Nick Chase has had a powerful impact on the Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand. Interestingly, he doesn’t work for Enterprise — he never has. Chase is a computer programmer and technical writer who tweeted his way into the company’s brand identity and, ultimately, brought about a win-win situation.

It could have ended differently. Horrified that in his time of need the familiar Enterprise mantra, “We’ll pick you up,” wasn’t going to happen, and that no cars were available in his area, Chase tweeted:

“The one downside of living in the country is that when your car breaks down, you pray Enterprise has a car. Naturally, they don’t. Sigh.”

A few minutes later, Nick found the following @mention from @enterprise cares:

“@Nick Chase We are listening. Is there anything we can help with? If yes, please tweet/follow us & I’ll DM [direct message] our contact information (amanda).”

Chase did what Enterprise corporate representative Amanda asked him to do, and following a few Twitter messages, he was indeed picked up and able to rent the car he needed. Because an empowered employee was paying attention, Enterprise Rent-A-Car converted Chase from a frustrated customer into a brand advocate.

Weigh the pros and cons. Now imagine how Chase would have felt and what impact his experience would have had on him and his Twitter followers if Enterprise had responded with impersonal policy regurgitation or worse, no response at all. With 5,000 Enterprise locations throughout the United States, it’s likely that situations similar to Chase’s happen regularly, and the compounded positive (or negative) impact of these social media interactions is significant.

Unfortunately, too many companies are still using social media inappropriately or not at all. There are, of course, legitimate reasons to be cautious ? companies in heavily regulated industries such as health care, energy and financial services are held to a different scrutiny. However, a 2010 Palo Alto Networks report found that companies in heavily regulated industries are just as likely to have social media presences as lesser-regulated companies and universities.

While choosing not to participate in social media is inconceivable to millions of business professionals who rely on various networks for everything from marketing and customer service to research and business development, the “everybody else is doing it” argument seldom sways rational business leaders. The crux of the argument is not the volume of people using social media, but the fact that vital brand conversations are happening in the networks whether the brand owners participate or not.

Learn from other’s missteps. There have been some embarrassing high-profile social media failures from which we have all learned a thing or two. For example, fashion designer Kenneth Cole outraged followers with a Twitter message that used the #Cairo hashtag (denoting discussion of uprising events in Egypt) to advertise a spring clothing collection. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from his voice-over gig with Aflac for tweeting jokes about the natural disasters in Japan.

These ill-advised, over-the-top tweets were viewed as insensitive and cast the companies in a bad light.

The most common social media no-nos can be avoided with employee policies covering social media behavior and expectations, such as language, topics and reaction/response guidelines. A simple Google search for “social media employee policy” can bring up numerous examples and starting points for creating policies.

Monitor and react. As demonstrated in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car situation, having an empowered and knowledgeable individual monitoring social media networks (even on the weekends and other nonpeak hours) is important for maintaining a positive reputation. There are also service providers and software-as-a-service technologies that amalgamate various social media networks into a singular, user-friendly interface.

Indianapolis-based ExactTarget’s Interactive Hub including its Co-Tweet solution is one of the largest players in social media conversation monitoring across Twitter and Facebook. Raidious, a local interactive marketing management firm, offers Social Center, which “listens” for keywords and phrases and allows users to engage with people in real time across a broad spectrum of social platforms.

Companies that fail to define themselves are defined by their competitors and customers, and not always in positive, productive ways. This is true for all media, but especially in the fast and viral social media realm. The cost to companies choosing not to participate or to empower their employees to engage with customers via social media is much greater than any monitoring costs or personnel time directed toward managing reputations by solving problems and joining conversations.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. He also serves as president and CEO of TechPoint Ventures, which has invested more than $16 million in early-stage capital in 12 Indiana-based technology companies through HALO Capital Group since 2009. An Indianapolis native, he has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Published in Indianapolis
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:25

Victoria Tifft: new pathways

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. The good news is that social media platforms escalate consumer brand participation and corporate awareness. The difficult news is that consumers and employees want firms to listen and get involved in their conversations even if it causes a blurring of professional and personal lines.

This rapid sharing of information and feelings has created a shift in the business landscape, and the message to CEOs and management is clear. Social media gives companies an opportunity to create a social network strategy to maintain a competitive edge, improve brand loyalty and close the gap between management, customers and employees. Of course, there are several factors to consider when designing this strategy.

The first step is to classify your business. Are you a business-to-business organization or a business-to-consumer business organization? This distinction is critical because consumers have different networking interests than businesses.

B2B social media platforms have a networking and knowledge sharing component. B2B Internet surfers look for educational information or something to satisfy a particular project or requirement. Providing useful and knowledgeable content on your website and through professional networks, such as LinkedIn, is the way to attract these prospects.

In contrast, B2C social media platforms approach customers on a personal level. These customers are looking to learn or to be entertained. Examples of B2C sites include Facebook, Twitter and specialty blogs to name a few. These sites tailor themselves to specific social groups such as students, parents or coaches and special interests such as hobbies, medical conditions or politics. Consumer interest in these sites provides businesses with an ideal platform for addressing their target markets.

When establishing a social media presence, a good question your firm should ask is “What do we want to accomplish with our social media program?” Some goals might be recruiting, lead generation, brand awareness or employee connectivity. My firm wanted to establish a social media presence in order to increase employee communication and knowledge sharing within our product and service lines. Because our employees are dispersed across the U.S. and overseas, we sought the advice of a social media expert to design our social strategy, which involved creating internal service line groups using LinkedIn as the backbone. Each service line has a LinkedIn captain who facilitates communication and knowledge sharing within the group. Our firm then takes best practices from these groups and publishes white papers for the industry. The result has been rapid sharing of information and knowledge transfer from employees across the globe.

