Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Financial Services Connect To Their Audiences With Social Media

Financial services firms face specific challenges when it comes to social media. Between being heavily regulated and meeting client confidentiality objectives, they may seem unlikely users of tools designed to broadcast information and invite dialog. However, financial services firms are embracing social media tools to their great advantage. If you are in financial services and have considered yourself out of the running for expanding your web presence through social media, perhaps the following example will inspire you. It may make you re-think your approach.
I first learned about OpenView VenturePartners from Social Media Examiner which highlighted the Boston venture capital firm in one of their blog posts about creative social media marketing. I watched their video of “OpenView in 60 Seconds” and I was impressed! I mentioned it in a previous blog post about adding YouTube videos to the social media mix. In the OpenView video, Managing Partner, Scott Maxwell, sums up his firm’s focus and gives his personalized view of his involvement in less than 2 minutes. The video lives in a library of other OpenView topical videos on YouTube. They obviously understand the impact of personalizing their business, delivering a crisp, creative message and catching viewers’ attention with insightful, low-commitment video productions.

OpenView’s lively website offers links to a number of social media tools (Google Currents, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and an RSS Feed). Take a look at their Facebook Page to understand how a financial services firm can present a creative social presence without violating any regulations or client confidentiality. Their topics are ones any financial services firm can use to personalize their business -- attracting an audience and keeping them there with upbeat updates. The topics they cover include:
  • internal happenings such as rites of Spring and employee promotions
  • sharing links to other creative marketing ideas
  • offering thanks for media coverage they received
  • reporting on events in which they recently participated
  • updating an album called “Faces of OpenView” with pictures of employees at work and play
  • tips on how they keep their own creative juices flowing
  • fun things they discover along their own business journey

Announcing new clients and showcasing events they sponsor are about the only ways they directly report their business operations. The rest of the time, their Facebook Page focuses on providing a deeper understanding of the people who make the company hum. They allow their public to get to know their employees’ interests outside of OpenView, attaching a very human quality to a business.
Last month, Financial Times reported that financial services firms are embracing social media, a trend in line with the industry’s tendency to be on the cutting edge of technology (Financial Times, April 15, 2012: Financial Services Firms Embrace Social Media). FT references a study prepared by Corporate Insight who surveyed 90 financial services firms about their Facebook and Twitter use. Corporate Insight confirms the importance of connecting with targeted audiences on a personal level, through social media (For the whole article, click here to register with FT for free).

The use of social media by financial services companies has increased substantially over the past few years, with great results for firms who have incorporated it thoughtfully into their marketing strategy. Revisit social media’s role in your financial services firm, especially if it is not already part of your marketing strategy. With some creativity, you could be cultivating a community of followers which could grow your business!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Small Business Week Is What You Make It

Did you know that small business products and services are responsible for half of the entire U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) (according to the U.S. Department of Commerce)? Another interesting fact I recently learned is that more than 80 percent of U.S. businesses are family owned (according to Matt Allen, Asst. Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College). I recognize that many family businesses are large, but I’ve included the statistic here because I was so amazed by it and because all of the family owned businesses I personally know are small businesses. I found both of these statistics remarkable and wanted to learn more about what a small business can get out of a national recognition of small businesses.

This week, the U.S. Small Business Administration sponsors National Small Business Week to celebrate the large contributions made by small businesses. One of the first things I noticed on their website is that the sponsors are some of the largest companies in the U.S. That sponsorship is a very supportive statement to small business owners – the giants recognize our worth and want us to succeed. Knowing they certainly do not feel threatened by our success (!), it is a nice feeling that they carved out a piece of their huge marketing budgets to sponsor the event which honors and empowers small businesses. It is a confidence-booster, a nod from the big leagues that our work does not go unnoticed. Maybe they recall their own roots. Perhaps getting their names on a nationally advertised event carried more value to them than the moral support their sponsorship provides. But I choose to view it as an attagirl! and to dismiss the thoughts of self-promotion.

