Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are You ‘Living’ or ‘Existing’ in Social Media?

For all the time and effort many businesses put into setting up in social media it is surprising that many could not answer to the question: “What next?”

For some, the answer is: “We’re here and that’s good enough.” To overcome that notion I’d suggest it’s important to know the difference between “existing” in social media and “living” in social media in four key ways:

1. Planning

Existing: The plan is simply to set up on various social media platforms just to be found. This “set up an outpost” thinking is all about making sure that when people do find you on a site such as Facebook or Twitter that they are “driven” to your own website.

Living: This type of planning takes into account where your customers, employees and suppliers already hang out in social media. It carefully chooses and prioritizes which platforms make sense for your business. It takes a long-term view.

2. Presences

Existing: These businesses on social media have one-dimensional pages on Facebook or Twitter accounts that have a schedule of broadcast messages about your company, your products or your clients. Even the avatar is a company logo or a product. These pages don’t feel like they are run by human beings you’d want to interact with – they’re not and you wouldn’t.

Living: These accounts are run by people … people who make it clear that while they work for a business they are also willing to engage with fans and followers. The messaging from these pages/accounts feels genuine. Visitors asking questions here will get a response.

3. Commitment

Existing: Businesses spend just enough time and resources to set up and maintain their presences. The employee who’s doing the work on behalf of the enterprises has had social media added to their list of responsibilities and likely has had little or no training.

Living: Companies who commit to social media start with a solid plan, follow through with professional training and alter work assignments to create time for daily social media participation. The expectation from the C-Suite down is that social media is as important, if not more important, to the company’s future than traditional marketing, sales and customer-relations efforts.

4. Relationships

Existing: What relationships? Seriously, businesses who are only in social media for what they can get out of it don’t really want to relate to the “unwashed masses” … they just want their money.

Living: The biggest reward for businesses living in social media will be the relationships they build – relationships with customers, employees, clients and, yes, even competitors. Relationship-building is what puts the “social” into social media. Businesses here will monitor social sentiment and profusely thank their promoters and work with their detractors to resolve issues. Ultimately this leads to others becoming your company’s biggest promoters.

So, are you merely “existing” in social media or are you “living” there? And what other ways would you suggest businesses get more from and put more in to social media?

Possibly related posts:
10 Commandments for Social Media
Just How Big Is Social Media?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

PR crisis management in the ‘Twitter Age’

“In the Twitter age” is a term I heard this past week from a slightly frustrated public relations professional talking about how he’s been forced to modify his crisis management plan.

And change he must. The best-laid crisis management plan will quickly unravel when information – true, untrue or even malicious – starts spreading on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

So how do PR professionals get from
“being there” in social media to modifying their crisis management plan in the “Twitter age”?

Engagement: More than ever it’s important that solid social relationships are being built before a crisis breaks.
Doing the basics on social platforms is a start; being fully engaged with social audiences will help save your reputation at a time of crisis.

Resources: If you don’t have someone on social media fulltime then you need to have them on it most of the time. Look at how your organization currently spends time. How much effort is still going into maintaining relationships with a few traditional media types? The ratio of time devoted to traditional media vs. social media needs to be flipped … even if slowly at first.

Listening: From basic free tools such as
Google Alerts to paid services such as Alterian’s SM2 or Radian6 you can’t afford to NOT be monitoring conversations in social media around your products, your organization and your key people. You don’t know what you’re missing – literally. And that should be a very frightening prospect.

Black pages: If your news web pages don’t have “black pages” (pages designed to go live in response to various issues) you need to prepare them now. Every organization can predict certain types of issues that are likely to arise. Having a landing page that answers some likely first questions and that can go up on your website at a moment’s notice is smart planning.

First responders: You’ve already assigned responsibilities during a crisis, but whose job is it to manage social media messages and to respond to any inaccurate messaging? What is on that person’s checklist? Not responding is no longer an option … if it ever was. In the social world silence can equal acknowledgement that things are bad. Your social media first responder needs to understand this and the critical role they are playing in social messaging.

Prioritizing: Which social media platforms need the most attention? Without a doubt Twitter is an instant news service and deserves the most attention. Don’t be fooled by the numbers of Twitter users in your organization, your industry or your community. Twitter users are some of the most-educated, most-active and, possibly worst for you in a crisis, most-likely to spread what they see on Twitter via word-of-mouth. In other words their broad influence should be of great concern. Facebook is also a default communication platform by people who are concerned. Be sure to message there too and note that once the heat of the moment dies down the conversation around the crisis will likely linger longer on Facebook.