This is one example of how a social media strategy can be designed to accomplish specific goals for a business. Yet this leads to another important consideration in designing a social media strategy, which is that although launching a program may be inexpensive, maintaining the program involves a cost to the firm. Managing the program requires personnel time. For example, our LinkedIn captains dedicate a portion of their work time during the week to facilitate discussions with employees. The allocation of personnel time needs to be factored into a firm’s social media program. Also, a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to ensure that the firm is leveraging the information exchanged or transferred and turning it into real value.

The bottom line is social media is still in its infancy. Some aspects will change dramatically within 24 months. The key is to re-evaluate your programs regularly and check in with consumers of your social media strategies to get a reality check on the changing nature of your business. If you are thinking about using social media, there are several companies in the Northeast Ohio area that specialize in creating and executing social media strategies. These firms can help you navigate and choose the right platform for your business.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Whether they’re using it to market the business, keep in touch with customers, or connect with colleagues, most owners can attest to the business benefits of social media. But when it comes to unregulated employee use of this powerful tool, that’s when businesses can run into trouble.

From inadvertently posting confidential company information to intentionally bashing an employer in a public online forum, there are certain liabilities that social media can create that business owners should be aware of and prepare for.

Human resources departments should also be careful of their use of social media to screen potential employees; they could be opening the company up to discrimination claims from potential hires.

Smart Business learned more from Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton, about how employers can implement policies to avert some of the pitfalls that can arise as a result of employees’ use of social media.

What are the dangers or liabilities businesses face with employee use of social media?

There are many issues that can arise out of the misuse of social media, and your company’s hiring process is one of the first areas to review. Many people post political views, marital status, social views and photos that could display disabilities on their social media sites. None of this information can legally be used to discriminate against hiring a potential candidate. A good practice is to not view any social media sites prior to interviewing. This way, a ‘blind’ selection process is used to determine who will be considered for each job. Make sure your human resources department and hiring managers do not deviate from this practice.

Trouble can also arise when employees put their employer at legal risk with their postings. Revealing confidential information or stating internal company affairs online can do damage on many levels. Employees need to be made aware that the first amendment right does not protect us while we are at work. Be careful what is put online; it cannot be taken back.

Should employers try to limit or prohibit use of social media in the workplace?

The fact is it would be impossible to completely prohibit the use of social media at work. With smart phones and like devices, employees are going to check Facebook and Twitter and look at YouTube while on company time. I say get over it, get used to it and embrace and work with it. Offer a list of company-sponsored blogs, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups, Facebook profiles, etc. and encourage your employees to promote your business. Social media is a very powerful tool that can be used to a company’s advantage. Have a policy that limits use, but recognize that, just like the personal cell phone, social media is here to stay.

What kinds of policies should employers put in place to inform employees about their rights and responsibilities?

Keep it simple. A complicated policy will be ignored. Many companies include no personal use of work computers, Internet monitoring and no free speech while at work in these policies. Do not, however, ban access completely. Involve your staff in coming up with a policy that works with your unique work environment.

And always think before you post. For example, if you have a business event and a photo is posted of someone sitting on a fellow employee’s lap, this could result in a sexual harassment charge or an angry spouse. Employees also need to be made aware that their conduct after hours can affect their job. Many states are passing all-encompassing ‘off duty conduct’ laws that can potentially prohibit an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for online actions. Georgia does not currently have such a law, so employees that complain about their boss, co-workers, work environment, clients, etc. can be disciplined up to and including termination. If you do business in multiple states, check the law in each one prior to writing your policy.

How should policies be communicated and enforced?

All policies need to be communicated in writing. Add this to an existing handbook and make sure employees sign off that they have read it and understand what is expected of them. When enforcing social media policies, be consistent. If you discipline one person for posting Facebook updates at work, make sure you reprimand all equally.

How should employers handle damage control from employees misusing social media?

Have a crisis strategy in place before anything happens. This should include appointing a crisis team of trusted employees to evaluate and possibly respond to a situation. Monitor sites to continually know what is being said about your brand. When responding, do it timely and with a consistent message. As in sports, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Happy employees equals happy customers, so foster an environment that encourages a positive workplace. This will result in good will online and off.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Kendra Ramirez; Social Media Strategy

It’s no secret that strong recruiting is essential when it comes to identifying and attracting high-quality job candidates. But in today’s world, what is the best way to recruit and what kinds of resources are available that will give you top results?

Once you have a solid recruiting and employment branding strategy in place, social media can be extremely beneficial in augmenting your efforts. Consider starting with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogging. The following are some effective methods for strengthening your recruiting strategy and employment branding using these popular social media tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most professional of all of the social networking sites and it has more than 100 million users. The median age of LinkedIn users is 41, and the average user has 60 connections. There are several features in LinkedIn that can be used for successful recruiting and employment branding including; Jobs, Groups, Events, Search, LinkedIn Ads and the Recruiting Solutions link at the bottom of the home page.

Twitter

Twitter has more than 150 million users and adds about 6 million new users per month. The median age of a Twitter user is 35 years old and the average user has 70 followers. Many companies are successfully using Twitter to boost their recruiting efforts. Your company can use it to interact with potential recruits, post job openings and provide informational tweets for your followers.

While many people think of Twitter as one site (Twitter.com), there are actually multiple Twitter-related sites and tools available to assist you in your recruiting efforts, such as search.twitter.com and Twellow.com. You can also use hashtags to categorize tweets by typing “#” in front of a category name. For example: #city, such as #Cincinnati, the city where you are recruiting; #skill set such as #sales. In addition, targeted chats for job seekers and recruiters are held every day on a variety of topics in Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook has more than 600 million users, and on any given day, 50 percent of its users log in. Facebook’s median age is 31 and its average user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups or events. To help support your recruiting and employment branding strategies, consider creating a Facebook business page. This can be a valuable extension to your website because it gives you the ability to engage and interact with your community and post job openings on your page. To build a Facebook business page, visit www.facebook.com/pages and click the “Create Page” button.

