only way to get an URL (web address) that isn’t an atrociously long set of random numbers and letters. While it is imperfect still, the fan page URL does have your fan page name in it, so name your page well. As we watch Facebook roll out vanity URLs to some major users like Ashton Kutcher, we can’t help but think that soon people and businesses may have a way to get better URLs on all Facebook pages, though it isn’t clear if they will offer it for free or a fee.
While there are many things that are similar between group pages and fan pages, there are two things that make fan pages slightly stand out. One is the ability to add applications that are relevant to your business. For example, if you are a restaurant, Facebook fan pages let you integrate your existing Open Table account, as well as Zagat reviews and similar tools. Groups don’t integrate like that with applications. The other is the ability to offer tabs (like personal profile pages) across the top of the screen, to make it easier for your fans to navigate, then associate various fan levels with a landing page (for example, non-fans can be set to land on the tab for your detailed information, including hours of operation, while fans can be sent over to the live stream).
Other Issues To Think About
• Both group pages and fan pages offer event integration, though it is key to note if you use an outside service like EventBrite or Amiando to charge for tickets you may run into snags with people thinking that by signing up on Facebook to get your event added to their Facebook calendar application they are fully signed up for your list. It takes some finesse to direct them from the event on either style of page.
• You may want to consider having both a group and a fan page, if you have a little time to spend maintaining both, or if you have help from multiple admins. That way you can link between the two, sending fans and group members to both places. It also lets your brand reap the individual benefits of both styles – viral and indexing. It does increase your maintenance time, which is an issue for brands pressed for time.
• The last issue I’ll address is one with Facebook itself. Currently, when you are the administrator of a fan page, you do not show up as yourself when posting. This poses two issues. number one, it makes your stream look like a rolling advert with nothing but your logo making post after post, when in fact you are just conversing. Two, it doesn’t allow for differentiation between several admins, meaning they all look the same and fans can’t tell which company rep they are talking to unless the rep remembers to sign their update with some kind of identifier like ^lp, etc. it would be beneficial to see that change, reducing the confusion and annoyance it causes and allowing admins to show as their own profile image from their personal profile instead of the logo.
I realize I only skimmed the surface of the capabilities of fan pages, group pages and personal profile pages. I didn’t discuss some of the finer points as this was intended as a quick sketch of why you might choose each one. More specifically, it was intended to show why choosing a personal profile page may be a bad choice for your business. I’ll go into some finer points of using Facebook in a separate post.
Many in the online space remember Heather Armstrong, better known as Dooce, and how she was one of the first people to get fired for their blog. That seemed to be in keeping with the corporate climate then and now, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: that needs to change. Almost every company should be tapping into the resources they already have to reach this new online space, especially in these times of a tight economy.
One of the first things I tell a new client is that part of the evaluation I make of their office is determining the existing resources they have to create a successful social media presence without undue expenditures on their part. I consider the employees of a company part of a company’s social media resources. I always recommend having me help them set a policy in their employee handbook that handles online presence and covers issues like privacy and basic conduct online, then include their existing staff in my training sessions.
Every employee has down time. Even the most over worked have a few minutes each day to play around online. I think companies who frown on corporate time used for a bit of personal fun are missing the mark. Yes, clear guidelines should be in place to make sure that your employees aren’t posting confidential information, and I do recommend choosing one or two “point people” to become the bulk of the company presence online, but there is no reason why your other employees can’t also disclose that they work for you, talk a bit about what they (and the company) do, and help make your brand more accessible.
The one or two “point people” you choose should be people able to get things done within the company. These people should become your help channel, your news conduit, your marketing source for social media. Think of them as the @comcastcares or @zappos for your brand. Then you should have other employees as minor points of information and news (Zappo is a great example of this in action as they have a number of employees on Twitter and other platforms). Above all else, everyone in the social media space for your company should be personable and make sure to include fun, personal tidbits in with the corporate. It makes your brand seem more likable, more accessible and creates a fan base for your service or product.
It is my opinion that anyone telling you to hire one person to be your company spokesperson online is leading you astray. Yes, you absolutely need social media training, a guide, if you will, to come in and help you and your employees learn the best practices of social media. This includes helping you pick the social media platform (or platforms) you are most comfortable with (not everyone needs Twitter, people) and learning how to use them in an effective and efficient way. It is much more cost effective to pay someone (yes, someone like me or others who do what I do) to come in and teach you how to help yourself online than it is to spend loads of money on an annual salary for one person to “brand you”. You are not a cow. Brand yourself – use existing resources, get some outside training and best practices in place, and let your employees really be part of the process. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.