Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Powerful Words

When Twitter was introduced to my company in 2008, I thought it was destined to be a fad, that this sort of microblogging would fade away, that the world would never get used to cramming ideas into 140 characters. I didn’t think much use could come out of such a limiting tool. I was the beneficiary of many days of humor as I sat outside the salesmen’s offices who gave their unsolicited opinions of Twitter and of what those who tweeted could do with their tweets! But our Marketing Communications expert persisted and before we knew it, we were tweeting and accepting that the world had found a new way to send and receive messages of widely varying degrees of relevance to ever-widening audiences.

The challenge is to take Twitter beyond the mundane reports of burning English muffins and develop it into an effective communication tool for organizations. Twitter forces up to cut to the chase and deliver the hook that keeps people engaged. I’ve seen many creative uses of Twitter but none as powerful as what recently extended from Michele Norris“The Race Card Project.”

Ms. Norris, a co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, wrote a memoir which blossomed from her exploration of the hidden conversation on race which unfolded in America after President Obama’s election. On her book tour, as a means of getting the conversation started, she asked people to write their thoughts on race, in six words or less, on a postcard she provided. What often happened was people took the postcards home with them, thought about it, and sent them back to her. The project began over a year ago. In the past two weeks, her project has taken on a life of its own. She has heard from people all around the world and has posted many of the responses on the Project's website. She continues to receive responses via mail, email and Twitter and continues to invite viewers to submit their six words on her website. In the aftermath of the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida last month, Ms. Norris’ collection offers varying perspectives and poignant reminders of where we are with race, where we have been and where we are going. All captured in six words or less.

It is amazing to me how powerful a few carefully selected words can be.

In Washington DC last week, I had a chance to visit the new memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. If you want to see some powerful words, go there. Phrases from his speeches line the memorial’s arcing walls. MLK had a vision of where we should go, not based on race, but on our inner being.

We often take words for granted. It is easy to forget that we live in a country where freedom of speech is a right rather than a privilege. How important it is to use our words - whether six or more - to spark the conversations that can bring understanding and lead us to treat one another as equals.

See the soul within the skin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fear of Listening

It’s all about the listening. In school; in friendship; in relationships; in parenting; in business. But just because we can easily identify what we need to do, doesn’t mean we do it effortlessly. Far from it. Listening is a ton of work, we might not have the time for it and we might not always like what we hear.

In business, the benefits of virtual communities -- a business' online earpiece -- have been proven repeatedly: examples include Chick-fil-A, Intuit and Starbucks, to name three. Virtually connecting employees with customers can help promote a brand and can harness the customers’ creativity to improve the business’ product line. Utilizing a virtual community, Starbucks developed “My Starbucks Idea” where Starbucks employees introduced themselves with website profiles and visitors were asked to suggest products they would like to see introduced at Starbucks stores.

A big hurdle in developing a virtual community initiative or implementing a basic social media strategy is the fear of negative publicity. We have all witnessed, directly or indirectly, the power of the viral complaint. We know we are not perfect and businesses make mistakes just as people do. So why go out of our way to draw attention to a difficult situation or to give complainers a platform? The answer is: we want to connect with our customers to build a loyal customer base and gain insight into their thinking. Social media gives us the tools we have been wishing for to take some of the guesswork out of buyer behavior. 

Those tools come with planning and effort attached to them. “Most companies don’t have a strategy for what they’re trying to accomplish with their virtual communities,” says Constance Porter, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame. “They put up a website and a forum, but don’t plan for what they should do after that. They think consumers’ activity will emerge organically. Sometimes it does, but if the marketer isn’t playing a role, then they’re missing out on value.” The opportunity costs of ignoring the online conversation can be large.

We have to listen. Companies must be carefully monitoring online mentions. To negative mentions, we need quick and proper responses. Quick is easily understood. Proper responses involve using the right, thankful, polite tone, careful word choice and lack of idle promises. Negative mentions, handled properly, can turn into the best PR we never planned – as the virtual community sees and respects how we handle the delicate situations. Ignoring the negative, in hopes that it disappears in time, is taking an unnecessary risk when we have the power to steer the conversation toward a fruitful or at least conciliatory end. 

Two important lessons to keep in mind as we plan how to listen, engage and respond:

  • Participating in a conversation changes that conversation. 
  • Social media backlashes are not created by the initial trigger event, but are created by how the company responds.

(Many thanks to Mack Collier for his insightful blog post on Social Media Crisis Management)

Now, for that Chai Tea Latte that is on the Starbucks menu purely as a result of the “My Starbucks Idea” initiative.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Top Reasons to Love or Hate Social Media

  1. Small businesses with big ideas and small marketing budgets can become thought leaders and big businesses.
  2. I can research my book topic and my ancestry, in my slippers and bathrobe, on blogs, websites, chat rooms, and discussion groups.
  3. I can round out a photo slideshow gift by collecting photos of events I missed by downloading them from my ‘Friends’ Facebook Pages.
  4. I can read ebooks, watch webinars, read blogs to get smart on what happened in digital marketing while I was off changing diapers.
  5. I can Skype my young nieces and nephew and see their Halloween costumes, real time, and my niece studying in Cyprus can give me a virtual tour of her apartment.
  6. I can utilize LinkedIn and online alumni career services to drive a job search and candidate search without stepping foot in a career center.
  7. My friend can launch a Twitter smear campaign against the luxury hotel that gave a lame response to his room break-in.
  8. Communities to make businesses and the world a better place can be created by making connections between people who are 1,000 miles away or 100 yards away but who may never otherwise connect.
  9. A granny in Fargo can become an overnight social media sensation without having the time to bother with Twitter, Facebook and all that other “crap.”
  10. Arab Spring. Enough said.

