Saturday, April 28, 2012

Three Reasons to Use Social Media

I recently took a position with a company that is a little behind the times when it comes to their marketing. I found out how behind the times when I suggested to my boss that we implement a social media strategy. His response: "What's social media?"I knew in that moment I had my work cut out for me when it came to convincing him he needed to add interactive marketing in his mix.

Shortly thereafter, I had the privilege of sitting in on a round table hosted by the South Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Webolutions that was focused on social media. I was able to ask my peers their thoughts on overcoming resistance to social media. The responses were varied and interesting. I won't go into all of them, but I'll pick out three that really caught my attention, that I thought were outside the regular channels of overcoming resistance to a new idea, like throwing numbers at the problem.

1) You Can Work While You are Sleeping

Everyone knows that the blogosphere, tweetosphere, Facebook, and other forms of social media evolve, dialogue, and function when we're asleep, but I've never heard it put quite so succinctly, as when Webolutions Founder and CEO John Vachalek said, "Tell them they can continue to work while they are sleeping." Think about it...you're sound asleep and other people are promoting your product or company. You wake up in the morning to multiple conversations that have taken place through the night. They might be positive and they might be negative, but each one is an opportunity to create interaction with current and potential customers.

I have yet to introduce the idea of social media to an organization that is unfamiliar with it that didn't respond with, "We have no control. What if someone says something negative about our company?" Well, what if they do? This brings me to the next point.

2) Negative Comments Can Add Credibility

We've all gone online to review companies or products and seen postings or reviews that go on forever with nothing but positive to say. My first response is...they can NOT be this perfect. These must be paid reviewers or posters. As someone at the round table point out, negative comments make people feel better about a company or product. That sounds backwards, doesn't it? But think about it. Isn't there a certain comfort level in finding a company that has a few negative comments that have been addressed? Yes...these customers may have had a less than stellar response initially, but the company was responsive and addressed their concerns. That actually builds up credibility, equity, and reputation. It gives insight into the company and its values. That brings me to my third interesting reason for engaging in social media.

3) It's a Better Way to Tell a Story

We're all familiar with the phrase, "actions speak louder than words." A company can identify itself all over its website and other collateral as being customer-oriented, but it doesn't mean a thing if it doesn't follow up on those promises. Sure, we all like to go to a website to see what the company is about, but it's so much more fun to go on a Facebook page or look at the tweets to see how the company is really performing. Are they really responding to customers? Are they truly participating in events that give back to the community? What's going on in the company and who are the people behind it? Social media creates transparency, engages the customers, and lets them get to know the company. Customers are looking for a reason to buy from the company. Sometimes that reason is a tweet or Facebook post that says, "My grandson just got into CU" and the reader happens to be a CU alumni. There you go – a reason to buy from the company.

The Japanese have been practicing social media for longer than it's been around. They just didn't call it that. Business letters always start with a paragraph about the recipient's family or other non-business, personally-relevant topic. They've known for centuries the way to do business is to engage their customer, create a dialogue, and enter into a relationship. The rest of the world is just catching on and doing it digitally.

Social media can be very scary for companies that are used to controlling every aspect of their identity. What they need to understand is, even when they feel like they are not in control, they are. They control how they respond and thus, how the world sees them. Companies that fail to engage their customers are companies that will fail. There's a good selling point for you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Find Your Online Voice

It's not what you say. It's how you say it. If you've ever taken any writing classes, you'll hear that repeatedly. Instructors will talk about tone and voice to convey certain feelings and create certain reactions. If you've spent any time at all on social media sites, you'll recognize there are a lot of different styles out there. What you won't typically see, though, is the tone you used in your final paper for a class or Emily Post's perfect diction. What you should see is a reflection of the brand.

Rebecca Lieb, in her book Content Marketing, quotes Patricia Redsicker's example of Martha Stewart versus Emeril Lagasse. "If I read an article on how to braise a chicken from Martha Stewart, I expect a formal, scholarly, exact approach. If I read Emeril Lagasse, I expect a casual approach with recipe flexibility and punctuation - BAM!"

Their voices are distinctive from one another and reflect the personalities and brands we've come to associate with each of them. Martha Stewart is proper New England hostess and Emeril is down home Cajun. What's critical is that, even in the social media platform, the two brands have maintained the relationships they've developed with their audiences and the voices are genuine. That should be the basis for any social media or content marketing effort.

What an online voice should not sound like, says Lieb, is:

  • A formal newspaper article
  • Edward R. Murrow
  • A legal brief
  • An instruction manual
  • Your senior thesis
  • A sales brochure
  • A commercial
These aren't bad voices, in and of themselves. They're just not appropriate for an online presence. What you should be striving for is an informal, positive and upbeat voice - but without diverging too far from your organization's true personality. The voice should also be adaptable. Twitter almost requires the use of the more common social media shorthand; while a blog gives you room to have an entire conversation in regular English.

The Spokes-Character

This technique doesn't work for every company, but some have succeeded beyond expectations by adopting a spokes-character. The first best example to come to mind is the Travelocity Roaming Gnome, which is voiced by a 26-year-old American woman. The Gnome goes on trips, gets photos taken, tweets responses to The Amazing Race, which is sponsored by Travelocity, and celebrates his birthday. Senior Marketing Manager Karrie Fox said the Gnome was created to be a "fellow traveler" and to create a relationship with Travelocity's customers.

A spokes-character needn't be a creature, either. It could be a generic compilation of the target audience. Perfect examples of this are the PC and Mac guys from the Apple commercials. Apple wrote the commercials so of course their guy is the cooler of the two, but they're both designed to be a representation of the target audience - as viewed in the Mac Universe.The point is...make your voice engaging and interesting. Create a dialogue not a monologue. Keep it informal and upbeat, but maintain a style that will appeal to your audience.