What Does it Mean to "Engage" Anyway?

The word, "engage" is rapidly becoming a hackneyed and overused cliche lately in social media circles. People use engage to mean you can't just talk AT people on social media and you can't treat Twitter and Facebook like used car lot commercials on TV.

All well and good. Social media is a very different animal from traditional media. Marketers simply can't engage in one-way broadcasting of their messages like they have in the past.

"Engage" means to cultivate multiple conversations between a brand and its customers.

The first conversation is of course from the Brand to the customer. It will always be important to inform your customer base and send out messages. Broadcasting is not wrong, it is just not enough by itself anymore.

But that first one-way conversation is not engaging. It doesn't elicit a response from the people who hear it. It rarely gets them talking or excited about your brand. But the second conversation is engaging, it is a conversation from the customer back to the brand.

This is why listening is vital in social media. It was indicative of this one-way mentality to look at how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton used social media during the 2008 presidential campaign. On the same day, just before the Democratic convention, Obama was following 46,252 people on Twitter, but Clinton was following exactly zero other Twitter users.

Note: That isn't the number of people that followed them, it was the number of people they were following.

If that statistic doesn't indicate the difference between a one-way broadcast mentality and a two-way conversation approach, I'm not sure what would. By not following a single person, Clinton was conveying the impression, if not the actual fact, that she wasn't listening.

Here's another example: This past summer I did a study of Showbiz Pizza, a nationally recognized chain headquartered here in the Dallas - Fort Worth area that includes the Chuck E. Cheese brand of pizza stores. I found that the brand name "Chuck E. Cheese" was mentioned approximately 6,000 times on Twitter in a 30 day period overlapping June and July, 2010.

But the company made not one single response to these Twitter users who mentioned their brand. This is the equivalent of someone handing you a six-figure check and not taking it to your bank until after it expired.

My friend Scott Stratton, who goes by the Twitter name @unmarketing, says that he tries to make 75% of his tweets replies to other people's tweets. That means that only 25% of his Twitter communications are broadcasts. And on the first month he started hitting that 75% mark, his number of followers grew by 10,000.

The fact is that people talk about brands, products, services and companies on social media. They discuss their good experiences and their bad. They mention plans to spend money on these brands. or they sometimes try to talk others out of spending money because of a bad experience they had with a brand.

If you are not responding to these mentions, if you are not acknowledging the people who are talking about you, you are acting like Hillary Clinton and you most certainly do not get social media.

A company that is not playing in the social media playground can never know what is being said about them. But a company that is listening can respond, clarify misinformation, can make a bad experience right and turn it around, and it can reward or recognize the brand's fans.

Yes I said fans. If have a very good product and deliver good service you will probably have fans. But if you make a practice of responding to comments and mentions of your brand, your fan base will grow exponentially.

Reward these people. Not with money, but by talking to them as real people, individuals, not "market segments." And act like a real person when you talk to them. People like to buy from people. Part of "engaging" is to have person to person conversations.

An additional reward you can gain from this second conversation is the most current and useful market data you could ever obtain. Social media is real time information. If you listen, and listen carefully, you can learn more than you could ever learn from a focus group or market survey.

Finally, the third conversation is customer to customer. If you tweet or post about quality content on social media, you will find some people telling their friends. The will "re-tweet" your messages to their friends and followers.

I just heard Paul Slack, a principal at Splashmedia speak this week, and he said several times that real success on social media comes when people start sharing your content (your videos, your blog posts, etc) to other people.

This is an excellent point. Social media is all about viral marketing, which is simply word of mouth on steroids. But the hard truth for many marketers is that word of mouth will never happen if they just engage in one-way conversations.

What experiences have you had with these multiple conversations? Can you share any stories you have about the impact of social media word of mouth?

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Case Study: How Facebook Users Halted a $100 Million Project

I was once told by a marketing manager that her company's senior executive adamently refused to permit them to establish a blog or Facebook page. His reason? He feared people would start saying bad things about their organization if they got on social media.

He seemed totally unaware that people were already talking about his company and others on social media. People use these platforms to comment about their experiences with the products they buy and the services they receive.

He did not realize that having an online presence on Facebook or a blog merely gives a business the opportunity find out about and then respond to any negative comments people make.

Reputation management is one of the most important reasons businesses need to be using social media. Regardless of what business you are in, chances are someone has an opinion about your company, your brand, your product or your service. And most likely they are expressing these opinions on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or some other social media platform.

If your organization is not listening on social media, you have no opportunity to respond to the opinions expressed by others. And if you don't respond immediately and on same communication media, your brand can suffer significant harm.

