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Blogging Strategy

21 Jul

I keep telling myself that I really have to write a blog post.

It’s been awhile now, and while there haven’t been a horde of communications and marketing professionals beating down my digital doorway for my latest words of wisdom, it is generally a good idea not to let the blog just hang there for months on end.

And yet…

And yet, it strikes me that, “I really have to write a blog post,” is exactly the wrong thing to say.  First, it’s de-motivating.  But more importantly, “I really have to write a blog post,” is bad strategic communications. (do  I also really need to make a phone call? send an email? shake a hand?)

What I should be thinking is, “Who should I talk with today?” and “What do I want to discuss with them?, or even, “What do I need to make happen today?” And then, and only then, should run through the myriad ways that I might discuss those topics with individuals, groups and that horde of communications and marketing professionals who really ought be to be knocking down my digital doorway, demanding the latest words or wisdom.

Well…sort of.

My business development strategy mostly involves great deal of getting out there and meeting people — widening my own circle of connections.  And it’s working. From this standpoint, the blog is secondarily a lead generation tool; mostly, it is sales support — ensuring that when people meet me and hear about me and, inevitably, check me out online, they find not just my LinkedIn profile and what I’ve been impulsively posting on Twitter but also a little bit on how I think about communications strategy, public relations, marketing and the media, paper, web, social and otherwise.

Which means, as it turns out, that I really need to write a blog post. 😉

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The Coming B2B Bad Service Social Media PR Nightmare

3 Feb

Jeremiah Owyang offers yet another case study of how a consumer brand was engulfed in — and then escaped from — a PR crisis caused by the unfortunate  (for the company) combination of poor customer service to a customer who happens to have significant influence on social media — and wielded her million-plus Twitter followers to great effect.  Add it to the growing list along with DellMotrin and Dominos.

Image copyright HowStuffWorks.com

Owyang’s point is worth heeding — that customer service departments need to gauge the relative power and influence of their customers as they serve them — and social media influence — like celebrity and loyalty and wealth — should be a factor that shunts a customer toward a different set of rules.

It got me thinking about the B2B market, and how I can find little of this online barking intended to break service log jams (beyond telecom and wireless — anyone and everyone feels free to complain about internet, mobile and phone service). We have a business culture that shuns allowing employees to call out their frustrations with their companies’ vendors online … with good reason — such behavior could damage large scale contracts and business relationships, and potentially give the complaining business itself a bad name in its industry or community.

Rest assured, there is plenty going on in the back channel. Poor media reviews and frustrated industry analysts absolutely slow sales.  Chatter at industry conferences manages to get around at the speed of gossip.  The many tech folks in IT have no problem telling the world what they think of, say, the quality of their backup system, on online forums.  And a vendor’s poor reputation is usually played out in sales and inside their own niche.

But, so as far as I can tell, B2B based complaints in social media have yet to create a big PR nightmare case study.*

So no worries?  Think again.  It’s not going out on much of a limb to predict that this will happen.  First, businesses are designed to compete — if social media will solve a problem that traditional channels won’t, it will be used.  Second, our world is getting more social, and our business is getting more personal, not less.  In other words, people will talk, even in B2B.   Let’s make sure we’re listening.**

*Am I wrong?  Let’s talk about some examples?  Telecom, cable companies and mobile devices don’t count!

**Which is a clever way to finish the post, but let’s really end with some advice:

1. If you’re delivering great service, keep doing so.

2. Listen to what business and their employees are saying about you online. Use free tools like RSS,  Google Alerts and, say, TweetDeck to start; monitor relevant Facebook and LinkedIn Groups.  Move to paid services to manage higher volumes, get better dashboards, monitor competitors.

3. Be in social media. Establish ‘outposts’ in key social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and…especially…key forums in your industry.  Participate.

4.  If you identify a problem, escalate it quickly and solve it.

5. If it becomes a broader “PR nightmare” before you knew about it, address it in social media as well as traditional media — your website and those social outposs.   go overboard to solve not just the problem, but the root causes…tell people how you’re going to do it…then do it.




Great Writing Isn’t Always Less Writing

8 Dec

Even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline. And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

This month, I’m curling up with the kids many evenings to read Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.  The story opens with the Mole in his dark hole thinking that it’s about time he ventures out into the wide world. So he digs his way to the surface, rubs his eyes, and sets off for adventure, soon meeting a true friend in the Water Rat and becoming our window to seeing the beauty of nature and friendship and, well, life with new eyes.

We’re just three chapters in and it’s clear that this is not a book for those whose attention span lives in 140 character bursts.  Here, a passage from chapter three, about the stories of spring and summer the animals told each other to forget, for a while, winter’s chill:

“Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.”

I don’t know these flowers and trees and herbs, but I can’t help but to be moved by the pictures Grahame paints of each blossom marking days of spring and summer like acts in a play or floats in a parade.  That’s what I love about this book – it takes the time we need to be transported into this lovely world in the English countryside.

We all know that business writing doesn’t have this kind of time.  But reading Grahame reminds me that even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline.

And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

Shift Your Communications Focus

3 Dec

I was chatting this morning with the head of a private school about its struggles with when and how to use social media, both in how it communicates with families and how it markets itself to new potential families.

