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Every doctrine has to start somewhere. Even this one.

Want to boost your repeat business, get tons of free referrals, acquire bunches of new customers and get lots of positive buzz for free? There’s a pretty simple way to do it that doesn’t have to cost you a whole lot. Can you guess what it is?

Simple: Purge your company of assholes.

In fact, let me share item #1 in my Better Business Doctrine with you real quick. Are you ready? Here we go:

The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.

That’s it.

A simple example, from the friendly skies.

Does this seem like common sense? Of course it does. And yet here we are, routinely forced to endure a passive-aggressive or plain argumentative jerks who would rather exercise their “authority” than provide customers – even stressed out customers – with pleasant experiences. Why is that? Let me answer that question: Because companies are still hiring assholes.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1a. The Continental flight I was on a few months ago

Flight Attendant (sternly) to a passenger in the process of turning off their iPad, just not quickly enough: “SIR! I need you to turn that off right now!” (Stares angrily at passenger until the device is turned off, and walks away, visibly annoyed.)

This probably happens to flight crews 20+ times per day. Every time a plane pushes off from the gate and prepares its approach, passengers in the middle of a song, of a paragraph, of a game of Angry Birds or Brick Breaker take an extra 10-30 seconds to “comply” with the “please turn off your electronic devices at this time” announcement on the PA. I get it. It probably gets annoying after a while. But guess what: You’re a flight attendant. Asking people to turn off their electronic toys comes with the job. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. Case in point:

1b: The Delta flight I was on the following day

– Flight Attendant (with a smile, jokingly) to a passenger so absorbed by what he was reading that he missed the “turn off your electronic devices” announcement and kept his Kindle going: “Good book?”

– Passenger, sensing that he was the object of the flight attendant’s attention, looks up from his device: “I’m sorry?”

– Flight Attendant, nonchalantly points at the Kindle: “Good reading?”

– Passenger, smiling back: “Yeah. Very!” (Gets it. Laughs. Starts to look for the “off” button.)

– Flight attendant: “You can turn it back on as soon as we’re on the ground.” (Walks away. Stops. Turns around.) “The book. What is it?”

Passenger answers. Flight attendant repeats the title as if to remember it, nods as if interested, and returns to his station.

The difference between the two isn’t training or pay. It isn’t corporate policy or procedure. It isn’t even company culture. The difference between the two occurrences is this:

One of these flight attendants, at some point during the course of her day, week, month, year or career, decided to let her asshole flag fly. The other one didn’t.

The basic impact of an asshole on your customers

How every asshole on your payroll affects your brand equity and impacts your business on a daily basis.

The impact of just one asshole’s behavior in a customer-facing role doesn’t stop with the one customer they treat poorly. Ten rows of passengers witnessed the exchanges on both flights, and I can guarantee that the ten rows on the Continental flight (30 passengers) were not impressed, while those on the Delta flight surely were. The ramifications of this are simple:

Whatever shot Continental had at influencing these 30 people to develop a preference for flying its friendly skies, for being more loyal, for looking to book future flights with them first, just flew out the window, not because of price, not because of delays, not because the plane was dirty. The price was great. The plane left on time and was impeccable. Continental did everything right except one thing: Someone there allowed an asshole (and probably more than one) to take on a key customer service role. Delta, on the other hand, scored some points.

And just to be fair, I’ve run into my fair of assholes working for Delta too. Few domestic US airlines seem immune to this phenomenon these days, except for perhaps Alaska Air, whose service and hiring practices, to my knowledge are still impeccable.

That said, my experience with Delta flight crews recently has been stellar, and not just because of this little anecdote. (Expect another post about what else happened very soon.) The difference between the two airlines for me was limited to my experience, as it is for all of us. Before the recommendations and the word-of-mouth and the marketing, our own experience shapes our bias.

Every positive experience creates positive associations with a brand, while every negative experience creates a negative association with a brand. More positive than negative = positive bias, preference, even loyalty. Consistent negative experiences (especially those that repeat themselves, like frequent delays, rude employees, apathetic managers, or being talked down to by an unprofessional asshole) = negative bias, preference for your competitors instead of you, and cynicism towards your brand.

The wheels of this mental equation – more emotional than empirical – start turning every time the thought of your brand comes up, and you need to understand it isn’t linear. The way we process the negative and the positive isn’t as balanced as you might think. For whatever reason, until you have grown into a loyal fan of the brand, the equation tends to be heavily weighed towards the negative: What you did right six months ago – or for the last thirty years,- doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you did wrong yesterday or just last week. That’s part 1 of how the mental math of brand experiences work. Part 2 is this: People will easily forgive incidents and accidents: Lost luggage, no available upgrades, long lines at the counter, mechanical problems, etc. Those things are out of your control, and once the anger and frustration subside, they’ll get it. Those negative impressions will evaporate. But one thing customers won’t forgive of any company: Being deliberately treated badly by an asshole.

Just as being an asshole  is a choice, – especially when dealing with a customer – hiring an asshole and keeping them on staff is also a choice. Because of this immutable fact, every company bears its part of responsibility in the hiring and promoting of assholes. Customers instinctively understand this, which is why when they run into one of your company’s assholes, they don’t blame the asshole for treating them poorly, they blame you. They blame the brand. The negative association they take home with them isn’t with that person (whose name and face they will forget inside of a week), but with you. Your assholes are faceless. All customers remember is the context: You. Your company. Your brand. The asshole just goes on being an asshole day after day, happy to have a job that pays him – even rewards him – for being a complete raging asshole all day long.

At the end of their shift, what you have to understand is that assholes in your employ don’t lose customers. You do. You spend your resources bringing them to the cash register, and every asshole on your staff spends all day making sure they never come back.

For this reason if none other, choose and evaluate your employees carefully.

The impact of just one asshole - amplified by social media

The real cost of letting assholes poison your brand from the inside.

If you are in business and have employees, let me be VERY clear about this: You are always only one asshole away from losing your best customer. The more assholes you have on staff, the faster and more often this will happen.

Not only that, but assholes tend to turn off, not only the one customer they happen to be unpleasant to, but everyone within earshot as well.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, “within earshot” isn’t just the ten rows on the plane or the ten people in the store waiting to check out. It is also potentially the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who might get a glimpse of that negative experience and be turned off in turn. Even millions, for that matter. (See previous 2 images, inspired by David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” theory (Edelman), below:)

David Armano's "Influence Ripples" (Edelman)

Let me give this a financial angle for you: Over the course of a year, one asshole on your staff, just one, can invalidate every dime your company has spent on advertising, marketing and PR. That’s the real liability of assholes. For small businesses, an asshole might only cost you $10,000 in wasted marketing, messaging or brand positioning. If you’re a bigger company, the same asshole (or a whole army of them, which is more likely) could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing and brand management dollars.