For example, United Airlines' response respond to Dave Carroll's video "United Breaks Guitars" was woefully slow. And when they did respond, it was couched with insincere-sounding words like "regrettable incident" to describe how their employees damaged a $3500 guitar.

Had the flower delivery service FTD been listening on Twitter, they would have learned that Lena West was venting about her frustrations over the fact that FTD had not delivered the arrangement she had paid for and were stonewalling her efforts to get the matter corrected on her blog and Twitter.

By not playing in the social media sandbox, these companies were blindsided by people who were expressing very negative opinions about their brands. They lost the opportunity to manage their reputations.

Which leads me to another example of how a business' failure to engage with social media cost them big. In this case, $100 million.

Developers and business leaders in Huntington, NY on Long Island foresaw no hurdles to an affordable housing development. But opponents objected to it because they felt it would bring in low-income residents and balloon school enrollment.

At first the opponents tried to mobilize protesters with traditional methods like posting street signs and protesting at zoning meetings, but got no traction until they went online and created a Facebook page that took a stand against the development.

The Facebook campaign quietly built opposition leading up to a town board meeting on the plan.

Meanwhile, the developers were not listening on Facebook, and had no idea their project was in trouble. When the meeting took place, they were taken completely by surprise to find that the board had been swayed against their project.

As one of the opponents put it:
We were a bunch of moms," said Jennifer LaVertu, an opposition leader. "I didn't even have to be home to do it. We could access Facebook by phone, dropping a message to everyone that we needed them at town hall that night for a protest. It helped us organize much more quickly.

Too many business executives are still sitting on the social media sidelines, filled with skeptisism and confusion. Understandably they are not pleased by the changes social media can make to their old ways of doing business, but that is hardly an excuse to stick their heads in the ground. On Long Island, that mentality cost developers $100 million.

Here's what businesses can do to manage their reputations effectively with social media:
  • Track all mentions of your brand, company name or products on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
  • Just listen to conversations already taking place. Don't be in a hurry to express your point of view or cram information down people's throats.
  • Be authentic and honest. Don't mislead people about who you are and what company you represent. Believe me, others have tried to be deceptive and have been found out. And it is never pretty.
  • Make friends. Treat the people who are tweeting and commenting about your topic as real people. Be helpful.
  • When someone presents misinformation, remember there is a tactful and friendly way to offer rebuttal information. Tread gently.

Perhaps listening on social media won't save your company $100 million, but it could help you protect your brand's reputation when a crisis occurs.

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Creating Compelling Content for Today's Changing Customers

Wisdom from "Social Media Marketing Superstars" - Part One

Even though internet marketing is barely more than a decade and a half old, the game is changing for online marketers. Gradually the importance of search engine optimization is giving ground to social media optimization.

In other words, playing in Google's sandbox is not as important as playing in Facebook's playground.

But one thing that has not changed is the importance of creating and posting quality content on the web. Good content is just as important to social media as it is to search engines. With each year that goes by, the world will more and more belong to those who put a lot of (valuable) content on the web.

People frequently ask me how Twitter, for example, can make much of an impact since you are limited to 140 characters. The answer is not much unless your tweets include links to your blog, your website, your videos, your photos, your slide shows, your podcasts or other content you may create and upload to the web.

Content is still king, even as the "game" shifts away from search engines to social media.
  • Content can solve problems for your ideal clients,
  • Good content establishes trust and credibility with them,
  • Good content entertains them, educate them,
  • or it can help them become better, more-informed, consumers of whatever it is that you sell (which is no small achievement, since it helps them distinguish between your products and your competitors' products on factors other than mere price differences).

Additionally - since search engine optimization is still important to any online marketing campaign - content can be optimized with the appropriate keywords to help people find you and all your wonderful solutions online.

Which leads me to a brilliant piece written by my friend Anne Handley of Marketing Profs. I found this in a book called, Success Secrets of Social Media Marketing Superstars.

This book is a collective effort compiled by Mitch Meyerson. It includes chapters written by Anne, Gary Vaynerchuk, Brian Clark, Shama Kabani, Julie Perry, Mike Stelzner and many others. In other words, the superstars.

Anne's chapter is called, "Creating Content People Care About: The Cornerstone of Social Media."

Now let me start by saying that Anne Handley is a genius. She really "gets" the how, why and what about creating marketing content for the web.

Anne, points out that today's customers have changed. They are no longer easily swayed by bombarding them with advertising. Instead they seek out information before making a buying decision. They Google various brands and they ask their friends on Facebook what their experiences with various brands have been.

Think of how you behave when you take off your marketing hat and put on your customer hat.

