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Pop quiz: You own or manage a restaurant. A hotel. A coffee shop. A specialty goods store. A hot dog stand. A bank. A movie theater. A shoe store. A gym. A bodega. A hair salon. A sushi bar. A pub. A public park. A swimming pool. A museum. An art gallery. A city. Do you know who the mayor of your business is?

If you don’t, find out today. Right now. Here’s why: It could help your business grow pretty quickly if you play your cards right. More on that in a minute. First, here’s how to find out who has claimed the title of mayor on Foursquare: (Huh? fourwhat? Hang on. We’ll get to that too.)

The How:

Step 1: Go to www.foursquare.com

Step 2: In the search box (top right) enter your business name.

Step 3: When your business information pops up, look to the right of the screen. You will see an icon labeled “mayor”. That’s who the mayor is.

The Now What:

Find out who they are, and you give them the royal treatment next time they come into your store. Let them know you’re paying attention to a) Foursquare, b) whom is taking the time to check in every time they come into your place of business, and c) who is sharing that information (that recommendation) with their friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook.

Think about giving them a discount or a gift while you’re at it. Set up a “mayor parking” spot outside. Treat them like a VIP inside the store. Address them as “Mister Mayor” or “Your Grace,” when they walk in. It’s up to you. Have fun with it. Give them more reasons to like you. It never hurts to reward kindness with kindness, and remember that it is supposed to be fun and rewarding.

The Why:

If you aren’t familiar with Foursquare yet, here it is in a paragraph: It’s a game played on mobile devices. People “check in” to businesses and other locations, and try to accumulate points. In some instances, they win much coveted “badges” (see some examples below).

In other instances, if they are the most frequent visitor of a location (like your store), they are crowned “mayor” of that location. The game is free, works on a variety of mobile platforms, and players have the option to share their check-ins with their network of family and friends on Foursquare, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a silly game, sure, but it is powerful as well. Here’s why:

1. Frequency – Because checking-in is a game, it is fun. That, in and of itself, is reward enough. Mayorships and badges are also rewards for activity on Foursquare. What it means is this: Foursquare gives people an incentive to visit your store more often, just so they can check in. Especially if you are running a promotion aimed at your store’s mayor. As a business, you can thus easily use Foursquare to increase the frequency of visits to your store(s). That equates to more foot traffic, more mindshare, and potentially more sales. (While they’re in your store, they’ll probably buy something.)

2. Reach – In case you missed it earlier, when someone “checks in” to your location, they broadcast that check-in to their various digital networks. Right now, that is mostly Foursquare itself, Twitter and Facebook. This will probably grow over time. But consider that the average american has what… over 200+ “friends” on Facebook? Think about the power of having a single customer broadcast that they are in your restaurant, in your hair salon, in your pub to 200+ of their friends every time they come in. Now multiply that by ten customers. Now multiply that by 100 customers.

Though not technically “active” word of mouth, Foursquare check-ins are still de-facto endorsement of your business. In other words, it isn’t just a question of exposure. A check-in is an affirmation of endorsement. It might as well say “I am here, and I am proud to tell you all that I am doing business here. Come do the same.” That’s the context of a check-in.

Every time one of your customers checks-in and broadcasts that they are doing business with you, they potentially trigger a visit in an average of 200 other potential customers. (Either existing customers or potential customers.)

3. Yield – Of the three, this one is probably the toughest to achieve, but as a measure of loyalty, yield (average purchase amount) can be impacted by foursquare activity. As frequency of visits increases and loyalty follows suit, it is likely that a portion of your customers will escalate their purchase amounts as well. Loyalty can lead to a higher percentage of wallet share, not just through buy rates (frequency) but also higher price-point purchases.

A word on escalation: Take the example of a bike shop. A casual customer may come in once a month and buy some energy bars, a bike jersey and some socks. As this customer is developed into a regular, they start purchasing all of their energy bars from you instead of buying them from several different places. They may also start jonesing for that new pair of cycling shoes and that new helmet they will soon rationalize they need to replace their “old” ones with. If you treat them well and understand their needs, this escalation may lead to a higher dollar purchase like a race wheel upgrade, a carbon-fiber set of handlebars upgrade, a full bike tune-up, or even a brand new bike to start off the new season in style.

Result: In six months to a year, you could potentially turn a casual customer who only bought low-hanging-fruit items in your store to a loyal customer with a habit of dropping large amounts of cash on premium upgrades with you, instead of blowing them on something else.

Note: You cannot escalate yield if you do not have a relationship with your customer. There is no shortcut here. You have to get to know them. You have to become part of their world. This is not something you can do from a corporate office, or from the back of the store. Someone has to interact with them on a human level – both online and offline.