Follow-up: Once the crisis has passed don’t ignore social media. Find a way to post a reassuring video message from the CEO on YouTube or have someone in authority blog about the event and its successful outcome … load it up with photographs. Be sure to reach out to those who were most active during the crisis to alert them to this follow-up.

Can PR professionals control messaging on social media platforms during a crisis? No. But they can be there, be engaged and can quickly tamp down the small sparks of inaccuracy before they become damaging firestorms of bad information. Social media is changing the PR professionals’ job description, what else about crisis management did I leave out?

Possibly related posts:
10 Ideas to Help Business Navigate Social Media
Just How Big is Social Media?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

5 Things Basketball and March Madness Teach About Social Media

In offices all across America TVs are going to be on during the work day this week and next as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament cranks up. If you need an “excuse” to keep watching March Madness games when you should be working tell the boss that basketball and the tournament can give everyone a few simple pointers on social media. For example:

1. Anyone can, and sometimes will, win: At the start of the tournament or the start of a game everyone is a potential winner. The same is true in social media where customers and the people trying to earn their business have never been on more equal terms. The same goes for businesses competing with other businesses in social media. Fail to recognize this new dynamic and, for business at least, the game will soon be over.

2. At the start it’s a toss-up: Who wins the jump ball at the start of the play can set the tone for the rest of that game. Does your business have a strategy to both grab that ball and then quickly score before the other guys know what hit them? Will your business seize early opportunities and turn them into points on the board?

3. Individual effort is great; team play wins games: If everyone understands the game plan and sticks to it the chances of your business winning its own version of Social Media March Madness are much greater. Too much solo hot-dogging or a lack of team effort will lead to lost games or a blown tournament.

4. Creative plays are game winners: Of course you must play by the rules if they’re there. But to win a game you often need to come up with a play or two no one has seen before. A creative move that takes your opponents by surprise gives you the competitive advantage.

5. Winning is 90 percent hard work, 10 percent luck: Even the best coach can’t control that last 10 percent, but a great social media strategist can help monitor the other 90 percent to ensure that the hard work is sustained and that despite any setbacks it is maintained.

Remember the start of a basketball game is always a toss-up, but he result of the game and your social media efforts don't have to be.

What other parallels are there between basketball in general and March Madness in particular and social media? Please let me know if I missed some.

Possibly related posts:
5 strategies to get the Boss into Social Media
Questions Are a Recipe for Social Media Success

Sunday, March 14, 2010

10 Ideas to Help Business Navigate Social Media

Almost a year ago I wrote a post called 5 Reasons Social Media is Like Sailing that was well-perceived. It’s time to update that post.

Since then I’ve come up with more reasons sailors might just have the right approach to social media for business. Even if you aren’t into sailing you might try these approaches to see if they don’t make your time in social media more positive and more productive.

Here then are 10 Ideas to Keep Biz Sailing Smoothly in Social Media:

1. Pick your boat carefully: Not every craft is right for every sailor just as in social media not every platform is right for every individual. Pick a platform that suits you. Work with one at a time and see what works.

2. Start slowly: Nobody goes from pond sailing to open-ocean sailing in a day, weeks or even years. Learn your own capabilities, learn from others and be willing to get dunked a few times along the way.

3. Find an old-salt/mentor: Every top sailor was at some point helped along by an experience hand. So it should be in social media: Find someone who literally knows the ropes and can help you navigate your early days. They’ll also be there to stop you from drowning when you inevitably get wet a few times.

4. Learn to be ease in the environment: Just as being on the water can be a somewhat unnatural state for many beginning sailors, so can a newbie feel that their first days, weeks and months in social media can be slightly uncomfortable. Relax. Once you realize that the very worst that can happen is you may get a little wet once in a while then you’ll soon be loving every moment in social media.

5. The quickest route is NOT always a straight line: Like sailing, businesses in the social media space must navigate all kinds of challenges to get to their goals. Along the way there are likely to be winds (customer feedback) and currents (the business climate) that challenge a business trying to get to its port (goals). The best-laid social media plans include contingencies to deal with these. Although the course may be less than perfectly straight, the well-planned business will reach its goals ahead of its competitors.