No doubt you are far more proactive when you are shopping for a new car or even looking for medical care. Possibly you also read reviews and ratings by actual customers of these products on Amazon, Angies List, Yelp or Foursquare. Why then, do you expect your own customers to behave differently when they are buying your products?

So how do you create content that can attract these changing customers? Anne gives us a list of 11 Rules of Compelling Content, with several examples and short case studies. I won't re-list them all here, but I will higlight a few of her insights for you:

  • "Compelling content is vendor-agnostic." In other words, your content is not about you, your company, your products or your brands. It puts the spotlight on what the customer wants to learn and becomes a publisher of information that meets these needs.

    Nothing will turn off your customers/readers faster than lot of self-serving commentary. Keep your brand mentions to a minimum. This is a medium from which people value objectivity, not salesmanship.

  • Build trust by become a resource. Nothing builds trust faster and more reliably than educating customers. Anne uses Rubbermaid as an example. Their blog "does not focus on injected molded plastics but on space-saving and organizing, as well as on the consumers interested in, and the industry build up around these issues. Consider these recent posts: 'How to Sell Clothing at a Yard Sale,' and 'Save Money Packing Your Lunch.'"

  • Compelling content allows for interaction or dialog. Create content that serves a specific community and allow them a voice.

  • Great content does not create barriers. Anne gives an example of a General Mills "community" site Psst General Mills. Instead of finding a community, she found barriers in the form of pages of qualifying questions designed to compile their database.

  • Compelling content starts a conversation.
    Build in ways for readers to share you information with their friends (or fans, followers or blog readers). Don't force them to sign in order to link to your content, but encourage them to share with easy to use widgets.

What kinds of content appeal to you as a customer or potential customer? How have your decisions been impacted by commercial information that educated you and offered solutions to specific problems? And how did you feel toward the brand that took the time and effort to educate you more without an over-powering sales message?

You definitely want to check out the book, Success Secrets of Social Media Marketing Superstars. It is full of a lot of useful ideas from some of the best minds in the field of social media marketing.

For those of you who have already read this book, what were your favorite insights? I plan to write an occasional series of articles based on the chapters and lessons in Social Media Marketing Superstars, so I will greatly appreciate your feedback.

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Using Twitter to Promote Big Brands

This is a Google Sidewiki I wrote about a great article called: Using Twitter for Brands or Corporate Identities by Dawn Foster. I encourage you to read the entire article, as it offers a number of excellent ideas to businesses wanting to incorporate Twitter with their marketing.

The lessons in this article are: Listen and respond to mentions of your brand, don't blast out links to your own content, don't be too promotional, have a personality and follow back people who follow you.

in reference to:

"It is OK to link to informational blog posts, but I always put some text around it so that people can decide whether or not to click through. You should also be linking to posts from other blogs that are relevant to your company or industry as a whole. These should be a fairly small portion of your overall Twitter posts"
- Using Twitter for Brands or Corporate Identities « Fast Wonder: Online Community Management (view on Google Sidewiki)

Can a Blog Launch Your Career or Business?

I just read a post by Darren Rouse of ProBlogger.com that may be the best article I've read in months.

It is called, "Temporary Blogs: Blogs as Stepping Stones," and Darren discusses how several bloggers he really enjoyed in the past, have discontinued their blogs.

At first, he regarded these examples as failures, but then learned these bloggers achieved exactly the goals they set out for themselves.

One blogger dropped her blog after getting a job, which was her purpose for blogging in the first place. She used her blog to showcase her expertise, raise her profile within her field and create lots of content that could demonstrate her knowledge.

Her blog also provided her with a platform to network within her field and meet people she might not have met otherwise.

Once she landed the job she wanted, the need (she felt) for her blog was over. As she explained to Darren:
I wanted to land a job, I was out of work, and the blog was never really going to be anything beyond an online résumé, a place for me to build my profile and build some credibility, and potentially meet some employers.

Another blogger Darren enjoyed reading stopped after he got his fledgling software company off the ground. He told Darren:
He reflected back to me that again, his blog was a means to another end—he was never going to be a professional blogger, that wasn’t his model; his model was to launch a software company, and he used his blog to do that.

This confirms what I've been thinking for some time. I firmly believe that for some fields, resumes will become obsolete and be replaced by blogs, video channels, podcasts or other forms of online portfolios.

Few job applicants fit neatly into a "job description." Few entrepreneurs begin with the credibility they need to attract clients and investors.

But a blog (or podcast, video channel, etc.) is much more than a portfolio of your work. It is also an excellent vehicle to enable you to network with others (especially people you may not be able to contact directly in the offline world). When people comment on your posts, subscribe to your RSS or tweet about your content, you are gathering a following.

