Stop Counting, Start Engaging

More and more brands are truly embracing social media as an important component of their overall marketing and communications strategy. That’s the good news. However, unfortunately too many companies are focusing on the wrong metrics when it comes to gauging the success and business value of social media initiatives. Sure, it’s great to have hundred of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter. But where’s the benefit if fans and followers aren’t engaged with the brand?

Companies must do what they can to inspire engagement and action from their fans – focusing on fan acquisition is simply not sufficient. One hundred engaged fans who can relate to a brand and share it’s core values are more valuable than one thousand passive fans. They’re more likely act in favor of a brand – speaking not only with their wallets, but also through recommendations to friends and family members.

Consumers are looking for companies to be more human-centric, and to show interest in the communities they already participate in. Companies that are currently doing a great job of this include Starbucks, Zappos, Converse and Lululemon. They realize that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are not broadcast mechanisms. Instead, they leverage available tools to build genuine relationships with their fans.

How are the relationships built? By providing a fair exchange of value. Companies must offer something meaningful to fans and followers, perhaps product, service or cause related, that generates goodwill and entices the community to spread word-of-mouth.

It’s not about numbers, it’s about relationships. Genuine relationships that will enable a community to grow and prosper.

A Rewarding Corporate Culture

I truly believe that a fun, collaborative, team culture – one which rewards excellence and motivates employees – is a key, fundamental building block for strong corporate performance and competitive advantage. It seems obvious. Yet, from my perspective, such a culture is elusive to attain. I Love Rewards, a Toronto-based company, is an organization that understands the importance of a healthy internal culture.

Their business focuses on providing results-driven rewards and recognition programs for companies worldwide. Yet they do far more than that. They walk the talk, they live their values – the company works hard to infuse a strong sense of passion and commitment amongst their own staff members.

Last Tuesday I had an opportunity to visit with Rob Catalano, Marketing Director at I Love Rewards. My primary purpose, in meeting with Rob, was to hear his insights and perspectives on marketing – and some of his learnings with respect to career development in today’s fast-paced world. It was also a chance for me to learn about what makes I Love Rewards tick.

This video gives a great inside peak at their culture:

I noticed the culture right from when I entered the building, prior to my meeting with Rob. The open-concept office area was abuzz with happy, busy staff members, a couple of whom warmly greeted me. Throughout the office there were notable inspirational quotes painted on the walls. Not in small letters, but in big, bold writing, enabling visitors and staff members alike to take notice.

I Love Rewards, like my current company Chaordix and one of my favorite entrepreneurial successes of all-time, Zappos, were all recently recognized by WorldBlu – a non-profit organization that promotes democratic workplaces – as being amongst the top 52 most democratic workplaces worldwide. That’s quite an accomplishment!

According to Rob, “People define the culture” at I Love Rewards. “Our recruiting is so rigorous, we hire based on fit – everyone is aligned.”

Right now it seems that companies like I Love Rewards are the exception as opposed to the norm. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I will be able to state that the opposite is true. In this blog, I’ve been writing about how companies can become more social and build engagement, leveraging technology, with their customers. The same opportunity holds true with employees.

To gain more insights on I Love Rewards, read their Love Guarantee, posted recently on Cameron Herold’s Backpocket COO blog.

What are your thoughts? What are some companies that you know of, which have an exemplary corporate culture?

More Community Management Best Practices

Following up on my recent post on community management best practices, I thought I would share some additional tips and advice – based on my own personal experiences.

Building an online community for your company and brand isn’t rocket science. That being said, there are some simple steps you can take that will facilitate growth and foster engagement with your burgeoning band of advocates (otherwise known as community members).

The five key points from my previous post:

  1. Participate where the conversations are happening
  2. Be timely with your responses
  3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric
  4. Be careful what you say
  5. Don’t ignore negative comments

Five more I’d like to add:

1. Give new members a warm welcome

It’s important to make new people feel welcome in your community, to set the stage for engagement – particularly when a community is young and growing. If possible, take the time to send a personalized welcome message to new members. Imagine how a new member will feel, receiving a message from a community host or moderator that is uniquely customized and tailored.

