Five Universal Truths of Social Media for Business

Despite what we may think about the power of social media, there are still plenty of business owners and corporate executives who dismiss it with a wave of their hands, and pooh-pooh it as nothing more than people who want to talk about what they had for breakfast.

Nothing is more annoying to me than for someone to dismiss an idea or tool without ever having even looked at it, let alone used it. People who repeat their dislike of that idea, just because they heard other non-users say it is about as accurate as thinking you understand fraternity life because you saw “Revenge of the Nerds.”

So I can’t help but feel a little schadenfreude when those same people who dismissed social media as a passing fad of food-sharers and and parents’ basement dwellers find themselves in a panic when a social media mob comes after their company with virtual pitchforks and torches.

Plato from Raphael's School of Athens

If anyone knows about Universal Truths, it's Plato.

Nothing has disrupted marketing more in the last 90 years than social media. Everything in marketing that came after the advent of radio has all been one-way broadcasting — the advertisers talk, we listen. There’s no way to talk back. But social media has changed all of that. Now we have a channel that lets us talk back to advertisers and lets us talk to each other. And it has helped drastically change what is happening in the business world.

After writing No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls, we started to hear from more businesses about how they were using (and not using) social media for marketing, customer service, and PR. After hearing from these people, I began to figure out these five universal truths about social media in the business world.

Five Universal Truths of Social Media for Business

  1. People are no longer listening to marketers, they’re listening to each other. Gone are the days of people listening to the trained marketing professionals. Now they’re reading customer reviews and making their decisions based on what their friends, and sometimes complete strangers, are telling them. This is why review sites like Yelp.com are so popular, and why people stand in Best Buy reading reviews on the store’s site before buying a piece of electronic equipment. (I once bought a digital camera based strictly on user reviews, and didn’t read a single pixel of marketing copy.)
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  3. Your brand is no longer what you say it is. Now, thanks to people telling each other what is good and bad about a brand, your ability to define yours is nearly gone. That has been lost to your customers. They are the voice of your brand. Sure, you can put out brochures, commercials, and any other marketing piece, but as people’s voices get louder, you’re fighting to be heard in an increasingly-crowded room. What are people finding on the search engines? What’s being said about you on Facebook and Twitter? What are people saying about you on their blog that reaches thousands of readers? That’s where your true brand lies.
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  5. People want to be heard, not shouted at. Consumers are going out of their way to avoid being advertised to. We record TV shows on our DVRs just so we can skip the commercials. We watch Netflix and Hulu because they’re (mostly) commercial free. We listen to iPods and commercial-free Internet radio stations. We block ads from our web browsers.

    So when we do interact with companies online, we want to communicate with real live people. We don’t want marketing speak. We don’t want canned responses. We want help, information, answers. We want to know how your product or service will solve our particular problem. That means someone needs to be monitoring social media for our queries. And given Universal Truth #2, someone needs to be monitoring for unhappy customers as well.

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  7. It doesn’t matter how stupid you think social media is. Your customers love it. Why do you advertise on TV, because you love a particular program, or because your customers watch it? Why do you advertise in a particular magazine, because you love the stories, or because your customers read it? What about going to trade shows? Because you love being away from your family, or because it’s the best place to reach your target clients in one location?

    You may hate a particular TV show, think a particular magazine is shallow and pedantic, and despise a particular trade show. But you go because your customers are there. It’s the same thing with social media. With more than half of all Americans on some sort of social network, you’re missing a big piece of your audience just because you think it’s stupid. Know who doesn’t think it’s stupid? Your competitors, who are stealing your customers.

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  9. You have to play in it personally before you understand it from a business perspective. The best business accounts are those that are led by people personally. If you’ve been on social media for a while, you already know, and have a few favorite, people and brands that you like to interact with. But if you haven’t, you need to join it, use it, and understand how it really works.

    If you can get a feel for what works and doesn’t work for you as user, you’ll start to understand how you want your favorite brands and people to interact with you. And you’ll want to interact with your own customers and clients that same way. But if you’re not using it regularly yourself, you won’t understand how you want people to react to you.

    (h/t to Chuck Gose for #5. He said, “The people you see who are doing dumb things socially with their business are not the people you see using social media themselves.” Well said, Chuck!)

 
It’s easy to tell you what social media tools you need to use — how to use Twitter, what to do on Facebook, whether blogging is a smart marketing strategy for your business (hint: it is). But if you want to truly understand what you need to do with social media for your business, you need to understand these important truths about what’s happening to your business, how your customers are using it, and what they expect from you.