And this kind of following is based on your knowledge and insights, not just on the cut of your suit or whether you golf at an influential country club. In fact, just the fact that you have a blog makes YOU influential within your field.

This is the kind of credibility no resume can give you.

But there is one point on which I would disagree with Darren's two friends. Even after you land your dream job or get your company launched, it is misguided to kill your blog.

Two reasons:
  1. Your dream job may not last forever. The company may fail or downsize employees. Or your goals may change. At that point, you will need not only the platform your blog once gave you, but also the contacts and readers (and fans) you gathered as a result of your blogging efforts.

    What should you do then? Start blogging again? Possibly, but you will most likely have lost a lot of your network that came to you through your blog.

  2. Your blog will most likely make you more valuable to your employer or help you attract more new clients for your company. The same knowledge and expertise that made you valuable to an employer or investor, will make you valuable to potential clients.

    Your blog can easily be refocused so that you will be a rainmaker within your field. It will position you (and by extension, your company) as a solver of problems within your niche.

Therefore my advice is to dance with the one that brung you, so to speak. If your blog was what opened the door of opportunity for you in the first place, you will probably want more opportunities to come through that same door.

Your blog is the ultimate personal branding vehicle. It is personal branding not based on flash and style, but on substance, knowledge and solutions to the problems clients need to have solved.

What are your thoughts? Have you achieved success or accomplished a goal as a result of blogging or creating content? Have you landed a job or attracted clients as a result? Let me know.
COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown

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Listen to My Interview on KSKY Talk Radio

Last night I was interviewed on KSKY Radio regarding the upcoming Business Social DFW Expo on October 30, 2010. I will be one of the speakers talking about social media marketing.

You can listen to the interview below:

MP3 File

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Put Some Meat on Your Content Marketing

I talk a lot about content marketing on this blog.

As a result, when I meet people who think Twitter and other social media platforms are "magic bullets" that can start making money without time or effort, I tend to dash cold water on them by bringing up the importance of creating content.

Tweeting and posting something on your Facebook wall is practically effortless. But creating or finding valuable content to tweet about takes work. More importantly, it requires us to really understand the wants and needs of the people we want to sell to.

About a year ago, I "borrowed" (ok, blatantly stole) Hubsopot's cool title Is Your Online Marketing Strategy All Tweet and No Meat? to write my own take on their ideas in my article: Social Media Marketing: Avoid the "All Tweet and No Meat Trap.

The Hubspot article spoke to the fact that:
Many of the marketers and small business owners leaping into social media are forgetting the importance of other online marketing channels. This is a problem because social media works best in conjunction with a site that's full of fresh content like blog posts, white papers and videos.

If your marketing strategy is just Twitter and Facebook -- no longer-form content of your own -- your company will end up a big-talking cowboy without cattle. You'll be making comments about everything, but substantive contributions to nothing.
And there's the rub. Social media without content is everything critical outsiders suppose it is, just a lot of folks tweeting about brushing their teeth or having a ham sandwich for lunch.

But content for content's sake still won't do it. As Joe Pulizzi points out in his brilliant article, Your Customers Don't Care About You - Take the Content Marketing Test, content must focus on the needs/wants/interests/problems of your audience.

In this article, Pulizzi has a screen shot of a page from "MyFord" magazine, that repeatedly mentions the Ford name or names of its car models. (YAWN.)

That kind of stuff isn't content, it's just narcissism on paper.

One of the points Joe makes to test whether your material is really worth reading from a customer's perspective is, "Ask yourself, "Is our content more about our customers' pain points or more about us and how great our products or services are?"

Here's a better example:

Southwest Airlines has a a section on southwest.com called Taking The Kids, which is for parents and grandparents who are planning to travel with children.

Talk about a wealth of interesting content written FOR an audience. This stuff can't help but engage readers.

It offers information on things like:
  • How to get a sitter when you are away from home,
  • How to keep kids safe and healthy while traveling,
  • How to make museum excursions fun,
  • When they're flying solo,
  • Touring college campuses with your teens,
  • Water safety,
  • Hitting the national parks, and many other topics.
This is content that can't help but pull the right reader into it and create a little more loyalty to Southwest. It was written to solve their problems, not to tout a brand ... and yet actually it is. Branding is becoming more about connecting with an audience than it is repeatedly drumming in a product or company name into the public's subconscious.

Brands are fast becoming more about educating the public, solving problems for them or making some aspect of their lives easier. This is where the person who thinks Twitter and social media is just another mass marketing tool is missing the boat.

