Tuesday, 03 May 2011 12:42

Listen Up

Do you care what your customers think? Do you actively seek out their opinions on the product or service you provide? If you answered no to either or both of these questions, you’re running a big risk. In the era of real-time mass communication, companies should never pass up an opportunity for customer interaction. As author David Meerman Scott reminds readers in his book “Real-Time Marketing & PR,” the moment to capitalize on engaging one’s customer arrives and disappears in an instant.

In this interview with Smart Business, Scott discusses the best ways to answer one’s critics, the impact of a viral video and the advantages of connecting with your customers in real time.

You kick off the book with the ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story. Tell us why this is the ultimate cautionary tale for businesses.

What happened is Dave Carroll, who is a singer/songwriter for a band called Sons of Maxwell, was traveling from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to a gig in Nebraska, and he had to change planes in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He was traveling on United Airlines and they broke his guitar. He spent a full year trying to get compensation, [but] United refused. Since he’s a singer/songwriter, he told them, ‘I’m going to write three songs and post them on YouTube,’ which he did.

One of the songs has more than 10 million views to date on YouTube, and in just the first week, it generated 2 million views. Now the whole world is talking about and watching this video about how United Airlines breaks guitars. When something like this happens, your organization needs to respond. You need to be a part of what’s going on. You need to act like a human and not like a corporate drone.

Can you offer any advice for businesses that find themselves getting swept away in a wave of online criticism? Should they use the same Web methods to answer their critics?

I’m glad you used that word ‘criticism’ because I think the person who is worthy of a response is a thoughtful critic. In this case, Dave Carroll was a thoughtful critic. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every single thing that happens on the Web. There are cases, and in some industries there could be frequent cases, where people are just trying to be bullies. They’re trying to beat you up for the sake of trying to beat you up. In that case, that behavior does not necessarily deserve a response. But let’s assume it’s a thoughtful critic; you should be responding in the same media.

The ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story was a YouTube video. If I were United Airlines, what I would have done is post a YouTube video in response. What I would have done is have the chief baggage handler from United Airlines in Chicago where the incident occurred talk about what it’s like to process hundreds of thousands of bags every day. He wouldn’t even have to mention ‘United Breaks Guitars.’ Everyone would make that connection, and then all of a sudden, [United] is humanizing their organization. They’re seen as an organization who is paying attention and who cares.

Some companies believe real-time interaction with customers exposes a company to unnecessary risk. How can individuals in a traditional organization prove that it’s safe to connect with one’s customers?

I actually did a little research to find out the percentage of companies that do engage in real time. I measured the Fortune 100 and it turns out that 28 percent of the Fortune 100 are engaging in the ways that we just talked about and the ways that are in the book. Those 28 companies stock prices were up 3 percent during the period that I measured. The companies that did not engage had stock prices that went down 2 percent. So that 5 percent swing is the ROI of doing this kind of engagement.

Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to Instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers and Create Products That Grow Your Business Now

>> By David Meerman Scott

>> Wiley, 244 pages, $24.95

About the book: “Real-Time Marketing & PR” puts to pasture traditional marketing plans that were worked out months in advance. In the era of instant communication, your customers can make an interaction with your company, and whether it’s good or bad, it can go viral in a matter of moments. This book helps companies leave behind old marketing and public relations models and seize the sudden opportunities that define this era of business.

The author: David Meerman Scott is the author of the best-seller “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” and “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.” He served as marketing director for Knight-Ridder in Asia. He is a popular blogger and speaker, focusing on how businesses implement new strategies to reach buyers.

Why you should read it: Scott makes one of the most valid arguments to date for the positive business impact of engaging one’s customers in real time. As he points out, organizations are letting incredible opportunities pass them by for reasons that are not entirely justified. A good experience should be promoted and a bad experience should be addressed. The longer a company waits to do either, the more it decreases the benefits. Scott’s examples highlight a variety of ways in which companies have successfully implemented real-time strategies.

Why it’s different: Scott doesn’t spend much time on the various methods of communication. Instead, he dives directly into situations and case studies. Readers will also appreciate the fact that he uses himself as an example of someone who lost an opportunity for failing to follow his own strategy.

Can’t miss: “Too Big to Succeed?” In this chapter, Scott gives a vote of confidence to small companies who wonder if their size limits their ability to compete in real time. He details a study that he conducted with the Fortune 100. Scott contacted each business in an attempt to see how it engaged its customers in real time. The results are shocking, particularly when readers discover how the proactive companies performed on Wall Street in the aftermath of Scott’s study.

To share or not to share: This book should be given to anyone in an executive’s marketing department. It should then be shared with readers in various executive positions throughout the company. As Scott points out, everyone has a role to play in engaging customers in real time.

Soundview Executive Book Summaries:

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Published in Atlanta
Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:30

Getting the team online

Whether it’s changing over to new software or logging into Facebook to check the company news, KimstaffHR’s employees are behind every technological move. President Sheila Kepler wouldn’t have it any other way – which is why, for example, before choosing new software, she brings employees into the decision by letting them review the options and voice opinions about what works on the frontline.

Technological innovation and engagement make sense at the Professional Employer Organization, which is focused on helping businesses reduce paperwork, optimize benefits and improve cost efficiency.

Kepler has engaged her staff by communicating through social media, but the commitment goes much deeper than that. Employee involvement isn’t just Facebook interaction; Kepler keeps them involved long-term by creating an environment where they feel free to suggest new technologies.

