Wednesday, January 28, 2009

using twitter to drive (foot & car) traffic

With a hat tip to the Blog of Mr. Tweet, here's a post about different take on using Twitter to promote your business: use it for to-go or pickup orders, and to drive traffic to your storefront, business or event. The post looks at the experience of CoffeeGroundz Cafe in Houston, where the operations manager became curious about Twitter, built a local following, and responded positively when a Twitter follower used the service to send a to-go order in--believed to be the first takeout order on Twitter. From the post:
Seeing an opportunity, Cohen started taking to-go orders via direct message from any of his Twitter Clientele. CoffeeGroundz offers free Wi-Fi, plenty of outlets, and they serve beer and wine - making it a cross between a Coffee House and a Lounge. Today, customers can order beverages and tasty bites from the comfort of their seat using Direct Messages to @coffeegroundz.
Taking advantage of the buzz on Twitter, the coffee shop also hosted a "tweetup"--an in-person meetup for Twitter users--that brought more people in the door. The shop estimates a doubling of its customers from deft use of Twitter.

Not selling coffee? Don't have a storefront? You can still adapt what CoffeeGroundz Cafe did in using Twitter to communicate for your business or organization:
  • Build a following first by finding your core audiences and influencers on Twitter. The cafe went for a hyperlocal strategy, following Houstonians. (You can use services like Mr. Tweet to find and follow like-minded folks on Twitter.)
  • Be open and responsive to questions and requests. A quick response to one order led to a completely new order stream, and if you're willing to ask questions to learn more about users' preferences, you can use Twitter as a way to pilot new approaches.
  • Don't think of Twitter as solely mobile, or your followers as distant. Understanding that Twitter orders could come from the laptop users inside the cafe as well as customers not yet on the premises helped CoffeeGroundz add convenience for all customers and underscored its wi-fi service.
  • Add high-touch to high-tech. People who chat on Twitter love the chance to meet one another in person, whether at a conference or a coffee shop. If you can host a tweetup or otherwise help them connect, you'll enhance your presence on Twitter and build loyalty (and users will promote the event for you in their posts).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

what not to know: social media policy

In recent weeks, I've seen plenty of postings--on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs--that tell me things I shouldn't know. I shouldn't know when your media relations officer has offered an exclusive item to a specific New York Times reporter. I shouldn't know how to get into an event that's closed to the public and has high security. I shouldn't know what your employees think about what your office spends on equipment -- but I do, thanks to social networks. And have you heard the one about the PR executive who made snide comments about his client's city while there for a meeting--on Twitter? The firm was Ketchum, the city was Memphis and the client was FedEx, where lots of employees are originally from the city and proud of it. And while all parties have said the dust-up is settled by now, it offers food for thought for your organization--do your employees have the guidance they need from you about posting about your company, clients or business matters on social networking sites? Do they agree with it?

While the answer to that question is "no" for many organizations just getting started in social media, it's time to start crafting your policies now--and making sure your employees are on board. The trick: Maintaining openness and transparency to remain credible with your audience and offering employees sensible guidance in case, like the person noted above, they haven't stopped to consider the impact of their actions. Here's a roundup of good policies to check out before you craft your own, with some notes on whether they'd have helped in the case above:

  • Dell has published its blog policy here (and a release about it here). Dell doesn't forbid opinions, but says they should be clearly noted as such, and goes further to say "Consumer protection and respect are paramount to Dell employees, suppliers and other company representatives." Note Dell's based its policy on ethics guidelines from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association designed to encourage honesty and transparency among marketers online.

  • In a good model for nonprofits, the Mayo Clinic just published its employee guidance on social media use, delineating between personal and work-related uses. It notes that "the main thing Mayo employees need to remember about blogs and social networking sites is that the same basic policies apply in these spaces as in other areas of their lives." Mayo Clinic cites the Blog Council as a resource, as well as...