Should Social Media Marketers Give Away the Good Stuff or Get Ripped Off?

I’ve gotten burned by being a little too optimistic and open at times, especially now that I’ve been in the social media marketing business. I share the good stuff with people, and while for the most part, it pays me back in the end, there have been a couple times where I got ripped off.

Not just taken advantage of. I’ve had revenue-generating ideas stolen because I shared them too early in a negotiation process.

When I first moved to Indianapolis, I was working with a friend, Darrin, at his marketing company, and we were pitching a possible new client. As part of our pitch, I suggested that the owner start a new off-shoot company to hire entry-level employees and train them in his methods. This would end up being a feeder company for experienced employees, rather than have to scramble around at hiring time. Sort of like a minor league baseball team feeding into a major league one.No Burglars sign

It was a pretty good idea, even if I do say so myself. And I was proud of the suggestion, because the owner also seemed to like the idea, and I thought it was going to help us get the marketing contract.

Unfortunately, he never hired us. He never gave us a reason. He just took our proposal, and never returned our call, and was always “busy” when we called him. (My business partner, Paul, calls this the “Indiana No.”)

Fast forward to four years later, when I see the business owner in the newspaper for the brilliant idea “he had” for starting a smaller company for entry-level employees who later moved up to his company. It ended up being very successful company for him too.

How much did Darrin and I get for our idea?

$0.00

Not having learned our lesson that time, a few weeks later, we made another pitch to a local restaurant, including six ideas we wanted to execute for them, and one idea for a radio commercial. After submitting our official proposal, they said they weren’t interested, and kept the proposal.

A few months later when I went in to the restaurant, I saw that they were using five of our six ideas, and had used our radio commercial idea for a guest appearance on a local radio station.

How much did Darrin and I get for these ideas?

$0.00

Painful Lessons Learned

The lesson my friend and I learned in all of this? Give away the good stuff, but don’t give away the secret sauce.

It’s a shame too, because I fully believe in the Chris Brogan model of give away the good stuff. I don’t want to give away a nickel’s worth of free stuff to sell $100 worth of ideas. I want to give away hundreds of dollars of ideas to sell thousands.

Pile of $100 billsOur point was to give away some interesting ideas in the hopes that we would get hired to actually do them and get paid for it.

Did we get hired? No. Should we have gotten the contract just because we rattled off a few good ideas? Probably not.

But it seems to me that when someone pitches you an idea, and you don’t hire that person, you also should not be allowed to steal their ideas, especially when you didn’t hire anyone else to do it either. At the very least, it’s unethical, and the people who do it are skeevy.

So I’m torn. What should I do in the future?

Should I selfishly hold on to my “secret sauce” and only share the information that anyone can find in a book? I do that now when people want to “pick my brain” in exchange for buying me lunch.

Or should I give away any idea that I come up with for a potential new client in the hopes of signing them?

On the one hand, demonstrating some of our ideas could help us win a contract. On the other hand, the people we work with are smart enough to execute an idea just based on a basic two sentence explanation. If we tell them they need milk, they’ll figure out where to find a cow.

If you’re an entrepreneur, marketer, or salesperson, what do you do? Do you trust people and “share hundreds to earn thousands?” Or do you play things close to the vest and give those ideas away only when you’ve got a signed contract in hand? How would you play it?

Photo credit:

Sick of the Same Old Social Media Case Studies? Too Bad.

Are you tired of the same old social media case studies? The United Breaks Guitars, the Dell Hells, the @ComcastCares?

It’s a common complaint I hear from other social media marketers. We’re sick of people talking about these case studies all the time. We can recite them by heart, we’ve heard them so many times.

Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Social Media Luncheon 2011

Siouxland Chamber of Commerce Social Media Luncheon, November 2011

The social media mavens raise their voices to the rafters: “We’ve heard them over and over! Show me something new!”

Too bad. Do you know who hasn’t heard them?

Everyone else.

I remember when Jason Falls and I were writing No Bullshit Social Media, the question came up about whether we should include Dell Hell, United Breaks Guitars, and @ComcastCares.

“They’re old. Everyone has heard them,” was the objection.

“Our target readers haven’t heard them,” was the counter-argument. So we decided to leave them in.

A few months later, when I was speaking to a group in Sioux City, Iowa, I asked the 150 people in the room, “How many of you have heard of the United Breaks Guitars incident?” Out of the 150, fewer than 10 people raised their hands.

Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin

This is not the same dude.

We as social media marketers need to remember, not everyone uses social media. Not everyone follows it like we do. Not everyone has heard about the latest case study. Most people still confuse Chris Brogan and Josh Brolin.

While we may be tired of the same old case studies, sick to the teeth of list posts, and still roll our eyes (me included) at every “social media marketing secrets” post that tells us to use Twitter and completely fill out our LinkedIn profile, there’s a very important group of people who have never heard of this before.

Our potential clients.

Remember, while there may be over 383 million people around the world on Twitter, only 27% of them actively use Twitter. In the US, there are 107 million Twitter accounts — accounts, not active users — which is a little more than 1/3 of the country. Hypothetically, if only 27% are using Twitter actively, we’re looking at only 28.9 million people in the US using Twitter, or approximately 9.2% of the country.

In other words, nearly 90% of the country is not using Twitter. Not everyone uses YouTube. Only 40% of the US adult population has a smartphone. And only a small percentage of people are blogging. (Note: Twitter is NOT blogging.)

So while you may be sick to death of the same old case studies, the same old list posts, and the same old “social media secrets for beginners” articles, we’re still fighting an uphill battle. There are still plenty of people who still only think social media is for kids and is all about playing Farmville and Angry Birds. There are still people who don’t get “the Tweeter” and would never “want to hear about someone’s bathroom habits on FaceSpace.” There are still people who don’t understand that social media can be good for business, and that left unchecked, it can hammer your business like the fist of an angry god.

As long as there are clients who are still trying to understand why social media is important, it’s equally important that you be ready to share the stale, 7-year-old case studies with your clients. Bring out the new ones too, but don’t forget that if people feel like they share common knowledge (i.e. when two non-users get together and start talking about “that ‘United Breaks Guitars’ video”), it helps them feel smarter and more empowered to try it themselves. It may also scare the bejeezus out of them, and get them to start using it.

Arm your clients with the body of common knowledge. Go back to the same old case studies, keep using list posts (they always get the highest web traffic for me), and don’t assume everyone is carrying the latest mobile phone. It may feel remedial, but if you’re a social media professional, you need to fish where the fish are.

Three Social Media Marketing Secrets to Promoting Food

Being a B2C brand on Twitter can be hard, because the B2B world seems better suited for it.

A potential client in your niche has a question, you answer it. You identified that client because she used particular keywords, which you searched for. Or you identified her through her Twitter bio or LinkedIn profile, and found that she was in your industry. Since there are only thousands of people in that niche — and not millions, like in the B2C world — they’re easier to find, connect with, and keep up with.

But what if you’re managing the social media account for a major food brand?

The traditional reaction is to view this as another advertising channel. Maybe you think it’s an even better advertising channel, because it’s free.

However, advertising on Twitter is just like a commercial-only TV station — no one will want to watch, since no one is producing anything useful or interesting. So, telling people over and over that they can get your product “for 20% off this Friday only!” doesn’t do a thing for them. That’s not effective social media marketing. It’s shouting. No one likes being shouted at. People are either going to unfollow you, or worse, spam block you. (Get enough of those, and Twitter will suspend your account.)

Roast Duck from Great British Chefs on Flickr

Roast Duck

So what can you do? You could try posting recipe suggestions and links to recipes on your blog, but after a while that gets a little repetitive, and people will start to tune you out. You can also do a search for your food item, and retweet the people who are mentioning your product or item, but that’s not really a conversation. (Remember, social media marketing is about interacting with customers and building relationships, not about broadcasting.)

Here are three other social media marketing tactics to try:

1. Create Buyer Profiles, and Find People Who Fit Them

Maple Leaf Farms in Milford, Indiana is the largest duck producer in North America (and a former consulting client from a long time ago). And as a food producer, their market is, well, everyone. Everyone eats food, therefore, they should market to everyone, right?

Wrong.

Not everyone buys food, and not everyone eats meat. So right there we already have groups of people we can eliminate — vegans, children, and teenagers.