Because of this, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Kepler one of the 2011 Smart Leader honorees. She shared how she engages employees with technology to maintain a leading edge.

Give an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.

In 2006, we were struggling with technology and had to decide if we continued with a current application or would look for a new one. We made our decisions as a team and each employee was involved.

They attended the meetings and were given links to review the software selections. Then we had the vendors come in and demonstrate. Everyone was encourage to ask questions –they would be using this software to do their jobs, so we wanted to make sure we knew their wishlists and ideas to do things easier and faster. Then we had a confidential vote at the end.

This made the commitment to change strong and everyone felt they had a vested interest to make sure our decision had the desired results.

In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?

We encourage our employees to use and understand social media and mobile technology. We use mobile applications, iPads, HTC phones, etc. This helps us develop the services and tools for our clients.

We use Facebook like an employee newsletter and encourage our employees to respond to posting. We trained our (employees) on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and encouraged them early on to embrace the changes in how the world communicates.

We use Twitter to put out various information for our clients, such as employment law updates, etc. About two years ago we had a Facebook contest with one of the games. It was engaging, fun and got the whole office excited.

I believe that companies are only as good as the people they employ. Management must lead by example and foster a team environment. We foster an environment to always bring ideas or suggestions on any new technology they might have seen or heard. We often test various software and are moving more of our processes to web-based products.

We hold team meetings to talk about how we use the software and tools that we expect our clients and their employees to use. We often have great ideas on colors, fonts, design, etc.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t let anyone tell you something can’t be done. Just like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?

As a company, we focus on providing cutting edge technology products and applications to our clients. This helps them achieve their various business goals and engages their employees. The result is that we help small businesses stay in business.

How to reach: KimstaffHR, (949) 862-6560 or www.kimstaffhr.com

Published in Orange County

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and profe

ssional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

Q: Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

A: Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even re-tweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

Q: So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

A: This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media a basic level. Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships, or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

Q: Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

A: It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

Q: Are there some good ways to create a company’s social media strategy, and how do you measure a return on investment from that strategy?

A: Pursuing a social media strategy for the sake of having a social media strategy is not the right thing to do. It will end up being a big waste of time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of folks are doing it because they’re told this is something you have to be doing right now. But try to figure out how you take your organization’s top priorities and leverage social connectivity to create greater value. That, I think, is a very, very smart thing to do. So trying to align your priorities and objectives makes a lot of sense.

If you’re trying to go out and do recruiting using social tools, how is that going to benefit your organization? Explicitly, there are ways of measuring that.

Historically, people are filtering through hundreds or thousands of active candidate resumes. Now technologies exist that you can find the perfect person, which creates huge efficiencies for your recruiters. They can target the ideal candidate instead of constantly spending 90-plus percent of their time saying no.

For your salespeople, how are they tapping first-, second- and third-degree relationships to eliminate cold calls? Think about the effectiveness of tapping warm prospects and how much more business you’re going to be able to do as an organization. That kind of stuff can be measured.

And then there’s the implicit stuff, such as how your company, in and of itself, can leverage social connectivity. A group or the ability for your organization to share news or insights that one person in the company has identified as being valuable to everyone else in your organization is going to be a little more challenging to measure the explicit ROI of that. But implicitly, as people start to share that kind of information, best practices and knowledge, your organization is going to work more productively.

And so it comes back to what are your objectives and how are you going to leverage these technologies to achieve greater productivity.

How to reach: LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com. Read the entire interview at www.sbnonline.com/weiner.

Published in Dallas

Back in the day, Michael Fisher saw companies spend millions understanding consumer opinions, hoping to position brands for mass appeal. But in today’s interactive social environment, one-way broadcasts won’t cut it.

“Today, I have a whole new way of collecting that feedback,” says Fisher, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the American operations of Alterian Inc., which has 130 employees and accounts for 40 percent of worldwide revenue. “The company doesn’t have to ask the consumer what they think; they’re quite active in telling you. You just have to be in the position to listen.”

Consumers are already discussing their experiences on Twitter and Facebook. Brands just need to be there to engage personally. Alterian, an integrated marketing firm, helps clients do just that.

Do more than listen. Social media monitoring applications allow you to go out and understand what people are saying across many social networks. Organizations can listen. The real challenge is that today’s consumer expects you to be doing more than listening.

Today’s consumer expects the kind of personalization and the kind of precision that they’re used to seeing, that may have manifested as a personalized direct mail component or a very structured and personalized e-mail or a phone call. Consumers are expecting that precision in the social communities.

Organizations should think long and hard about moving beyond listening and develop a way to respond to what it is they’re hearing — but in a way that is very analytical and very disciplined and very open and transparent.

If you want to engage the consumer, it can’t only be about stimulation. You have to take the monologue and turn it into a dialogue. You have to not only speak, but you have to respond and talk back. It’s a send-and-receive world that we live in today, and consumers expect it. When they don’t get it, they transact elsewhere.

Know when to engage. If a consumer says on Twitter that they don’t like this company or they don’t like this product, the onus then falls to that brand to respond appropriately. You should engage.

In some instances, somebody may say, ‘I don’t like Payless Shoes,’ and you may find the people that love Payless Shoes will come on and say, ‘Shut up, because we do.’ So there’s the whole notion of self-correction. Then you don’t need to respond because your fan base will do it.

You’ve got to have the analytical chops to measure this and to allow it to happen and to respond to it when appropriate and to allow for self-correction when appropriate.

