Social Media Marketing: It's a Conversation, Silly

Lately, I have been researching the social media efforts of a number of companies here in the Dallas - Fort Worth area.

I've read their Facebook pages, if they have one. I've read their Twitter streams, if they are using Twitter. I've read their blogs, if they are blogging. And I've also visited their YouTube channels, their Flikr accounts and their MySpace pages, if they are on those platforms as well.

The results have left me scratching my head.

I'm left with the thought that these social media campaigns are being run by people who don't really "get" social media. A lot of these activities seem to be run out of the various firms' public relations departments, who are using Twitter and Facebook as merely distribution channels to pump out press releases or announcements.

In other words, all one-way communications.

Hardly a conversation in the bunch. I've gone through page after page of Twitter messages and not seen a single "RE-Tweet," or a single @ symbol indicating that a message was sent in reply to something someone else said.

  • No #hashtags to make their messages easier to find on keyword searches.

  • No responses to good or bad experiences with their brands.

  • No asking for feedback. No asking questions at all.

  • No following other people back. The number of people who follow them vs. the number of people they follow is way out of whack. (This sends the signal that they couldn't care less what other people are saying).

  • No comments on YouTube videos showing customers using their products or enjoying a gathering at their place of business.

All these companies seem to be doing is carpet bombing Twitter, Facebook, et. al, with media releases.

I really felt like handing out copies of David Meerman Scott's book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR directly to every executive with every one of these companies. (Sorry David, that just wasn't in the budget for now).

I kept hoping I would find one shining example of a company using social media as a way to reach out to individuals, like this example of 1-800-FLOWERS.

What happened was this:
Lena West ordered a Mother's Day flower arrangement for her mother through FTD, but what was delivered was not what she paid for. Her complaints repeatedly fell on deaf ears, even when she sent a certified, return receipt letter to the CEO of FTD.

In the mean time she was Tweeting about her growing frustration with FTD's awful service. 1-800-FLOWERS, a competitor of FTD, picked up on her Twitter fit and offered her a 15% off coupon without expiration date or restriction. They even offered to send her mother flowers on her behalf.

What FTD did not know, and did not care to know, is that Ms. West had influence. She was a Twitter user, although she did not have a huge following in her personal Twitter account.

But here's the point: If a company will not have a conversation with its customers, they will have conversations with one another. We ALL have influence these days. Practically everyone you know is either a regular Facebook user or has a family member who is.

1-800-FLOWERS appreciated this fact and stepped in to help a disgruntled customer of its main rival. To pull this off, they must have had keyword searches in place with not only their own keywords and brand names, but also the brand names of its competitors. They were not just listening, but they had also empowered their social media professionals to act with something tangible like a flower arrangement to correct a problem they weren't responsible for.

As I was researching these companies, I noticed that a lot of people were talking about their brand names. People were saying both good and bad things about them, but these companies were completely unaware.

If you do a Google search of the top brands in the United States, you will find that the top listings for these brand names generally are occurring on social media sites, not the companies' own websites.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, The Importance of Being Human: How to Achieve Real Success With Social Media Marketing, old-school marketing, advertising and, to a lesser degree, public relations, was often an exercise in throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall to see if some of it sticks.

Spaghetti-throwing is not a conversation. There is nothing two-way about it. There is no engagement, no gradual building of trust and credibility, and no "humanization" of one's brand or organization.

Social media marketing is all about conversations. Two-way conversations. That means listening and responding to individual people, one at a time.

To succeed with social media, a company must first understand that it is more important to listen than to tell. To this day, I wonder if FTD is still oblivious about Lena West and her experience with 1-800-FLOWERS.

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High ROI Social Media Marketing

Listen to my latest radio show on how major brands are getting high ROIs on their social media marketing campaigns.
  • Why Pepsi declined to advertise on the 2010 Super Bowl, and chose to put $20 million on social media marketing.
  • Why you must have a presence on Facebook.
  • How to learn how to do social media marketing by following one Twitter account and learning by what this lady does during the course of her day.

Listen to internet radio with Social Media Cafe on Blog Talk Radio

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The Best Social Media Marketing Advice I've Ever Given

If I do say so myself, I think this is the best advice I've ever given anyone on how to engage with customers on social media:
Come to your social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. every day with the intention to do good, to help someone, to add value, or to just be a nice, helpful person.