YouTube

YouTube has 2 billion views per day, and 24 hours of video is uploaded every minute. One way that you could consider YouTube in your recruiting efforts is to create a video to entice potential candidates, help them learn about your culture and share mentoring stories about your organization. You don’t need a full video production in order to post a video on YouTube — it is completely acceptable to use a Flip video camera to capture your story. However, be sure that the video length is two minutes or less.

Blog

Don’t forget to post your exciting job opportunity in your company blog. This also allows the reader to share the job posting with others.

One of our clients used these tools to hire more than 40 people last year saving them more than $200,000 in recruiting fees and job board postings. We use them for all of our job opportunities as well and have never posted a job on a career board.

If you haven’t used any of these social media sites for recruiting, you’re missing out on great opportunities to reach millions of people. Along with a social media strategy, these sites should become integral recruiting tools.

Kendra Ramirez is a social media strategist at Accelerated Business Results. Since 2005, she has helped hundreds of organizations successfully leverage social media for business growth. Reach her at Kendra.ramirez@acceleratedbr.com or (513) 615-3907.

Published in Cincinnati

If your organization still doesn’t have a social media policy, it is time to create one.

“Every organization should have a social media policy that enables it to optimize the opportunities that interactive social media sites present while minimizing the attendant risks,” says Kristen Werries Collier, a partner with Novack and Macey LLP.

Smart Business spoke with Collier about those risks and how to develop a workable policy to minimize your exposure.

What are some of the risks associated with social media?

While social media’s open format and accessibility to the public makes it a vital platform for organizations to disseminate information, that attribute engenders certain risks, including: the disclosure of confidential or proprietary information; the broadcast of negative comments about your organization, co-workers, customers or clients; and the risk of employees’ personal views being improperly imputed to the organization’s detriment. Your social media policy should essentially be a primer of how to avoid these and other risks.

How can an organization begin to draft a social media policy?

You don’t need to start from scratch. Visit socialmediagovernance.com/policies.php or www.kokasexton.com/word/100-examples-of-corporate-social-media-policies — free databases of social media policies. Assimilate what you like from these policies and then continue to modify the directives to address your specific concerns. If your organization already has a code of conduct related to media, you can modify those directives to cover the use of social media.

One size doesn’t fit all. You need to tailor your policy to reflect your organization’s culture. Determine how strict your policy needs to be based on your needs and tolerance for risk. I don’t think it makes sense to bar your employees from accessing social media sites at work. Your organization depends on your employees’ professional judgment, and their use of social media sites should be governed by that judgment, guided by your social media policy.

Even if you block access to social media altogether, that does not obviate the need for a policy that informs employees of the repercussions of posting negative comments during nonwork hours that could damage the organization’s reputation or reveal confidential or propriety information.

Who should be involved in creating the policy?

Keep in mind that you are asking your employees to self-monitor their behavior in accordance with prescribed guidelines, which means that any policy’s effectiveness turns on whether your employees understand it and buy into it. Given that, you want to create an understandable policy that protects your organization from the pitfalls of social media sites without overreaching.

To get employee buy-in, recruit a cross-section of employees to help you create the policy. They can then be integral to communicating it, facilitating implementation, monitoring its effectiveness and tweaking it.

What are some general guidelines for creating an effective social media policy?

1. Keep it short.

2. Define social media so it is clear what the policy is addressing.

3. Start on a positive note and highlight how your organization uses social media sites to its advantage so it is clear the policy is intended to empower and educate.

4. Declare that the purpose of the policy is to protect the organization.

5. State that the policy is not intended to infringe on employees’ personal interaction online but to ensure their posts do not reflect poorly on the organization, its employees or clients, and do not reveal confidential or proprietary information.

6. Encourage employees to use common sense.

7. Be specific. Provide an organization-specific list of the types of information that cannot be disclosed and note that if it seems confidential, it probably is.

8. Remind employees that if they identify the organization as their employer in online profiles, comments posted there could be imputed to the organization.

9. Direct employees to refrain from posting comments that could be interpreted as harassing, slurs, disparaging, demeaning or inflammatory.

10. Explain why certain conduct is prohibited.

11. Remind employees that their online presence is subject to applicable laws and terms of service.

12. Inform employees that you will monitor their social media presence, and then do it.

13. Tell employees the use of social media at work is a privilege, one that can be rescinded if abused.

14. Spell out the repercussions for violating the policy.

15. Have employees sign the policy.

16. Have a plan to minimize damage if the policy is violated.

How should an organization implement the plan?

Communicating the policy is as important as writing it. With that in mind, designate someone to convey a clear message about why the policy is necessary and that employees are expected to follow it. It would be a shame to invest significant time and effort into drafting the policy and then have it sit unread in your employees’ inboxes.

Also have a point person to answer questions because employees can’t abide by the policy if they don’t fully understand it.

How often should the policy be reviewed?

It should be reviewed at least annually, allowing you to work out the kinks by refining what works and eliminating what doesn’t. After you have a policy that has proven to be workable and effective over time, you can revisit it when the need arises, or at least every couple of years.

Kristen Werries Collier is a partner with Novack and Macey LLP. Reach her at kwc@novackmacey.com.

Published in Chicago
Sunday, 31 July 2011 20:01

Creating a B2B social media strategy

Paul Furiga can get the attention of a business-to-business company’s CEO with a pretty alluring deal.