  1. That the woman at the table next to me in the restaurant (on the rare occasion I get out for a peaceful dinner) can only get off her phone long enough to send texts.
  2. That bullies can shove my friend’s son in the high school bathroom, take his picture and send it viral through texts and Facebook.
  3. That my husband won’t change his Facebook setting to stop getting emails with every Facebook update he receives, and that he reports them to me each day.
  4. That a message’s tone is open to wide interpretation.
  5. That big talkers with little minds can look important in the blogosphere (but they eventually get ratted out).
  6. That Facebook keeps changing how we have to set our privacy settings.
  7. That our culture is accepting that social media tools are adequate replacements for face-to-face social interaction.
  8. That not only do I have to monitor my children’s time on Xbox, TV, the Internet, iPods and iPads, I should also be policing their chats, Facebook accounts, email, Minecraft allies and something new tomorrow.
  9. That I never feel caught up.
  10. That Google knows way too much about me.
What did I leave out?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doing Good With Books

I recently discovered two enterprises which focus on books. My discoveries of each of them came so close together, that I decided it was a sign to write about them.

Just when books seem to be going out of fashion, replaced with ebooks or online texts, along come two social enterprises that use books to change lives.

Better World Books, in Mishawaka, IN, is the brainchild of two Notre Dame Alumni (yet another reason why I like them), Xavier Helgesen and Kreese Fuchs. They have built a for-profit social enterprise which collects used books, resells them online and funds literacy programs around the world. For each book they sell online, Better World Books makes a book donation to someone in need. Better World Books (BWB) delivers on its dual -- environmental and social -- mission; used books are saved from landfills and BWB contributes to individual literacy in the United States and in some of the poorest countries of the world.

The BWB website summarizes its astounding impact: Since it began 11 years ago, BWB has raised over $11.6 million for literacy including $5.7 million for over 80 literacy and education nonprofits and $4.9 million for libraries nationwide. BWB has contributed more than $2 million to college service clubs who have run book drives and has directly sent more than 5 million books to Books for Africa, the National Center for Family Literacy and Feed the Children. BWB has collected over 77 million books through active book drives at over 2,300 college and universities and collections from over 3,000 libraries. If you or your kids need to offload some old textbooks, that is where this all began. The founders credit their success on the fact that all of us want to do good. Their business allows us to solve a book inventory problem and feel good knowing we are giving back at the same time.

More Than Words is a nonprofit social enterprise, located in Waltham, MA, that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. The youths who work at More Than Words (MTW) run an inviting 501(c)3 nonprofit used bookstore featuring a wide array of titles, comfortable seating, and free wi-fi. The in-store coffee bar serves Starbucks coffee, espresso, tea and other popular café drinks, as well as delicious baked treats. To manage the bookstore and online business, these at-risk youth work as a team which helps them develop management responsibilities, leadership and self-confidence. MTW also provides personal transition planning and case management to support these kids as they progress toward employment and education. These often marginalized youths use these skills to help themselves make the transition to adulthood and become thriving members of their communities.

The MTW website speaks to the youth whom they embrace, with alumni stories of encouragement and a strong feeling of success throughout the site. MTW workers are proud of their business and proud of themselves. The business can be an escape from their chaotic life, but rather than just treading water, the youth who commit to the program are offered a future that may have been otherwise unattainable.

What does this have to do with social media? Who cares! But both enterprises maintain terrific blogs to broaden their reach and BWB is very active on Facebook (one of my favorite Facebook Pages) and Twitter. The beauty of engaging communities who enjoy books is that the potential content is limitless: authors, genres, events, hot topics, etc. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg on content potential when you consider how much there is to say about doing good.

Have you read any good used books lately?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Find Your Core

Identifying and conveying the heart and soul of your small business is critical to the success of your social media strategy. Author and social media guru, Jay Baer calls this your “One Thing.” Identify your “One Thing” and it will affect every content and posting decision you make. In Social Media Examiner’s blog, Amy Porterfield highlights Jay’s approach. With some easily recognized examples, mixed with two examples of small businesses with which I have been working, here is how we find the heart and soul of your brand.

Take off your marketing hat and ask yourself, what does my business actually do? What is at the core? If you have initiated a social media strategy and begun to build a fan base, it is important to ask yourself, what do my fans say when they are happy? The answers to these questions bring you to your “One Thing.”

Jay’s examples of the “One Thing” include Disney = magic and Apple = innovation. Your goal is to make the same simple equation for your small business.

Pipal Leaf Yoga Studio competes with a number of yoga studios as well as health clubs offering yoga, not to mention the other types of exercise which also appeal to the yoga crowd. What does Pipal Leaf Yoga actually do? It offers authentic yoga without heat and hype. The fundamental principles of yoga practice are at its core, rather than weight loss. The combined health of mind, body and spirit surround the core.

The architect who has hung his own shingle simply identifies his core as the design of buildings. He has other initiatives such as sustainability, value and timeliness. But his “One Thing” is simply, building design.

Take this “One Thing” and make it the voice of your strategy across every network.

Pipal Leaf Yoga can post content defending yoga when the practice is criticized in mainstream publications by steering the conversation back to the healing nature of a practice performed correctly – aimed at the health of the whole person. She can broaden her content beyond yoga by speaking to her audience’s soft spots with organic recipes, book and music recommendations, and a variety of topics such as how our bodies and spirits are affected by the phases of the moon. 

The architect can engage his audience by posting beautiful photos of buildings he admires but had nothing to do with, and support them with content on how those beautiful designs influence his daily work. He can blog about local legislation and its impact on the future architectural make-up of the town.

It all comes back the core - the heart and soul of your business.

Have you defined your small business’ core? How do you apply it in your content?