  • Intel, with a policy that includes this useful item under "rules of engagement" that might've helped in the Ketchum case: "Be judicious. Make sure your efforts to be transparent don't violate Intel's privacy, confidentiality and legal guidelines for external commercial speech. Ask permission to publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to Intel. Also be smart about protecting yourself, your privacy and Intel Confidential information. What you publish will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully and be judicious."

  • Government agencies also have policies about employee use of social media. The U.S. General Services Administration offers these guidelines for government blogs and websites, and this link to existing federal blogs. The guidelines note: "As informal as blogs are meant to be, if they're appearing on a government domain, they're official government communications...That doesn't mean you shouldn’t have a blog—you just need to think carefully about how to use it as an effective communications tool that can benefit both your agency and the public." (After reviewing all the federal blogs for a government agency client, I learned that all of them permit anonymous comments--something many organizations hesitate to do.)

It's important when developing a policy to involve your social media team -- and as many affected employees as possible -- in the process. Taking extra time to talk through assumptions, ideas and values with those affected will do more than any policy can to ensure you're all on the same page. Want us to lead a social-media policy planning process in your organization? Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

video for the small screen

This morning, I'll send you to the radio to learn what to do with online video, as you can find several useful tips in this National Public Radio story about how online viewing has changed the music video genre. Music may not be what you're communicating, but the story gleans great tips from music-video producers that can easily translate to your efforts, such as:

  • Assume viewers will see your work on a small screen, with plenty of distraction: IMs, email, noise, social networks and more.

  • Use plenty of eye candy, if appropriate, to draw viewers in.

  • Alternatively, keep it clean. No background and high contrast will help viewers focus on your subject.

  • Stay close, as in close-ups and face shots of those speaking. Crowd scenes and long shots don't translate well on the small screen.

  • Frame your shot in the center, to accommodate square or horizontal screens on both laptops and mobile phones.

  • Get creative. A winning concept goes further on the web than expensive production values.

The link to NPR's story lets you see a variety of music videos that exemplify the shift in production values from TV to online genres, with examples ranging from Beyonce to Michael Jackson. Check them out for ideas that may apply to your next online video.

Monday, January 19, 2009

how to listen to your audience: Dell

One of my 8 tests for your 2009 communications efforts is whether you're listening to your audience (rather than monitoring them to correct them). Now, here's a great case study in the form of a Business Week article on how Dell turned around its approach to listening to blogging customers. The twist: The article's written by a blogger who once took the company to task publicly for not listening effectively. Among the changes Dell has made are: listening to bloggers, reaching out to them early for advice, letting customers rate and review products on its own website, launching a blog and a wiki to capture customer ideas, and launching its own blog. Changes in how customer issues are handled also have had an overhaul, based on blogger and customer input. Add this to your list of useful documentation when you're making the case for using social media as a communications tool.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

questions on social media for networking

At today's Tech Council of Maryland session on using social media tools for networking, we fielded a lot of questions. Here are four from participants who allowed me to record their questions on my Flip Video MinoHD Camcorder. (Thanks to the participant who volunteered to record!) As promised, I'm sharing answers here so my blog readers can benefit, too. This participant wondered about making smart choices in social networks online:

My answer: It's hard to go wrong focusing on the most widely-used networking platforms -- Facebook and LinkedIn--then consider a profile on Google. Ask your contacts what they tend to use, too. You don't need to be active daily on every site, but do post a thorough profile so the site can do its work feeding you new contacts and information targeted to what you include in your descriptions of yourself. Have a precisely targeted business audience you want to reach? It's worth searching to see whether a specialized network exists for your market.

Another executive is knee-deep in social networking media and wonders:

It's possible to manage your outgoing and incoming messages with a variety of applications, like I'm not fond of the apps that send the same status update from you to Facebook, Twitter, and other places--that seems to be a case of being efficient instead of effective. The other way to manage is to schedule your time on social networks--don't spend all day on them--and pare down those on which you're most active. A profile may be enough on some sites. Do engage others on at least one or two sites, or you'll miss their vast potential for improving your networking.