“I can get you to your 100 customers more often, more efficiently and with more fresh dialogue using social media than using any tool you can possibly imagine,” says the president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC, a Pittsburgh public relations agency. “How could they say no?”

Surprisingly, they do; the B2B market seems slow to embrace social media. Sure, business is moving online, acquainting corporate America with platforms from Facebook and Twitter to Yelp! and Foursquare. But when the best social media strategies and case studies seem to come from big consumer companies (ahem, Zappos), where do smaller B2B companies look for their social media guideposts?

Of course, some strategies are successful despite your structure, so mimicking some proven approaches from the big boys is a start. But the inherent differences between B2B and business-to-consumer companies necessitate that you tailor your strategy for your customers and goals.

“A $10 million B2C company, the average transaction size might be $100, so they are going to have 10,000 customers,” Furiga says. “The average $10 million B2B company might have 10 to 50 customers who are spending a heck of a lot more money on their average sale. For a B2C company, it’s all about how many followers you have and how much activity you get. For a B2B company, it’s not about quantity; it’s about quality — does your social media directly drive business results?”

Social media equips you with practically free tools to connect with each customer — and when you have 50 customers to their 10,000 consumers, that’s a definite advantage.

“B2B companies should be — and actually are, although you don’t see the trend yet — having much more success in social media,” Furiga says.

And here’s how.

Start with a hypothesis

Your first concern is probably something like, “Are business customers even using social media?”

It’s a valid question, and it’s the launch pad to creating your social media strategy.

“The first step is understanding: Are your customers there? Are they participating in those channels?” says Jennifer Horton, best practice consultant in the customer success and strategy group at Eloqua.

Eloqua, based in Vienna, Va., develops marketing automation and demand generation software to help companies “measure the digital body language of their buyer,” Horton says. The first step in that process is the same as any campaign.

“If you’re just getting started and you’re trying to understand, then let’s pick a hypothesis, i.e., ‘I think our customers are on Facebook,’” Horton says. “Then let’s prove that out or disprove it. We’ll get our Facebook page created, start to develop our fan base and use it to promote thought leadership content or upcoming events.”

To build that hypothesis, some of Eloqua’s clients use website analytics to identify which sources drive traffic to them. If they see significant volume through Facebook — which Eloqua found to be the top-referring social source of website traffic in a study of their entire client base — they dig deeper.

To prove a hypothesis, just like in a science experiment, you need research. Here, that comes from tracking what’s happening. Start with baby steps: Look at quantity before delving into quality.

“One of the places that a lot of people start is just understanding the total number of fans that they have or the total number of followers on a Twitter handle or the number of members that have signed up to receive e-mail updates,” Horton says. “Understanding your reach is definitely first and foremost. It gives you a good understanding of your potential to drive opportunities out of this group of people.”

Maybe people are already buzzing about your company, giving you a head start in building a fan base. But don’t forget about current customers on other platforms. Bring them with you, from newsletter subscriptions, e-mail opt-in lists and direct mail databases to the social space.

Then find ways to inject yourself into conversations, positioning your product or service as the answer to a question.

“Listening would be the first part of that, listening and understanding the topics that are being discussed, who’s participating in those conversations, and then identifying the appropriate response,” Horton says.

If they’re not talking about your specific company yet, back up and see what they’re saying about your industry or service. For example, Horton was on a Salesforce.com user group one morning when someone asked for a recommendation of an e-mail tool. Knowing Eloqua’s software would be a good fit, Horton alerted a sales rep for follow up.

“The companies that are doing (social media) well are … looking at ways of identifying where in the conversation in those social channels it makes sense for them to insert themselves and … providing a relevant and compelling offer to get them to continue the conversation that maybe started in a social community,” she says.

Continuing the conversation

When it comes to executing your social media strategy, forget what you know about marketing.

“For a lot of marketing conversations, there’s only one appropriate answer to the communication — and that is, ‘Buy,’” Furiga says. “The difference with social media is that it’s more about the conversations and the community. That’s why it’s cool for social media managers of consumer companies to just create an environment for people to hang out in. They are trying to keep people in the conversation, knowing that if they stay in the conversation, sooner or later they’ll buy.”

B2B companies, especially, have to strike a balance of building a community and directing it toward a sale. These goals go hand in hand, but different types of content point toward different ends.

Horton can’t jump in trying to sell Eloqua if people aren’t familiar with it. First, she must make Eloqua relevant to the conversation.

“If you think of ‘top of the funnel’ or brand awareness, we create content like infographics that are quick and interesting,” she says. “An infographic on the history of social media is enough to bring you into that Eloqua conversation.

“Now, for us to actually convince you why marketing automation software is a really powerful part of that story, it requires a different set of content: Why marketing automation? Why Eloqua versus our competition? A different type of content is used when the buyer is closer to purchase.”

Furiga goes even further to break down an effective content strategy encompassing industry generalities and company specifics alike. He calls it the rule of thirds.

“There’s a general guideline in social media, and that is: To have success in just about any channel, one-third — and no more than one-third — of your content is promotional,” he says. “One-third is news information (from your industry). Then the last third is the conversation — having a real dialogue with prospects and clients who have chosen to participate in your community.”

Generally, the overall social conversation leans toward sales and marketing. But you can’t just push yourself in front of prospects like an advertisement. Most B2B prospects are looking to social media for a demonstration of your expertise.

“B2B companies most often use social media to give potential customers a peek into what it’s like to work with them,” he says. “What do you know? What do you have to teach me? How can you help me? That’s where the whitepapers and the blogs and the free tools come from. More often than not, B2B companies are selling solutions, and the way you demonstrate your problem-solving capabilities is by having great supporting social media content.”