More thoughts on how to leverage Foursquare:

How your business can use Foursquare is up to you. Use your imagination. Try different things. Be clever. Have fun with it. Perhaps you can work with Foursquare to create badges for your business, the way that Bravo, Starbucks, SxSW, Marc Jacobs and several cities (San Francisco, New York, Brooklyn and Chicago) already have. Here is Starbucks’ very own Barista badge. To obtain it, players only need check in at 5 different Starbucks locations:

Imagine the same thing for your business, or banding with retailers in your area to create a badge players could unlock by visiting 5 of your combined locations. You could work with an organization or with a city even, to help promote your business through Foursquare. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Perhaps you can also create promotions around Foursquare activity, like flashmobs (using your business and a particular sales event to help customers achieve both all-too elusive swarm badges (50 people checking in together and 250 people checking in together.)

Another fun idea: Procure some Foursquare Merit Badges and ceremoniously award them to customers who acquired virtual badges online (see below).

Whatever you choose to do, start at the beginning: Find out who the mayor of your business is, acknowledge that status, and reward it with warmth and gratitude, if not with product.  Next: Create an account and get rolling. It’s your business. Take charge and participate. Welcome to a whole new world of marketing fun. If you’re lucky, you will beat your competitors to it. (Never underestimate first-mover advantage, especially in the age of twitter & facebook real-time word-of-mouth.)

Footnote: I spoke to two retailers yesterday who had never heard of foursquare. One didn’t know that dozens of customers were already checking into their store regularly, and I added the other’s venue because there wasn’t one yet. Guess what: One knows who the mayor of their business is today, and he has a plan now. The other will know as soon as someone becomes the mayor, and is already working on some promotions. We will revisit these two businesses in a few months to see how they fare.

Also check out Gowalla.com while you’re at it. Very much the same thing, and it too is growing.

Additional reading:

Via Mark Van Baale (@markvanbaale on twitter) – “Foursquare sees another big Domino fall

And this great piece via Mashable on Foursquare’s business analytics dashboard.

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Judging by the close to 200 pages of comments left by readers on my last post, I guess we’ve hit on a pretty hot topic this week: That of “social media certifications.” (Who knew?)

So okay, let’s talk about it.

1. Do we even need Social Media certification?

To be completely honest, I hadn’t really given the subject much thought until a few days ago. To me, it seemed far too early in the game, not just from an academic standpoint, but from a practical one: Even if we happened to need certifications or accreditation for social media practitioners, there are no standards as of yet. No agreed-upon best practices for every business function and specialty that touches Social Media. There are no PhDs in the subject. No twenty-year veterans to teach anyone the ropes. In other words, there exists today no mechanism through which a social media “practitioner” might find himself or herself truly “certified” by anyone in any truly legitimate fashion, like, say, a PR professional, attorney, nurse, or even a hairdresser are able to be certified.

Part of the problem at hand can be summed up in the following two questions:

A. A “social media certification” would certify you in what, exactly? Your ability to create a Facebook fan page? Basic blogging techniques? Twitter usage? Social media measurement? Optimizing a LinkedIn profile? I could go on and on. So the question again: Certified in what, exactly? Some kind of general “Social Media expertise?” What does that even mean? (We’ll get back to that in a bit.)

B. Who would offer these certifications/accreditation and how? Accredited universities? Business schools? Professional organizations? Guilds? Private certifying companies? State boards? Software vendors? Consulting firms? Anybody with the ability to sell an online webinar? And who would develop and teach these courses? Academics with no practical social media experience? Internet consultants? Superstar bloggers? Who decides?

Check out this video and we’ll get the conversation started afterward:

If the video doesn’t play or open for you, go here.

2. A training certificate and a certification are not the same thing.

So, first of all, it’s important to understand the distinction between a Social Media certification and Social Media training. While training is… well, just training, a certification tends to be more structured. Standards have to be applied. Testing administered. Certification is a little more complex than just sitting through training. More often than not, certification is synonymous with accreditation.

To keep things simple, I hopped over to wikipedia and find this about the word accreditation:

Accreditation is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented.

Organizations that issue credentials or certify third parties against official standards are themselves formally accredited by accreditation bodies (such as UKAS); hence they are sometimes known as “accredited certification bodies”.[2] The accreditation process ensures that their certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance.

One example of accreditation is the accreditation of testing laboratories and certification specialists that are permitted to issue official certificates of compliance with established standards, such as physical, chemical, forensic, quality, and security standards.[3]

The whole purpose of certifications and accreditations isn’t for social media practitioners to learn how to be social media experts. (You aren’t going to learn that by sitting in a class.) Rather, accreditation/certification is a process by which you are tested against specific industry standard and either proven capable/qualified or not. It’s a weeding out process.