Another person, active on LinkedIn, wondered about its recommendation feature:

My answer: It's a great feature, but like anything else in social networking, it's not a numbers game. I'd rather have three spot-on, excellent recommendations from clients than 100 vague ones.

That's the perfect transition to this question about how to engage contacts:

On LinkedIn, there are several options. You can pose questions in the "Answers" section in your specialty areas, and an email will be sent to your network as well as published on the site for all to see. You can use that feature to ask for resource contacts, tips on travel to a new city, mentoring and more. You also can answer questions from others to show your (or your company's) expertise; choose a few categories and subscribe to an RSS feed so you'll get batches of questions sent to an RSS reader for easier management. Responding well to questions lets you post links to your site and to show what you know. You also can introduce one contact to another, allowing them to link if they choose; privately email a contact to see whether she's going to the same meeting later this month; request advice privately; and much more. I'd ask myself: What would I do with my contacts in person or via email, and see how the social media site makes that easier for me. Can you do someone a favor before you need one, recommend a good restaurant in Chicago, save them time finding a resource? Do it. And don't forget to give your contacts an opening to get to know you better and find common ground.

Check out all my tips on social media for more evidence of how it can help your business communicate. If your organization is looking for more time to explore social media as a communications tool, I offer a half-day orientation to business uses for social media, targeted to your industry or organization; contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz for details.

power networking with social media

I'm speaking this morning at the Tech Council of Maryland's "Power Networking" session, which combines advice about in-person networking with tips on using social media for the same purpose. (This is the e-handout for that session's participants.) Anyone who spends time on social media sites from LinkedIn to Facebook will tell you that good networking online mirrors good networking in person: You need to build relationships, share information before you need a favor, and pay attention to others' interests to find areas of affinity. But beyond those basics, there are four things you should pay particular attention to -- profiles, publishing, people and personality -- when sharpening up your social media tools for good ongoing networking:
  • Profiles: Social media profiles aren't just online resumes. Most social media sites use the keywords, photos and links in your profile to help make networking easy for you, serving up suggested contacts based on what you enter in your profile. And your profile on Google allows you to post comments on search engine results (see below). To take advantage of that, provide a complete record of your employment and education history, volunteer work, even your hobbies and out-of-work pursuits. Good profiles always include a clear, professional photo; links to your company website and any other sites (like blogs) that show what you know; and in some cases, like LinkedIn, recommendations from others. Be sure to cross-promote your profiles--that is, make sure your Facebook profile explains how to find you on LinkedIn and vice versa. To cover the basics, develop a profile on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google (create a sign in account, then go to the "manage accounts" page to edit your profile). You also may find it's useful to join a specialty social media network like GottaMentor, or to pay attention to where your contacts already reside online. (It's a great question to ask at an in-person networking event!)
  • Publishing: You also can boost your networking power by publishing frequently on the web, and social media tools make this easier than ever. Blogs are especially effective at pushing you higher in any search engine result, and give you a platform to demonstrate your expertise--particularly if you run a small business or are a subject expert. You also can publish professional updates on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter in your status updates; answer questions in your areas of expertise on LinkedIn or comment on others' blogs; and, in Google, you can click on the speech balloon that appears after every search result and type comments in the box that pops open. If you've created a profile, make sure that your "nickname" highlights your brand or website URL--that's what will appear when you make a comment on a search engine result. Sharing useful information in this way is similar to what you'd do at the office water cooler or a networking event, just more efficient and effective, as many more people can benefit.
  • People: They're the backbone of any network, but the area where most people make missteps online. Social media sites can let you find long-lost colleagues and personal contacts who may now be in businesses helpful to you, and they offer an effective and easy way to amass all your contacts in one or two places. But the same etiquette rules, decisions (whom to include or not include in your network) and conflicts apply online as in person. Amassing thousands of contacts you don't know just because you can is pointless--and all your contacts need to be purposeful. Instead, use social media sites to read and listen to what your contacts are doing. Comment or ask questions or offer help. Use the tools available to let them know what you're doing on and off the job, and they'll be more informed about you when you do need help.
  • Personality: Don't be afraid to show some, keeping in mind that you're building a permanent online record any recruiter or employer can see. Sticking to a narrow range of earnest work-only updates ("Staying late at the office again to make sure it's done right") or over-promoting yourself ("Have you read my brilliant blog post yet?") don't make you look genuine and confident, and social media sites prize authentic, credible posts. So do share insights into your out-of-work pursuits, just as you might discuss your family, golf game, sports or cooking when socializing with work colleagues. Post pictures or video using a Flip Video MinoHD Camera, which makes it easy for you to upload video. (It's the same camera we're using in today's Tech Council session.) With a hat tip to Law Firm Blogger, here's a great example of an attorney using video to liven up his web presence and share some personal background. If you add some personality to your online presence, your contacts will have more to talk to you about in person--in effect, social media sites are the world's biggest icebreaker for networkers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