If I were running Maple Leaf’s account, I would start focusing on the following types of people, because they are the people most likely to buy duck:

  • Professional Chefs — This has always been a target market for Maple Leaf Farms.
  • Amateur Chefs and Foodies – They lo-o-o-o-o-ove unusual food. And as big as the world’s duck consumption is, it’s still considered a gourmet item by a lot of people in this country, so foodies will love this.
  • Moms, but especially stay-at-home moms — Duck is nutritious and healthy (most of the fat is in the skin, not the meat). And since women make most of the food buying decisions in this country, they’re the natural target to reach. I also specified stay-at-home moms, because many of them self-identify as such on Twitter, often with the #SAHM hashtag in the bio. While you’re at it, look for single dads. They’re a smaller market, but they also make all their buying decisions at home.
  • Organic Food Enthusiasts — There are no hormones in duck or poultry of any kind, so organic foodies may be a little more interested in duck for that reason.

In most cases, most of these people will have something about these interest, vocations/avocations in their Twitter bio. Go to Twellow.com and do a search for each of these groups via the keyword search tool, then follow those folks.

2. Create Lists of Profiles, Interact Directly with Those People

Twitter lets you create lists of people and you can drop people in any of those lists. Maple Leaf can create those lists, and then monitor them on TweetDeck or HootSuite. I still recommend TweetDeck, because those columns automatically update on my desktop, rather than having to refresh my screen whenever new tweets pop up.

Then, start talking to these people about the issues that they care about, especially — but not solely — if they relate to food. If you’re a parent, and they’re talking about parenting, talk with them. If they’re talking about marathon running, and you’re a marathoner, talk with them. If they have a question about where to go for dinner when they’re visiting a new city, and you’ve been there, make the recommendation. Build relationships with these people and get to know them. As they get to know you, they’ll be more willing to try the products you sell (without you ever pimping the products to them).

3. Reach out to influential bloggers

There are outstanding foodie bloggers, chef bloggers, mommy bloggers, dad bloggers, organic food bloggers who all have hundreds of thousands of readers among them. Give them a proper email pitch, not a mass email sent to hundreds of bloggers at once.

Ask the most influential of them to review your product, whether it’s through a free sample plus an extra coupon to give away to readers, or a free dinner at a local restaurant that serves duck, or whatever seems to be the most cost effective. Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that you treat the bloggers as individuals, and don’t mass email them. That will backfire, and get them talking about you, but not in the way you want them to.

These are the first steps I would take if I were in charge of the social media marketing program at a food manufacturer. Don’t try to be something to everyone; identify a few niches and appeal to them first. As you gain success, expand your reach to more people within the niches, as well as any other likely target markets.

 

My book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing (affiliate link), which I wrote with Jason Falls, is available at Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. It’s also available for Nook, Kindle, and other e-readers.

Photo credit: Great British Chefs (Flickr)

Three Ways New Fiction Writers Can Promote Their Work With Social Media

How can a writer promote their own work, especially if they are just releasing their first published work? Thanks to ebooks and ereaders, as well as print-on-demand and self-publication, any fledgling writer can publish their work and make it available to the general public.

But how can they get readers before they have even established their writing career? Here are three ways new writers can promote their newly published works to a wider audience than their moms.

1. Find readers on Twellow and Facebook.

Twellow is a Twitter directory that lets you search people’s Twitter bios. Look for anyone who would fit your target readership. If you write sci-fi, look to see if anyone has science fiction or sci-fi in their bio. Chances are they’re fellow writers, but you’ll find a lot of sci-fi fans too.

Check out the Facebook pages and groups too, and start friending and connecting with people in those groups. As you follow the other two steps, they’ll be the people you want to reach out to.

2. Pre-release the book in blog form.

As you’re writing your book, try publishing sections of it on a blog. Invite reader comment and ask them to give you feedback, ask questions, and make any suggestions. Make your changes from the blog and incorporate them into the final manuscript.

You’ll also get readers who start to follow along because they get drawn into the serial nature of the story. Plus, don’t worry about people not wanting buy the book because it’s on the web. There are plenty of people who have written books that were originally posted online first, and went on to great success. They’ll be willing to pick up your book too.

3. Create an audio version of your book.

Seth Harwood released the self-published Jack Wakes Up book as an audio podcast. He would read approximately 45 minutes of the book each week and upload it as a podcast. While that seemed to fly in the face of conventional publishing wisdom, the Jack Wakes Up ended up garnering enough attention that it was then picked up by Three Rivers Press and published.

It’s possible with some publishers that you can keep the audio rights to your book. If you’re self-publishing it, you own all versions, including audio and ebooks. So take advantage of that. Get a decent microphone (I prefer the Blue Snowball USB mic), and start reading it. Don’t launch until you get at least half the book recorded though. It builds in some extra time in case you run into a production delay.