There are some marketers who get this concept and are off and running with it. There are others who just want to beat a slogan or jingle into our brains, and think social media gives them another way to do it.

What do you think? Can you share some examples of good or bad content marketing?

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Social Media: It's All About Influence

As usual, Jeff Bullas has written a blog post that I wish I had written.

The article, 8 Reasons Why Twitter Power Users Are Influential, is his own rift on a study conducted by Exact Target.

Years ago, I remember reading Harvey MacKay explain why he always flew first class when he traveled. He learned that he met a different type of person in the first class cabin. He had met, and subsequently networked with, a number of VIPs from all walks of life that later benefited him in his business and charitable endeavors.

Twitter is does the same thing without the hassle of taking off your shoes.

The fact is that VIPs get preferential treatment. If you are a top executive with Corporation A, and you do business in your personal life with Corporation B, the top people in B will treat you differently. If your Corporation B builts car has problems, just call your friends over there and you will get service unheard of by the average consumer. If your stay at Corporation B's exclusive resort is less than four star, your friends in the executive suite will make it right for you.

It's a fact of life, high profile people with a lot of influence get better service, better seats, and more attractive wait staff.

The rest of us have to talk to someone with a foreign accent named "Suzy."

Social Media, however, has derailed this whole cozy arrangement by making a lot more people influential. Just ask United Airlines after the "United Breaks Guitars" video went viral on YouTube, telling the world about how they treated one customer. Or ask FTD after Lena West wrote about their terrible service in her blog.

Today, anyone who is active on any social network is influential. Anyone who has a Twitter account, a blog, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn account or a YouTube account can rock a company who gives them bad service.

On the other hand, any of these people can also bring a lot of business to companies who deliver good service. (Read the Lena West article again and note how 1-800-FLOWERS benefited from their good deeds).

But when it comes to influencers, not all social networks are the same. Although Facebook dwarfs them all when it comes to sheer numbers, Twitter stands out for the caliber of people you can meet on its network.

As the Exact Target study points out, power Twitter users are very different from the average social media customer:
  • 72 percent publish blog posts at least monthly
  • 70 percent comment on blogs
  • 61 percent write at least one product review monthly
  • 61 percent comment on news sites
  • Daily Twitter users are 6 times more likely to publish articles
  • Five times more likely to post blogs
  • Seven times more likely to post to Wikis
  • Three times more likely to post product reviews at least monthly compared to non-Twitter users

In other words, the people you meet on Twitter are much like the people you meet in the first class cabin. They are very likely to be the VIPs that can influence the impact your brand can have in the marketplace and drive customers to (or from) your business.

These are astounding statistics. How can any business neglect such a pool of influential VIPs?

Let's look at just one of these items: Think of how powerful it is to have good product reviews posted online. I know of several local businesses that have succeeded beyond all expectation just because they have five or more raving reviews written about them.

The simple truth is that organizations that neglect Twitter or use it poorly, do so at their own peril. Because you know at least one of their competitors are meeting important influencers there.

I have personally met a large number of people on Twitter who in the "real world" would have been insulated by an NFL defensive line of gatekeepers. Not only have I made contact, they know my name and have had friendly chats with me. Even more, when I attend events they are also attending, we make a point to meet there as well.

The fact is that Twitter (and to a lesser extent other social networks) provide access to people you would give your first born to meet in the offline world. Don't neglect this valuable tool to further your goals and growth.

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How Twitter Makes "Word of Mouth" Manageable

Every business wants to benefit from positive word of mouth. But until Twitter came along, word of mouth was more wish than science.

Back in my early twenties, I got a job selling advertising for a small, weekly newspaper. I only stayed there three months (it was a miserable job), but learned a lot about how unrealistic some business owners are in their approach to marketing.

The most common brush off I heard was "We are going to rely on word of mouth advertising." I soon noticed that these words were a sure sign the business would be closing its doors very soon. I could literally mark my calendar when I heard someone say the words, "word of mouth advertising," and know they would be out of business within a month or two.

And yet, we have all seen word of mouth lift a business out of the doldrums and into high profitability:
  • A small restaurant is suddenly "discovered" by the community and it is packed to the walls every evening.
  • A dentist builds a well-deserved reputation and soon her waiting room is standing room only.
  • A budget movie, without support of a big studio marketing budget, takes off and rakes in a bigger box office than big budget projects.

More often than not, word of mouth success just happens. For every beneficiary, we can all point to a dozen other businesses that were just as deserving (often more so) of such a reputation.

Until Twitter, with the ability to track keywords, brand names and retweets, word of mouth was almost entirely random in the way it bestowed its blessings. Sure the business had to be good, but a lot of good businesses close their doors in obscurity every day.