Open the dialogue. Look at Vail Resorts. They’re not out telling you, ‘Come spend your money.’ They’re out telling you, ‘Track your improvement,’ or, ‘Measure how much fun you’ve had at one resort over another. Track how well you do against people that are skiing in the areas that you’re skiing. Build competitive communities. Engage with us.’ It’s a pretty powerful message.

Encourage people to give feedback not just on what they’ve bought from me but what other things are they doing with other products.

The consumer responds to not being sold when you just open the dialogue. Don’t promote when the consumer is looking for you to engage. Consumers sometimes will tell you, ‘Sell me this. I’m ready to buy this.’ And then you do, because they’re looking to make that transaction. But in the social world, make sure that you’re taking advantage of engagement as your strategy, not strictly selling. There’s a time and a place for it.

Integrate social strategy. If you listen to the conversation and people are completely agitated with you and you’re British Petroleum, it might not be a good time to try to sell them (gasoline). It might be a great time to tell them [about] the Save the Whales donations that you’re giving.

The data will tell you that. That data can come from all of the channels you choose to interact with consumers in. Don’t only look at what you’re hearing socially, but look at it in terms of people buying at the pump, the transaction volume decreases, people not going into your convenience mart. There’s all kinds of ways for you to see how the consumer feels — beyond social — that should indicate what you should or should not say, what you should or should not be selling (and) when you should or should not be doing it.

How to reach: Alterian Inc., (312) 704-1700 or www.alterian.com.

Published in Chicago

Imagine the pressure of pitching that big idea, but instead of standing in a typical boardroom, lights and cameras are pointed at you as you face a row of investment sharks – among them, Daymond John, founder and CEO of clothing brand FUBU. You’re probably nervous, but be careful – you’re being branded.

This is the scene on Shark Tank, ABC’s reality series – which starts its second season on March 25 – where entrepreneurs pitch ideas to investors like John and Mark Cuban. Before the entrepreneurs open their mouths, John is already looking for branding cues.

“The entrepreneurs are being branded themselves when they’re doing a pitch,” says John, who also formed a branding consultation called Shark Branding and wrote a book called The Brand Within. “We’re all branding each other every time we see each other.”

John shared some Shark Tank takeaways with Smart Business and discussed how social media is changing the branding landscape.

What tips can leaders take from Shark Tank?

When you’re negotiating, the person is always just as important as the number. We want to know the owner we’re dealing with because you’re going to have to be dealing with them way more than anything else. We never jump into anything. If you want to just coldly buy businesses, then go to the stock market.

[Getting to know people] comes in the due diligence process. When you set a conference call up for 1:30 and the person’s always late, the person has excuses – you start to see in your daily dealings with people how they really are.

What makes an investment opportunity appealing?

First of all, that there’s no surprises. You see that it’s scalable; it’s a business with all the right ingredients just needing funding and/or strategic partners.

More importantly, is the person a good person, where you’re like, ‘If this business does not necessarily create a huge revenue stream, I could see myself see doing other businesses with this person’? Someone with a patent always may have potential, given time, to take off because it’s proprietary.

This is not charity. This is my money, and it’s easy to say no when you either feel like the person is irresponsible, or you went down that lane with similar products or businesses in your past and it just didn’t work for you. It may not be that the product is a bad idea, but if I invested in Laundromats and I lost money, I’m just not going to be excited about it.

When does branding begin for entrepreneurs?

They say that a jury either convicts or exonerates somebody within the first 30 seconds of seeing them. After that, all they want to do is listen to what is going to prove them right in their assessment.

When the entrepreneurs have to stand there for that minute with those lights on them and none of us have to say anything as the cameras are getting set, if they’re fidgety and they don’t want to give eye contact, there’s this funny feeling people get. And we understand you can be nervous, you know, if you’re fidgeting and you’re smiling and you’re looking at people like, ‘Oh wow, this is scary,’ (but) you’ve got that little smile, that’s natural.

So branding starts there. Then talking about the product, do you have a clear, concise message? I always say the best brands, whether you personally or a business, can be summed up in three words. Whether it’s BMW: Fine German Engineering, TBS: Very Funny, TNT: We Know Drama, White Castle’s What You Crave, if it’s the Terminator, ‘I’ll be back.’ If you can summarize your whole business or personality in three words, then you live off that motto. If you and your staff don’t understand your message, why will anyone else understand it?

What else goes into personal branding?

You’re sitting across the table from a banker. The guy has on a pinstriped suit but it’s really loose, and he has a lot of jewelry on. Generally people don’t invest in bankers and accountants that look like that. Now, you could take the jewelry off and make the pinstriped suit really close-fitting to the body. That is how you’re assessing where you’re putting your financial nest egg: how they look, how they act, how they speak.

Somebody’s telling you they have all these great business ideas, and you look and they’ve got dirty fingernails and dusty shoes. I hate to sound so frivolous about things, but this is really what we do every day.

Speaking of branding, you’ve rebranded FUBU as FB Legacy, correct?

Because FUBU had slowed down in the United States, as did other brands here, and started globally becoming really big, we decided to bring it back into the market. A lot of the kids may have not wanted the old FUBU name, so just like Armani Exchange has AX and Dolce has D&G, we decided to do FB Legacy.

Because we have a following, they know what it is and this is just an abbreviation. We always went under FB as well [as FUBU and 05]. There is a different audience. A fashion line in 15, 20 years, it’s a new generation discovering it.

How is branding different today?