If you see a new member contributing to the first time, give that person some recognition. Thank them for their contribution, and try to elicit further discussion or comments if possible – perhaps that member has more to say. Showing a little gratitude will go a long way!

2. Study your community

Yes, study your community! Do your homework! Learn the make-up of your of your community – read member profiles and gain a better sense of just who has joined, and the different types of interests your members have. The more knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to interact and converse with your community.

3. Monitor community activity and health

Be sure to stay tuned in to your community, from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective. Track key data that is most relevant, whether related to new member joins, commenting activity, voting activity or another metric that you value, and develop reports as deemed appropriate. Keep an eye out for trends! If your community had higher or lower levels of participation that expected during a specific period, dig in and find out why.

4. Communicate with your members

It’s important to keep members appraised of activity in the community. A regular email, if you’re hosting the community on an internal platform, can go a long way.  If you’re using Facebook, Twitter or another network, make use of status updates. Just don’t overdo it, however – you’ll need to find the communication mix that is right for your brand.

5. Keep members engaged

Provide community members with incentives for contributing. At Genius Crowds, a product innovation community I used to moderate, we provided community member with gift cards related to different types of community activity – such as posting product ideas, commenting and voting. There’s plenty more you can do. For example, if a new hot topic is posted in the community, send a personal email to members who might be interested, to let them know (this is where your homework on knowing member interests will come in handy!).

See You in 2015!

We are going through some amazing, transformative times in the business world. I don’t think it’s a stretch to use those words. Digital technology and social media are providing unprecedented opportunities for companies to truly engage and build relationships with stakeholder groups, on a very direct, personalized and humanized one to one level. It’s scaled caring, to the point where companies and brands can create relationships with thousands of customers – and it’s what people are increasingly looking for in the brands they do business with.

Unfortunately, many companies do not yet fully realize or understand this. I have had a number of conversations with peers who work in marketing, communications and advertising – with companies and agencies. Many of them believe that the value and benefits associated with social media, particularly as presented by well-known social media bloggers and authors, are just hype – stating that they are far removed from present realities within the companies they work for or do business with.

Perhaps that is the case. Perhaps their realities are far different. If so, it is unfortunate, because their companies risk being left behind by competitors who embrace the social capabilities that digital enables – no matter which industry they operate in, no matter whether they are B2C or B2B.

Recently I sent a tweet to Gary Vaynerchuk, a well-known social media luminary and author of best-selling books Crush It! and The Thank You Economy, asking for his perspective on the issue. Gary was kind enough to record a video response, which he originally posted on and I have re-posted here.

I have read both of Gary’s books, and I agree with Gary’s perspective. I think, in today’s day and age, it is necessary to have an entrepreneurial mindset – to be proactive, to search for new and emerging opportunities to engage with customers and grow business, and to be willing to take risks while doing so. Digital and social are evolving at breakneck speeds, it’s important to be mindful of new platforms which companies can leverage to build relationships with customers.  Not all initiatives will be successful, but companies that employ a diverse, well-thought out range of engagement activities will uncover some that are “sticky” and favored by customers.

Having the right corporate culture, one that truly supports the new social paradigm, is also key. According to Jason Baker, Digital Strategist at Magnify Digital and Digicate, “The most important thing for any company is to focus on their culture and how their culture fits into telling their story in an authentic and genuine fashion. Anyone can know that you’re a social company. You can blabber on Twitter for as long as you want in 140 characters, but no one can truly connect with your business until you’ve identified your core values, personality, vision, purpose, and/ or cause. Ask the hard questions to extract those answers, then develop an integrated digital strategy that allows you to share those elements in a passionate, authentic, and genuine way.”

Collectively, we are all learning as we go – and sharing insights along the way. Age and experience in marketing and communications, while still important, are not the be all and end all. Look at the number of bright, young minds who are excelling in digital marketing – there are a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. Awesome!

