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Eight Conversations Your Customers Want to Have With Your Brand

A brand’s customers represent some of their best resources, yet most brands leave them on the bench

My last post criticized the content that a lot of brands share via social media – the incessant begging for likes and shares, the linkbaiting, and the meme-jacking that brands have adopted in their constant quest for “engagement.” Instead of following some guru’s best practices formula for social media content that will increase your followers, friends, and comments, try to have the conversations they actually want to have. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn and how it can transform your business for the better. The fun, informal banter still has its place, but make sure you balance the small talk with some actual substance. After all, you’re not in business just to amass likes, followers, and fans are you? Next time you’re working on your social media content calendar, start thinking about some of the conversations your customers want to have –

  • Your history. Over the last ten years, I’ve talked with hundreds of clients who have some amazing stories about how their organization/brand/company began and how it got to where it is today. You know that boring “About Us” page you have your website? Breathe some life into that content and make it a story. Believe it or not, your fans are interested in hearing about the history of your brand – why do you think brands like Coca-Cola, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz have created entire museums dedicated to their history? For those brands that can’t create their own museums, Facebook’s timeline feature allows you to share that history virtually. Look at what Manchester United or Ben and Jerry’s are doing with their timelines for an example. Go and talk with people who know your brand’s history. Listen to the stories. Collect old photos and videos. Share those stories with your fans. 
  • Ideas that didn’t make the cut. Your cutting room floor is a gold mine for social media content. Share those ideas that were discarded and explain why they weren’t implemented. Too expensive to make? Too niche? Too controversial? You might be surprised to find that your fans and followers love them even though your creative department didn’t. Ideas and products that might have been killed before are now becoming alternate endinghugely successful products, and breakout hits because brands now understand that going directly to their fans are often better indicators of success than surveys, ratings, and focus groups.
  • The “why” behind business decisions. Did you just have to lay off some employees? Get out in front of the story and explain why. Talk about the numbers behind the move. Share the long-term view. Be empathetic. But most of all, be honest. Customers understand you run a business and that there are often tough decisions to be made, but they won’t understand why you would be all cloak-and-dagger about it. Talk openly and honestly when the going gets tough and though it might not be intuitive to you, they’ll love you more for it.
  • Challenges. Your social media fans are more than clicks, likes, and followers – they’re potentially important team members that you’re ignoring. Got a product or business challenge you’re struggling with? Open up your data and bring your customers into the process. You might be surprised to discover the value they will bring. Interestingly enough, brands can look to the government for guidance on this as Challenge.gov is a great example of how to create content and get your customers involved.
  • Your culture. Your customers want to get to know your brand, your real brand, not the one ginned up by marketing, but who you really are and what you’re all about. They want to understand your culture, your work environment, the way you do things. Why do you think shows like Undercover Boss, The Pitch, and Restaurant Impossible are so popular? Why do you think Zappos gives tours of their headquarters? Why do you think virtual tours of company offices are so popular? They pull back the curtain on the brands they buy from.
  • New product uses. When you think of the Porsche 911, you probably think of the iconic sports car that rich guys only drive on Sundays. However, did you know that it’s actually a car that thousands of people drive every single day? A car that takes kids to school? A car that has four-wheel drive that you can put your skis on top and take to the slopes? A car that can fit all your groceries and golf clubs? So Porsche went out and asked their customers how they use their Porsche every single day. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign).
  • Requests for feedback. How are we doing? What could we be doing better? What do you love about us? What words come to mind when you think about our brand? What do your friends and family think about our brand? Just like that annoying guy who won’t shut up at the party, most brands never stop sharing content long enough to simply ask their customers for their thoughts. Sometimes all it takes is a “what questions about our products/services do you have?” to get the ball rolling.
  • Your causes. What does your brand care about? Customers want to know that your brand is about more than just profits. Go beyond just writing a check and a photo opp. Panera uses their website and social media to tell the story of their passion – feeding the hungry of America. (disclaimer: my agency created this campaign). Does your brand contribute money to a local or national charity? Do they volunteer? If so, make sure you get someone there to capture these stories to share them.

Great content marketing shouldn’t only be about determining what content will lead to the most likes, comments, or followers. It should be about creating and sharing content that tells your brand’s unique story, creating conversations with your customers that lead to greater customer loyalty. You may not want to have these conversations. You may not be ready to have them. You may be scared at what your customers might say. You may not know how to react. That’s too bad because avoiding these conversations is no longer an option. If you aren’t ready to have these conversations, don’t you think that’s telling you something? Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to fix what’s broken internally so that when your customers demand to have these conversations (and they will), you’re ready for them?

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Customers Don’t Want Ads, They Want a Conversation…Just Not the Conversations You Want to Have

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Somehow I don’t think these are the conversations consumers are looking for from brands

Fast Company just published another article discussing how customers are no longer satisfied just with good products and services or low prices – they want collaboration and conversation from brands. In another Fast Company article from January, they state that “brands, marketers believe, ought to start acting less like things and more like people, and they should engage traditional humans, their consumers, in dialogue.” IBM’s Global CEO Study found that 88% of CEOs said “getting closer to customers” was the top priority for their business over the next five years. Amazon has 200 books in their “social media for business” category all using the same cliches – have two-way conversations, engage with your customers, be more human, etc.