6. You can’t control the wind: But you can control the trim of your sails and heading of your boat. The winds at the intersection of social media and business can be unpredictable and are constantly swirling. As a business you need to monitor the breezes of public opinion so that if they should suddenly turn into a squall of bad publicity you can react appropriately.

7. When bad weather hits: You, your vessel and your crew had better be prepared. Having a well-trained crew/staff and a solid social media plan will help a business react in its best interests. The plan allows the captain/boss to sleep well at night knowing that his boat is ready for anything.

8. An efficient sailboat is the sum of its working parts: A combination of hull shape, sails, masts and rigging keep a sailboat moving forward. A business operating in social media is also about the right combination of components to keep it moving forward. A social media plan will assess existing strengths, competitive threats and business goals to come up with the correct combination to keep you moving forward.

9. You WILL find yourself becalmed: It’s not something to fear. A thorough social media plan includes a list of “To Do” items that are not pressing, but certainly help make the enterprise if not stronger at least better able to make the most of the next breeze (opportunity). Remember that the “calm usually comes right before the storm.” Using it to get your business ready is just smart sailing!

10. Sail away from the safe harbor: You should take a few chances. This great quote from Mark Twain (sent to me by the helpful and smart Marita Roebkes) says it best: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So, are you and your business ready to sail off and explore social media? I hope so. What other tips would you recommend for social media sailors?

Image is of The Man at the Wheel – the Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial Cenotaph, a tribute to local fishermen who have died at sea, in Gloucester, Mass. From FreePhoto

Possibly related posts
4 Steps to Social Media Success
Why Social Media? A Good vs. Evil Debate

Sunday, March 7, 2010

10 Newbie Twitter Mistakes Made by Businesses

Businesses jumping into social media often see Twitter as a “simple” part of the plan: set up an account and start tweeting. Sadly some even get stuck right after the set up part. Here are 10 mistakes business newbies on Twitter should avoid:

1. Doing Little or Nothing
With an estimated 25 to 30 percent of Twitter accounts either empty or “one tweet and done” is it surprising that these accounts generate little interest from others on Twitter? Your inactive or virtually inactive account sends a clear message that you’ve given up on Twitter.

2. Desperately Following
If you’re following hundreds of people and only a few dozen are following back doesn’t that send a message that you desperately want followers but aren’t getting them? Why not be patient and never let your Following count get more than 10 percent higher than your Followers account?

3. Tweeting Too Much
If you’re guilty of this you will annoy your followers and water down your message… which likely means you’ll lose followers faster than you get them. How much is too much? Start slowly and only tweet useful stuff two or three times a day. As you slowly increase this over several months pay attention to what, if anything, gets a response (it's retweeted or commented on) … and when this happens. Let this be your guide.

4. Mostly Self-Promotional
Too much “me, me, me” talk will mark you as boring … or worse. Add value for others on Twitter and more followers will come. Mention your business or services only when you’ve been asked or in direct response to a stated need. If you consistently give, you’re followers will do the same and your good behavior will be well rewarded.

5. Failure to Connect
It can be tempting for businesses to give a Twitter monologue instead of engaging in a dialogue. If you get to know your followers by asking and answering questions, for example, you’ll show that you’re interested in them. They in turn will learn about you. This also means responding to any “@” messages promptly (within a day at most).

6. Not Helping Others
Acting as a connector or problem-solver will earn you loyal followers. Sometimes the simple act of retweeting a piece of great content will be seen as being helpful. Twitter truly is a place of getting more than you give, but you have to give first.

7. Mixing Business and Pleasure
Sending a mix of business and personal tweets can work when you’re well-established, but a better practice for a business new to Twitter is to keep it all professional. Otherwise you’re sending the message: We don’t know enough to keep our personal lives out of our business.

8. Impersonal avatars
Yes your business name or logo is important, but Twitter (and all social media) is about people. Use an avatar image that reflects your people not your brand name.

9. Wasting background space
Twitter gives you a lot of real estate around your Twitter-stream … don’t waste it. Use it to let people know what you do and why you do it. Put your people and the business personality on display. It’s also OK here to list a few other contact points such as email address, phone numbers and other social media URLs.

10. Not Checking In Regularly
Maintaining a Twitter account needs to become part of your routine. Once a day or twice a day or more, but it does need to become a regular thing to have any chance of helping your business.

So what am I missing? I’d love to hear other things businesses who are new on Twitter should do to improve their chances of social media success.

A Related Post:
Twetiquette: 10 basics for Twitter politeness