So, back to wondering what small businesses can get out of this week-long event. The National Small Business Week website offered registration to valuable events this week in Washington D.C., as well as online contests that benefit small businesses. The events include dedicated networking time slots and they cover topics such as creating an economy that lasts, getting noticed by big companies, changes in lending practices, going global, and, of course, social media.

Getting like-minded individuals together is always filled with great potential for education and collaboration. In a gathering of small business owners, there is so much knowledge to be shared, collective clout to be harnessed and applied toward change, and issues to elevate with an eye toward solution.

For most of us who are not heading to Washington this week, we can take a few minutes from our busy schedules and look around at our local small business scene. With whom can we collaborate to build relationships and broaden our business? What could we do in terms of local contests to create or strengthen the cohesiveness of our local small business culture? Are there any local banks or vendors who are taking Small Business Week to heart and offering programs or products focused on small businesses? What events go on locally that we have overlooked or intentionally missed? Maybe it is time to give them a try. All of these actions can raise the profile of the local small business community.

Similar to an alumnae networking event I recently attended, we can always learn from our peers – even when we least expect it. Strength in numbers comes from talking to people in the same boat, feeling less isolated, swapping ideas, fostering alliances and friendships, and feeling pride in how far we have come.

So for small business owners, this week may be what we make it. It could be a week that, with some reaching out on our part, opens new doors to future growth. For potential and repeat consumers of small businesses' products and services, your efforts to patronize a small business this week are especially appreciated. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Get Creative, Get Personal: Online Video

It was my high school freshman who introduced me to Blendtec when he came home laughing about the YouTube videos he saw of a guy in a lab coat putting things in a blender that should never be near a blender, and standing by to see the resulting mayhem.  Blendtec’s "Will it Blend?" marketing campaign -- pulverizing marbles, iPhones, golf balls and soda cans, to name a few – experienced a 500% increase in sales since the company began putting their videos on YouTube.

Much has changed in the video world and companies of all sizes should consider this mode of social media as a great way to increase exposure to audiences. Certainly it takes creativity. But it also has a low cost of entry with very respectable videos being produced with as little as an iPhone! I watched a clip on the Social Media Examiner website where they were interviewing Steve Garfield who is a social media video guru. Steve offered the tip that his iPhone 4, which now has HD video, and a new handheld microphone (iRig Mic), could be your baseline equipment for producing a business-quality video. Now we can produce, create and share videos all on the same little piece of technology that fits in our pocket.

YouTube, in its early days, was a quick place to load any-quality, shaky videos. It has advanced to offer HD-quality viewing with annotation options used by businesses posting to YouTube: add a title to your video, provide a description for it, and be sure to include the URL for your website so people can find you from your video. Business websites now link to their YouTube pages where they store libraries of videos to promote their brands and solicit subscribers – building their communities. Bottled water company, Evian, successfully embraced this approach with their “Baby Inside” marketing campaign, which is worth a chuckle or two.

Where to put it? Embed your video in your website. Put it on your Facebook Page or Google+. Put it where ever your audience is found.

Businesses are adding video to their social media bag of tricks because it is an inexpensive way to get personal with their audience. A website with a video giving insight into a company’s personality is more engaging than one filled with text. Creativity can be showcased but video is also a way for consumers to identify core business principles as they seek brands or services. Reliability, professionalism, confidence and stability can be conveyed, even in an entertaining and personable way.
The Bark Side

While some of the most memorable videos involve big budgets and outrageous feats – check out Volkswagen’s barking Star Wars Dogs or Chevy’s video with the band OK Go – the small budget can still produce effective delivery that can bring a brand or service to life. Put some effort into the planning and you may be surprised at the results. Good promotional videos don’t happen by accident. Plan the script and venue, work with decent lighting and sound, and practice, practice, practice. Put some fun in it and humanize your brand. Updating your video periodically on your website helps it stay fresh and can keep your audience engaged.