That said, while lots of the talk is on social and digital, I don’t believe that traditional marketing is going away. Actually, I look forward to the day when traditional marketing and digital marketing just become known as “marketing”. I think there is a fantastic opportunity for companies to develop integrated campaigns across a variety of platforms, telling their brand story while engaging and building rapport with customers. Companies need to pick best platforms and engagement styles that are right for them.

It’s important to think strategically and realize that success in digital and social media will not happen overnight. At the same time, companies need to be nimble and fleet of foot, adopting a culture that enables engagement opportunities to be seized as they arise.

For a great example of this, please read my recent post on KLM.

As for everyone’s favorite social media topic, ROI, well let’s not kid anyone here – tangible metrics are important. Here is a great post on the topic from David Armano, SVP at Edelman Digital.

It’s an exciting time to be in marketing and communications, I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store. See you in 2015.

Every Customer Counts

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of TV commercials, I tend to ignore them. I just don’t feel that most advertisers are creative enough in their messaging, nor are they infusing enough value  – through entertainment or relative, informative engagement – that is worthy of attention.

That said, I would like to applaud a recent ad from Telus. Granted, I did not view it on TV, I caught wind of it on Twitter thanks to Michelle Coates.

Attention companies: I care about how you give back to the community. I care about which charities and initiatives you support.  I care about what your employees do, and how their efforts set you apart.  Sometimes, I care about all of this more than I care about the services you offer and the products you sell. I really like it when companies come across as being … human.

Well done, Telus.

Now, have you considered leveraging social media to build further awareness of your “Telus cares” efforts, as well as solicit input on other charitable initiatives you should consider? I’m sure you have. Perhaps you could create a micro-site or a Facebook Fan Page, through which you could provide regular updates of your community involvement and receive feedback on what you’re doing? How about opening the door to suggestions on programs worthy of your support, and letting people vote on which ones they like the most? You could also make it easy for people to share news of what you’re doing.

You’ll come across as being more human. And in today’s world, that’s a good thing.

A Great Example of Customer Service by KLM

I would like to share an amazing example of customer service, and what can be accomplished when a business truly puts a customer – and not a brand, product or service – upfront and central in its core focus. This is also a great example of why businesses need to be listening to and participating amongst the conversations that are happening about them in social media.

Last month, Dutch airline KLM announced on Twitter that they would be restarting their Amsterdam to Miami route on March 27th. Following the announcement, a Dutch DJ and a filmmaker replied, both indicating that the flight was too late for a DJ festival that was starting in Miami a week earlier. They also mentioned that they could easily gather enough people for a full flight, should KLM wish to move up the launch date so they could attend the festival.

It’s safe to say that most airlines would likely have ignored this request – at most, the DJ and filmmaker would have received a polite reply on Twitter.

What did KLM do? They took the DJ and filmmaker up on their challenge! If the DJ and filmmaker could get enough people to book for the flight, KLM would restart the route to Miami a week earlier. Within five hours, 150 requests for the flight were collected.

On Twitter, KLM announced that they would be re-starting their Amsterdam to Miami route on March 27. A Dutch DJ and filmmaker then replied, mentioning that the flight was too late for a DJ festival in Miami starting a week earlier.  They indicated to KLM that they could easily gather enough people for a full flight. KLM  took up their challenge – and within five hours, the DJ and film maker collected 150 subscriptions for the flight.

Here is a video that tells the tale:

I really hope more companies follow KLM’s lead, truly focusing on and engaging with customers. You can bet that KLM won over a number of new customers and increased the loyalty of existing customers by changing the date. Sure, there’s no doubt it cost KLM a fair bit of money to make the change – but imagine what the longer term returns will be over the course of the life-cycles of customers who took the flight?

Clearly, social CRM has become part of KLM’s DNA. Rather than just focusing on traditional advertising, they leveraged social media to engage with their customers – and they made a difference, providing true value. Bravo! Way to go!

Nike+ – A Great Example of What Collaboration Can Accomplish

Today, I completed my longest run in about a year. Actually, it was my longest run since April 3rd, 2010 – when I ran 18.96km in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds, at an average pace of 6 minutes and 37 seconds per kilometer.

How the heck do I know that? Well, I record my runs using the Nike+iPod sports kit, the ingenious collaboration between Nike and Apple that has benefited runners worldwide since its launch in 2006.