With the Twitters and the Facebooks of the world, branding has become personal. No longer can you just plaster something all over and make it and they will come. Because of the way information is moving very fast, if it’s not a true message, it will be discovered that it’s not a true message. People will basically punch holes in it – if your model is holding Coke and drinking Pepsi, there will be a picture of them drinking Pepsi somewhere immediately.

The consumer, they need to feel special. They need to feel like you’re talking to them. That means you need to have a lot of interaction with them, like giving them discounts on Foursquare. It’s just not as simple as, ‘Alright, come to the store and maybe we’ll hook you up.’ You’ve got to reach out to them.

Branding in those aspects has really changed, but I always say that there’s nothing new created in this world; it’s only a new form or delivery. Branding has stayed the same in the one simple matter: a clear, concise message and the truth.

How should brands leverage this new environment?

I do a lot of consulting with other brands and I try to advise them and say, ‘Why don’t you punch your name or your product’s name into Twitter [or other social media platform] and just look at all the feeds that are coming through. You can’t have thin skin. That’s your report card.’ Once I advise them of that, they sit there for months looking to understand the real problems with their product.

Kentucky Fried Chicken was basically saying, ‘I don’t know why Chick-fil-A is beating us. Maybe we need to come out with this double-breasted sandwich.’ I said, ‘Look, that’s not your problem. Your problem is: There is an urban myth that your chicken is steroid chicken. You’ve never fought that issue. If you go on Twitter, most people are saying, “Look at the big breasts on that chicken, that’s steroid chicken. Isn’t that stuff grown in a vacuum where the chicken has nine wings?”’

I said, ‘Until you attack that, you cannot advance yourself because you’re not even taking care of the issue at hand.’

There was a misunderstanding that FUBU was just for African Americans, and it wasn’t. It was about making it for the consumer that we are. After you hear a certain message, a certain line that everybody’s saying, you have to pay attention to it and you have to address it.

What are the strongest brands in the marketplace today, and why?

They’re going to be Apple, Coke, Nike.

Interesting enough, I had a conversation with Phil Knight (chairman of Nike Inc.) yesterday on the phone, and I’m not throwing that out casually because I was very excited to have a conversation with him. He’s still so laser-focused on sports that I was amazed and impressed at the same time. He never veered off of his brand, and his brand is one of the biggest in the world.

Coke is purely marketing and they change with their consumers over the years.

Nike is clearly marketing, but they stayed very close to ‘Just Do It,’ [asking,] ‘How can my product enrich an athlete’s life?’

And Apple came out and said, ‘Computers are cool and everybody’s going to have computers but we’re going to make it fun and we’re going to make it sexy and we’re going to make it quirky.’

Maybe a smaller company doesn’t have that marketing reach or those product ideas. What can they learn from these brands?

They can concentrate on their market and stay true to their brand. That’s going to be first and foremost.

Deliver an exceptionally great product and look like you’re having fun. All three of those brands are doing what they love and they’re doing it with people they love. Phil Knight probably can’t get enough of seeing athletes and talking to them about how to advance their training.

What are the keys to branding?

First of all, before your brand even gets out there, what are we going to provide? People are buying into it for either one of two things: for a need or for a want.  So are we providing a need or a want?

The next thing is: What is the impression you’re going to give the brand when it comes to advertising and marketing?

Now, it’s: Where will they find this product, at what price?

Creativity in production is first, second of all is marketing it, and third is where will they touch it – will they get it online, will they get it at Target or will they get it in Louie Vuitton, will they get it from a street vendor, or will they get it in their five and dime store?

If we went to Target and we saw something with LV or Jimmy Choo on it, we would think either, ‘This is counterfeit and we don’t trust Target,’ or we would say, ‘I’m never touching Louis Vuitton or Jimmy Choo because this is garbage.’ It would be such a brand confusion that your head would pop.

How to reach: FB Legacy, www.fblegacy.com

Daymond John, @thesharkDaymond

For more about Shark Tank, visit ABC.

Published in Akron/Canton

Every day, it seems the social media world is growing, making the physical world around us appear that much smaller. With those changes, the line that previously separated our personal and professional lives has blurred as websites and applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube provide the ability to connect with family, friends and business colleagues and to share information, news, videos and photos.

So what exactly defines social media, and where is this new frontier headed? More important, how can we best take advantage of what’s out there?

Who better to answer those questions than Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the Web’s largest and most powerful network of professionals.

 

Q. Social media means different things to different people as well as companies. What would be a good definition of social media?

Broadly defined, it is the creation of content, information and knowledge, distribution of it, consumption of it, and leveraging social interactions. Whether that’s a status update, sharing an image, a video or a blog post, even retweeting a headline or sharing a headline — those are all examples of social media.

I think the social interaction component, the virality, really takes what historically has been behavior we all have done offline, and when you bring it online and digitize it, it starts to scale and moves at a speed with which we haven’t seen previously. It really has the opportunity to change everything it touches.

 

Q. So what do you see as the true cultural sea change that is being caused by social media?

This goes way beyond brand building and customer outreach, which is how many organizations are using social media. ... Leveraging social platforms is going to fundamentally change the way we work and how business gets done. It’s going to really revolutionize and disrupt all of it. So whether it’s the way you hire people, find your dream job, transition from cold calling to warm prospecting by leveraging the power of first-, second- and third-degree relationships or whether it’s exchanging and sharing information, knowledge, insight and data that you need to derive insights to make better and more informed decisions, I don’t think people can really afford not to participate within these platforms.