Educational tools like whitepapers, blogs, webinars and LinkedIn subject matter groups are effective for B2B prospecting. But those can be just as fun and engaging as consumer campaigns focused on games and viral videos.

Just look at Isilon Systems, an enterprise data storage company in Seattle. It brought in a magician to prank the IT department and created a video of him cutting a live Ethernet cord in the data center. Then, the company drove traffic back to their website by revealing there how the magician performed the trick.

“For both B2C and B2B companies, the ultimate goal is to have a continuing conversation,” Furiga says. “The difference is B2C social media can be all about hanging out online playing games, and that would be an OK ROI. For a B2B company, the fun is much more often directly connected to the business purpose. So a B2B social media strategy is going to focus on sharing intellectual capital, engaging prospects and pulling them deeper into a conversation that most often results in big dollar sales.”

Isilon’s videos engaged audiences with a magician’s secrets, but they also pointed to the business by urging viewers to safeguard their IT departments with the company’s solutions.

Content should be fun and creative if you want to grab attention in the fast-paced, sound bite based social environment. But for an offer to have any staying power, the content should also be relevant. You achieve this by taking the position of the problem solver.

“Social magnifies the basic rules of Marketing 101,” Horton says. “The No. 1 ‘do’ is to be helpful. So if someone’s asking a question, provide a relevant answer. Connect them with another person that might be able to answer their question. Social is online, but it’s definitely a human-to-human sort of relationship experience. Building relationships and developing conversations is what really, I think, drives the highest level of engagement in different social channels.”

[See more social media tips from Furiga's presentation, "Beyond Your Zappos Case Study: B2B Social Media for the Rest of Us," featured at the 2011 Public Relations Society of America Digital Impact Conference.]

Focus on conversions

To pinpoint what separates top social performers from the pack, Eloqua recently benchmarked its entire client base.

“Clients that are in the top-performing category are doing a very good job of tracking those things they put out in their social communities so they can understand which social sources are driving interested buyers back to their website,” Horton says.

Still, people have trouble uttering “social media” and “metrics” in the same sentence. How can you turn conversations into measurable conversions? It gets a little “squishy,” to use Furiga’s words.

“ROI in social media is like Jell-O for some people,” he says. “They can pick it up but they can’t really hold it. If that’s happening, then you’re not measuring the right things in your social media.

“It’s not just the number of followers or likes that you have; it’s the quality of the relationships that you create. Each company needs to determine its own metrics to define quality. It’s almost never how many followers you have; it’s almost always about driving toward something that you can count that affects the success of your business — it could be number of sales, number of whitepaper downloads, how many people comment on your Facebook page.”

Sure, you start with basics like number of followers. But now that you’ve given them content as bait, it’s time to find out who’s biting and why.

Start by identifying correlations. As your overall number of social followers increases, look for other trends on the upswing: How many visitors came to your website? How many of them opted in to your e-mail database or registered for your webinar?

“It may not necessarily be cause and effect — if we get 100,000 fans, we’re going to have X amount of leads,” Horton says. “But a lot of companies are starting to see that positive correlation: When we see an increase in the volume and the reach of our social channels, we have a correlating increase in how many Web form submissions we’re getting or how many qualified leads we’re passing over to sales.”

Once you understand general trends and how they’re related, take a closer look at conversions or who took the next step in your sales cycle — whether that’s downloading a whitepaper or contacting a sales rep.

“Of those opportunities where I placed a link back to my website, how many of those people took that next level of action?” she says. “Look at which social sources are driving the highest level of conversion, because that can give you a good indicator of how qualified those audience members are. You can have a very active social group with people that are highly interested but with no intent to purchase. If you can track it down to that point of conversion, you’ll get a better understanding of how close these people are to purchasing.”

For example, Horton helped a client track pay-per-click advertising across several keyword categories by setting up unique landing pages for each. By tracking form submissions, they identified two categories with the highest conversion rates. Then they realized that prospects searching one category converted to qualified sales opportunities within two weeks; the other took two months.

“That helped them inform how they should engage with those buyers,” Horton says. “People that were searching on that term actually had a line item in their budget, so they were a lot closer to purchase. Those were low-hanging fruit.

“The other category was taking a lot longer to convert. That allowed them to say, ‘Maybe we need a nurturing strategy with these individuals. Maybe we need to give them some more content to help them go through that evaluation process.’ Tracking that beyond the point of conversion starts to influence how you can communicate and engage with those buyers, based on where they are in their purchase process.”

Pinpointing buyers’ positions in the sales cycle can tell you when to leverage which social tools to lead them to a decision.

Maybe you’re still wary, convinced that the risks of social media outweigh the benefits. You think your customers aren’t on Twitter or worry that employees will post something inflammatory. Whatever your excuse, Furiga will tell you you’re wrong.

“Companies that don’t participate in the conversation are not stopping the conversation,” he says. “The conversation is out there. All you’re doing by not being part of it is making sure that your viewpoint is not represented. If you’re not part of the conversation, you can’t protect your reputation.

“I’m not going to say that every B2B company needs to be on every social media channel, but you shouldn’t reject it out of hand. You have to know what’s being said about your industry and your company. And if you’re willing to try one social media channel at a time, I believe you’ll be surprised at the success you can have.”

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

How to reach: Eloqua, (866) 327-8764 or www.eloqua.com. Follow @eloqua and @jenhorton on Twitter, and read her blog posts here.

But wait — there's more. Read on for the sidebar section: How B2B customers use social media.

SIDEBAR: How B2B customers use social media

Before you purchase a new cell phone, you probably head online to inform your decision with reviews from fellow consumers. Business buyers are now doing the same; but with purchases of $100,000 instead of $100, the research is more thorough. Everyone involved in committee decisions is digging — many outside the sandbox of traditional information.