That was part 1 of that equation. Part 2 is measured in lost revenue from disappointed customers taking their business elsewhere (your competitors thank you), lost revenue from all of the net new customers delighted customers would have recommended you to (but didn’t, because your assholes chased them away), and so on.

As a result, the higher the proportion of assholes to caring professionals a company has on staff, the more likely it is to have to spend more and more on marketing (with increasingly diminishing returns), while customer retention falls flat and even starts to dip into the red. Assholes aren’t just bad for customer service or your brand’s image. Assholes are bad for business. They are a counter-current to your hopes and dreams. They are the cancer that first weighs you down, then eventually makes your brand begin to fail, then wither, then die.

So let me repeat today’s lesson: The customer-facing organization with the least amount of assholes wins.

Don’t believe me? Ask Zappos. If you have never heard of Zappos, they sell shoes on the internet. That’s it. Well… LOTS of shoes. So many in fact that Amazon bought them for a pretty penny. Not only that, but Amazon decided not to make any major changes to Zappos’ leadership or culture. They left Zappos alone because the model works well just as it is. What’s Zappos’ secret? The customer experiences they create are stellar. Why are they stellar? Because Zappos pretty much has a “no asshole on staff” policy. Their hiring practices focus on this, and for good reason: They know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.

The simple truth (and we all know this) is that happy customers are good for business. In fact, no. They are GREAT for business: The happier a customer is, the more likely it is that they will come back, spend more, spend more often, and recommend you to all their friends. This is what you want. This is what makes businesses insanely successful. This. You don’t have to invent the iPad to be a huge success. Zappos just sells shoes on the internet. Virgin Airlines just flies people from airport to airport. Intercontinental Hotels (disclosure: client) are basically just… hotels. We’re not talking space walks or time travel, here. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite coffee shop, your favorite mechanic, none of them necessarily reinvented the wheel, right? They didn’t win a Nobel prize for revolutionizing their industries. No. What they did was this: They figured out that a happy customer is good for business, so they focused on that. They earned your trust, your respect and your loyalty. Want to know how they did that? By giving you theirs.

Let me let you in on a little secret: An asshole doesn’t think that way. An asshole doesn’t think about happy customers. He doesn’t care about happy customers. An asshole only thinks about himself: His own mood, his own frustrations, his own personal dramas, his own power trips. An asshole doesn’t give anyone their trust, respect or loyalty. Assholes just don’t think that way. And that is precisely the rub: No matter how well you pay them, you can’t make assholes give a shit. And that is bad for business. Very bad.

A fork in the road for every organization:

Do you know one way to make sure your customers are always happy? Only hire people who want your customers to be happy too. People who want to be helpful, who want to fix problems, who take pride in making someone’s day better instead of worse. People who genuinely want to see the company do well. People with pride and self respect and ambition beyond their own bank account or advancement. Do you think this is too hard? It isn’t. Just hire better.

Want to guess how to guarantee that your customers will not be happy? Hire assholes to take care of them. (It works every time.)

That’s your choice: Door A or Door B.

Door A: Hire super nice, helpful people and your business will soar.

Door B: Hire assholes, and your business will forever struggle to stay afloat.

Every time you run into one of your employees (or candidates) and he or she acts like an asshole, I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how much harder you want to have to work to make your business successful once they start pissing off every customer and client they come in contact with.

Taking a step back so you can see your entire business now, how many assholes do you really want on your payroll, and how many customers do you want to put them in front of? Pull out a piece of paper and write down a number. Do it. Write it down. How many assholes do you want on your payroll?

Next to that number, write down how many assholes you have on your payroll now. Go through your mental org chart, and start counting them in your head. When you’re done, write down how many assholes you know are in your company right now. If that number is higher than the first number you wrote down, you have some cleaning up to do.

In closing, let me leave you with the top 5 ways to make sure that your company starts becoming asshole-proof.

Top 5 ways of asshole-proofing your company:

1. Don’t hire assholes. They are bad for business, and they breed inside organizations like weeds.

2. Don’t promote assholes. The only thing worse than an asshole is an asshole with authority (including the authority to hire and promote assholes when you aren’t paying attention).

3. Give your current assholes the “opportunity” to go work for your fiercest competitor. Do this immediately. Make sure the door doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out.

4. Once removed, replace your former assholes with nice, smart friendly people. (They’re out there and they want to work for you, but your assholes probably already turned them down. Go find them and invite them back.)

5. Reward all of your employees for NOT being assholes.

That just about takes care of it for today. Any questions?

Inspired (in a good way) by conversations with Julien Smith, Geoff Livingston, Keith BurtisChris Brogan, Kristi Colvin, Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Jacobs, Peter Shankman, among others.

*          *          *

And in case you haven’t picked one up yet (or your favorite client seems to be having trouble figuring out how to bring social media into their organization), you can pick up a fresh copy of Social Media ROI at fine book stores everywhere. If you have sworn off paper, you can also download it for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-formats at www.smroi.net.

Tip: Leave it sitting conspicuously on your desk when your boss does his rounds. It seems to be a good conversation starter.

(Click here for details, or to sample a free chapter.)

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nov082001gh

I was chatting with a friend about budget-conscious brand revitalization strategies, the importance of creating employee-friendly corporate cultures and how to drive more passionate employee engagement today, and I was suddenly reminded of something John Moore – over at Brand Autopsy – wrote on his blog back in 2007:

“Astonish employees and they will, in turn, astonish customers.”

Simple enough, right?

Yet so rare.

Most companies have fallen into a little bit of a rut when it comes to doing something special for their employees, except around Christmas time or when they’ve had a decent quarter. And even then, we are talking about a $25 gift certificate to The Home Depot or your choice of a company pen, T-shirt or flashlight. Nice, but not exactly stunning.

The term John used is “astonish,” which implies a little more effort and attention than just giving your employees an empty token of “gratitude” that is as bland as it is… (well, let’s say it) kind of insulting.

Note to all department managers: If you’re going to reward your staff with T-shirts, make them the types of T-shirts that you want your employees to actually get excited about. (Hire a hot local graphic designer to design something unique or fun or cool . It’s cheaper than you think, and the impact will be pretty phenomenal.)

But enough about T-shirts. We’re talking about “astonishing” your employees – not merely giving them a perfunctory nod, which is exactly what the folks at Macintosh did a while back when they surprised all of their US employees with a brand new iPhone.

In John’s words:

“Giving every full-time employee a $600 (retail value) iPhone is an astonishing act that will only help to feed the already vibrant evangelical corporate culture within Apple. (…)At Starbucks, we would also spend marketing money on employees. We knew if we could get Baristas jazzed, they would get customers jazzed.”