The stakes are high.  Families sending their kids to a private school have a powerful sense of ownership over what happens, and a huge expectations for the school’s success at delivering education to their kids.  But if I recall my own education, not every interaction with the education “product” is perfect and smooth — these are kids growing up after all, and parents are always learning to be parents (and some of us never learn, really).  More, from what I’ve seen, there’s always have a segment of their stakeholders demanding that the school push into new media, and an even bigger segment that squawks at every change.

The head of the school noted that most ‘school blogs’ he’s seen are statements from the head of the school, which just doesn’t seem right.  Video seems like a huge opportunity, but what level of quality will be required–and how much will that cost? And he’s seen school Facebook pages that turn into quasi-public forums for parents to air grievances.  The pall hanging over it all:  we already have too much to do and no budget  to put into it — how do we add social media?

His concerns are shared by businesses: They always seem to come down to the question of “How do I add social media when I don’t have the staff and I don’t have the budget.”

My answer is to shift perspective: You’re not adding — you’re changing focus.  The communications environment requires a new way of looking at how you reach and influence the people you want to reach, and every tool you use or consider has to be evaluated against this backdrop.  

Herewith, my view of the communications backdrop, and its implications for organizations seeking to recast how they engage with their stakeholders.

1.  People want what they want, when they want it. You’re website must serve the core information needs of a wide range of constituents, 24-hours a day.  Most organizations have handled this one. But it also means that people want your online presence to feel dynamic and meaningful — always up-to-date, up-to-the-minute.

Implications: Make sure your site is meeting core stakeholder interests. Add features that increase your site’s relevance and immediacy, including homepage news updates and a blog.

2. People want you to reach them any way they want. They want print, they want email, they want RSS, they want mobile alerts, they want Twitter, they want Facebook. They want alerts one way, and perspectives another way.  They want pictures and videos. Moreover, they want you to do it smart — and “smart” means different things to different people.

Implications: Understand and segment your stakeholders.  What are you goals for them? How do you communicate with them today? Is it working? How are they interacting with you and your communications?  Are you meeting their expectations? Exceeding them?  From a media standpoint, emphasize flexibility — can your newsletter be formatted for ease of use via email, web and print? Can you automate alerts? Would print on demand meet needs and save cost?

3. People like to share. It happens by phone, email, social networks and even (gasp!) in person.  Electronic communication speeds messages and encourages sharing. Sometimes it’s conversation; sometimes it’s just spreading news.

Implications:  Make your messages easy to share.  Consider posting to networks like YouTube and Flickr.  Implement blogs that include sharing and RSS feeds. Most of all — encourage people to share with “share this” links and remind them that the more people who know about this, the better.

4. People want to be a part of something. Ease of access by email, web and social network has broken down organizational barriers, creating a population that wants a more intimate,  knowing relationship with organizations and brands.  Before, you’d gain that by meeting people in person; now there’s a population wants to get that feeling online, too.

Implications: Create opportunities for people to be part of a conversation.  Open doors through blogs, video, audio and pictures that give people an ‘inside view’ of what you do as an organization.  Give up a little control to gain an active role in guiding conversations that bring people closer to your organization. Most of all, use tools like blogs and social networks to give other people a chance to make your story their story… to create, in their own words, in their own way.

And if you’re still trying to figure all of this out for your organization, get help!

Journalism, Dresses and Augmented Reality

22 Sep

Each work day for me starts with a skim of what’s been sucked into my Google Reader.  Here’s where I stopped skimming and started reading this morning. Enjoy!

Kevin Hillstrom’s “Glieber’s Dresses” Series. Iconoclastic direct marketing guru Kevin Hillstrom has sucked me in with his ongoing story of the tribulations of the executive team of a fictional old-line cataloger trying to make their way in a marketing and merchandising world that threatens to pass them by — if it hasn’t already. What I love about Hillstrom’s series is the way he’s able to gently (or not so gently) poke fun at executive foibles and the blinders we often wear based on our roles and experiences, and the line you have to walk as a consultant. But more that that, Hillstrom uses the dialog as a way to highlight just how challenging it is to change…and a path toward how to focus in on what’s most important.

This week: Gliebers Dresses’ other consultant makes fun of them at a big conference.

Saving Journalism from the Bottom Up, from The Same Rowdy Crowd. As the StarTribune newspaper of the Twin Cities emerges from bankruptcy, former journalist and current communications savant Bruce Benidt issues a call for ideas on saving the newspaper industry.  His point: Let’s get a bunch of smart, original thinkers together, create highly local communities of information and commerce around the civic life of our community, and re-build a model that will support the professional journalism we need from there.  Is there a community organizer out there who can help Bruce make this happen?

Augmented Reality — Early, But Worth Watching, by Jeremiah Owyang. I’m fascinated by the bright shiny toy of “augmented reality” — using video to add data to your real-world experience — walking down the street, reading a book or doing a video conference. Owyang, newly minted consultant with the Altimeter Group, offers three videos that illustrate some of the ways innovators are trying out the technology.  Too early to say on whether it will catch on, but worth watching…and pretty cool.