What has changed with the advent of Twitter is that we can actually see word of mouth happening in real time. Anyone on Twitter can watch every retweet, mention of a brand name, a company name, or a topic as they leap from person to person, state to state and even country to country.

But Twitter is much more than a word of mouth tracking tool, it actually helps word of mouth happen at faster speeds and with greater reach than it could occur in the non-Twitter world.

Here's a very common scenerio: @Mary tells @Tom about the great service she got from Al's Tire Shop. In the past, only Tom heard about Mary's experience, and so word of mouth could either be passed along by Tom or dropped entirely.

Mary might tell her other friends about Al's, but these were all one-on-one conversations that could either be transmitted or cease with each person she talked to.

On Twitter, these conversations are no longer one-on-one (well, except for direct messages, but I'm mainly talking about conversations that take place on the Twitter feed). Sure Mary and Tom are having a conversation, but all of their combined followers are also privy to what they said. Tom may not tell someone about Al's, but six other people who saw the conversation might.

And any of these witnesses can also carry the ball, even if @Tom drops it.

But it goes far beyond the direct followers of these two individuals. What if a few of Mary's followers "retweet" or pass along her comments? Depending on how many people these people have, this could now spread the conversation to thousands of other people who were not direct followers of either Mary or Tom.

And that is only one level of retweeting. If you have been on Twitter very long, you have no doubt seen messages that have become extremely popular and have been retweeted by two or three additional people.

This is truly a viral effect that spreads word of mouth beyond anything ever seen in conversations before this technology existed.

But word of mouth can spread in other ways besides retweeting.

Let's say there are people who are searching for the keywords "flat tire" or "Tire repair shop" on Twitter. Now people can see @Mary's remarks about Al's shop who do not follow her or any of her followers. Some of these people will have search columns set up on their Tweetdeck or HootSuite accounts so they can be notified whenever these keywords are mentioned by anyone on Twitter.

By this means, Al's reputation for honesty and quality service can leap from person to person, regardless of following connections between individuals, simply because the message is noteworthy.

So how can a business person manage or influence word of mouth on Twitter?

The example so far has been of positive word of mouth, but we all know that negative news spreads farther and faster than the good news.

Twitter gives a business the tools to spot a negative story before it gains much traction, and respond to it.

If a restaurant customer complains that she was served a bad meal from Tina's Grill, Tina can learn about this complaint immediately if she is tracking her own brand name on Twitter. Then she can respond with a prompt apology and an offer to make it right. Perhaps she can offer a free meal or a generous discount.

(Please note that customers increasingly take their complaints to their friends and followers on social media. They have lost confidence in getting any kind of acceptable response from company customer service lines, so they often vent online.)

When Tina takes prompt action and makes the situation right with her disgruntled customer, this exchange is also witnessed by potentially thousands of other people who follow either Tina or the customer, or who are tracking specific keywords.

The key is to track your brand and company name at all times so you can jump in quickly before negative word of mouth takes off. Then respond in such a way that takes ownership of the problem and goes the extra mile to turn an unhappy customer into a delighted one.

I've even seen a couple of extraordinary examples of businesses that took care of problems not of their making. In one case, the customer turned out to have bought a product made by a competitor, yet the company STILL took care of her. Amazing!

Can you imagine how much "juice" that can give a business when such acts are witnessed online by thousands of other people? Imagine that some of these people are either bloggers or potential customers?

On the other hand, can you imagine how well a snotty attitude or an off-hand "that's just our policy" remark would go over?

Can word of mouth be planted on Twitter?

Yes it can. All businesses on Twitter send tweets about a blog article, news release or information about a product. If the message is interesting enough or solves a real problem, it is very possible that it will be retweeted.

This is why the whole concept of content marketing and producing interesting, valuable content is so integral to social media. No one will follow someone for very long if all they tweet about is the ham sandwich they ate for lunch.

Twitter users who use it for business crave good, valuable information. When we find someone who consistently sends good info out, we follow him or her. And we retweet their content to our followers.

Good content that is interesting and informative can get the whole word of mouth ball rolling in the first place.

Before I wrap this up, let me add two additional tips:
  1. If you want to make it easier for people to find (and retweet) your information, pay attention to the #hashtag conventions within the Twitter community. A great article on hashtags can be found here.

  2. People are much more likely to retweet your messages if you have taken the time to build friendly relationships with them. This is the value of "Social Capital."