“If I work for a B2B industrial company and somebody approaches me about a new way to machine metal, and I try to explain to my boss how cool this is, eh, whatever. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t,” says Paul Furiga, president and CEO of WordWrite Communications LLC. “But if this company has a YouTube channel and they can literally show the difference, and I send my boss and all the other decision-makers the video, wow, is that powerful.”

James Rogers, vice president of marketing at Hoover’s Inc. in Austin, Texas, realized buyers were starting to layer social media with the business data they gathered from Hoover’s Dun & Bradstreet-powered website.

“We had a number of customers that were telling us they go to Hoover’s for the traditional business information like company, industry, people, size of the company, financials, news alerts, all those things,” he says. “Oftentimes, what they would do is alt-tab over to LinkedIn and then … try to identify the contacts and look up some of the information that we traditionally don’t capture within Hoover’s, such as their history and their subject matter expertise and areas of interest.”

After LinkedIn started hearing the same thing from its customers, the two companies entered a partnership in March to integrate their functionalities. Now, below Hoover’s traditional business information, you’ll find social media panes — attributed as such — offering more information on people and companies.

“Whether it’s (preparing for) a sales call, identifying leads, doing industry research, … customers are looking to purpose that information within their daily work streams,” Rogers says. “People want to view the social information in context with the more traditional business information.”

This partnership showcases the trend that, even in strictly business settings, social media is proving to be an important tool in purchasing decisions. In Rogers’ words, it’s gone mainstream.

“A lot of sales professionals are now recognizing that social media is not just about your family community or your personal interests,” he says. “Social media has information that’s relevant to business information, and there is value in correlating the social media content to business information. This social content has different context, so you have to give it the appropriate attribution.”

That context varies by buyer — social content can be more timely and relevant, but it’s also subjective because it’s not validated.

Furiga looks at the broad differences between traditional and social media information:

  • Speed: “Thanks to social media, I can get nearly instantaneous information on any person or any company in the world.”
  • Scope: “I just said ‘in the world’ — The Internet breaks barriers in terms of geography. In the old days, if I was a B2B company, I could only see as far as my geography would take me — meaning as far as a salesperson was willing to drive or as often as I was willing to go to a trade show. Now, I can literally search the world to make decisions.”
  • Transparency: “Most of us use a consumer ratings site to make restaurant or movie decisions. Now, I can get all kinds of great, transparent information about companies I might want to do business with, including testimonials.”

How to reach: Hoover’s Inc., (512) 374-4500 or www.hoovers.com. Follow @hoovers and @jamesc_rogers on Twitter.

How to reach:WordWrite Communications LLC, (724) 935-7580 or www.wordwritepr.com. Follow @wordwritepr and @paulfuriga on Twitter.

Published in Akron/Canton

Eighty percent of Court McGuire’s communication with clients is done either through Facebook or texting.

“Our clients kind of know how we communicate, because it’s not like it’s the fax, the typical phone call, the typical e-mail,” says McQuire, president of Boca Raton-based Green Advertising. “Nowadays it’s a text. It’s a Facebook message or it’s a privatized YouTube channel.”

By keeping Green Advertising on the pulse of the new media and marketing initiatives that resonate with today’s consumers, McQuire and Green’s founder and chairman, Phyllis Green, have both kept the firm relevant as well as grown the business to $42.5 million in revenue in 2010.

Smart Business spoke with Green and McGuire about how new media has changed the advertising industry and how it’s changing brand communication.

What are the advantages of advertising in today’s media environment?

McQuire: What’s happening is that interactive or online or social media has a new layer to it that traditional advertising and broadcast never had. It doesn’t play a passive role. It has to play as a participant.

To reach your very specific consumer will be a little bit more homework and a little bit more challenging, but the good news is you can do it better and more effectively and find out what kind of analytics and performance tracking we have in their consumption of that media.

Interactive has a very unique thing. It levels the playing field. So if you’re Joe Shmoe with a concept and a business or you’re a multimillion-dollar New York Madison Avenue company, you can compete head to head with paid search, with the big dogs.

What’s on the horizon for brand communication?

Green: Our clients used to say, ‘Oh we need a brochure.’ Now we’re telling them, ‘No, you don’t need a brochure. You need a video.’ That’s how people are consuming content. They are reading it less. They want to see it. They want to understand it better.

McQuire: Video in social media is huge. A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s my status on Facebook,’ but people are so interested in videos that make them laugh or think or educate them. … We bust our butt on lots of video content, because that’s what’s really emerging as the best return on investment for brand communication.

What is the key to a successful online media strategy?

McQuire: It’s performance tracking. If you are doing interactive and you’re doing social media, and if you are even doing broadcast, you have to be able to performance track your media. Years ago it was much more difficult to do, but with the online component you know where [customers] are coming from, when they’re interested in buying, who they are, where they are located.

Court McQuire, president, Green Advertising

Should companies try a social media strategy on their own?

McQuire: It doesn’t take one person. It really takes a team. … Often I have that problem where it’s, ‘Eh, we don’t want to pay a social media retainer. We’re fine with just these fees for broadcast.’ And we have to say, ‘Well look, you’re going to create an orphan to your brand. We need to know that mommy and all of her kids have the same message and the same mission.’ So we really have to convince them that to take on social media, ‘Yes, we can make it affordable for you, but no, you can’t do it as well as we can.’

What advice would you give clients and firms in regards to advertising today?

McQuire: They have to embrace new media, emerging media. They have to embrace interactive advertising. They have to be very open to the idea that there’s not just one way to reach my market. Now there are many ways and I need to spend some time and understand it.

Green: The market tells you what’s happening and the economy tells you and clients tell you, and you have to be a good listener — keep your ear to the ground...In today’s competition, our vision is ‘We’re only as good as we are today.’ And everyone here has bought into that.

