• 03Aug

    I am sure you have heard the old adage from the peacenik sixties, “What if you held a war and no one showed up?” My mind came up with a variation on that theme over the past few weeks as I have been watching Google+ take off, and as I have been getting notifications from a myriad of other social networks.Too-Many-Social-Networks-595x600

    It seems that the Google empire has successfully expanded into the social media realm, or at least the initial foray has been a success. According to Reuters, Google+ is attracting more than one million users a day and is the fastest social media site with more than 25 million visitors to date. But is this a flash in the pan or does Google+ really have legs?

    Some of the early critics of Google+ note that since this is Google’s social network, everyone will give it a try but who knows how many people will stick with it. As noted by Cynthia Boris in a guest blog on Marketing Pilgrim posted today:

    What’s interesting about this monumental number [25 million visitors] is that I don’t see any difference in the site than I did when I joined. Actually, it’s worse. As of today, my entire Google+ stream, all the way to the bottom of the page is nothing but posts from the very informative and fun Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. Yes, he’s a talkative guy, and granted I don’t have a lot of people attached to my account, but I have to go back several weeks to see a range of posts from people.

    So maybe Google+ will be a flash in the pan; yet another online destination that has been abandoned by users.

    I also received email this week with invitations for other social networking opportunities. A few of the invitation are to forums on Facebook where experts gather to discuss topics I actually am interested in. I have been following a new thread on web content curation with some interest. And apparently my Facebook friends have been busy on Branch Out, which is the latest entry into the online career management space alongside LinkedIn, Jobster, eCademy, Spoke, and countless others. Just as Google+ has the power of Google behind it, Branch Out is making the most of its affiliation with Facebook so we will have to see if it has legs moving forward. (For my money, LinkedIn continues to be the “go to” resource for people really looking for professional connections, and it will be hard to unseat, at least in the foreseeable future.)

    And I received another invitation last week from a social network I never heard of, Elixio. Taking a page from the Google+ launch strategy, Elixio is an exclusive, “invitation only” social network; a private online club. Call me a skeptic but I can’t see any value in a network I haven’t heard of, especially if they send me a blind invitation to join an exclusive club. It’s akin to any number of Who’s Who directory invitations I receive where I can be included in a directory of influential personages for only a small gratuity. My ego doesn’t need that kind of stroke.

    So how many social networks can you realistically use effectively? If you are doing nothing but networking all day, I suppose you can stay on top of quite a few. I find my social networking time pretty much consumed with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I also browse a few vertical networks that serve niche client markets, like BankInnovation.net. But can the market really sustain all these new social networks? After all, isn’t the idea of social networking to connect as many like-minded people as possible? If you fragment your markets too much, you can’t attract a large body of followers. At the same time, the market can only sustain one or two social networks with the reach of Facebook or LinkedIn. So it will continue to be a marathon race, with different candidates entering and dropping out. Since I value my time, I don’t tend to be an early adopter for new social networks (although I will dabble; I confess to being one of the first 25 million to check out Google+), but I will sign up and use something that delivers real value.

    So let me leave you with a recent blog post from satirist Andy Borowitz’s column, The Borowitz Report, which inspired this post. The headline reads, “No New Social Network Launched Today – Silicon Valley Stunned”:

    Across this tech-heavy hub, Internet-savvy insiders were checking their Blackberries, Droids and iPhones for an announcement of the next Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare or Google+ — an announcement that, to everyone’s astonishment, never came.

    “We’ve been averaging between 500 and 1000 new social networks a day,” said Carol Foyler, head of the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “So this is definitely a little weird.”

    While there was no shortage of finger-pointing as tech-watchers across the Valley bemoaned the absence of a new launch, many blamed Tracy Klugian, 24, a website incubator who has created over 1800 social networks and was expected to launch his latest, MeetCircle, today.

    “MeetCircle will totally change the way people meet, interact, shop, stream movies, buy cars and have sex,” Mr. Klugian said in a TEDTalk earlier this year. “It will be the biggest game-changer since the fall of Communism or the birth of Jesus.”

    Somebody please wake me in time for the next social media revolution.

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  • 07Feb

    I have been working with all my clients lately to help them expand their social media strategy. For some, like Lifehouse, a non-profit group that I do some pro bono work for here in the Bay Area, it’s really a matter of developing a strategy and finding the in-house resources to execute the strategy. Their target audience is mostly regional, and they are working to build a following to promote their work with people with developmental disabilities, and to promote their Great Chefs and Wineries event in April, which makes Facebook and Twitter logical channels to build a following. For other clients, like Market Rates Insight, which offers deposit rate research to banks and credit unions, we have developed a more a more targeted approach, blogging about research findings and bank rate trends to build awareness in the banking community and create content to feed channels on LinkedIn, Banking Innovation, Twitter, and the like.

