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.

Translating Techno-Babble

Last week I had the opportunity to review the Association Social Technologies by Principled Innovation LLC. If you haven’t had the chance to review it, I recommend you check out the Executive Summary. The report was built by smart folks who really understand the use of Social Technologies within associations. While reading, one specific comment in a case study caught my attention.

This comment from Association Social Technologies, Exploring the Present, Preparing for the Future Report, Page 20:

We also learned that using the buzzwords sometimes confused people. For example, using the term “podcast” always was attributed to an iPod, using “blog” was attributed to something used for a political campaign, and using “Facebook or MySpace” was attributed to teenagers. We had to use different nomenclature to describe these services. We changed Podcast to “Recorded message”, blog to “a website that allows real-time communication by allowing you to comment”, and Facebook/MySpace were “websites that allowed people with common interests to network and define their own individuality” Odd, but it really helped.

This is an excellent example of how professionals can fall into the trap of looking from the outside in rather than the inside out. Techie folks are often quick to brand technologies, and market folks love to perpetuate brands. What we are quick to forget is these brands are often lost on those outside the inner circle of the tech world. In short, it’s no shock to me that it becomes necessary to step back and translate the techno-babble from time to time. I work in the field, and still have to Google terms from time to time!

What’s odd to me is the lack of organizations that are providing real definitions for the tools they deem so important. Our continued amazement that our members or customers fail to flock to these great new tools we are building. Perhaps we would all benefit from this shared knowledge and simply say what we mean.

I’d recommend investing in the Association Social Technologies reports available for $99 from www.socialtechreport.org. The report contains much more than this little nugget of information.

Technology Tupperware (Data Collection)

Masters of data storage databases are critical technology tools in nearly every organization – storing data regarding customers, materials, products, content and more. Over the years data stacks up, information becomes stale, and before you know it you’ve created nothing more than Technology Tupperware.

Real value in the databases goes well beyond simple storage – it’s the ability to use the accumulated for business intelligence and analysis. Simple enough. Just use the data you’ve collected throughout the years and start writing some snazzy reports that spit out all the answers. This is normally when businesses open their eyes only to realize that data “spoils” over time. Worse yet, they have plenty of ingredients but always seems to be missing the ones they actually need. This raises some serious questions about the data collection, storage, and use.

Many organizations tend to collect as much possible data in a single instance. This trap is easy to fall into without an understanding of future goals or alternative means of data collection. It’s also an easy way to store enough information to make your database a security management nightmare. In the past, it was acceptable to store Social Security numbers, birthdays, and credit card information for a customer. However, with current security threats this is no longer the case. Another issue organizations face with this type of data collection is the “20 Questions Scenario.” Too much data collection slows down points of contact with the customer, therefore diminishing the customer experience.

Balancing the needs of the organization with customer experience can be difficult but it’s far from impossible. With minimal effort you can quickly enhance your data collection and customer experience by adding simple automation and using information differently.

Start with simple steps:

  • Identify and ask for the information that has the most value first
    • Full Name – Can be parsed into the chunks you require in the database
    • Street Address, City, St – Should identify the zip code automatically, or street address + zip should return the city and state
    • Phone Numbers – Collect the one most likely to be accessible – cell phones have the greatest value and also provide SMS connectivity
  • Identify information that may change often and tie this to alternate touch points
    • Surveys - Electronic surveys are one of the most misunderstood technologies on the web. Most often used to evaluate a product or service with an average score. The individual responses or inconsistencies in responses give you a view of customer attitude, interests, and changes at any given point in time.
    • Time Date - Store the time and date of when customers contact you, it gives you a view into how and when they work. Targeting marketing should be done when the customer is most likely to be open to it.
    • E-Mail – If you collect an e-mail address, send a welcome or confirmation from the system to populate communication preferences. This is far easier to do if you are opting customers in automatically and offering opt-out capabilities.

Simple solutions like these can shave several steps off of your data collection processes and enhance customer experience.

Regardless of your data collection and maintenance, sometimes you need additional information that just can’t be obtained from the customer. Free or low costs web services can help fill in some of the gaps, and in some cases Web 2.0 communities can also offer a wealth of information.

While filling the gaps isn’t as easy as adjusting data collection strategies, it allows organization to build more robust reporting and business intelligence.

In the next Technology Tupperware segment we will look at reporting tools and strategies.

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