Think back to an experience you’ve had recently (or not so recently) when you walked into a store or dealt with someone who was absolutely in love with either their job or the company they worked for. How was your perception of that company affected by their enthusiasm? (How likely were you after that experience to a) recommend that business to friends and peers, and b) do business with that company again?)

Now think back to your last experience with a bored, apathetic grocery store cashier, or with an unqualified telephone customer service rep, or with a passive-aggressive waitress who REALLY needs a vacation. How different might your perception of that company be? How likely is it that you will make that business your first choice? How likely is it that you will speak well of this business and recommend it to friends?

All things being equal: Pricepoint, quality of the work or food or product, product performance, cool packaging, etc. – the quality of the experience surrounding human touch-points becomes primordial.

Two average grocery stores can have a radically different image or reputation based SOLELY on the way their employees behave. The same is true with any business in which people (employees) interact with other people (customers): Restaurants, banks, retail establishments, medical offices, auto mechanics shops, etc.

Employee behavior can be radically impacted by their managers’ positive or negative treatment.

Therefore, customer experience can be radically impacted by the way a company treats its employees:

Average treatment of employees = average customer experience.

Good treatment of employees = good customer experience.

Great treatment of employees = great customer experience.

… And so on.

So rather than tossing the occasional cheapo bone to your employees to maintain morale (or whatever,) start thinking of ways that you might make them feel special. Think of ways of rewarding them, or of saying “thank you,” or making them feel truly appreciated that kind of… well, stand out. Get them jazzed about working for you. Make them feel proud and excited and vibrant.

The point here isn’t to bribe them or buy their loyalty with expensive gifts. The point is to show genuine, profound, unmistakable appreciation for what they do and for the importance of their daily contribution. If you don’t have a budget for something like this yet, get creative. Give them Friday off, out of the blue. Give them an extra vacation day, on the house. Mail them a thank you card with a real message inside, not just some cheesy drugstore quotation. Offer to introduce them to people they don’t normally have access to. Bring them into projects they aren’t senior enough to have a voice in.

Though fancy electronics like iPods, Zunes, Flip cameras and the likes usually do the trick as well.

This isn’t “team building,” mind you. This is just saying thanks. This is just giving them a hug and a pat on the shoulder, looking them in the eye and saying “We’re really glad you’re here.” And meaning it.

Every once and again, you have to stop what you’re doing, put off fighting your daily little fires, and remember to make your employees feel that they aren’t just easily replaced pawns. (And if you’re hiring intelligently, they are most definitely not easily replaceable pawns.)

Make your employees realize that you truly understand their value to the success of the brand they help shape in the public’s eye every single day.

The way you treat your employees is the way your customers will be treated.

Perhaps this should be the very first rule of management.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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engagement by the brandbuilder

Above and below: Some revamped slides from Monday’s presentation. These two companion messages (Engagement and P2P) seem to have resonated with the audience, so I thought I would elaborate on that topic a little.

First: Should companies continue to launch and drive  marketing, advertising, promotional and other types of business development and awareness campaigns?

Yes. Absolutely. No question.

Traditional media “push” strategies and tactics, when developed by the right people and used properly, can be extremely effective. I am a big fan of great campaigns, so keep creating GREAT push campaigns.

But “engagement” – and by that I mean customer engagement (even if those customers are not technically customers yet) – is not a campaign. It isn’t even a strategy. It is a commitment to a being the kind of business that people will want to be a part of and whose products and community people will want to share with friends and family. The kind of business that people  will naturally want to support proactively for years and years.

What we are talking about here has its basis in culture. Call it company culture, corporate culture, management culture… it doesn’t matter. The point is that if your company still refers to itself as a B2B (biz to biz) or a B2C (biz to consumer) company, you are missing the boat. Thin about every great experience you’ve had with a business: Fantastic service at a hotel – where the folks at the desk (and the rest of the staff) makes a point to remember your name. Think of the same kind of service at a restaurant or retail outlet. Think about how you feel about a physician with fantastic bedside vs. a physician who acts like spending any time with you is the chore from hell. Now ask yourself which you would rather be: The business that makes people WANT to come back and recommend you to their friends, or the business that will either fail to be memorable – or worse, give people a reason to find a better option than you next time.

It doesn’t matter if you are a hair salon, car rental company, commercial lender, real estate agent, architectural firm, coffee shop or IT distribution company: Create great experiences based on building relationships with your customers (and your community) and your brand will quickly find itself on the rise.

Fail to do so, and your situation will NEVER improve. No matter how much you lower your prices, no matter how much money you spend on advertising, public relations, call campaigns and promotional incentives, you will still be struggling to get past 5% annual growth (once the economy recovers, that is).

You must learn to become a P2P (people to people) company. Period. There is no other option for you. Not anymore.

Starting with the way you treat your employees – from the way in which you hire, train, mentor and manage them and the words you choose to use around the office (do you refer to your team members as “headcount”?), to the type of relationship you build with the people you do business with.

You are a P2P company, by the brandbuilder

Have a great Weekend, everyone. 😉

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pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. 😉

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Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Lance Armstrong, by Olivier Blanchard - 2005

Sometime this year, chances are that you will get a chance to hire one or several individuals to come join your team. On his blog some time ago, Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art Of Recruiting” post gave us some pretty crucial pointers that are worth printing and pinning to our respective office walls.

The first of these is this:

“The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism because you’re not simply asking people to try your product, buy your product, or partner with you. Instead, you are asking them to bet their lives on your organization.”

Bingo.

But it goes well beyond that. Some companies hire for skills or talent. Others, on the other hand, hire for vision and attitude. The difference is this: Companies that hire for skills and talent tend to attract relatively talented, ambitious folks who do a terrific job… for a while. Until they get bored. Until their work grows stale. Until they start looking for greener pastures. They do great work, and then they leave. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. The process gets repeated. Other than adding neat pages to their employers’ portfolios (and their own), nothing much happens.

Companies that hire for vision and attitude, however, kick ass. They always do. The people they hire are agents of change. They’re evangelists. They’re contextual commandos. They’re dreamers and groundbreakers. They’re risk takers. They take the companies they work for further than they were when they first landed there. They attract more people like them and build cultures around their companies.

A good friend of mine, Randy McDougald, hires for vision and attitude, and the results are unbelievable. His business is booming. His customer base is growing. His customers are actually creating a community – a culture – even, around his stores.

Resumes are a good first step. Skills are a nice foundation… But attitude, passion and enthusiasm are the traits that Randy considers when hiring new folks. Believe me, I know every one of his employees, and I can tell you this: I would hire them all in a heartbeat.

Okay, okay, we’ll come back to Randy’s golden touch later this week. Right now, here are Guy’s ten bits of advice when it comes to hiring your next team member:

1. Hire better than yourself.
2. Hire infected people.
3. Ignore the irrelevant.
4. Double check your intuition.
5. Check independent references.
6. Apply the Shopping Center Test.
7. Use all your weapons.
8. Sell all the decision makers.
9. Wait to compensate.
10. Don’t assume you’re done.