Sounds touchy feely doesn't it?

But the fact is that social media is a "place" where being a good person matters. More than matter, it is the key to success.

And that does not mean being manipulative. This is one of those times when the things we learned in kindergarten applies big time. Make friends and watch out for each other. Maybe even hold hands when you go out.

Ok it sounds nice, but isn't marketing about the real world of business? Yes it is, and just like the real world, people want to do business with other people they like and trust.

Your job on social media is not to tell the world about your company's newest widget. It is to make individual connections with one person at a time. If you do this, you will unleash online word of mouth activities that will tell more people your message than you could ever have reached merely by carpet bombing Twitter with spam messages.

So how do you do all this?

Assuming you have your Tweetdeck or Hootsuite account set to monitor your primary keywords in real time, the moment you spot someone talking about your subject matter, give that person a dose of encouragement.

Retweet their excellent article. If the article is not excellent, at least thank them for letting you know about it.

What else?
  • Promote someone who shares or writes good information.
  • Encourage your followers to connect with certain quality people.
  • Give advice, if asked, when someone is having a problem.
  • When someone shares something about their personal life, give encouragement.
  • Share great resources you find on the web.
  • Support a community, cause or even a good product.

What does all this have to do with building your business or marketing your widgets? I can't tell you how often I look at someone's profile or website after I see them doing something uplifting and generous on a social media site.

Seeing them as quality human beings makes me want to look them up. If I'm not already following this person, I follow her. I will spread the news that this is a generous social networker. I read articles on their sites and send out tweets about the good ones.

Being a good person on social media will attract a lot more interest in your website, business or widget than if you just try to sell it. (Which is another reason to give attention to you profile page.)

Being human is how business is done on social media. It's not only business, it is good business.

If I do say so myself.

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Following Strategically

This is a Sidewiki I posted to Jeff Bulla's blog. He wrote 5 case studies of companies using social media successfully. My comment below focused on one excerpt form one of the case studies. Be sure to read the whole article.

Exactly! The first step in using social media is to follow the right people, because this will make up the core of the people who eventually follow you. Target the right keywords based on their interest and comment on their tweets.

This is a far cry from just blasting out semi-spam sales messages. What Teusner did was respond to something initiated by the other person.

Hmmm, this sounds an awful lot like having a conversation.

Charles Herbert Brown

in reference to:

"to get rolling, he used Twitter search for wine-related terms. When he found interesting and influential people talking about the business, he followed them. Then he started conversing about wine and interacting with them. When he finds them, he sends a friendly message. “We say, “Thanks for trying the wines, we’re really glad you’ve tasted them. G’day.’ They’re really surprised, and they’re happy to hear from us.”"
- Twitter: 5 Business Case Studies « Jeffbullas's Blog (view on Google Sidewiki)

The Importance of Being Human - How to Achieve Real Success With Social Media Marketing

One of the great case studies or success stories on social media is Dell Outlet.

Dell attributes over $3 million in sales to one Twitter account, @delloutlet, over a two-year period of time. Their cost? The salary of one very capable employee, Stefanie Nelson, aka @stefanieatdell, who manages the @delloutlet Twitter account.

If you spend a little time reading her Twitter stream, you will notice how often she talks (er, tweets) directly with individuals. Sure she sends out product announcements a lot, but she never forgets it is individuals who follow her and read her tweets.

Back in November 2009, John Moore interviewed her and she shared this insight from her experience:
When we first started posting on Twitter as @DellOutlet in 2007, we intended to only post offers. We didn’t really understand the potential until customers started replying and asking questions. When we responded, the Twitter audience seemed very surprised and got really excited. It was clear that they really wanted to engage with us, and we were encouraged by the reaction, so we expanded our Dell Outlet social media objectives to include “improving customer experience”. We’ve been using Twitter to answer questions ever since.

Contrast that to most of the clumsy attempts to use social media marketing. I've seen business after business just use Twitter and Facebook to machine-gun out their product announcements and sales pitches to the masses.

Stefanie (by the way, I would love to interview you sometime if you are available) is friendly, helpful and informative.