 

Q. Since it’s going to be everywhere, where would you start?

It starts with recognition. There are three behavioral changes we focus on the most at LinkedIn. First is the way in which we represent our professional identity. Think about that for a moment. The way in which individuals now build their professional brand starts with their profiles. And those profiles, when they’re kept fresh and relevant, are search engine optimized so that when people search for your name or the names of people like you with your experience, your skills, your aspirations, you’re the first thing they see when they do that search on Google.

This ability to carve out a piece of digital real estate that you, yourself, can control to put your best foot forward is an incredibly powerful and valuable dynamic. It’s not just the individual; it’s also your company. There are over a million active company profiles on LinkedIn. And these company profiles not only represent who you are and your company’s identity, but they enable you to build your talent brands, establish the way in which you’re going to recruit and how you recruit, and build word-of-mouth around your products and services. So identity is an absolute cornerstone.

The second is building your network. I think historically, when people hear the expression ‘professional networking,’ they think of the guy at the conference who is handing out as many business cards to people as possible, just building the Rolodex. That’s not what we mean anymore. We mean the way business gets done.

If we believe the world is getting flatter, more global, more digital, more networked, this is the way business gets done — it’s the way people are tapping knowledge, exchanging information — and if you’re not taking advantage of that and building out your network, your competition is.

And then lastly is the whole notion of sharing information and knowledge — collaborating, sharing business intelligence and competitive intelligence. To be able to really derive this kind of insight from whatever networks or social environments you’re operating in becomes an enormous advantage versus those folks who aren’t able to do the same.

 

Q. You mentioned identity. How accurate do you think people or company’s identities are on the Internet? Who and what should we trust?

When you’re talking about a professional context, I think things change versus a social context. One of the first things people do when they meet in a professional setting is exchange business cards. The more your professional identity is out there, the more opportunities potentially accrue to you. It’s kind of a tried-and-true practice. So when you’re putting your profile out there for everyone to see publicly and transparently, the people who work with you and know exactly what you did, well, they’re going to call you out if you’re not telling the truth.

It’s very much self-policing in a professional context. The comments you see and the quality of interaction from people’s professional identities are very different than what’s shared outside of the professional context. It’s that important. If you’re sharing what you’ve done in a professional context or what your company is about, it’s perfectly transparent.

 

Q. And if you look at work/flex integration, where do those boundaries start and stop?

For a platform like LinkedIn, one of the reasons that we create the value that we do is that no matter where in the world we go, what cities we go to and the members we meet up with, we hear that people want to keep their personal lives and professional lives separate.

That context matters to people, for very obvious reasons. We all went to school, and we all had fun at school. And when I was back at school, not everyone was carrying a camera around in their pockets via a phone and uploading essentially everything that everyone did every minute of the day, having those images tagged and then having those images viewed by everyone they met.

I think people appreciate keeping their personal lives and professional lives separate, if that’s what they want. But there are also environments where those are unified.

 

Q. Should you have different conduct online than you do offline?

Generally speaking, for the most part, you need to conduct yourself online the same way you conduct yourself offline. This whole notion of creating a separate social media policy, save for regulatory environments where you have compliance issues, and there are very hard and fast rules, you really want to conduct yourself the same way. You want to be true to yourself. You want to be true to the values of the company you operate for. I think the sensitivity comes from the dynamic described earlier — when it goes online, it moves at the speed at light. So you’re talking about a far different scale at a far different speed with greater sensitivity.

 

Q. Are there some good ways to create a company’s social media strategy, and how do you measure a return on investment from that strategy?

Pursuing a social media strategy for the sake of having a social media strategy is not the right thing to do. It will end up being a big waste of time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of folks are doing it because they’re told this is something you have to be doing right now. But try to figure out how you take your organization’s top priorities and leverage social connectivity to create greater value. That, I think, is a very, very smart thing to do. So trying to align your priorities and objectives makes a lot of sense.

If you’re trying to go out and do recruiting using social tools, how is that going to benefit your organization? Explicitly, there are ways of measuring that.

Historically, people are filtering through hundreds or thousands of active candidate resumes. Now technologies exist that you can find the perfect person, which creates huge efficiencies for your recruiters. They can target the ideal candidate instead of constantly spending 90-plus percent of their time saying no.

For your salespeople, how are they tapping first-, second- and third-degree relationships to eliminate cold calls? Think about the effectiveness of tapping warm prospects and how much more business you’re going to be able to do as an organization. That kind of stuff can be measured.

And then there’s the implicit stuff, such as how your company, in and of itself, can leverage social connectivity ... or the ability for your organization to share news or insights that one person in the company has identified as being valuable to everyone else in your organization is going to be a little more challenging to measure the explicit ROI of that. But implicitly, as people start to share that kind of information, best practices and knowledge, your organization is going to work more productively.

And so it comes back to what are your objectives and how are you going to leverage these technologies to achieve greater productivity.

 

Q. What’s the most fundamental change coming up?

It’s going to be transparency. These technologies are going to eliminate, if not dramatically reduce, the ability for organizations to conceal the things they don’t want people to know about — both internally and externally.

And the best part of this transparency is the efficiencies it creates in the marketplace. For example, when you take the friction out of the ability for people to move from one company to another, guess where they’re going to end up? They’re going to end up at those companies that are the best places to work because they know those opportunities because recruiters from those companies are able to identify them in ways that were impossible before because they can align their skills, objectives and their aspirations with those companies.