(You can check out the full version here.)

What Guy hints at but doesn’t get into is the fact that sometimes, you’ll run into enigmas. Multi-talented folks who don’t quite fit any of the profiles that you’re used to running into, like accountants, copywriters, account executives, product managers or media Planners. Sometimes, you meet people who transcend traditional professional roles. People whose impact on their industry or communities could be felt for years. Decades, even. Some of us would call them game-changers, but I guess “change agent” is a little more subtle. David Armano sometimes calls them “T-shaped” and “sun-shaped” people and I kind of like that.

Only when you run into them, they still haven’t had a chance to break out their superpowers, but they’re just about to. All they need is that little extra push. That little extra help and encouragement. Just a sprinkle of faith on your part.

Among the brightest stars in this group are people like Peter Drucker, Lance Armstrong, Sir Richard Branson and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Mahatma Gandhi. Steve Jobs. The list is long. To a lesser extent, folks like John Winsor, John Moore, Michele Miller, David Wolfe, Kevin Farnham, Valeria Maltoni, Loic Lemeur and William Gordon also belong on the much longer list of kids who didn’t quite fit the mold and grew up to re-invent (or expand the boundaries of) their respective industries and communities.

Consider that they were all kids once. They all applied for that first job. I’d be willing to bet that a great deal of people on that list were turned down by well-meaning managers more concerned with hiring what they knew and understood than taking a chance on something that didn’t quite fit between the lines.

Shame on them.

Why do you think so many of them end up branching off on their own? It isn’t necessarily because they want to spend years working their butts off to be able to say “hey, I did it my way!” No. It’s because they didn’t have a choice. It’s because the people who could have chosen to take a chance on them didn’t.

You would be amazed at how many companies that sell “different” don’t actually have the huevos to actually practice what they preach.

Trust me, there’s nothing more tragic than to see passionate, talented, groundbreaking kids get turned away again and again and again by hiring managers because they didn’t quit match the position’s profile.

“We’re looking for someone with more experience.”

“We’re looking for someone who’s worked in this specific industry.”

“We’re looking for a carbon-copy of the last guy who sat in that chair… only in a different flavor. Because we like to talk about being different and better and more innovative, but we don’t really have the courage to put our money where our mouth is.”

If your company is guilty of this, it’s time to stop. Right now.

One, you’re shooting yourself in the foot by turning away what could very possibly be the most crucial strategic investment your company will ever make.

Two, unfortunately for you, maybe your fiercest competitor won’t be as blind as you were.

Three, you’re breaking spirits. You probably don’t realize it, but you are, and for that, there is no excuse. None. And the karma on this isn’t something you ever want to even ponder.

So here’s a tip: When a dreamer – one of the crazy ones – comes rapping at your door, don’t turn them away because they don’t quite fit the profile that you had in mind. Skilled is necessary. Different is good. Prolific is great. Passionate is even better. Enthusiastic is magical. Unique is genius.

Always consider the pros and cons carefully, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on the occasional wild card.

If you’re willing to ask your new hires to bet their lives on your organization, shouldn’t you also be willing to bet your organization on them?

This isn’t a rhetorical question.

While you ponder the finer points of your answer, here’s one last thing to think about: Exceptional doesn’t mean “really good”. Exceptional means “unique”. It means “the exception to the norm.”

It means different.

Don’t lose sight of that. That tiny little bit of insight could make the difference between your company becoming everything it could be, or just being… well, what it is.

Remember that your company’s mojo doesn’t come from your products or your logo or your tagline. It comes from your people. So if you haven’t done so already, get out of the skills market mentality and hire like your life depends on it. Hire the best that money can buy. Hire the exceptional. Hire the extraordinary. Invest in your own future.
You owe it to yourselves and to your customers. And in this economy, the difference between survival and failure may very well depend on rethinking what types of people you want working for you.
Related reads: H.R. 2.0 and Innovation Starts Here

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twitter-reality

It hadn’t occurred to me until late last week, but most major brands still haven’t figured out that Twitter is the fastest social media network (dare I say channel) in existence today. Not LinkedIn, not Facebook, not their own website or corporate blog, not anything else: Twitter is it. The conversations may start or end on blogs (corporate or not), but the conversations themselves, the dialogues, the real connections happen in real time on Twitter – which is to say that more and more of the discovery, recommendations and value-building that drive incremental transactions (basis points of growth for you MBAs out there) are taking place on Twitter.

Why are these conversations important? Why should brand managers care? Because the folks currently using twitter – the folks currently recruiting the next 100 million users – are the connectors, influencers and mavens of the social media world. They don’t have to be Social media superstars like Scoble, Brogan, Kawasaki or Lemeur. They don’t have to be high profile brand spokespersons like Ford’s Scott Monty. This is the long tail, we’re talking about. This is grassroots. The same grassroots web of networks that Barack Obama’s campaign leveraged to win the 2008 US Presidential election. And that is precisely the importance of the long tail: It’s about networks and relationships. It’s about dialog and trust. The long tail is simply the digital vehicle for word-of-mouth, the stickiest limb of the marketing world, where transactions are really born. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Twitter is quickly becoming the most effective long tail platform in history. More so than Facebook. More so than any other single digital Social Media tool.

To put the importance and effectiveness of Twitter in perspective for you, take a step back and stop thinking about it as an internet tool. In other words, stop thinking of Twitter as something people interface with on their laptops and PCs. Twitter is on people’s mobile devices as well. That’s right: The conversations and interactions continue outside of the office. They take place at the mall, in the car, at the coffee shop, on the sidewalk and at parties. Twitter isn’t just on a desk, it’s literally in people’s hands. 24/7/365.

The billboard, folks, is now in people’s pockets, on their belt, in their purse, and it gets to ask them questions and make suggestions all day long.

Yet, there still seems to be some discussion as to whether or not “brands” should start using Twitter at all.

Fascinating.

I find the question as elementary as “should soldiers be taught how to fire a rifle?” or “should lifeguards be required to be good swimmers?”

Read Mark Drapeau’s Do Brands belong on Twitter? and Jeremiah Owyang’s Why Brands Are Unsuccessful on Twitter.

The answer to Mark’s question is “of course.” The answer to Jeremiah’s rhetorical question is “because most brands aren’t even there yet,” although he seems to cover that quite well in his own post.

The thing is, some brand have embraced the Twitter “experiment” and are doing quite well. Several of them are listed below, and by clicking on their name, you will get a chance to see exactly how they are leveraging the tool. Will some make mistakes? Maybe. Probably. But that’s okay. Live and learn. At least, they are engaging us, their public, which has a dual effect: Broadening their reach, and deepening their connection with us – the consumers. As a Twitter user, just knowing that The North Face has a genuine Twitter presence makes the brand more appealing to me. Somehow, it seems to fit in with my lifestyle a little better than before, when I saw it simply as another drop in the brand name ocean. Same with Jet Blue. Same with Whole Foods. Same with Starbucks.

