Tag Archives: social media

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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Taking the Next Step: Going From a Grassroots Enterprise 2.0 Community to an Official One

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As your grassroots community takes the next step to becoming an official one, what challenges will you face?

Way back in 2008, microblogging and enterprise collaboration platform Yammer launched at TechCrunch50. A week later, I became member #1 of the Yammer network at my old firm, a 25,000 person consulting firm with offices all over the country. That started a three-year journey into the world of Enterprise 2.0, including growing our Yammer community from 1 to more than 7,000 when I left, consulting with dozens of organizations and government agencies, managing our official award-winning collaboration community, attending and speaking at Enterprise 2.0 Conferences, guest blogging over at AIIM, and writing a whole bunch of blog posts.

Over the years, “Enterprise 2.0” has evolved from fringe buzzword to an massive industry. The change agents who risked their jobs and reputations to start these networks a few years ago are being held up as innovators and leaders. Organizations that were loathe to spend any money on something as “soft” as collaboration are now spending millions to create robust internal communities on their Intranets.

But with this evolution comes a host of challenges as well. Official communities that began with large budgets are struggling to maintain their success with diminished resources. Passionate evangelists have left without anyone to take their place. Grassroots communities that sprouted up using freemium versions of these tools are trying to transition to officially sanctioned tools.

It’s these communities – the ones trying to migrate from free, unofficial, grassroots communities to official, integrated ones – that face some tough challenges now. There’s often an influx of new members, unfamiliar with the culture. Community mores and processes that worked with a smaller community don’t scale. Community leaders who emerged are replaced with community leaders who are named by leadership. Senior leadership pays closer attention to the conversations that occur, exposing some of the more frivolous discussions that may take place. And usability may suffer as the technology gets integrated into other systems and secured more than ever before.

As these communities make this transition and start anew, officially, I wanted to revisit six of my old Enterprise 2.0 posts to serve as reminders for those people responsible for these official migrations.

Dance with the one that brung ya. As organizations begin turning these grassroots communities into official ones, there’s a tendency to also name “official” leaders, community managers, and admins. Organizations may hire new people to take on these jobs, or they may move existing employees into these roles. While having a dedicated team and resources to manage the community is undoubtedly one of the benefits of formalizing the community, don’t forget about the people who have brought the community this far.  These are the people who, without a formal policy, budget, or title have acted as referees, mentors, teachers, cheerleaders, and janitors for the community, all while also performing their “real” job. These people built and managed the community because they were passionate about it, not because they were tasked to do so. Involve them. Formalize their roles. Get their support. They’ve built up the community’s respect out of what they’ve done for it, not because they have a fancy title. They evolved from users to community managers to role models.

Don’t take the social out of “social media.” Social networking has always been and will continue to be a vital part of any organization, whether it happens online or on the softball field. People who work together don’t just talk about the work they do. Sure, that constitutes the bulk of the conversations, but people also talk about the game last night, share war stories about their kids, or complain about having to work late or the parking situation at the office. All those interactions build up over time, eventually creating trusted relationships among people who work closely together and often leading to more effective collaboration. Social networking platforms just allow us to extend those relationships to more people than ever before. The sooner managers realize that, the sooner they will recognize the benefits that such tools can provide.

Embrace the LOLCats. If you want to create a vibrant culture of collaboration, you need to be OK with pictures of LOLCats, posts about the NFL playoffs, arguments about Apple and Android, and criticism of company policies. What will follow is that these stupid, silly, foolish discussions will lead to relationships, questions, answers, and finally, very cool innovations, products, and solutions that will save you money, win you awards, and really and truly create a social business.

Don’t overthink the tech. Once an organization decides to go from freemium to premium and dedicate actual resources and budget to creating these internal communities, there’s a mad rush to start implementing all the cool features that weren’t available before. Integration with existing systems! Advanced administrative controls! Mass distribution of invitations! Before you get all worked up over all of this cool new tech, remember the three most basic rules – make it fast, make it accessible, and make it reliable. Get your newfound IT resources using the tool themselves so they can identify potential bugs, glitches, and feature requests first, before they negatively impact the rest of the community.

Temper the passions. As you move from an unofficial to official community, there will be a mashup of “stars” – the champions who became the unofficial community managers and those who will be designated official community managers in the new community. These stars and their passions bring both positives and negatives to the community. While these active champions will be responsible for a majority of the content, answering questions, posting content, editing pages, and creating topics, they can also skew the content to suit their own agenda and create a chilling effect on opposing viewpoints and topics. Left unchecked, they do have the potential to take over the community – its members, its content, and its discussion. The key is in channeling their energy and enthusiasm and focus it on helping grow the community as a whole, to include topics other than social media and technology.

Remember that this is about change management, not technology. Getting people to change the way they work takes time. To maintain the momentum, make sure you clearly communicate what problems the community is helping people solve. Help users see how the community will help them in their day-to-day lives. Get senior leaders to lead by example and engage with the community directly using the tools they’re already supporting in their emails and Powerpoints (even if it means occasionally being wrong). Provide meaningful, useful content every day, to every single user. Design the technology for the end-user, not for the IT department or for some senior leader. And finally, evolve the community based on the community’s feedback. Allow them to see how their feedback is shaping the future of the community.

As these organizations make the transition from unofficial, grassroots communities using free platforms to officially integrated communities on expensive, licensed platforms, some will succeed in scaling that sense of community to better the organization as a whole. Other organizations will see bureaucracy and old ways of doing things destroy the very communities they’re trying to scale. To avoid the latter, remember that this is still a community you’re building, not a new IT platform. Sure, it may sound great to talk about the thousands of users or the 90% adoption rate in conference presentations and blog posts, but that’s sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gains. Stop chasing the numbers and stay focused on your business goals. Slow and steady wins the race.

If your organization is going through this process, what other challenges are you facing? What other strategies and tactics have been helpful in maintaining that sense of community?

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