Finally! Social media is going to change the way business works. Brands will come down from their ivory towers and customers will have actual input into the products and services they purchase. Brands win! Customers win! Social media saves the day! Unfortunately, the “conversations” most brands are trying to have with their customers aren’t exactly the ones so often described in these books, presentations, studies, and blog posts. Rather than co-collaborating on new products, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of current ones, sharing new ideas, and having conversations about corporate issues, brands are asking begging and groveling for likes, shares, and comments. Brands have become that annoying insecure friend who always tries just a little too hard and is constantly looking for affirmation from those around them.

“I texted you 8 times last night but you never texted me back? Are we still friends?

“Pleeeeease come over and hang out tonight…please??”

“I was just calling to see if you got my email asking if you wanted to go out tonight. If you come out, I’ll buy the drinks. You in?”

Ummmm…sure – just don’t forget you offered to buy. Unfortunately, this is the relationship most brands have with their customers in social media – “please please please like me!! If you do, I’ll give you some free stuff.” They beg you to like, comment, and share pictures of cats, ask questions like “what’s your favorite number?” and jump on the bandwagon of whatever trend they can find (side note: the Condescending Corporate Brand Facebook page is one of my new guilty pleasures). Somehow, I don’t think these are the types of conversations that Fact Company, Harvard Business Review, and IBM had in mind. For most customers, liking a brand in social media isn’t about engagement or conversations. It’s about transactions. If you give me something (coupons, discounts), I’ll put up with your annoying habits (spamming my social media feeds). Instead of using social media to rethink the typical business-to-consumer relationship, they’ve just moved their same old business practices and metrics to a new medium. Instead of actually building mutually beneficial relationships with you know, actual people, marketers have reduced social media to a series of algorithms, likes, and clicks. Harvard Business Review conducted a study last year that should be required reading for every brand marketer and social media guru. In it, they debunked three common social media marketing best practices –

  1. Most consumers want to have relationships with your brand (no, they don’t)
  2. Interactions build relationships (not these interactions)
  3. The more interactions, the better (please, make them stop)

You should go read the whole post, but if you don’t, at least heed this piece of advice when managing your brand’s social media efforts –

“Instead of relentlessly demanding more consumer attention, treat the attention you do win as precious. Then ask yourself a simple question of any new marketing efforts: is this campaign/email/microsite/print ad/etc. going to reduce the cognitive overload consumers feel as they shop my category? If the answer is “no” or “not sure,” go back to the drawing board. When it comes to interacting with your customers, more isn’t better.”

What kinds of conversations is your brand having with its customers? Are you bastardizing social media by begging for likes and shares  instead of deriving some value from them? Brands have all these tools at their disposal to tap into the hearts and minds of their most important stakeholders – their customers – and yet most let that power waste away with pictures of cats and Call Me Maybe videos. Be the better brand. Instead of asking for a like, be the brand people actually like.

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Social Media Lessons from a Two-Year Old

What a difference a few years can make. For the last few months, I think I’ve spent more time talking people out of using social media than talking them into it. The pendulum has swung the other way, especially in the marketing industry. Everyone wants to be everywhere. Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter Facebook, Vine, Foursquare, Klout – you name it, they want it. And not only do they want it, they want eleventy-billion fans/followers/likes/comments/minions/+1s too. Brands seem to be at war in some sort of social media arms race and there’s no end in sight. As I was sitting at home the other night looking over a proposed Instagram initiative focused on encouraging users to take pictures of the company’s products and use a special hashtag , I received some advice from a social media expert I had never consulted before.

My social media expert

My Two-Year Old Daughter, AKA my Social Media Expert

After listening to me tell my wife about the idea in the presentation, my daughter Annabelle looked up at me and said, “why, Daddy?”

Me (dummy): “Well, because they want people to share pictures with their friends.”

Annabelle (social media expert): “What pictures? Like of kitties or doggies? I like kitties.”

Me: “Well, not quite. More like pictures of their products”

Annabelle: “Why?”

Me: “Because they want their customers to take pictures of their products and share them with their friends.”

Annabelle: “Why would they do that Daddy?”

Me: “….”

Well OK then. Aside from considering setting aside some budget to hire a new (very) junior freelancer, I realized that my two-year old asked a question that everyone else seemed to have failed to ask – why? Why would someone share that?

Too many people get caught up in all the hype and hyperbole surrounding social media that they lose sight of what’s really important. Instead of using social media to achieve actual business goals like sales, attendance, or customer satisfaction, they chase numbers like fans, followers, mentions, or likes because those big numbers sound awesome in presentations. Social media becomes the end in and of itself, rather than the means.