Locally, Liquid Highway has managed to market itself so well to Twitter users that they in turn used their influence to give their business a hefty boost outside of the twittersphere. The cost of recruiting the same amount of net new customers and then retaining them somehow through traditional media marketing and promotions would have been hefty and probably short in returns. Their Twitter strategy achieved in weeks and for almost no cost at all what a traditional media strategy would have taken months and tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps with less success.

Fact: Brands that tweet – large or small – have an advantage over brands that don’t. Period.

Even without the Twitter kinship element I just mentioned (The whole North Face thing), the very act of using Twitter as a channel to inform the public as to press releases, events, news stories and promotions would be better than not being there at all. Social media purists may shake their fists at CNN and WSJ for broadcasting rather than engaging, but in the end, Twitter can be used in a variety of ways. Not every brand needs to generate buzz of “engage”. I wish it were so, and in an ideal world, yes, all brands should strive to seek a deeper connection with their audience, but that isn’t always the priority.

In light of this basic realization, simply standing on the sidelines of a channel of Twitter’s potential magnitude without at least testing its waters seems completely absurd, especially when all data points to the fact that traditional advertising channels are losing their effectiveness.

And especially as marketing budgets are getting serious buzz cuts. (No pun intended.)

Twitter, along with other key social media platforms and channels, thus makes sense. Yet here we are, with only a small fraction of major brands actually getting involved. Curious. To illustrate the state of things, I have put together a quick list of some of the most obvious brands I could think of and went on Twitter to see if they were there. The results may surprise you. This is what I found:

Major Brands which have picked up on the importance of a) Twitter and/or b) customer engagement as a whole:

A sampling of major brands with a presence on Twitter:

Whole Foods

Starbucks

The North Face

IKEA (Not actually an IKEA-managed account. Evidently, this little project is 100% fan-created. Even more impressive on so many levels!)

Jet Blue

The Wall Street Journal

Trader Joe’s

Ford (Ironically, Ford is also in the highjacked category. Look for the “*”)

Correction: Ford’s Scott Monty explains how Ford is getting into the Twittersphere a little more formally in the comment section.

Triathlete Magazine

Fast Company

CNN

Dunkin Donuts

Zappos

The Home Depot

Kodak (Just added. @Kodak looks like it is occupied by a squatter but @kodakCB is live and rocking it. Also browse the comments section for more Kodak execs’ Twitter info. Thanks, Jenny!)

Southwest Airlines (Just added.)

WOMMA (also just added.)

Hertz (also just added.) This is not Hertz’ main brand connector though, but its new ‘Connect’ service. Pretty cool concept.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile team in the US and in Australia, for starters.

Baskin Robbins (late add as well.)

GM Trucks (Brand new. Still has that new truck smell.)

Molson (the beer) has a whole team of Tweets: @Moffat, @MolsonFerg, @toniahammer, @molsonbryan.

These are the companies that get it. They tend to fall into two categories: The first (Whole Foods, IKEA, Jet Blue) actually engage with their followers/customers/fans on a personal level. These companies use Twitter as a true social platform. They talk, their audience listens. The audience talks, they listen. It’s nice and it works.. The second category (CNN and WSJ) use Twitter purely as a broadcast channel. While purists will frown at broadcast strategies being used in social media, it works for these types of outlets. (One more channel is one more channel.) What might get missed via overflowing RSS readers might not via an active channel like Twitter.)

Take some time to monitor the flow of conversations happening at The North Face, Ikea and Jet Blue. This is the model most companies should hope to adopt.

A very small sampling of major brands with a footprint on Twitter but not much activity:

Harley Davidson

Apple’s iPhone

GU

Air Canada (just added)

West Jet (just added)

Zellers (just added)

At least, some brands appear to see the value of claiming their Twitter footprint, even if they haven’t quite figured out what to do with Twitter yet. Not great, but still way ahead of the curve. You have to start somewhere.

Major Brands which, strangely, have yet to hop on the Twitter Train:

And now, the really scary part of this post. Below is a sampling of major brands with no active presence on twitter (or at least none that I could find as of Dec 14, 2008):

Coca Cola

Pepsi

NBC

Colgate

Chevrolet

Gatorade

Visa

Mastercard

Sears

3M

Kodak (See the ‘good’ list above for Kodak’s real Twitter info.)

Home Depot
Update: My bad – The Home Depot actually has a presence on Twitter. Look for them in the “good section of this post (above). 😉

Mitsubishi

Toyota

Audi

Microsoft (though some teams dohave twitter accounts – see “good” group above)

Lysol

Windex (Come on!!! No Windex? Didn’t you guys see “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”)

Verizon

Jeep

Kenneth Cole

Adidas

Budweiser

Jiffy Lube

Crocs

Land-Rover

How many millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on marketing and advertising, on pull and push strategies, on websites and microsites and blogs, on promotions and coupons and direct marketing, on sports sponsorships, on the brightest and the best marketing minds money can buy, only to completely ignore Twitter? Really? What happened to customer engagement? What happened to connecting with your audience? What happened to Word of Mouth? What happened to common sense? You mean to tell me that no one at any of these companies thought it would be wise to at least take a look at Twitter? To – perhaps at the very least – claim their brand footprint and establish an official presence, if only to make sure that no one else will usurp their brand?

Speaking of which, below is a sampling of major brands whose Twitter footprints have already been hijacked (voluntarily or not) by individuals or companies which have nothing to do with them. This is a total and utter brand management FAIL. Disney, instead hiring an online community manager tasked with creating a Twitter presence for fans of its parks, cruises and other properties allowed an enterprising young lady by the name of Cheri Thomas to use the Twitter handle @disney to promote her website: cheridreams.com. (Great for Cheri, but not so great for the entertainment giant.) How things like this happen is beyond me. Some of the examples on this list are more entertaining than others:

Disney

Nike

Snickers

Sharpie

Levi’s

Crayola

Tropicana

Nivea

Hummer

Ford* (http://www.twitter.com/ford is obviously not Ford. Curious since @ScottMonty, head of Ford Social Media is one of the most followed accounts on Twitter. Oversight?) As mentioned above, check out the comment section for an update from Ford’s Scott Monty. Good stuff.

McDonald’s

Burger King

Evian

Casio

Wal-Mart

Kmart

Staples

American Express/Amex

Mattel

Nikon

Yamaha

Reebok

sony

DKNY

Nokia

Doritos

Vicks

Ironman (Triathlon)

All of these brands have had their name taken over by a person or other company on Twitter. Most probably don’t even realize it. Those that do probably have their lawyers scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with the problem, which probably won’t be cheap to resolve – and in turn won’t give these companies much incentive to enter the Twittersphere. Well played.