study: small biz uses of social media

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have released preliminary data from a study they describe as "one of the first statistically significant, longitudinal studies on the usage of social media in corporations," specifically companies included in the Inc. magazine "500." Comparing 2007 and 2008 data, the study notes faster adoption of social media as a marketing and communications tool among small businesses, compared to the Fortune 500. At the end of this summary of topline data, you can sign up for updates from the authors once additional data are published in journals. If you're a communications director making the case for social media as a communications tool, put this in your data arsenal.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

where to catch me in early 2009

Early this morning, I caught the rehearsal for next week's presidential inaugural ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Just as the new administration's getting ready for the year ahead, lots of organizations are already lining me up to speak, train or facilitate at their meetings in the first half of 2009. Not all of them are public--for example, I'm facilitating a two-day retreat this week to help a client's communications, fundraising and marketing teams think through how to integrate social media into their existing array of programs--but you can catch me in these places:

  • This week, I'm speaking to the Tech Council of Maryland in Rockville, Thursday, January 15, on using social networking tools online for "Power Networking." The program includes tips on in-person as well as online networking.
  • February 12 in Chicago (you heard me), I'll lead
    another "Communicating Science" workshop at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Another in a series of workshops for research scientists -- covering the basics of developing messages and speaking approaches about technical topics for publicaudiences, as well as ways to reach broader audiences -- are sponsored by AAAS and the National Science Foundation, and free, but pre-registration is a must; go here for details, and hereto see how previous workshops went.
  • In March, date to be determined, I'll speak on social media as a communications tool for the Capital Communicators Group. There's still time to influence this session--what would you like us to discuss?
  • I'm keynoting the Construction Writers Association's annual conference in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 5, speaking to the group on "Gaining an Edge with Social Media," in both communications and journalism.

    If you're looking for a speaker for your communications team, membership group or board, I'm happy to discuss the topic that works best for you. Popular choices include:

    • ways to integrate social media into your existing communications strategies;

    • howto make changes now to improve your next speech or presentation;

    • issues and tips for women on public speaking;

    • how to develop your message and put it across effectively; and

    • what communications directors need to focus on in 2009.

    Contact me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz with more information about what your audiences are seeking from a speaker.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2009

    AP winning the online news video race

    As I continue to watch mainstream news media reinventing themselves in the world of social media, let me give a hat tip to Webnewser blog, which passed along this report that the Associated Press YouTube channel--less than a year old--is the second-most-subscribed "reporter" channel on YouTube, has 12,000 videos posted and 77 million views so far. I reported here on the AP channel last year, and immediately liked the idea: It makes thousands of hours of footage available direct to consumers after release to AP's subscribing media outlets, and takes full advantage of the enduring demand for online video, one of 2008's strongest social media trends. The next-most-prolific source of YouTube news videos, the New York Times, is far behind AP in its production and views. Good reason for communications and media relations directors to focus attention and video opportunities on AP