And kids, that process has nothing to do with self affirmation. What it has to do with is separating professionals (with experience that can be demonstrated through an accreditation process) from people with no experience, no skills, and lacking the necessary qualifications to take on a social media management job, no matter how many fans they have on Facebook.

In other words, if certification/accreditation truly is needed in the social media world, its purpose is solely to help companies with very little understanding of the space get some notion of whether a consultant or job applicant has a particular skill level required for the job.

If you want to distill this down to its simplest form, think of this simply as third-party testing: Having a reputable certifying body vouch for the fact that you actually know how to do something. Period. That’s it.

Note my emphasis on the word “reputable” because this is an important point we will revisit.

Note: A certification/accreditation is not a substitute for real experience, demonstrable results or professional references. But it can help validate a candidate’s skill-set, which isn’t all bad. And it can also help ensure that an individual has sat through x hours of best practices training and demonstrated an ability to apply their training to the experience they’ve already acquired in the real world.

3. Social Media Generalist Certifications vs. Professional Certifications: Rebooting the model.

Where things get a little iffy is with the structure of a social media certification. What exactly should it look like?

Currently, many “certifications” tend to look at the social media “profession” as a form of general mass of quasi-expertise ranging from how to manage a blog, start a facebook fan page and customize a twitter account to how to measure ROI and manage online communities. (Pretty big and dangerously amorphous range, from my perspective.)

What seems more logical is a slightly more operational approach to both social media training and social media certifications/accreditation: Instead of looking at Social Media as some sort of broad ranging field of study with an endless list of applications, look at Social Media as a skill-set that applies differently to each function within a business. In other words, give social media training and certs specific professional focus.

Consider that a Public Relations professional and a Customer Service professional will probably use social media (professionally) in radically different ways:

While the PR professional will probably want to be trained in online reputation management, digital brand management, online monitoring, digital crisis management and some assortment of publishing best practices, their customer service counterpart will want to be trained in online keyword monitoring, digital customer relationship management, crisis management and some light community management. Will there be some overlap? Sure. But what we are looking at here are very distinctive tracks, leading to very distinctive certifications. In other words, a social media certification for a PR professional shouldn’t look at all like a social media certification for a customer service professional, or an IT professional, or a business development professional.

The specific nature of the jobs dealing with social media requires both specific training, and specific certification/accreditation – both in specifically relevant sets of social media competencies.

No more over-arching cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all social media certifications, please. If we’re going to get serious about this (and we should), let’s get serious about it.

4. The difference between established, reputable certifying bodies and… well… the other kind.

Okay, so in light of the fact that a certification process could now be geared towards specific types of roles as opposed to some vague “social media specialist” notion, let’s look at certifying bodies that might (at some point) be able to offer these types of certification for professionals. Is it possible that perhaps an organization like PRSA might be better equipped to certify Public Relations professionals in something like digital public relations management, maybe? As opposed to, say, a newly assembled social media certifying body trying to adapt its general certification to the PR profession? Something to think about.

Something else to think about is the fact that a certification/accreditation from a reputable organization or institution is pretty crucial here. Organizations like PRSA, AMA, and others of their caliber can’t afford to do this poorly. They HAVE to take it seriously in order not to tarnish their reputations. In sharp contrast, the social media space is filled with opportunistic individuals who would have nothing to lose and a lot of potential cash to gain. All you need to start certifying unsuspecting marks is a website and a Paypal account. Just create a social media certifying body out of thin air, create a series of webinars about whatever you want, charge a registration fee, and you’re in business. These types of operations are rampant in the US already.

So the point I am trying to make is that it would be great if the AMA, PRSA and other established and respectable professional organizations that already offer certifications for their members started moving in this direction – if only to ensure a pattern of legitimacy and accountability in the social media certification/accreditation process.

We could go on and on and on with this, but this is a good place to pause and get some feedback from you guys. The comment section is officially open. Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? Let’s hear it.

Cheers.

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nuclear-explosion

Let’s go over a few things:

1. Social Media is good for you, you know it, and you know why.

2. Social Media alone can’t save your business, but you know that your business can no longer be a market leader without an effective presence in Social Media.

3. Without resources to put behind a social media program or practice, you’re nowhere. It’s kind of like trying to drive  a car without gasoline. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen.

4. Without capital, you can’t put resources behind your Social Media program. So… you have to be able to justify that expenditure. That investment.

5. In order to be able to justify an investment in a Social Media program (from your boss, your client, your peers) you need to understand how to show the value of such a program to their organization.

6. Hits on your website, banner ad clickthroughs, impressions, KPI and whatever other types of measurement your marketing people love to throw at you are nice, they’re important, but they don’t justify a whole lot. They’re a lot like hugs: Everyone knows hugs are nice, but they don’t pay anyone’s salaries and bonuses. You have to take that game a little further.

