Social media, find your voice

Remember when a Yellow Page ad was enough to promote your business? How about the days of broadcast faxing, or starting up a website (and if you didn’t you were obsolete)? Technology has a way of shifting and knocking us off our feet. The social web is just another such shift.

Just as organizations scrambled to build a web presence in the 90s, they are quickly adopting to the social web. Those who do it well see a huge shift in business, those who do it poorly are frustrated, and those who ignore it are becoming obsolete. Social is here and it’s changed the way people think, work, advertise, and purchase. It’s no longer good enough for an organization to have and publish a story. Now you need others to verify and restate your story.

Those of us who have been around this tech stuff for a while will remember the popularity of the BBS (bulletin board systems). These systems pre-date the Internet and were a great way to mine information and make friends online. Many organizations had bulletin board systems, and when the Internet came along they joined the Internet rather than attempting to build a new one. The same concept applies to social communities: I suggest organizations join existing communities rather than attempting to build new ones. I understand the concern of building external, publicly accessible sites where customers congregate. The "what ifs" seem endless and the risks may seem insurmountable. Trust me; inaction is far worse than any risk you can come up with.

Take every "what if" you can muster, then ask yourself, "Is someone else already taking this risk in my space?" Most likely they are, most likely they are successful, and most likely they have the opportunity to become a competitor. So hold your breath, close your eyes and jump in!

Unlike the rush to build websites, "Social" is more than a presence: it’s a relationship, or several relationships. It’s about building a personality for yourself and your organization, and maintaining a voice. Just as you might go to a cocktail party and share experiences while listening to others, you will need to build the ability to electronically mingle and become "charming" via text. It’s amazing that the same people who are so charming in person, can work the crowd, and value in-person social events often struggle with social technology. It’s actually as simple as going to a networking or social event, you blur the lines between professional and personal. You listen, share, add and learn.

Technology based "cocktail parties" are happening right now on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You’ve all been invited. Are you attending or just shunning your customers? Perhaps you’re that uncomfortable guy in the corner just waiting for someone to engage you in conversation. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the life of the party, you can make it through this.

First find your comfort zone, find those folks you know and trust and tag around with them. If you don’t feel that you have anything interesting to say, just listen. If you find topics you have an opinion about, it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation. Perhaps you find something so interesting you want to share it with others – which is encouraged. Perhaps you think it’s stupid that people are reporting they’re attending a sporting event, or catching a plane. But how many cocktail parties have you gone to where everyone is completely focused on work? Remember this is social, and you won’t offend anyone by posting your activities. In fact, it shows you’re a real person and spurs additional interest. So what do I post, "I’m sitting on my porch and two deer just ran by, nobody cares!"? Yes, exactly, comments like this combined with professional conversation allow people to know you’re real.

You have to build your voice – you can’t be automated and business only, people in the social world recommend others based on relationships. You can’t automate a relationship. You can’t build a relationship with a website, marketing brochure, or product. Building relationships isn’t easy but the loyalty and word of mouth (in this case) is well worth it.

If you’re a CPA firm, association or non-profit who needs help finding your voice and building a social strategy, DM me on twitter, or message me on Facebook and we can discuss strategies at no cost to you.

Social Technologies within Associations

I’m not sure what impresses me most about the following post by Clarke Price, CEO of The Ohio Society of CPAs. The fact it was created on a BlackBerry during a presentation, the fact he just get’s it, or his openness to Bill Sheridan’s presentation on the topic. Regardless of my reasons, it’s nice to see Clarke be open and honest, and I think he hits a homerun with his message about Social networking within Associations:

I’m typing this while attending a conference session about how associations need to be more active in entering the world of social networking. It’s an interesting session with a good speaker, but what’s striking to me is the apparent resistance among an audience of association staff professionals. The discussion has shifted to all the downsides of blogs, in particular, rather than seeing the upside and opportunities that come from entering the world of social networking.

Why is that? Why do association executives, who are usually aggressive and focused on the opportunities they see, seem to lose their courage when it comes to being part of the social networking revolution?

I think the answer probably lies in a fundamental lack of awareness. Too many of us aren’t investing the time needed to appreciate the power that social networks represent. We’re all aware of what’s going on, but too many seem to be content to just read articles about blogs, Twitter, etc., rather than actually invest the time to understand and be part of this dimension of the online world.

Just as we all invested time in learning how to master Windows when Microsoft introduced it, it’s time for us to do the same with all the social networking tools. We need to understand how these fit into being part of the “community” we try to create in our associations and how we can leverage them as basic tools in our efforts to “tell the story” about our organizations. They represent great tools to create buzz, and in the future it’s just possible that “community” will be built around these social networking tools as the backbone of our associations. Do you want to be left behind as this happens? I don’t think so.

So what’s an association executive to do? First, spend some time immersing yourself in the social networking tools. Sign up on Twitter and find some people to follow. Then make some observations of your own. For many it will become addictive.

Among the association community, we need to expand the dialogue about how social networking fits into association’s communications strategies. Too few of us – including me – are spending enough time on the strategic side of how social networking is revolutionizing our organizations. The number of association execs who are really focused on social networking must grow – or we’re going to be left in the dust. And nobody wants to have their association be relegated to being irrelevant.

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