The damage being done to brands on Twitter via these “hijackings” may not ever overshadow the breadth of missed opportunities, but either way, being an absentee brand landlord on a wildly popular and exploding community platform like Twitter doesn’t look very good. “Asleep at the wheel” is the image that comes to mind, and that, my friends, is not the type of reputation I would like to build for myself as a brand manager.

Is it truly so difficult for major brands afford to pay at least one person to manage their digital presence? A community manager? An “online” community manager, even? A head of social media of some sort? If my realtor thought to do it, why not Pepsi? If the church down the street thought to do it, why not Nike? If my local news channel thought to do it, why not Nikon, Nokia or Canon?

The questions that I leave for all of you to ponder – and hopefully answer here today – are where do we go from here? How do we help major brands get into social media properly, meaning in a way that benefits us all (them and us alike)? And ultimately, should we even try? Many of us tend to focus on smaller, savvier, hungrier emerging brands because they move faster and truly embrace the potential of social media. If major brands can’t figure out for themselves that they should get into the game, is our time really best spent trying to talk them into it?

What do you think?

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂

Update: Check out this fantastic post by Erik Heels which outlines the problem of cybersquatting as it relates to Twitter, and also provides a further list of which of the world’s Top 100 brands are on Twitter as of 8 January 2009 (or rather which 93 haven’t yet caught on). Click here for the post.

Update: Check out this post outlining the same problem in Australia: Click here.

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tribes-cover

The value of communities to the well-being and growth of businesses and organizations which serve them became crystal clear to me again today. (Not that it wasn’t already clear, but it’s important to revisit this sort of thing with real life examples as often as possible.)

I was chatting with a group of very experienced entrepreneurs about business organizations and networks when it struck me: In the B2B world, doing your part to ensure that your business community is healthy, informed, well connected and engaged is probably the most important thing you can do to foster the type of environment most suitable to create net new clients.

This has traditionally been the role of Chambers of Commerce, but we are starting to see that Social Media are giving rise to new types of business communities (Or as Seth might call them, business tribes.) This isn’t to say that the Chamber of Commerce model is dead or dying – far from it – but it is important to note that the dynamics of how and why business communities come to be are changing.

Ten years ago, Chambers of Commerce, professional organizations and country clubs were pretty much the only real viable option for businesses when it came to joining and leveraging premier business networks. Today, through the advent of Social Media, individuals and businesses have the ability to a) create their own business networks and communities, b) do so on their own terms, and c) do it all for free.

How can Chambers of Commerce remain healthy and relevant in this new age? Simple: Reconnect with the communities they serve. Shed the “business club” image, let the networking become landscape rather than focus, and engage their communities in a way that will truly elevate them. This is clearly a ‘leadership through service’ type of mission as opposed to a “build it and they will come” vision. Some organizations are already there, but many still haven’t made that transition.

Remember that thing about leadership in action being an irresistible draw? This is what organizations need to tap into. Don’t worry so much about membership growth, “relevance” and networking. Just get out there and make something happen. Act as the catalyst and the connector. Leverage networks to recruit volunteers, not members, and help them connect through projects they can really sink their teeth into. The self-serving rewards will come, but only if you don’t make them your focus.

In order for a Chamber of Commerce membership to make sense, a member business should have to commit to actually paying something forward (and I don’t mean annual membership dues). Ask yourself this: As a business owner, what can you give back to the business community? How can you help? How can you establish yourself as a unique resource? Do you have a skill? A bucket of knowledge or insight? A gift for teaching or motivating? Then put it to good use: Start something. Get a few of your fellow business owners together and start a program to bring hope and ideas to troubled public schools (those with high dropout rates). Tell kids about your success story. Let them know that owning a business isn’t something that is limited to “rich people.” Inspire them. Plant seeds. Lift them up. Mentor them if they ask you to. As a business community organizer, ask yourself how you can create these types of opportunities and actually generate results you and your partners in crime can be proud of. There’s a start.

Community leadership begins with a) being a catalyst for growth opportunities and b) acting as a connector. Some business organizations do so better than others, but the mere fact that many Chambers of Commerce no longer play that role in their communities tells me that something is missing in their focus. Perhaps some Chambers are suffering from an identity crisis. Perhaps they have served larger businesses too long, or haven’t focused enough on involving younger entrepreneurs and business owners. Perhaps they have pigeon-holed themselves and don’t know how to return to their small business roots. Sometimes, when companies and organizations have been doing the same thing in the same way with the same people for a very long time, they can lose touch with the world outside their four walls. It might not seem that way from within, but when most of the community you serve can’t tell you with clarity or certainty what your company or organization does for them, trust me: You aren’t connecting.

And if you’re only touching 10% of the businesses or potential customers in your community, you aren’t connecting either. It’s time to make a change.

First: Tactics and tools:

Digital networking: Any organization that is in the community building business must know how to wield social media tools like a marketing ninja. Period. This isn’t up for debate. It isn’t enough to have a website and a newsletter. If you don’t have active FaceBook and Linked-In groups, you’re already falling behind. (Emphasis on “active.” Just having a group and doing nothing with it = zero impact.) If you don’t have a community space (check out Ning.com for a simple platform), you’re also missing the boat. If you also aren’t leveraging Twitter – or haven’t yet invited some of your leaders to contribute to a community/Chamber blog or online publication – I have to ask… how exactly are you engaging with your business community?

Physical networking (yeah, the old fashioned kind): Organize, sponsor, host and manage events, but gear them to benefit non-members as much as members. Radical idea? Not really: Connecting your members is a great idea, but sooner or later, your network becomes an echo chamber. What you need to do is reach out, not pull in. As with most organization with hefty membership fees, there seems to be a wall that goes up between members and non-members once money is exchanged. Whether real or perceived, that wall doesn’t do anyone any good. Tear it down. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t continue to offer members-only events and perks, but in order to grow, you also have to increase your focus on true community involvement. That’s where the magic is. That’s where leadership happens. That’s where relevance is built.

Offer mentor programs and pair members with non-members. Partner with the best of the best in particular fields – accounting, law, HR, advertising, IT, professional services – and create mini conferences to help members and non-members alike come together and learn things they otherwise might not. Create a small business assistance program through which distressed small business owners can receive emergency advice from a group of experienced business leaders. Create groups for specific verticals and industries – retail, foodservice, law firms, freelancers, manufacturers, etc. The possibilities are endless. (And if you are already doing all of these things, go back to the digital networking section of this post and ask yourself how you can leverage social media to promote your events and activities. You probably aren’t doing enough there.