There are myriad examples of companies that are going through situations where they’ve introduced a bad product or service and are getting customer complaints over here. Historically, they’ve tried to hide that. That’s no longer possible because everyone’s an influencer. So if you’re not constantly having dialogue with your customers via some of these tools, you’re going to be punished for it.

Steve Jobs said an amazing thing at a conference I attended when asked whether he liked doing business in an enterprise setting or with consumers. He said he loves doing business with consumers because, at the end of the day, they vote with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. They’re either buying your products or they’re not. That’s the kind of efficiency that’s created when you have this kind of transparency. 

HOW TO REACH: LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com

Published in Northern California
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 17:16

Get in the game

Imagine your biggest competitor announcing that it is shutting down its website and will no longer participate in “the Internet experiment.” I suspect you would find it foolish and look for ways to capitalize upon your competitor’s mistake.

Many companies, however, are failing to define their brands and engage with consumers across social media — a decision that is just as foolish.

The Internet became all-important to dialogue with consumers at the turn of the century when 50 percent of U.S. households achieved access. Companies that resisted or were too slow to adapt to the changing digital marketplace suffered losses of brand equity and market share, especially with young tech-savvy customers and early-adopters.

According to the Pew Research Center, today more than half of all Americans use the Internet to participate in one or more social networks. If your competition is engaged and delivering a positive brand experience in the networks and your company is silent, you are missing out on powerful consumer touch points. You may also be alienating the people you are spending marketing and advertising dollars to attract.

Missed opportunities are one of many downsides to your company being absent in the social network. Douglas Karr, founder of DK New Media and author of “Corporate Blogging for Dummies,” advises that, “These conversations are now becoming part of the public record.”

Social media dialogue can be indexed, organized and discovered in a search engine in a matter of seconds. People are paying attention to what’s being said, both good and bad, and a simple mistake made by your company can turn into a major problem that affects your company’s reputation.

While things can happen in the blink of an eye, the landscape of social networking can be a tough one to navigate. It is hard work. Consumers’ appetites for information are insatiable and less-than-immediate responses can be viewed as lackadaisical or even rude.

There are tools that can help to simplify managing your brand across social networks, but there is no substitute for thoughtful, genuine conversation with your customers.

Authenticity takes time and effort. Underestimating the resources required to be effective is one of the most common missteps in social media brand management. You wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your accounts receivable, but at far too many companies, it is interns and other low-level employees unfamiliar with the company’s history and culture driving social media participation. Management should recognize the necessity of staffing the social media function with a professional or professionals who can speak with authority, resolve customer service issues and accurately project the company’s brand position.

Jay Baer, founder of the Convince & Convert blog and author of “The Now Revolution,” which looks at the impact of real-time business on organizational structure and process, considers CoTweet by ExactTarget and HootSuite to be two of the leading “response” systems that allow companies to engage with customers effectively on multiple social media platforms. Both allow you to schedule tweets and offer simple options for replying, retweeting, sending direct messages and other features.

CoTweet’s dashboard allows for “co-tagging,” which displays the user’s initials in a tweet to identify who is answering — a helpful feature for the reader and the user both. CoTweet also allows you to assign the task of responding to a tweet from the search pad. Because so many companies discover technical support and other customer service issues through mentions of their brand name, this is an increasingly important management tool.

Other tools, such as HyperAlerts, which sends you an e-mail when someone posts something to your Facebook page, can save you time by eliminating the need to log in over and over to search for new content. Websites like TweetFX.com are great resources for more Twitter-related websites and services that can help you manage your brand on the social network.

James L. Jay is president and CEO of TechPoint, Indiana’s technology industry and entrepreneurship growth initiative. Jay 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, Jay has a successful track record as an entrepreneur, business leader and public servant.

Published in Indianapolis
Monday, 28 February 2011 15:07

Stephen E. Arnold

In September 2010, Google changed the way search results appeared. The new version, dubbed Google Instant, displays search results as the user types a query. In the old version of Google, the system displayed query suggestions in a drop-down box. Now the screen fills with search results.If you have not tried the new “search as you type” system, navigate to Google and enter a query. I tested the query for American Airlines, which I typically abbreviate to “aa.” Google displays AAA Official Site. The Triple A is the American Automobile Association. How do I get American Airlines? The solution is to enter the full query “American Airlines,” not the abbreviation “aa.” If you want to change your default Google settings, you can click on different links until you find the page that allows you to turn off Google Instant.

Most users just use the default settings. The result is that finding websites or information now requires some extra work. Granted, if you are looking for the American Automobile Association, Google Instant is a great benefit. But if you are looking for any other entry that includes a double “a,” you are going to be affected by Google Instant.

What’s behind this type of radical change to Google’s main search system? According to Google, “We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.” (Source:http://www.google.com/instant/).

Google continues:

The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term or even press, “search.” Another shift is that seeing results as you type helps you formulate a better search term by providing instant feedback. You can now adapt your search on the fly until the results match exactly what you want. In time, we may wonder how search ever worked in any other way.