    But no matter what the strategy, it amazes me that I still run into resistance from senior management about why they don’t want to deal with social media. That’s why I was inspired by a recent guest post on Marketing Profs’ Daily Fix by Chester Frazier of Definition Systems offering a set of common excuses for NOT using social media. I have heard all of these, and others:

    1. Our target audience isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Chester’s point is that clients think it’s a demographic issue and boomers clueless-excusesdon’t hang out online. Definitely false. But more to the point, there are special forums on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that appeal to every niche and market. You just have to find the right conversation and join in.

    2. Facebook is a time-waster for staff. One of my clients, Actiance (formerly FaceTime Communications), specializes in securing Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, not because their customers are worried about employees wasting time, but because they recognize that people want to connect through these channels, including customers. The new generation of customers are communicating using social media, and you should find ways to encourage them to harness these new marketing channels.

    3. We tried it and it didn’t work. It’s like any other marketing program, you have to experiment and refine your strategy, then measure the results. Most companies social media strategies fail because they forget that it’s about being social, it’s about conversation, it’s not about a one-way blast saying “buy my product.” (And it still amazes me that I get Twitter requests from businesses that don’t post anything except the praises of their multi-level marketing scheme or their latest health product.)

    4. We are too busy. I hear that a lot. Does this mean you are too busy to talk to potential customers about what you do? You should be able to build social media into your day-to-day operations, particularly if you are conducting business via the web. It’s like saying you are too busy to market your business.

    5. We don’t have the staff. Can we outsource it? I hear this one a lot. Executives are busy people and don’t have the time, or want to take the time, to engage with potential customers. People want to talk to you, not a shill. You can’t outsource authenticity. And you can’t outsource expertise. I can help my clients interpret and articulate their opinions and expertise, but no one wants my opinion. They want to talk to the expert directly, and if you demonstrate your expertise, they will engage with you looking for more. That’s how you build your business.

    So no matter what your business, you can benefit from social media. You just need to have a strategy that dovetails with your marketing program, then focus on execution and measuring the results. Don’t get sidetracked by excuses. Get out there and experiment. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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  • 13Jan

    I am a baby boomer, which means I was born long before e-mail, the Internet, and the Web. I was even born before the advent of touch-tone phones and answering machines – when I was a child my parents had a party line. Remember those? For some reason, the telephone has fallen from favor as a business tool. I recently ran across a quote from President Rutherford B. Hayes, who made one of the first telephone calls on from Washington to Philadelphia on Alexander Graham Bell’s new invention. Hayes exclaimed, “An amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one?”

    In the age of electronic communications, we have adopted the same philosophy. Why pick up the telephone when you can sit at your computer and compose your thoughts in an e-mail. Or what about the new concept of unified communications? It’s now normal for me to check on Skype or IM to see if a client is available and ask a simple question as a text message rather than sending an e-mail and waiting for a response. With IM I get “presence” which means I can see if the other party is online and then I can ask a question for almost immediate response via chat or, if necessary, escalate the communication to an Internet phone call with the touch of a mouse, then follow-up with an e-mail.

    Which leads me back to the telephone. Somewhere along the line, the PR profession has lost the art of the phone call. These days editors, reporters, and PR people hide behind e-mail. We draft compelling “pitches” designed to titillate an editor’s imagination and yield a positive response – “That sounds interesting. I would like to talk to your client.” However, e-mail has also created a communications black hole where all flack spam is relegated. You can draft the most compelling pitch in the world with interesting factoids and an innovative story angle no other publication has ever considered, and if it doesn’t get read it’s all for naught. I know that I must process almost 1,000 e-mail messages daily. When I log in to my mail in the morning I see the messages pile up in different folders and I go through them, determining which are news feeds with interesting tidbits, which are solicitations, which are spam, and which are editor or client requests that need immediate attention. The process is rather fast and indiscriminate and those messages that don’t require immediate attention are often left unread until they are deleted.

    And that’s the problem. E-mail is too easy to ignore, and to misread. I don’t know how many times I have received an e-mail from a colleague or client and misread between the lines, injecting mood and meaning that just wasn’t there. And text messaging is worse. If you have teenage children you know they won’t pick up a telephone call but they will (usually) respond to a text, which leads to a different level of miscommunications. For example, I recently had a text exchange with my stepson:

    • Me: “We’re taking mom out for her birthday at 7:45, will you be home?”
    • Him: “Kk”
    • Now the time is 7:30. Me: “Where r u? We will be late”
    • Him: “You said 7:45.” Me: “That’s the time of the dinner reservation. We still need to get to the restaurant.”