7. The P&L is not an arcane accounting document. It is where business decisions are put to the test. Every business manager on the planet watches it daily. If you have never been responsible for one, at least get familiar with its mechanics and importance.

8. If you want to justify a budget, a program, a salary, a raise, a bonus, show your boss and your client how your idea will generate more revenue, more dividends or more cost savings. Or how it already has. That will ALWAYS get more priority than schemes to get attention or earn hugs. Money is not an abstract notion. You could get lucky and never be asked to tie your activities to financial impact, but that’s no excuse not to learn how to do it.

9. If you are not able to do this, if you cannot justify the value of a Social Media program, practice, presence or endeavor, the budget you needed to make it happen will go to something else. Like email blasts, efficiency consultants, or that new executive bathroom your boss has really been jonesing for.

10. If you cannot convince your boss or client to invest resources, time and faith in Social Media, they (and you) will get left behind by those of us who can and do. (And I assume you don’t want that.)

11. There are solid measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and case studies being developed right now. They will pave the way for very, very VERY good things. If #10 (above) resonated with you, you probably want to learn from them so you can apply them to your business. Hence my proposal to SxSW ’10.

12. The nonsense and B.S. need to stop. They really do. For everyone’s sake.

You have a choice: You can continue to ignore the topic of Social Media measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and pretend that talking about web conversions and the influencer index and brand lift will keep things going (which they won’t), or you can get serious about this stuff, learn how to do it right, and be a hero with every company you work for for the next ten years.

Your choice.

If you want to learn this stuff, if you want to bring this discussion to the table, please vote for my session at SxSW asap. The voting ends on Friday at midnight, so I really need you guys to act now.  Spread the word, show people my latest  R.O.I. presentation if you have to… whatever works. It’s up to you. Know that if the session doesn’t get enough votes and isn’t accepted, I am 100% fine with that… But it would be a shame: The sooner we put the R.O.I. “discussion” to rest, the sooner we establish these best practices once and for all, the sooner we can get back to doing more important work.

If you haven’t voted yet, click here now, and thanks in advance. Pass it on. 😉

(You guys rock, by the way!)

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olivier alain blanchard

Fact: Even after you’ve talked to them at length about it, most of the decision-makers you are talking to still have no idea how Social Media can help their business.

Heck, they may not even completely understand how developing relationships with customers, building a great brand or taking the time to help communities grow around their products or company philosophy can positively (and pretty significantly) impact their P&L.

Now… don’t get me wrong: I am not a huge fan of spending a whole lot of time attaching every single thing a company does to the almighty P&L. That’s a lot like putting a $$$ value on every hand you shake at a party or every business card you hand out. Pretty self-serving and sort-sighted, right?)

BUT I also understand that when sitting across the room from a decision-maker who gets pitched every day, you have two choices: 1. Sell something they don’t care about, or 2. Solve a problem for them that no one else can.

It doesn’t matter that what you’re selling will absolutely catapult them to the #1 spot in their market or boost their sales by 5,000% in just 12 months. (As if the actual value of an idea had anything to do with management decisions. 😀 I mean really: Look around you.) If they don’t get it, if you aren’t handing them a solution to a problem they are struggling with, you are wasting your time.

Worse yet, the opportunity cost to you and the honcho you just wasted your time speaking with is this:

1. Someone else with a lesser idea but better presentation skills will get that business.

2. The company who went for the lesser solution will suffer from not having signed with you. Market share and profits will continue to erode. Layoffs will ensue. The world as they know it will end. (Do you really want that on your conscience?)

So what’s the answer? Simple: Be prepared to address their specific need. Understand what their hot-button issue is. And more importantly, get good at clearly and smoothly connecting the dots between what you have to offer and the result your interlocutor is looking for. Is it more sales? Is it loyalty? Okay, how does your solution impact either or both?

But wait… define sales. Are we talking about creating new customers? Increasing how much existing customers spend? Shifting customer spending from one product to another?

If trying to impact loyalty, how does loyalty look to that manager? Does it look like increased frequency in purchases? Does it look like an increase in new customers through referral programs? Do they even know? Do you know?

Look, if you don’t know this stuff, if you can’t tie it all together, if you can’t at the very least speak that language, it’s back to the drawing board for you.

Sure, you may get lucky with 5% of the company execs you sit down with, but even then, it’s a matter of time before their boss looks at your program and asks for a slightly better answer to the ROI question than “increased social mention,” “really positive online conversations” and “almost 3,000 followers on Twitter”. Whether you like it or not, whether you care about it or not, this is a piece of the puzzle that you have to address. Period.

If you’re scratching your heads right now, no worries: Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be helping you with that little problem. Stay tuned. I have something special brewing for you guys. 😉

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