If American Airlines is affected by Google Instant, what about a smaller business? My testing reveals that Google appears to be focusing search results, particularly the first two or three letters, on larger firms. I did some spot-checking and could not discern a specific pattern. My conclusion was that a Google numerical recipe was looking at what the user typed and then consulting a list of results that were stored in various caches. The method seemed to deliver results for sites that receive high traffic. I tried to cross-match the results with online advertising, but the results were inconclusive. My research indicates that Google Instant seems to favor high-traffic sites and popular topics, such as the letter “g” displays hits to Google and Gmail, surely not an accident of chance? The query “ga” returns entries for games, which is a popular topic. (Popularity can be estimated using a number of different tools, but I rely on Google Trends at http://www.google.com/trends.) You can test the popularity of the queries in this column by typing the keyword in the search box and looking at the traffic reports. The public version of Google Trends does not show actual clicks per time interval, but you can approximate the relative popularity of terms by entering a multiword query like gaga, games. Google plots both lines. Lady Gaga recently passed a billion downloads of her videos, so you can see relative popularity easily. Games are more popular than Lady Gaga it seems. But when you enter “gag,” Google displays Lady Gaga.

But what about more obscure words and phrases? Consider the search for IP, an abbreviation of intellectual property. Google leaps forward with hits to Apple’s iPad. In order to locate documents about intellectual property, I had to run the full query “intellectual property.” The other fix I stumbled upon was to turn off Google Instant. Depending on your context within Google, you can turn off Google Instant via the “search settings” link at the top of a results page or click on the toggle “Instant is on” next to the search button. A click turns instant off.

Now what does this have to do with a small or midsized business getting found via a Google search? My opinion, which has been informed by my test queries, is that big companies and popular words and phrases have an apparent advantage. American Airlines, for example, will have to work harder to generate traffic to its website. But a more practical approach may be to invest in Google’s Ad Words to make certain that when certain queries are run, American Airlines turns up.

There are other approaches, as well, but some of these will require some time and effort to implement. Let me run down six suggestions for you to consider if the Google Ad Words approach is not suitable for your business.

First, you can sign up for Google’s local listings. The easiest way to get to the sign up page is to navigate to Google.com and run a query for “Google Places.” You will need a Google account to create a free listing. Keep in mind, however, that the free listing does not guarantee that your entry will appear quickly or that your listing will be permanent. The listing for my company, Arnold IT, has been under review for months even though I was an early participant in the program. Google will also offer for-fee options to increase your firm’s visibility. These are called Google Tags and provide a preferred listing in certain results lists. Tags are free for some registrants, but I have heard about fees for tags as a forthcoming feature.

Second, you can increase the flow of original content to your blog. That content can then be distributed via really simple syndication. Google offers a blogging service at www.blogger.com, but Google does not appear to favor users by blogging platform. Google is paying considerable attention to websites and blogs that produce original content on a consistent and timely schedule. My blog at www.arnoldtit.com/wordpress is indexed frequently even though my business is not listed in Google Local. Google’s different units and services are not tightly coordinated in my experience.

Third, you can look at advertising options on Facebook. For some businesses, Facebook offers advertisements that can be targeted to specific demographic groups. Some of the Facebook advertisers with whom I have talked report considerable success with Facebook’s display advertisements. However, some advertisers of more general products and services have found that ads are less effective than mounting a Facebook content campaign. You may want to test Facebook advertising and experiment with increasing the content flow to a Facebook page about your business.

Fourth, you may want to take a close look at your present website. Content, not graphics and high style, is more important than search engine optimization tricks. If your website is more like a motion picture trailer, you may want to think about adding more product information or more detail about your firm’s success stories. If your website has not been updated in months, you should invest in getting more substantive information into the website. My recommendation is that content is more important today than at any other time. But Google is keeping track of the frequency of updates to a website. One time content updates are less useful than regular content additions.

The problem of getting a business found via an Internet search is growing more complex, not easier. The emergence of mobile device usage across different age groups and business functions is changing search. Small form factor devices like mobile phones or tablet computers make it difficult to type 1990s style queries in a search box. On my BlackBerry, entering a query in the provided mobile browser is essentially an exercise in frustration for me. To address this problem, some businesses are creating “apps” that allow one click access to content. Before you dive into an Android or Apple iPhone app, you want to do some hard thinking. App development is not a silver bullet and any type of programming can chew through a marketing budget like a hungry raccoon raiding a picnic basket.

In my own business, I am focusing on the basics. I am updating my website and publishing new blog content on a daily basis. As I look toward the rest of 2011, I may have to open my billfold and invest in Google’s for-fee advertising programs. The Web is changing as user habits shift from the desktop to mobile computing. The good news is that change brings opportunities.

Stephen E. Arnold is a consultant. More information about his practice is available at www.arnoldit.com and in his blog at www.arnoldit.com/wordpress.

Published in Akron/Canton

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and along with that growth has come an increased connection to the health insurance world.

Once the question was: “Why would an insurer need a Facebook page?” Now, that question is more likely to be: “Why not?”

“The modern consumer of health insurance has come to expect companies to use social media products,” says Kelly Kimberland, director of social marketing for UPMC Health Plan. “When an insurer uses social media it is providing the access that consumers value.”

Smart Business spoke to Kimberland about social media in health insurance and why it matters to employers.

Why should an employer care if his or her company’s health insurer is active on social media?

By using social media — Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn — a business, such as a health insurer, can increase awareness of the company name and its products. But more importantly, it is also a way that the insurer can actively engage with its members and provide useful information about their health plan options and about healthier lifestyles. When a health insurer has a presence on social media sites, it increases the ways that its members — and your employees — can receive information and form connections that can reinforce healthy messages.

What makes social media especially appropriate for a health insurer?

Research indicates that social media may be helpful to individuals trying to improve their lifestyles in areas such as quitting smoking and losing weight. The reason for this is that social media encourages a group dynamic. Instead of asking people to drive to a specific location to be part of a group — which still remains an option, of course — individuals with similar interests can connect online and share stories. It also provides a way for health insurers to get more feedback from and information to members who are interested in using social media.