There are two main reasons why I marvel at Nike+:

1. An innovative product from a unique collaboration

I believe that over the coming years we are going to see more instances of companies – sometimes even competitors – joining forces in unique collaborations.  There are many potential benefits to be gained, including shared knowledge and data, shared resources, and opportunity to develop new and innovative products and services by leveraging and combining strengths.

2. It’s social and community-driven

The Nike+ experience extends well beyond the runs, thanks to a fantastic website and online community that has been cultivated. Not only can Nike+ users record and track runs using the website, they can share their experiences with runners worldwide while also benefiting from some rich content – including a training tips blog.

Recently, Nike+ also added a “Challenges” section, through which individual users can create running challenges and invite community members to participate. Sample challenges include “365 miles in 2011”, in which all participants are challenged to run 365 miles, and “Fastest 5km in 2011”. Each challenge includes a leader board, adding some incentive for participants to compete against one another.

The Role of Social Media in Disaster Response

It goes without saying that the disaster in Japan is an absolutely profound tragedy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and many thousands more adversely impacted, as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. Let’s hope that the current nuclear situation is brought under control, and that radiation effects are kept to an absolute minimum.

Social media and digital technology have played a central role in the disaster on a number of levels – and no doubt have resulted in improved response and provision of aid to Japan. Here are three key positive impacts of social media.

1. Increased awareness of disaster realities

We used to just watch disaster coverage on television, hear about disasters on the radio, and read about them in newspapers. Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media, we witness travesties on a completely different level. Instead of seeing the after-effects devastation of a tsunami, we can actually watch a tsunami role in – from the personal perspective of whomever is holding the camera.

Through social media, people impacted by a disaster can share the realities of their situation, providing detailed personal accounts. The stories about Japan were passed around, they were shared, and we all grieved. On March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake, 177 million tweets were sent – well above the daily average of 140 million – and a significant number of new Twitter accounts were created

2. Improved disaster response

Social media has become pivotal in augmenting governmental and aid organization disaster response efforts. Facebook, Twitter, wikis and other tools facilitate collaboration and response to disasters on a truly global scale. Volunteer communities can mobilize quickly, regardless of geographical location, to provide varying types of expertise.

Moreover, mobile technology and applications such as Ushahidi allow disaster information to be crowdsourced and mapped – enabling ground level concerns and issues to be identified in a more immediate manner and responded to accordingly.

3. Enhanced fundraising

Social media facilitates fundraising through quick mobilization, ease of campaign set-up, and broad reach through massive social networks.  Shortly after the Japan disaster struck, people at SXSW Interactive already began to mobilize a fundraising effort – SWSW4Japan.  A website was created within a day, and over $100,000 was raised.

Worldwide, scores of local fundraising events were set up and promoted through social media.

Community Management Best Practices

With online community management still in its nascent stages, I thought I would share some observations on how companies can best participate – and nurture true, genuine affinity amongst community members. It seems that things are very fluid at the moment, with even well-established brands being guilty of missteps. Of course, that being said, there are still plenty of good examples to follow.

Here is an initial Community Management “Top 5”. Please feel free to share your own best practices by commenting on this post. I will follow up with additional posts on best practices in the weeks to come (there are definitely more than five!).

1. Participate where the conversations are happening

This goes without saying. While Facebook, with over 600 million members, and Twitter, with over one billion tweets sent per week, are the primary platforms people use – there might be many other niche conversation forums where people are talking about your company or your brand. Make use of tools that enable you to locate, track, listen and engage in conversations – such as Radian6 or Sysomos, or any one of the many free tools available (albeit with less functionality).  Using Google Alerts, with key words relevant to your brand and industry, is a good first step.

2. Be timely with your responses

Imagine that social media is like a telephone, one that your customers can dial at any time and any moment. Are you ready to chat with your customers, and answer any questions they might have in a timely manner? As a general rule, customer inquiries should be responded to within 24 hours – and ideally sooner. Yes, that means staffing the “social media lines” on weekends. 9 to 5 customer service hours can now be thrown out the window. Remember, an ability to provide timely, personable responses shows your customers that you’re listening and builds affinity.