How to reach: Green Advertising, (561) 989-9550 or www.greenad.com

Published in Florida
Thursday, 30 June 2011 20:01

Leading communication

Social media in its truest form is word-of-mouth communication — people influencing others within their social sphere and sharing experiences about companies and brands. The biggest change is that my personal social sphere is now thousands, maybe millions (rather than hundreds), of people whom I can influence through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others.

If you are my age (I’ll let you guess) you might remember the shampoo television commercial that delivered the message, “You’ll tell two friends and she’ll tell two friends and so on and so on and so on.” Today, social media is that same idea on steroids. If that commercial ran today, it would say, “You’ll tell 2,000 friends and she’ll tell 2,000 friends and so on …” With that kind of impact, social media is a communication stream CEOs cannot ignore. It is a fundamental change in the way people communicate, so like it or not, it is essential that companies learn to use this powerful voice as a business driver and brand reputation builder.

OK, so I have your attention, now what?

Just like other media, it is important to understand the benefits of social media, target your message appropriately for the audience, establish a plan and measure results. Social media is less expensive than most traditional forms of media, but creative execution still matters.

Like traditional media, the target audience varies by channel and some channels appeal more to B2C or B2B audiences. Social media is live interaction, so it changes by the second, the minute, the hour, the day. It takes a dedicated, quick response effort. And because it is as much about brand reputation as it is brand awareness, it should not be passed off to the newest hire. Whoever is minding your social media is the face and voice of your company.

Start with the basics

Whether you run a B2C or a B2B company, the basic requirement to building an effective digital communications strategy begins with an effective website. It should be built so that web crawlers provide the optimum organic search results. A website is like a retail store. It’s out there, but unless it is marketed to bring in traffic, it may never be found.

Companies should implement pay-per-click campaigns on search engines such as Google or Bing.

This type of program requires consistent monitoring and adjusting — so it demands either internal or external support and monitoring analytic reports to constantly tweak your campaigns. Adding display or banner ads into the mix will increase search activity proportionately. So will directory listings and appropriate linking strategies. So will social media.

Most companies find that inserting an e-mail component into their digital strategy is a good lead and sales driver. I highly recommend a video component as well.

Integrating social media into the mix

Not all social media channels fit all types of businesses. Knowing where your influencers “hang out” is the key to building a successful social media strategy. For B2C clients, we often recommend mass-reach venues such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Most businesses can also benefit from LinkedIn and targeting bloggers. There are hundreds of social media channels, so understanding your audience and where they communicate is the key.

For B2B clients, we often recommend blogging, YouTube, SlideShare, LinkedIn and posting content to web-based news aggregate sites, reaching out to bloggers, as well as housing content-rich information within the company’s website.

There is more to it than hanging a shingle

It is not a “build it and they will come” strategy. It is a “what can we do to encourage them to engage with us” strategy. You need to understand the audience, figure out the best way to join in the conversation, deliver your message so that you get noticed and establish your desired outcome before you begin.

Bio on file

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 20-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 25 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921 or kborth@greencrest.com, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columbus

Historically, employers have learned about potential hires through applications, questionnaires, interviews, references and background checks.

That is changing, however, as more companies are beginning to use social media outlets to vet candidates. But while such sites can provide a lot of information about a candidate, it is important to understand the legal ramifications of researching a candidate online, says Jennifer Raymond, a partner with The Stolar Partnership.

“Employers are reporting that they’re making all sorts of employment-related decisions based on social media,” says Raymond. “But most employers don’t have targeted, written policies addressing what they’re doing with, and how they’re collecting, social media information.”

Smart Business spoke with Raymond about what is permissible when using social networking sites and credit checks to screen applicants, how to keep up to date with hiring practices and how to minimize legal risks.

What are the pros and cons of using social networking sites during the hiring process?

The pro is that you get information that you wouldn’t otherwise get from an interview or a resume. The con is that you get information you wouldn’t otherwise get from an interview or a resume.

You can find inaccuracies in a resume and information regarding a candidate’s judgment by screening social networking sites. But you also might learn information that is protected and wouldn’t normally be accessible to you as an employer, such as a person’s religious beliefs or someone’s health conditions.

You might also find information about someone who drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes. However, some states, such as Illinois, have laws protecting legal recreational activities, and you can’t make a hiring decision based on that type of information.

What steps should employers take to minimize the legal risks associated with using social networking sites to screen potential employees?

Employers should have written policies governing the screening process that include, among other things, exactly which sites will be searched and who will be doing the searching. It’s critical to develop policies that include examples of what is, and what is not, permissible hiring criteria, acceptable conduct and appropriate information to consider in making hiring determinations. All personnel who will be participating in interviews or participating in hiring decisions should be trained on these policies.

These guidelines must be applied to every candidate. Employers may want to avoid sites such as Facebook because of the risk of finding protected information that a candidate might say was used impermissibly in making a hiring determination. Employers may wish to limit their search to professional sites such as LinkedIn, where they can verify resume information, as opposed to finding out personal, and possibly protected, information about candidates. And whoever is conducting the screening should never misrepresent his or her identity to gain unauthorized access to a candidate’s social networking information, such as by ‘friending’ the candidate or creating a fictitious profile.

Can an employer also reference a candidate’s credit report when making hiring decisions?

This area is in flux due to the downturn in the economy. It has become more of an issue because, for example, the credit score of someone who was laid off could have changed because of unemployment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a number of states have been cracking down on an employer’s use of credit reports to make hiring decisions. And while looking at a credit report itself is not discriminatory, it can have a disparate impact on specific categories of people that are protected, such as African-American or female candidates, who may have lower credit scores based on social circumstances.