As you develop social media strategies and tactics, take some advice from a two-year-old and ask “why?” But don’t stop there. Ask all the questions – ask who, what, when, where, and how too. Force everyone to stay focused on the business objectives, not the big numbers that sounds great in presentations. Following Annabelle’s lead, I’ve come up with a few questions that I now ask my teams all the time –

  • Why would anyone share this?
  • What’s in it for the customer?
  • What does success look like?
  • Why are we dedicating resources to this instead of that?
  • How will this help us sell more products/services?
  • What happens if we don’t do this?
  • How does this fit with our company DNA?
  • What happens when…?
  • Who’s responsible for…?

And the next time you’re listening to some social media expert drone on about some new social media tactic, try acting like a two-year-old and ask a bunch of questions. You might be surprised to discover that no one else has bothered to ask the simplest question of all – why?

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Set Your New Social Media Manager Up For Success

Comments Off on Set Your New Social Media Manager Up For Success

You wouldn't hire Jonathan Ive and put him in a cubicle with an underpowered Lenovo laptop, would you? 

You wouldn't sign Peyton Manning to run the triple-option offense, would you? 

You wouldn't hire Tony Stark but tell him he's not allowed using your tools, would you?

Then why do organizations continue to hire social media specialists, managers, and coordinators, but then handcuff them with outdated policies, processes, and technology? 

I've seen it time and time again – an organization realizes they don't have the talent, resources, or bandwidth to manage their social media efforts so they go out and hire someone. These gurus, ninjas, strategists, and rockstars often come into this new organization with high expectations ("oh, you're the new social guy? Boy do we need your help!"), low resources ("you're all we could get approved for this year"), and an unclear place on the org chart ("well, you'll technically report to me, but you'll be working with Suzie down the hall most of the time as well as being a dotted line to Tom in Marketing").

Not only that, once they get to their desk, they realize that Twitter and Facebook are blocked, their company-issued Blackberry is prohibited from downloading any apps, and even when they do complete all the request forms to gain access, they're told that any and all social media content needs to be approved by legal and compliance. They've got the experience, the skills, and the knowledge to do the job, but they've been handcuffed by their own organization's legacy practices. 

Before going out and hiring that person to handle your social media, take some time to set them up for success.  

Provide a clear job description. Are you looking for someone to be a community manager for online communities that already exist or do you need someone to create those communities? Are you looking for someone to come in and join the marketing team or are you looking for someone to help you integrate social media across the entire enterprise? Do you need a social media manager to simply create and post content or do you need an experienced community manager who can build an integrated strategy that will increase sales, retention, etc.? Are you looking for a do-er or a change agent? As the hiring manager, you have to have to be able to articulate what exactly you need this person to do because the skillsets required to be the day-to-day community manager are substantially different from those needed to create an enterprise-wide social strategy. If you aren't sure what you need, you probably need someone with to help you figure that out, and that's going to require someone more experienced than you think.

Update your processes. If you're going to hire someone to manage your online communities, be a brand advocate, increase brand awareness and interact with customers, make sure they're actually, you know, allowed to do that. You can't expect someone to succeed in this role if your process requires every post, Tweet, and status update to be approved by the Legal team. If your newly hired social media manager is unable to respond to customer service inquiries because "those are handled by the folks over in customer service, not us," you're setting yourself up to fail. Using social media successfully is fundamentally different from every other approval process at most organizations. If you aren't sure what processes need to be updated or how to even do that, refer back to #1 and hire someone with the skills and experience to make those kinds of changes. 

Have an end goal. What does success look like? How will you determine if he/she is doing a good job? Will that be determined by the number of fans, followers, comments, members? Or by sales, lead generation, and traffic? Maybe it will be based on their ability to create and implement a strategy? Whatever it is, make sure that your new hire understands what is expected of him or her.  

Make technology an enabler, not a roadblock. This should go without saying, but make sure that your social media manager actually has access to social media. An easy way to start this new relationship off on the wrong foot is by forcing your new hire to complete request forms to access to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. 

Brush up on social media yourself. You're going to have to evaluate this person's performance and you can't do that effectively if you still think you don't need to understand Twitter because "you're too old." If you're going to be managing someone who's responsible for social media, you better know a little about it yourself. Look at similar organizations and see what they're doing. Keep up with industry trends. Ask your new hire to meet with you each week and help educate you if you need to. You can't effectively manage someone if you don't understand what they're working on. 

Be their advocate. Your social media manager is likely going to have to work with people from across the organization, many of whom will have more experience and tenure than they do. They're going to need to quickly establish respect with their colleagues and the easiest way for them to do that is when you make the introductions, highlight their work in leadership meetings, and give them the top cover to do their jobs. Don't hire them and walk away. Stay involved and keep them motivated. 

You can’t half-ass your social media efforts. If you’re going to make the investment in the time, people, and resources to use social media, make the investment in getting yourself and your organization ready to make the most out of this new talent. Spend a few more weeks now setting him/her up for success or spend a lot more time later trying to find another social media manager to replace the first one who quit after two months. 

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