    You get the idea.

    Which is why I think President Hayes was totally wrong. Sometimes, you have to pick up the phone. There is nothing more satisfying to me than getting an editor on the phone, talking to him about his magazine and readers, and then presenting a case for my client. “Where does this story fit in your universe and how can we make it relevant for your needs?” You forge a different kind of connection with a telephone call. You hear a human voice on the other end of the phone and you develop an audio picture of the other party. You exchange ideas – which is really hard to do in e-mail – and you can come to an understanding quickly. When I can actually engage with an editor on the phone, we can quickly determine if the story is interesting, relevant, and what we need to change to make it suitable for his or her readers. It’s a lot more efficient than blind e-mail pitching. Of course, you have to contend with the black hole of voice mail, but then every voice mail gets followed up with an e-mail, right?

    There is an immediacy to the telephone that just can’t be denied. You have to use courtesy and common sense – “Hello, I am calling for Acme Company about a new Road Runner capture solution. Do you have a few minutes to talk about how what this might mean for your readers?” You can only forge a real relationship by telephone. Social media is great, and you can talk to your “virtual” editor friends through Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, but at the end of the day they remember the phone call, the laugh, and the offer to help them with information they can take to print. If you think about “reverse-engineering” this process, if you were an editor, who would you contact first to help you with an editorial problem? The guy who sent you an e-mail or the guy who you talked to on the phone about your story needs, the weather, and who is gonna win the World Series?

    Do yourself a favor. Pick up the phone!

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  • 03Aug

    If you follow social media trends while you surf the Web, then you will have noted that one of the biggest topics on social media sites is, naturally, the effectiveness of social media. I spotted an article last week on Mashable entitled How Social Media Can Make Us More Productive by T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist. As McCann points out, the lines between professional and personal social media use are blurring, particularly with the new Millennial workforce. Companies that are prepared to acknowledge the fact that their workers live and work online and find a way to embrace social media as part of their workflow will go farther recruiting the best and the brightest, but you still need to understand the best way to actually apply social media tools. As McCann says,

    “The trick is to realize that it’s not about the tool itself, but your ability to step back and analyze the tool’s real value in helping you accomplish tasks. If you’re not evaluating the way that you’re using social media to get things done, then you’re probably becoming increasingly inefficient because of it.”

    So I wanted to share some of his observations on how to get the most out of social media. These rules certainly apply in marketing and media relations, but they are also universal.

    1. Scalable networking. Networking now takes on many forms. The old methods of meeting peers and prospects at trade shows, over lunch, at open houses, etc., still apply, but the advent of Web 2.0 makes the channels for connection global. As I have noted in this blog before, social media users tend to be tribal. so making connections with others through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media channel gives you a built-in sense of camaraderie; most people tend to respond to social media contacts before they will respond to email. You can use tweets, blog comments, Facebook comments, and other means to build online intimacy with a wider range of contacts. And the Web makes it possible to connect with thousands rather than dozens. The trick is to make those connections meaningful and respect the tribal connection, so you can uplevel the conversation when you need to.

    2. Uncovering valuable, actionable information. McCann notes that information overload is nothing new, and tools like Twitter and Facebook can contribute to information overload if you fail to use them properly. The key is to filter the information, so you are getting pertinent, actionable information. Filter the feeds to distinguish between personal and professional data streams. Identify those data points relevant to your job and focus on them. McCann uses the analogy of stockbrokers filtering incoming data feeds from trusted friends and sources, gathering data in real-time for their clients. You need to set up social media data feeds that support your professional decision-making and push the rest aside as less irrelevant noise.

    3. Social media is about collaboration. Web 2.0 levels the playing field when it comes to collaboration. It not only promotes collaboration, but it provides the tools to help you collaborate in the most productive fashion possible. As McCann points out, with Web 2.0 the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message. Social media helps make collaboration organic, without having to rely on proprietary software or platforms to achieve your goal.

    4. It’s not what you use, but how you use social media tools. One of the biggest challenges with social media is the plethora of available channels. Don’t try to filter everything. Instead, identify those tools that make a real difference in your work life. McCann recommends ranking your social media tools in order of “must have.” Which social media tools do you really consider essential to your professional success, and which are really “nice to have” and not essential? This will help you optimize you social media flow and determine if you are getting the most from your online investment. Stay focused, and mine your most valuable channels more deeply rather than trying to use a shotgun approach.

    So as with all tools, the efficacy of social media is in how you apply it to meet your professional needs. If you use social media sites to strict professional advantage, without distraction or fooling yourself that posting the latest kids’ soccer pictures or what you had for lunch will advance your professional standing. It’s largely a combination of savvy, focus, and discipline.

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