Not only has the EEOC been increasing its enforcement, but four states have enacted laws to prohibit employers from using credit reports in making hiring decisions, except in certain situations. And Missouri is considering legislation that would curtail the use of credit screenings in hiring decisions. There is even federal legislation that’s been introduced that would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act and prohibit the use of credit reports, except in certain situations. A good rule of thumb is that if the position requires the candidate to handle money or other financially sensitive information, or if it’s a managerial or executive level position that involves signatory power, then it may be permissible to look at credit report information and use it to make determinations. However, for rank-and-file employees, making decisions on the basis of credit information can be very risky. And it’s going to become even more risky as other states, and potentially the federal government, pass this type of legislation.

If a candidate claims discrimination during the hiring process, how can a company protect itself against a lawsuit?

You’re not going to be able to stop someone from suing you, but you can demonstrate to the courts that you have written policies, that you’ve trained supervisors and decision-makers to follow them and that you have a documented screening process for candidates. This preparation will go a long way toward defeating claims that may be brought by a disgruntled candidate who feels that he or she was treated unfairly.

How can employers make sure they stay up to date with legal hiring practices?

There are human resources publications and websites that post updated information, such as the EEOC and the Department of Labor. But the best way to stay up to date and protect your company is to conduct a regular audit of your written employment policies — including hiring policies — and use the services of a qualified employment lawyer who can make sure you are in compliance.

Jennifer Raymond is a partner with The Stolar Partnership. Reach her at (314) 231-2800 or jjr@stolarlaw.com.

Published in St. Louis

Social media is invading all facets of daily life. Right now, two-thirds of the global Internet population visits social networking sites, spending eight billion minutes per day on those sites. However, not everyone is waiting until after the end of the workday to visit Facebook or Twitter, or to watch or post videos to YouTube. Of growing concern to employers is employees’ use of social media during work and engaging in risky behavior that, left unchecked, can and will result in real liability and lost opportunities for companies.

“However, businesses can use social media to their advantage,” says Louis C. Klein, Esquire, Of Counsel to Jackson, DeMarco Tidus Peckenpaugh. “Smart social media use can result in increased product recognition and brand awareness, quicker and more efficient customer contact and service, and the ability to respond to crises and manage reputation — think Domino Pizza’s social media response to the viral YouTube videos of employees behaving badly.”

Smart Business spoke to Klein to learn more about how businesses can avoid the liabilities that can sometimes accompany employee social media use.

How does a company protect itself against improper and liability-creating employee use of social media?

The most sensible course of action for a business to take is to develop a reasonable social media use policy. In developing a sound social media policy, a company should first define the goals of the policy, strive to keep it simple, involve its staff and then commit to enforce the policy.

Completely banning employees’ use of social media, a fairly typical reaction, is unworkable. As Baby Boomers and Generation X employees leave the work force over the next ten years, Generation Y will ascend the employment ladder, becoming 40 to 50 percent of the work force. This is an Internet-connected, social media-savvy generation that will continue to revolutionize the way we communicate. It has been estimated that 75 percent of Generation Y has already created a profile on at least one social networking site. As the generational and cultural shift occurs in the workplace, younger employees might reject working for companies that won’t allow them to stay connected.

What should a social media policy cover?

A social media use policy should clearly define the company’s expectations related to an employee’s use of social media. It should state that employees must continue to adhere to a company’s code of conduct, as well as other company policies, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and confidentiality of private information or trade secret policies. Only company-designated spokepersons should identify themselves as being authorized to speak on behalf of a company on blogs or in profiles maintained on social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Employees should not be allowed to use a company’s images or logos without prior written permission.

How else can a business avoid liability?

An issue that is becoming more problematic is the downloading of copyrighted material from the Internet. In order to avoid running afoul of federal copyright laws, a social media use policy should include language that requires employees to obtain permission prior to including or downloading copyrighted material on a company-sponsored Web posting or to a company-owned computer.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to avoid liability for using copyrighted material, a business must establish effective notice and take down policies, have no actual knowledge of the infringement, and must not have received any financial benefit from the infringement. Moreover, a company must properly comply with any take down notices it may receive from a copyright holder.

Finally, a company should define its disciplinary policy regarding the misuse of social media sites while at work and should make clear that the employer is monitoring company-owned electronic equipment so that an employee has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her use of the company’s equipment. A court of law is less likely to find that an employer violated an employee’s privacy rights if the employee has been put on notice that the employer has the right to monitor and review the content on any of its company-owned electronic equipment, including computers, e-mail systems, cell phones, smart phones, Blackberries, iPads and the like.

What should not be included in a social media policy?

The policy should not prohibit employees from identifying themselves as employees, should not prohibit employees from making comments regarding their employment, including the use of disparaging remarks, and should not prohibit employees from discussing the terms and conditions of employment.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed several complaints against companies for firing employees based on their Facebook postings. These postings, according to the NLRB, were protected activity and the companies’ policies prohibiting the conduct violated the National Labor Relations Act. Little known to most employers, both union and non-union workplaces are subject to the Act and the NLRB has the right to file a complaint against a company that has no union workers. Additionally, California Labor Code section 96(k) prohibits employment actions against employees for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

Social media use will be an ever-changing labor and societal issue for the foreseeable future. A company that can harness the power of this medium while protecting its employees and assets will be far better able to compete in this brave new world than a company that hesitates, or, worse, buries its head in the sand.

Louis C. Klein, Esquire, is Of Counsel to Jackson DeMarco Tidus Peckenpaugh. He partners with businesses to resolve difficult employee issues, including the development of social media policies. He can be reached at (805) 418-1907 or lklein@jdtplaw.com.

Published in Orange County