What evidence is there that social media can be an effective means of communication?

Surveys have shown that an estimated 61 percent of American adults look online for health information and that about two-thirds of those talk with others about what they discover online. Many so-called e-patients have read about someone else’s experience on an online news group, website or blog. What social media tools do is offer a new venue and a new way for people to share stories, make healthy lifestyle changes, and affect others’ lives. Of course, not everyone on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media channels choose to be actively engaged in online communities or chat. But with social media, everyone will have the opportunity to participate and at least build awareness of the importance of healthier lifestyles.

What are some advantages of social media in terms of customer service?

One is access. Many times people are intimidated by forms and by the technical language sometimes connected with health insurance, and they can feel more comfortable using Twitter or Facebook. Finding companies on Facebook, for those who use it frequently, is probably easier than trying to remember a company’s e-mail address or phone number. Social media can provide answers and links to resources more quickly. If there are people out there using social media to do comparison-shopping, to find information and to communicate with others, it just makes sense that a health insurer would be there as well. Also, many employees may consider social media outlets to be friendlier than other media and that will help an insurer to get its message across as well.

What are the biggest challenges facing an insurer that uses social media?

Social media is a 24/7 proposition and demands a kind of more immediate interaction that not every company is equipped or ready to deal with. There is also the challenge of adhering to HIPAA and other regulatory guidelines. Anyone using social media must be aware of the dangers of posting private or personal health information. Visitors to a Facebook page must be mindful of the information they post. But there are advantages, too.

For instance, although not on a public-facing site, UPMC Health Plan offers a Live Chat feature through its secured member portal. Any member that has a question regarding coverage, claims, etc. can connect in real-time with a member advocate. An insurer can enhance the health insurance experience in a more personal way, which is what people are accustomed to with social media, by leveraging new technologies and tools. Social media is about making connections, providing useful information and sharing ideas. It is not all things to all people, but it can be a way to touch lives and is definitely worth offering to employees.

What advantages can an employer gain by having an insurer that uses social media?

One advantage of using social media is your employees may come to see their insurer in a more personal way because it is part of an online community. The health insurer can help to facilitate communities and conversations not only among its followers, but also gain their insight and feedback on specific questions or issues.

Kelly Kimberland is the director of social marketing for UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at kimberlandka@upmc.edu or (412) 454-5273.

Published in Pittsburgh

The golden arches, the swoosh, the apple – Keeven White will tell you these recognizable icons are not brands. He knows that it goes much deeper than logos, taglines or even products – it comes down to consumer perceptions.

As the president and CEO of Whitespace Creative, an Akron-based integrated marketing communications agency and project resource that has averaged 25 percent annual growth over the past decade, White has made branding his business.

White spoke at the Smart Business Akron Live Luncheon at InfoCision Stadium last year about keeping your brand relevant in the face of social media, boredom and busyness.

What is a brand?

A brand is really the perceptions that are held in the mind of your customers. It’s that gut feeling they have about your company and the promise that your company puts out to them, what to expect when working with your brand or company. The brand completely lives within the minds of your customers.

How is branding different today?

The tactical landscape has changed radically. Social media has really taken the control away from you as the company and put it back in the hands of the consumers. It used to be that companies could outspend consumers to take control of that perception by putting a better image out there and saturating the market place with it. Well, now consumers have the voice and they have the ability to get that rapid distribution of their perceptions of what your brand is, and that has really changed the approach that a lot of people have to have in branding.

You still have to have all the advertising and marketing functions, but companies really need to embrace the fact that (social media is) going on because that conversation’s happening whether you’re taking part in it or not. Companies have to find a way to get involved and still influence that discussion, but they can’t do it from the bully pulpit anymore. They have to do it from controlling their products and brands and the way things are going out to the community.

What’s the biggest challenge of branding?

The biggest challenge of branding is boredom, and that comes from inside. Companies tend to get bored with their own brands way before your consumers get bored with it, and that’s from the visual presentation standpoint. They’ve seen it internally for so long, but to the consumers, it’s a small piece of what they see.

It used to be, back in the 70s, the consumer might get 500 pieces of advertising thrown at them per day. Today, it’s more like 3-6,000 thousand pieces per day, so they have tons of clutter coming at them. If you’re lucky enough to create connections with the consumer that they come to expect certain stylistic things coming out of your company and all of a sudden you change those things, you lost a connection that you had. Now you have to fight the 3 to 6,000 other impressions that are coming at them to reconnect those pieces.

What’s the biggest branding mistake leaders make?

They underestimate it. A lot of people want to do it once and just forget about it instead of making it a priority. Brands, if done right, can create long-term value and can drive premium pricing. Just because you have a logo and a couple ads that are consistent doesn’t mean that that’s a brand. You have to constantly focus on enhancing it and expanding it, and too often there’s other things that come up that take priorities, like sales are off this month. But branding has to be a priority at the top level of the company. Keep the focus on making sure that that brand is consistent. … The perceptions are always changing and you have to make sure that you’re trying to influence that.

Talk to your consumers. Find out what they think you are because it probably is going to be a lot different from who you think you are. The brand is not about what you say you are, it’s about what they say you are. You’ve got to get the consumer input and then go about delivering on things and creating more pieces that enhance that expectation.

How to reach: Whitespace Creative, (330) 762-9320 or www.whitespace-creative.com

Published in Akron/Canton
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