3. Focus on being people-centric, not company-centric

It surprises me how many companies still view social media as a marketing “channel”, one that is focused on one-way (company to consumer) communication promoting products and services.  Effective online communities are NOT channels, they are not company-centric. Think of communities as networks of people – with participants communicating and sharing information that is most relevant to them. A great example of a people-centric community is Fiskars is a fairly well-known brand of scissors. How can a company create a vibrant online community for such a low-involvement product category? Well … by focusing on a shared passion. In the case of Fiskateers, it’s scrapbooking!

4. Be careful what you say

Everyone is listening, everyone is watching, and people will call you out if they don’t agree with something you say. I already wrote about Kenneth Cole’s ill-advised tweet during the height of events in the Egypt. Last night, a couple of friends tweeted about an inappropriate Groupon blog post, which essentially mentioned that depression is a cure for insomnia. Huh? We voiced our displeasure for the post through Twitter. To Groupon’s credit, the post was edited by the end of the day with the depression comment removed, and I received a personal apology from Groupon on Twitter. Make sure that messaging is appropriate, and if people ever call you out on something – acknowledge and respond.

5. Don’t ignore negative comments

In most cases, the worst thing you could do is to ignore a negative comment that has been made about your company, product, service or brand. If someone made an effort to write a legitimate comment, acknowledge it – and if any issues were cited, address them.  Be genuine and open, the customer who wrote the comment will appreciate it, as will others who read your response. Openness is a great way to build trust.

There are more best practices I intend to write about … stay tuned!

50 Key Takeaways from The Art of Marketing Conference

By all accounts, The Art of Marketing Conference held in Toronto on March 7th was a smashing success – as speakers provided the audience with cutting edge thoughts and insights on key marketing issues. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, however thanks the willingness of a number of audience members to share what they were learning through Twitter, I did get a flavor of what was being discussed.

Here are the top 50 takeaways I was able to glean from the Twitter stream!

Avinash Kaushik – Brand Measurement: Metrics & Analytics

  • doomzto: “If people tell me that you can’t convert love to money over the Internet, then they’re wrong.” – @avinash #taom
  • KimMcWatt: Marketing can be orgasmic if you use data for insight #taom
  • amirad: People focus too much on the what and not enough on the how much #TAOM
  • GGFM: you have access to all your competitors data so use it says @avinash #taom
  • casiestewart: HITS = how idiots track success. Bounce rate = “I came, I puked, I left”. This guys is funny. #taom
  • luudiana: Are the metrics you’re using measuring people’s behaviours? Getting rid of the data puke is the first step @avinashkaushik #TAOM
  • SocialKamel: #taom @avinash you can’t improve something by 1000% but u can improve 1000 things by 1%
  • soniyamonga: Most websites aren’t effective because the purpose doesn’t overlap w/ customer intent. Therefore efficiencies are missed #taom #segmentation
  • KimMcWatt: Look at your site content, where are you spending your time, compare to where your customers are #taom
  • YouNxt: @avinash at #TAOM – use social media not just to add revenue but to build economic value to your company

Gary Vaynerchuk – Social Media & Word of Mouth Marketing

  • Debbie_h2o: #taom @garyvee when asked “what’s the roi of social media?” he responds what’s the roi of your mother? Your best friend? Your pet?
  • amirad: Everyone talks about content, but the focus should be on context #TAOM
  • SocialKamel: #taom social media has scaled caring, one on one marketing is here, that’s the thank you economy @garyvee
  • laurenonizzle: “I don’t care if you have 40,000 followers – if you have 17 that care, you have 17 followers” -@GaryVee #TAOM
  • write_mich: @garyvee: “it is totally unacceptable for companies to not respond to customers talking about their brands” Context matters. #TAOM
  • GGFM: according to @garyvee a social media campaign is a one night stand not a conversation which is what socia media is #taom
  • GraceMarketing: Run 3 less commercials and hire more people to actually respond to customers @garyvee #taom
  • JRiddall: Companies who mine data properly and execute on some form of humanization will be the winners @garyvee #taom
  • samantha_kwan: When you hit the emotional centre of your customer, you will never loose them as a customer, it’s human #TAOM @garyvee
  • lauralimawilson: Social has tremendous ROI ’cause it’s emotional @garyvee #TAOM so true