Jeff Jarvis at The Buzz Machine. I read Prof. Jeff Jarvis and I get pissed off.  His writing style echoes his title — it hums and stings and screeches like an industrial lathe. But I respect the heck out of what he’s doing — if poking smart people in news media prods them to create something new and sustainable, I’m all for it.  Today’s post discusses the difference between paying for information and paying for “content”…and says that news media publishers “flatter themselves” if they think they’re in the information business.  They have always been, he says, in the business of selling format over content. So what will the next winning format be?

“When you see something that’s taking advantage of new technology to give people something they want that they couldn’t have before, you’re probably looking at a winner. And when you see something that’s merely reacting to new technology in an attempt to preserve some existing source of revenue, you’re probably looking at a loser.”

What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books

3 Sep

My  deep, dark secret is that I like comic books.  I was hooked on super heroes the day my 5th grade teacher gave away his comic collection to his class, and though I stopped collecting years ago, I never stopped being a fan. I still follow the industry, and even pick up a title or two (or three) for escape or inspiration.

So with the planned acquisition of Marvel Comics by Disney making the news, I can’t resist the opportunity to combine my vocation with avocation.  And I’ve thought for a long time that corporate communications and marketing — especially B2B and technology marketing — has something to learn from an entertainment business like Marvel Comics.

The comics industry is fun to watch, and they do a number of things that translate into B2B and technology marketing.  To wit:

1. They remember that it’s about people. In comics, Marvel’s breakthrough was superheroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four, who acted like real people with real problems.  It’s all about real people doing extraordinary things.

Beyond the product, your people vital are characters in the company story — from the visionary technologist to the insightful marketer (hopefully) to the customer service rep who goes above and beyond, businesses can grow awareness and loyalty by pulling back the veil and making the corporate more personal…and real.

2. They know that the customer owns the product. At a company like Marvel that has shared the soap opera of its character’s lives for nearly 50 years, the editors and creators clearly recognize that the characters and stories live in the hearts of the fans.  They are stewards of the story, responsible both to respect what came before, and to innovate in ways that keep the stories vital and break new ground.

There’s a parallel in B2B and technology — every purchase impacts the livelihood of the purchaser. It may be a part of their day to day business, or fuels productivity.  The customer, in other words, is invested in your success. So it’s only natural that they want to be respected and heard.  It’s why users groups and conferences are so important for many tech businesses, and why companies that are socially engaged in their markets tend to be more successful.

3. They know that being social gets results. Comic books are largely sold in specialty stores and online rather than through mass market retail.  Comic publishers like Marvel deal constantly with the push and pull of B2B channel marketing — their audience is store owners as much as the comics fan — often simultaneously.  Their channel to the audience is an often bewildering array of online and traditional magazines, national and regional cons, fan blogs, gossip columns, discussion forums, social networks and even a couple national newspapers.

The result is an industry where the channel, fans and media are incredibly close to the creators, editors and publishers. You get weekly interviews with the Marvel editor-in-chief, a teriffic ‘inside baseball’ blog by their executive editor, Q&A’s with writers on major storylines via podcasts and text, individual creator websites and forums, writers’ Twitter feeds…et cetera.  They produce news themselves, and participate in the hurly burly of the media market.

Of course, not every business generates the kind of passion that comics do.  The point is, they’re out there participating. And they are out there producing.  As a media business, they recognize that they have something to say every day, their customers have something to say every day, and they use all the tools available to say it.

Any other secret or not-so-secret comics fan/marketers out there?  What say you?

Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 4

6 Aug

Here’s the fourth of this week’s ideas for measurable online social engagement strategies.  I’ll collect these into a single post for easy viewing tomorrow.

In many ways, I think this is the most important idea of them all.

Idea 4: Empower Employees…and manage them.

Employees are consumers. Employees are people. Employees have networks both professional and personal. And you never know when that will help … or hurt … your corporate goals. Employees engaged online — through blogs, private forums, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or industry forums — are ambassodors of the brand. They are problem solvers. They are recruisters. They are sharers of the promotions you want to “go viral”.

The Knowledge@Wharton blog offers some great case studies in a recent post — Del Monte Pet Foods chats with consumers about problems and ideas to shape new products. HP has 50 bloggers engaged in product communities every day.  E&Y uses Facebook for recruiting.  As Joe Kraus of Google is quoted in that post:

“What all organizations need to prepare for, said Kraus, is a completely social web, where “your users will simply expect to be part of the conversation.”

What communications needs to provide is policy that guides engagement but does not constrict.  Or, to put it another way, to encourage employees who want to help the company, while offering reasonable advice on how to do so without hurting the company, or their own livelihood.  Charline Li offers an informative listing of corporate policies that are great examples of how very different companies come at the challenges and opportunities of online social engagement.  Worth a read…and a whole new post that I’ll save for next time.

Measure by improved search engine positioning, increased media attention, greater website traffic and sales leads.

Further reading:

Idea 1: Doing better PR

Idea 2:  Geting in front of…and catching up to competitors

Idea 3: Being ready for the crisis.

Contact me to work with your company.

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