If you aren’t doing these things yet, or aren’t doing them well, you are being outpaced by much smaller, younger, savvier organizations, and your brain trust is being recruited away. Once the brain trust starts to go, so do relevance, value, and of course, membership.

Second: Mindset.

These lessons are relevant to individual businesses as well: Stop thinking about your market as a giant phone book, and stop thinking of sales as “sales.” Become a connector. Become a facilitator. Reach out to people and companies in need, and offer to help. Make things happen. (You know… like bridge the gap between idea and execution?) Surround yourself with the best people and businesses and help them get even better at what they do. Use every means at your disposal to strengthen your neighborhood, your community, your industry, and help them all move forward. There’s your value.

It may seem silly to some, but the idea of “paying it forward” has its place in the business world, especially during tough economic times. Not just as an exercise on in good karma or for the sake of doing good deeds, but in strengthening the foundations of the community without whose support your business will fail. Just by connecting the right people, you can plant the seeds of a relationship that will keep one, two, perhaps three businesses afloat for another year – which may be all they need to get cooking again. Most of my clients come from referrals. Many of my friends’ clients are referrals as well. Without our network, without the constant drive to connect good people to other good people, without a taste for helping each other out, none of us would be as successful as we have been. Fact: Business is about relationships. Just like Social Media. Just like Word of Mouth marketing. Just like building strong brands. All of these things are interconnected.

Once you understand the vital connection that exists between you and your community, this kind of stuff becomes crystal clear.

If you haven’t done so already, click on Seth’s presentation (above) and take a few minutes to take it all in. Understanding Tribes, absorbing it, even, may be the most important thing you’ll do all year. It may even be the one thing that will save your business in this challenging economy.

If you haven’t joined your local Chamber of Commerce lately, perhaps you should. Only this time around, instead of asking what your Chamber can do for you, ask… well, you know. 😉

Leadership starts with you. Bouncing back from the troubled economy starts with you. (If we’ve learned anything these last few weeks, it’s that it sure as hell won’t start with either Wall Street, Detroit or Washington.) It’s all in your hands now. Our hands. And you know what? That’s the best economic news I’ve heard all year!

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 😉

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Okay, so while the Dow hangs out at around 10,000 points, here’s some advice on how to give your business a serious boost without increasing your marketing expenditures (and maybe even reducing them): “Perkonomics: Why perks and privileges are the new currency” over at TrendWatching.com (hat tip to AdPulp) is a pretty interesting take on how to increase customer loyalty and create a buzz for your brand even in tough economic times.

“What in blue blazes is perkanomics,” I hear you cry? Hold your horses there Tonto. We’re getting there. According to the folks at TrendWatching.com, perkonomics can be explained thus:

“A new breed of perks and privileges, added to brands’ regular offerings, [which satisfies] consumers’ ever-growing desire for novel forms of status and/or convenience, across all industries. The benefits for brands are equally promising: from escaping commoditization, to showing empathy in turbulent times. One to have firmly on your radar in 2009.”

Did you catch that part about escaping commoditization (not falling into the BOGO trap)? Good. Let’s continue.

TW continues with this:

“Consumer infatuation with perks and privileges isn’t new. For years, airlines, hotels, credit card companies and private banks have been cleverly rewarding their most valuable customers with surprises, status symbols and convenience.

But as we move towards a consumer society that’s based more on experiences, on status stories, on the ephemeral—and in which, for many, time is now the only true scarcity—expect perks and privileges to become an integral part of every B2C industry and sector.”

Perks you might already be familiar with: Frequent flier miles, preferred customer clubs, discount cards, special pricing, express delivery, concierge service, complementary XYZ, free upgrades, shorter checkout lines, convenient parking, etc. Essentially, the perkonomics idea takes the simple concept of “loyalty rewards” to the next step: Brand-related social elevation (however ephemeral it may be). The dot-connect end-to-end: “My loyalty to Brand ABC makes me more special than people who don’t share the same relationship with the brand.”

The result (if done right):

  • Perks bring much-needed love (if not FREE LOVE), in upturns and downturns, potentially leading to more ‘brand love’. (I hate to call it brand loyalty, but at the very least, it encourages a very strong brand preference.)
  • Perks help commodity-like industries stand out by conferring a (renewed) sense of uniqueness. Adding perks often requires the ability to partner with other products or services, so brands with the best partnering skills—and therefore access to the best exclusive offers—will win.
  • Perks can give you the leading edge when it comes to attracting first-time customers.
  • Perks can make for great if not invaluable PR [and positive WOM]; customers will tell others—perks are excellent conversation starters—while the media (trend watchers included) love a good perk story.
  • Perks can help make boring companies interesting again, and thus more desirable.
  • Perks can help cultivate more desirable brand perceptions and associations—think anything from showing you actually care about your customers (gasp!) to showing you care about the environment, offering eco-perks.

From a business opportunity standpoint, focusing on perks can absolutely give you an edge when it comes to differentiating your brand from others even if your products are not superior, and by doing so may be the only way to elevate a brand without actually making improvements outside of “delighting” loyal customers. The trick is to do it in such a way that doesn’t come across either as a ploy to get more information out of them, and two, in a way that doesn’t require them to jump through hoops. Perks are perks. If perks start to become hassles, they stop being perks. A “delight the customer” mentality and focus across all touch points is absolutely vital to the success of such a program. The second a customer expecting a perk gets the runaround from a disgruntled or less-than-ready-to-serve company brand ambassador, you’re done for. (Managing human touch points well is one of the trickiest aspects of delivering on the promise of perkonomics.)

Additionally:

PERKONOMICS is an aspirational trend; i.e. a trend that generously offers you—marketer, entrepreneur, brand manager—the chance to be a trendsetter, especially if you work in a sector or industry not yet big on perks.

And as perks are about delighting and surprising consumers, you should have no trouble coming up with a few quick ideas that can be implemented immediately and cost-efficiently. Talking about costs: as perks are an integral part of your marketing strategy, shifting a part of your mass-advertising budget to get some PERKONOMICS innovations off the ground is more than justified.

Check out the entire report here. And please, please, please, when you start looking into ways to incorporate some of these ideas into your marketing plan, don’t end up settling for 5% discount coupons and dime-store “prizes” with your logo printed on them. (Trade show giveaway pens, decals and buttons don’t even come close to perks.) Take this as seriously as you take the success of your brand.

If you need help figuring out how to do this, give me a call or shoot me an email. I’ll be happy to help or hook you up with someone who can.

Have a great Tuesday!

Photo by Chris Wray-McCann

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Great post yesterday on Infuse about brand and campaign alignment and influencers:

Influencer engagement is ALL to do with alignment. It’s about finding out what influencers do, when and how they influence, and what their agenda and motivations are. Once you know this you can (and should) align your outreach activities with your influencers on an individual (or at most clustered) basis.