Jeffrey Hayzlett – Brand Strategy & Growth

  • JRiddall: Passion is not a substitute for planning @jeffreyhayzlett #taom
  • shamattygalle: You have 8 seconds to hook me and 110 seconds to sell me – @jeffreyhayzlett #TAOM
  • jdojc: “HR and Legal shouldn’t drag you backthey should keep you from falling down” @jeffreyhayzlett #taom
  • DebWeinstein: “A Social CMO’s job is to: set Conditions of Satisfaction; cause tension; be who you are; & be brave,” @JeffreyHayzlett #TAOM
  • JRiddall: Gotta be willing to take one is going to die @jeffreyhayzlett #taom
  • alinebadr: A brand is nothing more than a promise delivered #taom
  • JRiddall: Four E’s of social Engage Educate Excite Evangelize @jeffreyhayzlett #taom
  • amirad: The social game now is about hearts and minds not eyeball and ears #JeffreyHayzlett #TAOM
  • ACURASHERWAY: What’s ROI on social. “I don’t know tell me what ROI is on IGNORING” – @JeffreyHayzlett #TAOM
  • clickeric: What is your 118? People don’t take pictures they capture moments #taom #marketing

Dr. Sheena Iyengaar – Consumer Behaviour & the Psychology of Choice

  • YfactorInc: @taom Dr Iyengar “the Jam problem” too much consumer choice makes it harder to actually buy
  • Drafted_Boy: What happens when faced with too many choices: less commitment, poorer decision quality, lower satisfaction @Sheena_Iyengar #TAOM
  • melissa_very: #taom “How many choices can we handle? The magical number 7 (+/-2)” Dr. Sheena Iyengar
  • jdojc: Experts know enough to limit their choices to important criteria. Amateurs end up with paralysis when faced w\ too much choice #taom
  • thecellularguru: Cognitive overload is the 1st cause of Choice Overload #TAOM 2nd cause is indistinguishable options
  • thecellularguru: Everyone believes theyre more unique than others but everyone conforms to being just unique enough not too bizarre & not too boring #TAOM
  • KimMcWatt: Categorize choices to help the decision. Our brains can process more categories than choices. Dr. Iyengar #taom
  • KimMcWatt: Condition people for complexity. Help them learn their preferences. Dr. Iyengar #taom
  • djacob: “People may say what they want is more choices but what they really want is more control” #TAOM
  • shamattygalle: We are born with an innate desire to choose but we are not born knowing how. – @sheena_iyengar#TAOM

Guy Kawasaki – Creativity & Innovation

  • soniyamonga: The process of delighting and enchanting people; that’s @GuyKawasaki’s mission when it comes to building lasting influencers #taom
  • irwinliunews: @guykawasaki There are three steps to likeability: (1) Smile [preferably Duchenne] (2) Dress for a “tie” (3) Perfect handshake #taom #yam
  • clickeric: Become a bakery not an eater @GuyKawasaki #taom and u need to default to a yes attitude
  • amirad: Make the position of your product short, sweet and swallowable. No acronyms or industry term @guykawasaki #TAOM
  • samantha_kwan: When you create a product/service, do something DICEE: deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, elegant @guykawasaki #TAOM
  • soniyamonga: The change in mktg today is a direct result of the lack of understanding of the ‘A-listers.’ So plant many seeds, across all levels #taom
  • keridamen: @guykawasaki #Taom: The most innovative people will encounter the most resistance.
  • SocialKamel: @guykawasaki in all the negativity failure and resistance try to find the bright spot. For apple it was desktop publishing. #taom
  • YfactorInc: #taom Guy Kawasaki “Enchant all the Influencers” consider impact of families + friends + others in decision process
  • savvari: @GuyKawasaki says the best response to “Thank You” is “I know you would do the same for me” #taom