It is obvious that she has a variety of keyword searches set up on software programs like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite so she can become aware of any mention of certain keywords and respond immediately. I was noticing one of her tweets in which she responded to a product complaint by someone and asked if the person had contacted @dellcares, Dell's Twitter account dedicated to customer service.

A similar experience occurred to me about two years ago. I had mentioned wanting to attend an event scheduled at the City of Grapevine, Texas, a nearby community known for hosting all kinds of really fun events.

I said that I wanted to attend the event but was worried about rain. Within minutes I got a tweet from someone at their Chamber of Commerce or Business Development office assuring me that they had worked out a deal with Mother Nature not to rain on that day.

It was cute and timely and told me that actual human beings were monitoring any keywords having to do with their events. More importantly, the person responded to me as a single individual, not part of a mass audience.

Any business getting involved in social media marketing needs to understand this. Social media is a way to connect to one person at a time with a personal touch. But because they are active on social media, these are highly-connected individuals, so these one-on-one contacts can ripple out to many other individuals.

This is the concept of 1000 True Fans. If you are not familiar with the concept of 1000 True Fans, it simply means that more is gained by focusing on a core group of targeted people and building relationships with them, than by mass marketing.

The problem with mass marketing is this:
There is always a tendency to buy into the "spaghetti principle" that says if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, some of it will stick.

While this is sometimes true, it is becoming prohibitively expensive and less efficient to reach these masses by traditional media. Marketers have to pay more and more to throw all that spaghetti, and they are seeing that less and less of it is sticking. This is an ROI heading in the wrong direction.

So what happens when these same marketers decide to venture into the world of social media and try the same techniques? They use Twitter and Facebook as vehicles to continue throwing spaghetti. And that really doesn't work on social media.

It's kind of like being the guy who shows up at a party with a stack of business cards and backs people into corners to tell them about his hot new product or service. Sooner or later, that guy will be asked to leave. In social media we can "ask someone to leave" when we block or unfollow people who act this way, so throwing spaghetti is a short-term proposition at best.

Social media is all about building "social capital," which means adding real value and building real relationships with individuals, not masses. This is the importance of being human on social media. I often make the statement that the best book on social networking was written in 1936, when Dale Carnagie wrote "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Social Capital is about making friends and being a friend. It is about listening more than talking. It is about talking about things that interest the other person rather than things we want to sell to them. It is about allowing the best of our human natures to come forward, while our sales and marketing tendencies step back.

I used to tell my sons about Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. She was known for the way she treated people and built trusting relationships with them. But her secret was that whenever she met someone, she visualized a sign on them that said, "Make Me Feel Important." Not a bad ritual to adopt with social media.

Back to Stefanie at @delloutlet. When someone tweets her about a problem, or when she spots a tweet with one of her targeted keywords, she responds as a person to another person. This doesn't mean she doesn't send out product information, or tell about the latest specials or coupons. But she never seems to get around to throwing spaghetti against the wall. She never seems to forget that she is a human being talking to other human beings, one at a time.

If you would like to read more about how "being human" is the real key to success with social media marketing, check out my latest ebook, "101 Ways to Promote Your Brand With Social Media Marketing." If you like the ebook, please consider forwarding it to others who might benefit from the information.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Gatorade's Mission Control Manages Their Social Media Marketing

I have been very interested in how Gatorade and its parent, Pepsi, have been engaging in social media marketing.

Pepsi, for the first time in my memory, decided NOT to advertise in the Super Bowl this year. Instead, they put $20 million into social media marketing.

But Pepsi is only one company that is seeing their marketing ROIs climb through the roof as they engage with their customers on social media. Dell has also found gold in social media marketing. Over a two-year stretch, Dell attributes over $3 million in sales to one Twitter account (@delloutlet) and one employee running that account.

The key is that social media is not just another way to machine-gun your product announcements out to the public. Notice how this Dell empoyee (her name is Stefanie) has actual conversations with other people on Twitter. She is friendly, informative, helpful, gets off message a lot, and talks to individuals not masses.

In other words, she acts like she is meeting people at a social event (which she is), not the showroom floor of a used car dealership.