So what? There are two traps to fall into when considering alignment with influencers:

The first is that it’s actually quite hard to align yourself with a host of differing types of people. In fact, it’s hard enough aligning with different types of journalist or analyst. What about academics, community leaders, customers, regulators and the other numerous influencer types? Some discipline and structure is required..

The second trap is perhaps less obvious, but it is more commonly encountered. It is that alignment requires you to align with the influencers, not the other way around. Most vendors want to get influencers to agree with them. You should be looking for ways to agree with influencers, even if this means changing fundamental things about your business.

They are the influencers, after all.

Read the post here.

Additional reading: Super-Influencers

Note: Adding Infuse to the blogroll. Influencer50 has some pretty solid content on that little blog.

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Via community Strategist Connie Bensen comes this great little list from Tish Grier that outlines the seven core traits of a great community manager:

  1. Commitment to “the cause”. It’s very important for your community manager to believe in your cause. Their communications need to be transparent & authentic. The job has many challenges so they need to inherently believe in their work & the brand.
  2. Love people. The position is about connecting & communicating. There is interaction with all types, so a community manager needs to enjoy it. (This is why it’s a great position under marketing).
  3. Must enjoy technology. It’s a web 2.0 job. Technology is changing quickly. The tools are constantly shifting & evolving. One has to thoroughly enjoy being immersed. And if your product/brand is technology oriented then it’s natural to be involved in product development & providing feedback.
  4. Must understand online culture. Did I mention this a web 2.0 job? Working online is a bit different than face-to-face. A person needs to maintain a sense of humor & not take things personally. Working online requires a level of perceptiveness so that you can interact with all types of people.
  5. Powers of Observation. I just mentioned being perceptive but it’s more than that. Providing feedback on trends, monitoring brand & being ever present require one to be ever watchful. As a metacustomer the community manager is the eyes & ears for the company – all teams – and responsible for providing feedback from the customers.
  6. Flexibility. Community work is 7 days a week. Checking in on my communities & responding to their needs isn’t a 9 – 5 job. (I do sleep though). But I’m cognizant of the time zones when I add people to teams. It’s nice to have people providing assistance from around the world (so I can sleep! 🙂 ).
  7. Life experience trumps youthful energy. Tish’s point is to not entrust this important job to an intern or someone who is a short-timer. The more life experiences a person has, the more they have to offer the community.

I like that “commitment to the cause” was #1 on the list. If I could add a few more, they would be:

8. Coupled with #2 (love of people) is the need to be a solid communicator. Even a great one. In any type of management – especially community management – understanding the value of communications (and being a natural communicator) can have a tremendous impact on the success of that community. (Note that the description of #2 is 100% about communication.)

9. Connectedness. Natural community managers tend to be active in a number of communities already. Look for a diverse socio-professional network on their LinkedIn and Myspace accounts. Also look for telltale signs that they are social media power-users (Blog activity, Twitter, Plurk, Seesmic, etc.) The ability to mesh social media tools with their propensity to be an active member within their chosen communities is a sign of good things to come. Also in the connectedness vein, great community managers tend to be natural connectors: They see the synergies between communities, organizations and individuals. They are often the folks who will provide the types of introductions that will strengthen bonds within communities and organically recruit new members.

Also picked up from Tish’s original piece:

“Your potential community manager should be open, congenial, and can handle difficult situations with tact and diplomacy (not like a cop or Marine sergeant).”

“Don’t confuse liking technology with loving it beyond everything else.”

Remember (per Tish) that “a lot will be riding on this person – more so than which tools are used. Your community manager should understand people well and be good at creating and maintaining relationships and ability to create relationships, regardless of which tools are available.”

With so many companies turning to user/customer community engagement to strengthen their brands, this little primer is worth its weight in gold.

Incidentally, Connie will be speaking at the Social Media Strategies Conference in San Francisco (October 29-30) with fellow Marketing 2.0 contributor and social media expert Francois Gossieaux, Jive Software CMO Sam Lawrence, and a very solid panel of other (hopefully) familiar names. Check your calendars.

Cheers.

Image source: TID

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Social Media blogger extraordinaire Shel Israel interviewed my friend and Marketing 2.0 co-blogger Francois Gossieaux earier this month about the Tribalization of Business study he and Beeline Labs conducted earlier this year that looked into the way that companies incorporate communities into their business model.

The basis of the Tribalization of Business study:

We wanted to understand how companies leverage communities as part of their business processes and how they measure the progress and success of those efforts.

We quickly realized that for those companies who were doing it right we were looking at something that was transformational. We were tapping into an age-old human behavior, which we came to recognize as “tribalism.” Halfway through the project, we changed the title because of that observation.

The interview is fantastic, but I find these portions particularly important to the discussion:

What do you think makes us tribal by nature and why should a business strategist care?

People want to hang out with like-minded people and want to help and be helped by people who care. By providing a massive platform for participation, social media has allowed that tribal behavior to return to the forefront. Whether you like it or not, there is probably a good chance that your consumer tribe already hangs out in some corner of the online world. While at times a bit dense, you can find a collection on the most recent research Consumer Tribes.

Your survey showed the five most frequent goals of a corporate online community were close to tied: (1)insight, (2)idea generation, (3)loyalty, (4)word-of-mouth and (5)marketing. Did you find communities do better when they serve multiple purposes or a single purpose?

Communities can start out with a single purpose, but inevitably, they will end up serving multiple purposes. You need to prepare for that. If you start a customer support community, for example, people will eventually give you new product ideas. If you are not set up to execute against those product or service suggestions that the community finds important, they will lose interest and leave – it’s as if you are not listening to them. They don’t care what your internal goals are for the community. They care about having a better complete life-cycle experience with your product.

Your study seems to indicate that engagement is a more valid goal of an online community than say, revenue per customer. How would you measure either?

I am not sure that we found engagement to be a more valid goal of an online community, but it is what many companies try to measure. I assume that much of the reason why companies are looking at engagement as a success metric is because many of them are building their communities in partnership with their agencies.

What we did find is that those companies who were most satisfied with their community efforts were those who measured the effectiveness of their communities in the same way as they would measure the effectiveness of the business processes that the community was intended to support. For example, if you measure the success of your customer support call center in a certain way, then measure the impact of your online community-based support program in the same way.

The same is true for new product innovation-focused communities or co-marketing communities. Whether the original measurement framework is the right one or not, it is one that the department heads understands and which tends to be institutionalized across the company.

It was amazing to see companies, who normally measure all their marketing programs based on increased sales, all of sudden measure community efforts based on page views and time spent on the site – even when the community interactions were happening mostly through email and text messages. These are all clearly signs of an early market with lots of customer confusion.

Read the entire interview here.

Additional reading:

ROI and the scalability of social media.

Online Tribalism + The Future of Social Media.

photo credit: ecowordly.com

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Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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