    It is very possible to build friendships on Twitter. Being nice and cooperative can go a long way to cultivating these relationships. These other people on Twitter also appreciate having their messages retweeted. If they send something out that you regard as valuable, retweet it. You can also mention them on #followfriday to promote them to other people who may wish to follow them.

    Just like the "real world" people tend to do business with other people they know, like and trust. In the Twitter world, they also tend to retweet them.

Of course word of mouth still relies on others to pass a message along. That hasn't changed with the advent of Twitter. But if a business wants to create or influence good word of mouth; or if they want to respond to negative word of mouth before it gains much traction, Twitter is the best tool ever created to accomplish these ends.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Advertising Begins When "Know, Like and Trust" Fails

I stole the headline for this article from Scott Stratton, author of UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging., who spoke to the Social Media Club in Dallas the other night (and I'm not giving it back).

Scott was talking about the role of social media in marketing and why it is so important to businesses that are seeing their marketing/advertising costs go up, and their results go down.

We've all heard the truism that people do business with other people they know, like and trust. Scott pointed out that people only look for a business in the Yellow Pages or on Google when they do not already have a relationship with a business they know, like and trust. In other words, only after relationships fail does traditional marketing have to take place.

Therefore all of our advertising, all traditional marketing, even search engine optimization is directed toward people who do not already know, like or trust us (Call me lazy, but I'm shortening that phrase to "KLT" for the rest of this article).

Think about the sheer cost of this problem. Massive amounts of advertising money are spent every day to target the no-existing-relationship potential customers. Would not the cost of marketing be a lot less if we put the focus on building lots of KLT relationships instead?

In contrast to mass advertising, this is the role of social media marketing:
To build KLT relationships with targeted people who may not now have a need for our products or services; so they will know, like and trust us before they need us.

Social media is the ideal tool for gathering lots of people who KLT you. It is an awesome relationship building tool because it works in real time, has a global AND local reach, allows you to mingle with people of like interests, and enables you to show the human side of your company.

But be warned: social media is shockingly ineffective as an overt, in your face, buy-my-product-now, selling tool. It is more like a social event where you can get to know people, talk about Major League Baseball, talk about what your kids are doing, and share helpful ideas and information, than it is the showroom of a new car dealership.

But this is precisely why a lot of business people have trouble warming up the the idea of using Twitter and Facebook to reach out to customers. It sounds warm and fuzzy, but how do you measure it? How do you determine that this dollar brought in this sale?

There are a lot of really good ways to measure social media's impact. You can measure how many people clicked on a link and visited your website, how many people Retweet your messages, how many eyeballs see your messages, etc. But the truth is that the true value of social media is based on common sense.

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business, answers the question of what is the ROI (return on investment) of social media by asking, "What is the ROI of your telephone?"

You could never measure the ROI of your telephone. Nor can you measure the ROI of meeting people at networking events, or volunteering to get involved with charitable organizations.

How can you possibly attach an ROI to talking to people?

But we all know that talking to people is extremely valuable. If you were invited to speak to a large group of your target customers, would you show up? Of course you would, but can you put an ROI on that speech?

If you were invited to appear on the Oprah show, would you show up? I'm betting you would make that appearance if you had to push your car from San Diego to Chicago. But what is the ROI of sitting beside Oprah and getting your chance to tell the world about your product?

What is the value of credibility? What is the value of relationships? What is the value of brand awareness?

This is the same challenge PR faces. How do you measure the value of favorable news? If your company is constantly in the news in a favorable light, is that valuable? Of course, but how do you measure it?

Here's the real test. Show me a single top executive that isn't a great networker. I personally know of several top people who readily admit that some of their biggest deals were made or initiated on golf courses, country clubs or at social events.

Harvey Mackay says that he always flies first class because of the people he meets there. The very best business deals are made in non-business settings.

But the real kicker of why social media is so important is not just the KLT relationships you establish directly. It isn't always the person you meet on the golf course or in the seat next to you in first class, or the person you work with on a charity's board.

It is also about the people these people know. It's about the people who know, like and trust the people who know, like and trust you.

No advertisement is ever going to trump a referral from someone who trusts you. Even if that referral comes from an old high school friend your customer has reconnected with on Facebook 30 years after graduation.

The more you are out there on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the more you can get known, liked and trusted by the friends of the people you connect with. If you want real word of mouth to take place, nothing beats social media.

Here's why:

Something that takes place every day on Twitter is the very visible customer service interaction. A customer has a problem with a brand and tweets about it. From there, one of three things happen.

  • First, the issue may be ignored. This company is not on Twitter, is not aware someone tweeted about their brand and the issue never gets resolved. Other people who see this happen think bad things about the company. (Here's an example of what happened to FTD when they failed to respond to a customer on Twitter).