Have you seen any fun promotional videos? What made them rock?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Case for Working Remotely

My eight-year-old niece, Esther, asked me “what would be your dream job?” Without wanting to lose my audience with specifics, I quickly came up with a visual of what my broader answer would be:  Living in a rustic cabin on the side of a mountain lake, writing. This satisfied Esther, even though it did not involve wearing a tiara, so I didn’t have to qualify it with what kind of writing I would be doing, how often, for whom and whether I could earn a living (I can listen to those questions in my head, in my father’s voice!). But my response touches on an interesting topic – working remotely.

Recently, Microsoft was inspired to connect with a group of working women to jump-start a conversation on remote working preferences.  Microsoft’s ultimate goal was to obtain some strong conversation topics across its social networks to support the marketing campaign of a new product, Microsoft Office 365.

The product, Office 365, is a package of cloud-based email, web conferencing, file sharing and web apps. The group Microsoft collaborated with was 85Broads, a global women's network whose mission is to generate exceptional professional and social value for its members.

What Microsoft learned through a survey with 85Broads, is that remote working increases productivity and job satisfaction. I definitely see the value of an effective remote working arrangement, much more so now that I am a working parent. Microsoft was wise in selecting 85Broads as their collaborators since a large percentage of working women prefer remote working arrangements in order to balance work and family. So here is my case for working remotely, intertwined with my case for working mothers:

The WhiteHouse.gov recently published a study on remote work that found “Almost one-third of firms cite costs or limited funds as obstacles to implementing workplace flexibility arrangements. However, the benefits of adopting such management practices can outweigh the costs by reducing absenteeism, lowering turnover, improving the health of workers, and increasing productivity.”

Those four benefits of adopting workplace flexibility arrangements are significant, especially because they represent a set of problems good management spends a great deal of resources analyzing and addressing, but finds itself unable to control. The opportunity to reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, improve health, and increase productivity should be major attention-grabbers for all organizations.
Besides being motivated by financial obligations and self-esteem, what I and many women bring to the remote working arrangement table is gratitude; being grateful for the opportunity to achieve an important balance.

What remote working mothers give back is substantially beyond the average employee: Employers discover contributors who are not only self-motivated to succeed, but also mature in their abilities to prioritize tasks, natural collaborators, and community builders.

Maturity: As mothers, our limits have been tested in ways we could never have imagined before children. The leveling experience of motherhood allows us to see the world through new eyes, discovering and appreciating our attributes and flaws, sympathizing with others’ struggles, celebrating each others’ successes, and eliminating previous separators such as popularity, income level and employment history.  This translates to workers who design a remote work environment with minimal distractions to get the most done, decision-makers who understand their strengths and how to apply or mold them to the tasks at hand, judges who effectively sift through their work and objectives to identify what is most important at any particular time, and realists who know their limits, seeking help even from a remote location in order to stay on course without wasting time.

Collaboration: Parents involved in their children’s education bring a great deal of value to school systems that rely upon the skills of these parents to supplement the learning experience beyond school budgets. Management, communication, creative, organizational and people skills are applied and honed in parent organizations as well as civic involvement. This translates to workers who – previously stationed at their kitchen table, computer desk, or community gathering place -- developed or improved valuable skills used in identifying issues, performing needs analyses, designing creative solutions, tapping new resources, and building consensus.

Community-Centric: Social networking and collaboration tools provide remote workers with lifelines to the communities they need in order to succeed. These tools also empower remote workers to foster new communities to take their business to the next level. Most parents quickly recognize the value of community in the raising of their children. This appreciation of fellowship carries into business through online and offline communities. Today’s gadgets make it almost impossible to disconnect. By efficiently and methodically applying smart phones, tablets, laptops, webinars, video conferencing, and cloud computing, remote workers design effective remote working structures, suitable for meeting and exceeding their professional obligations.

While it is not all about working in yoga attire – although, for me, that certainly helps! – I bring the sum of my experiences to a remote working environment, feeling grateful for the opportunity to contribute to an organization’s success and to earn income, all while soothing my soul in small acts of “being there” for my family.

Remote working environment is definitely my preference. What is yours?