This reminds me of a great quote from Shama Hyder in her new book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing:
“Social media sites are where the people are. Let‟s say there was an expo happening with 250 million attendees, and I offered you a free booth. Would you take it? I sure hope you would. That‟s how many people are using Facebook.”

Let me take her thought a step further. If I did give you this free booth, would you show up? If this expo ran 365 days a year, would you show up to man the booth at least an hour every day?

I guarantee some of your competitors are at their booths every day, all day. Look at Gatorade.

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How Could BP Use Social Media?

In case you haven't heard, there is some bad news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico and the giant oil firm, BP, seems to have something to do with it.

What does a company do when they have a disaster on their hands and they are at fault? There is a tsunami of anger and condemnation being directed toward the company.

It is not a problem that they will ever be able to put behind them. Long after the leak is plugged and the tourists return to the beaches, there will be environmental damage for decades to come (or longer).

All that aside, could social media help BP begin the process of rebuilding its reputation and making amends to the many people impacted by their actions?

Here is a short list of things I would do if I were handling social media for BP:
  • I would hand out hundreds of Flip Camcorders to employees on the Gulf. I would ask them to document the work they are doing to help the people of the Gulf. As they hand out money, clean beaches and wetlands, lay out booms, and drill the relief well.
  • I would set up a blog to tell people what they are doing. Not the big picture corporate level actions, but name names of local fishermen or owners of charter boats who are now out of work. Reach out to these people as individuals who have names and families and businesses that they are losing.
  • Take videos and photos of BP executives and managers rolling up there sleeves and talking with ordinary people. Show the sweat. Show them working. Show concern on their faces.
  • Listen. That is the true strength of social media. Let people talk, let them vent, but listen and hear. Respond when you can, ask for contact information for follow ups and do what can be done for the individual callers.
  • Invite help and ideas. Involve the people effected by the oil spill in coming up with solutions. Explain the pros and cons of each plan. Treat people like adults.
  • Be open, transparent and accessible. Keep nothing secret. Show what you are doing without filters from public relations. You cannot sugar coat anything about this disaster, so be open instead.

What would you do if you worked for BP as a social media professional? How can social media be a tool for good in the midst of a major crises?

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Twitter For Business Workshop on CD

One of my most popular workshops is now on disk.

The first time I taught "Twitter For Business" I had a very pleasant surprise. It was toward the end of the class and I happened to walk near one of the participants. As I looked down at her table, I noticed she had taken over five pages of very dense notes.

Then I looked at the lady sitting next to her and saw that she too had taken copious notes. In fact, when I looked at the other attendees I saw that each person had taken lots and lots of notes.

I hadn't realized how much information I had conveyed to them, but they were all writing as fast as their hands could fly across their pages.

At the end of the class, they all swarmed around me and raved about the ideas they had learned and how it was going to change their businesses.

Here is a video of some of the feedback I got from those participants:

Now you can get this same information. I have just put the class on CD, revised my Twitter Marketing ebook and added four new chapters to it. And I have revised the Twitter flowchart on which the class is based.

Here's what you will learn:
  • And integrated system for using Twitter, blogs and email marketing to attract new clients.
  • How to find valuable content for your followers and subscribers that will solve their problems and move them to take action.
  • How to build an email list while at the same time building your credibility with the people on your list.
  • How to use Twitter to drive traffic to your blog.
  • And how to follow up with your list with an easy-to-use and inexpensive autoresponder.

The cost of the CD, plus the two downloads is only $22 plus $7 for postage and handling.

Don't delay. Get this information to start growing your business today.

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----------------------------------------------------COPYRIGHT © 2009, Charles Brown Add to OnlywireAdd to Technorati Favorites

Boost Your Profits By Simplifying Your Home Page

I really should be more diplomatic, but I got into a minor hissing match with one of my clients' web developers the other day.

My client has a really great looking site that is a work of art in every respect. There's just one teensy little problem: It doesn't make any money for my client.

Pretty is nice, but not at the expense of profits.

The problem with most websites is the home page. See if you don't agree with me on this, but most home pages read like a brochure. They talk about the company's "commitment to excellence," tossing in the words, "value-added" at every opportunity and solumnly stating the company is a "full service solutions provider."


So here was my suggestion to my client that got me in such hot water with their web guy:
Clean up the home page and make it an opt in page for an email list.

I wanted my client to clear out all the "commitment to excellence" drivel and give the visitor a compelling reason to subscribe to the company's email newsletter. Have a short video and a few bullet points with an opt in form underneath.

Sure, I allowed, they could keep the tabs at the top to navigate into the site's other content, but put the idea of subscribing front and center on page one.

I supported my stance with two words: "Barrack Obama." Well actually there was a third word, "Google."

In 2008, the Obama Campaign raked in enormous amounts of contributions by doing one thing - creating a home page for their site that forced visitors to decide to either make a contribution or not.

The home page was clean, simple and asked people to make a single decision. Nothing else got in the way until they had made that one decision.

If visitors chose not to give, they could navigate into the site to read his talking points and position papers. Alternatively, if they chose to contribute, they could still get to see all these other goodies after they sent money.

I just checked out today, and it is already gearing up for 2010. Here is a screen shot:

At the risk of beating a dead horse, the site doesn't force the visitor to make a lot of decisions does it? It simply gives them the opportunity to leave an email address before moving into the site further.

Google, if you recall, came into the search engine game far behind Yahoo and MSN. But while Yahoo had a portal page full of options and interesting distractions (want to read an interesting news story or check out your horoscope?), Google just had (and still has) that clean page that puts the query box front and center.

As a result, Google took over the search business leaving the other guys to pick up the crumbs. Bing, by the way is an interesting spin off with its one decision home page combined with beautiful photography. Proving you can have pretty and simplicity at the same time.

So back to my tiff with the web developer.

One of my core beliefs in this business is that a website's main job is to collect leads. It takes a lot of work to get a visitor to land on your site one time. But even after all that, most of these people will not come back unless you have a way of following up with them.

So I preach the gospel of direct response to my clients.

Direct Response Home Pages

In the advertising world there are two camps: The "Image and Awareness" advertising people who see their job as making potential customers aware that the company exists and what they do.

Unless a prospect just happens to be in the market for whatever this advertiser sells at this very moment, chances are the ad will not get a response. But it will raise awareness slightly.

The direct response folks, on the other hand, see their ads as merely tools to build mailing lists of interested prospects. They want to see results now and they do this by giving prospects an incentive to request free information or materials.

These ads used to have coupons to clip out to send in for more information, or a free booklet (nowadays they just direct people to a website to get the free information). A person doesn't have to by interested enough yet to place an order or call for an appointment, just interested enough to ask for the free ebook or CD.

To put it another way, they may not be ready to take action right now, but they might like your information just in case the need arises in the future. From a marketer's point of view, this puts you in line to solve this person's problem while they are still in an information-gathering stage.

Direct response ads have the advantage of being measurable. An advertiser can track the number of inquiries a particular ad generates. Then they can make minor changes like rewording the headline or the graphics or wording in the offer to see if this results in more or less responses.

Direct response ads can constantly be improved scientifically by testing one version of the ad against another to see which one delivers the best results.

Additionally they give the marketer the chance to follow up multiple times. It is a proven fact that people usually don't buy until they have received multiple exposures to an offer. So a series of letters goes out to each person who requested the free information in the ad.

This causes the effectiveness of one ad to go up because the marketer gets multiple bites at the apple or several opportunities to sell to the prospect.

The same rules apply to websites. A site can either be the online version of an "Image and Awareness" ad or it can be a version of a direct response ad. But not both.

The value is to give visitors only one decision to make at a time. Sure not everyone who lands on your site wants to subscribe to your newsletter now. Fine but by making the home page a direct response device, you have gotten that one decision out of the way.

I should also note that no direct response approach works without a valuable free offer. Create a white paper, ebook or CD (or something) that gives helpful information in exchange for opting in. Or you can offer discounts and coupons to subscribers. Just understand that people will not fill out an opt in form without expecting to receive something from you that is of value.

The more enticing you can make this free offer the better.

My client hasn't made up his mind yet. Will he stay with a pretty home page that isn't making money or will he simplify that home page at the expense of "pretty" in order to build a database of email subscribers he can follow up with again and again?

What are your thoughts on home pages? Have you had success with direct response sites and simple home pages? Or are your present results stifled by a "pretty" home page?

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