  • Second, the company is on Twitter and does respond, but handles the matter badly. (Scott gave an example of a coffee shop that got snippy with a customer on Twitter, and the incident unfolded before thousands of people who were following either the customer or the coffee shop). Result: the company looks really, really bad and probably loses a lot of business.

  • Third, the company responds quickly and politely. They take steps to resolve the problem, and do so in a very professional manner. Result: thousands of Twitter users see this interaction and think what a quality company this is. And they see this company as an organization they know, like and trust.

On social media, your everyday customer service interactions becomes a powerful marketing tool if you handle them well.

The bottom line is that social media is really a big, big networking event. You don't want to go there to push product and back people into a corner with your sales pitch, but you do want to meet people and build relationships with them. If you build enough KLT relationships, you won't need to spend massive amounts of money advertising to people who do not know, like or trust you.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Is Your Facebook Business Page Targeting the Right People?

Once upon a time Facebook pages were called "Fan Pages."

Fan Pages were originally intended for celebrities, famous groups and artists. Maybe the occasional organization that truly generated fans (like Apple and Starbucks) could have a fan page too.

But over time, more businesses and business people started pages and the word "fan" just seemed too pretentious to keep. Now they are just called pages. And we no longer "fan" these pages, we simply "like" them.

But a lot of page owners still act like they are fan pages, except without the actual "fans" part.

Let's face it "Frank's Plumbing Emporium" is not likely to come with a cadre of pre-existing fans. But every day I see a new page for pest control companies, hardware stores, insurance agencies, etc. that are as far from Steve Jobs' Apple as can be. And they assume that "fans" will flock to them as they post update after update about plumbing, killing roaches, or selling hammers and annuities.

The truth is, they just aren't that into you.

So can businesses that do not already have fans, still make use of Facebook pages? Of course they can, but I think they would do better to take a different approach.

People will not "like" your page if you just talk about yourself, your business, or assume they are as fanatically interested in plumbing or pest control as you are.

But they are interested in their own problems and goals.

Instead of creating a Facebook page that is about you, create one that gives people information they want. Make your page an online magazine devoted to a specific interest.

  • If you are doing business within a specific community, make your page a community magazine that informs about the things going on in your city. Tell about local events and issues. Make it a forum for your community.

  • If your customers are mostly young families with small children, create a page about parenting. Give readers all kinds of information about raising children and activities that can enrich their lives. Address their concerns about childhood safety, traveling with children, helping children do well in school, and fun activities to keep kids busy (and entertained) over summer vacations.

  • If your business targets property managers, create a page/magazine that provides solutions to the problems property managers face. Give your readers actionable tips and ideas they can use to make their jobs easier.

Of course you can also throw in the occasional tidbit about your business or the products you sell, but do so within the context of this magazine approach and make it relevant to the overall theme of your magazine.

The best part about the Facebook-page-as-a-magazine approach is that you may well create fans as a result. In other words, they would never start off as fans of "Frank's Plumbing Emporium" or "Dave's Pest Control," but they may become your fans as a result of the useful information you give to them.

The second best part about the Facebook-page-as-a-magazine approach is that it is easy. You don't have to create all your own content (although you should create some of it on your blog). You can make it a kind of Readers' Digest devoted to your topic. Gather articles, videos, white papers, news articles from the web and post links to them on your Wall.

Within a short time, you will have people looking to your page as a resource of really great information about a topic that interests them.

And they will become fans.

And once you have launched a successful page/magazine devoted to one group of your target customers, you can do it again for another area of interest.

If you are familiar with David Meerman Scott's concept of "buyer personas," you know that your customer base will often consist of a variety of people who want your products or services for a variety of reasons. Not all of your customers do business with you for the same exact reasons, and you will do well to understand their various reasons.

(For more information on how to develop "buyer personas" for the customers you serve, click here).

These various reasons customers may choose to do business with you may translate into various interests you can fulfill with different page/magazines.

Study real magazines (the paper kind as well as the online versions) to see how they do it. Successful magazines really know their readers. They understand what information they want to read and what problems they seek solutions for. You will seldom see a magazine talking about itself. It puts the focus on what its targeted audience.

Particularly, you will want to study magazines that target the same people you will be targeting. If there is already a magazine devoted to your local community, or to the young families you want to reach? If so, make it your textbook.

Study the people it interviews, check out the editorial content, look at what needs it addresses for its readers. Read the articles, the Letter From the Editor, and even the ads.

The more you focus on your readers, the more likely they will become fans. Not because your business is sexy, but because you are giving them content they really want and need.

And fans will soon become your customers.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites