I didn’t have time to write a post today, finishing the next book is my main focus this afternoon, but I did quickly chat about Pinterest and Google’s new social search. I’m interested in your thoughts:
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
Monday I was on a panel at the VRMS Emerging Marketing Technology Summit in Boston. My fellow panelists (Suzi Craig of Fathom and Steve Ustaris of Studiocom) and our moderator (Brian Costello of Red Plum) and I attacked the perils and opportunities of social media as it related to the attendees during our hour long discussion.
I thought I’d post my slides here for any of you interested. The panel decided to wing it without slides to promote the concept of communication and get the attendees more involved, and it seemed to have everyone engaged throughout. I expanded on all of the points in the slides, though they don’t show the additional remarks I made specifically for the grocery/shopper loyalty program industry.
The biggest point I stressed for the VRMS attendees was the importance of listening. You don’t have to have a brand presence in social media to listen to what is going on in social media as relates to your brand. Listening is free. It’s simple to implement. It doesn’t take a lot of corporate bandwidth to get going. Every brand should have as many ears to the virtual ground as possible, soaking up information so that they can begin laying the foundation for their eventual foray into this often overwhelming medium.
I also stressed how you listen as well. Listen without defending. Listen without agreeing. Listen actively, but just LISTEN. You are listening to make sure you understand what people are trying to tell you or say about you and brand. The engagement part, the part where you can try to interact with the brand’s perception online, comes later. Engagement comes after understanding what you have listened to.
If you aren’t using a social media guide who recommends that you tap into your existing staff for social media impact, you may be with the wrong guide. One of the first things we do for a new client is evaluate their existing resources. Nine times out of ten, they are overlooking their greatest asset in social media: their staff. This has a long lasting negative effect on their prospects in social media, and it also means they are missing out on a great way to encourage employee loyalty and longevity at the company.
One of the benefits of social media as a medium for business communication and the promotion of artists, musicians and more is how cost effective and far reaching it is. Increasing your social leverage leads to a variety of tangible and intangible benefits for any company. It’s easy to see the external benefits, such as increased customer satisfaction, improved customer service, benefits to how your customers and potential customers perceive you, indirect sales, the ability to drive traffic to your web site or to the web sites of your company’s favorite causes or collaborators, corporate growth potential and so much more. It is harder to see that part of the cost efficiency lies in finding ways to use what and who you already have within the company to the fullest.
If you are a firm with a massive staff load in the tens of thousands, or a legal firm, government body or hospital with special privacy concerns, then yes, you should hire one person to handle your social media campaigns. Those scenarios require more focus than the average company. If you have a company with a few thousand employees, a medium or small company, or are an entrepreneur running a micro business, you should start to look at your entire staff as your marketing and social media department.
It is common business practice to monitor or restrict time spent online, to throw road blocks up against social sites like FaceBook, MySpace and even LinkedIn. My question to every company is why limit your business and your employee growth in that way? Blocking your own success at the firewall is not going to get you anywhere. All employees have down time. Everyone gets a little bored at work sometimes, even the busiest CEO or freelancer. Why not tap that down time and boredom? With the proper training and a few simple guidelines worked out with your employees, your legal or management team and your social media consultant, every moment of boredom could be turned into fun for your employees and indirect inbound marketing for you.
Every person has a network. Whether they are talking to their network about plans for the weekend or about you, your company name and link shows up in the work section of every social profile they have. This means that every interaction could be drawing eyeballs to your business. With a little training on how to effectively add in references to your company, to offer assistance appropriate to their position in your company, and other options, you could have your company’s online presence amplified to reach the networks of every employee (and their networks’ networks) in a very short period of time.
With that kind of social leverage at your fingertips, why aren’t you using it?
I recently talked about the ways social advertising and investing in a new form of marketing – engagement marketing via social media – can enhance your business in an economic downturn. Everything we know about return on investment (ROI) is changing. Engagement marketing is certainly a hot topic, and it can help revamp a strained marketing budget, but what does it mean for the enterprise or entrepreneur?
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.