Dear Executives, Social Media Does Not Render Your Employees Stupid

Social media does not make people stupid. It does not make them irresponsible, lazy, or unproductive. Social media will make you money, however, if you do it right.

I talk to a lot of business owners and executives who worry that if they start using social media to market their business, their employees’ productivity will plummet.

I’ve had meetings in the last two days with two different business owners. One has embraced Facebook and blogging fully, the other is worried that Facebook will hamper his employees’ ability to get work done.

The first employer urges his employees to do stuff on social media. Almost requires it. His Facebook page gets dozens of visits a day, which is awesome because they sell such a niche product, the customer base for the entire country can be measured in the thousands.

The other employer says — and rightly so — that they have so much administrative work to do around the office, he doesn’t want their Facebook efforts to distract them from getting their admin work done.

The first employer wants to know how he can do more social media marketing. The second employer wants to know the bare minimum he can get by with.

As Doug Karr says, asking what the minimum you can get by with on social media is like asking how slowly you can drive a race car.

Social Media Marketing is Not About Playing

Facebook lets me see kittehs

ZOMG! Facebook lets me play with kittehs!!

We as employers trust our employees. We trust them to answer the phones and be pleasant to everyone who calls in. We trust them to make travel to other states and make sales calls and presentations. We trust them to take payments from customers and put our money in the bank. We trust them to buy products from other companies. And we even trust them to use computers without standing over them, watching them type every email.

So what is it about social media that scares the bejeezus out of every employer and makes them think that the second they allow Facebook onto their computers, their entire workforce is going to turn into a bunch of 13-year-old girls jacked up on Red Bull and the most recent Justin Bieber sighting?

If you trust these people enough to do business in your name, collect and spend your money, and talk to your customers, then you need to trust them enough to continue to do these things while Facebook is unblocked on their computers.

If you don’t trust them, that’s your fault. If you don’t trust your employees to not screw around, you’re the problem, not Facebook. You hired the wrong people, and that’s a management issue.

Hire people who will get their work done, and make your expectations for social media usage clear from the outset. These are people who can help your company be more profitable, so why not take advantage of that?

Social Media Marketing is About Making Money

The whole reason for a business to be on social media is to make money. Period. It’s not to play Farmville on Facebook. It’s not to pin the latest novelty cake on Pinterest. It’s not to take photos of a rusted out piece of farm equipment on Instagram. It’s to find people who would be interested in buying your products or services.

Every business owner and manager is always looking for a way to make more money and be more profitable. The problem is, many of them are hampered by doing the things that don’t make them money. Doing payroll. Filing claims. Managing inventory. Filling and shipping product orders.

The problem is, payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping don’t make you money. Marketing makes you money. Finding new customers makes your money. If you’re a business owner, and you’re spending your valuable time doing payroll, paperwork, inventory, and shipping, instead of generating revenue, outsource them.

Hire a bookkeeping firm to manage payroll. Hire a virtual assistant to file your claims. Hire a $10 hour college student to count inventory and stick orders in boxes. The less of this non-revenue generating work you can do, the better.

Spend the newly found time pursuing new customers. Spend it on Facebook, Twitter, or writing your blog. It doesn’t take long to bring in a couple choice clients to recover the costs of having a part-time employee handle the grunt work that’s actually losing you money. Have them handle more of your non-revenue workload, and find a couple more. You can grow just by having someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

But it starts with letting go of the fear that your employees are going to be struck stupid the second you allow Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn on your company computers.

Photo credit: bjornlifoto (Flickr)

Social Media Marketing Lessons from a Broken Pilot G2 Pen

My pen died last week.

Normally, this is not big news. In fact, this may be the lamest thing I’ve ever written about, and that includes my “this is my first post” post on Blogger back in 2003.

Broken Pilot G2 .5 mm pen

It gave its life in service of my words.

But it’s a notable event, because I want to brag about my pen, and also talk about the power of strangers in the world of social media marketing.

Social media has turned the marketing world on its ear, because it has disrupted marketing altogether. It used to be that we needed professional marketers to tell us what was cool/great/awesome about a particular product. If the paid professionals told us, then it must be true. Or at least, if it wasn’t true, their shouting generally drowned out the one or two detractors who hated the product. In fact, if there was something we didn’t like about a particular product, we got our talking points from a competitors’ commercial, much like talking points in a political ad.

But several years ago, when we started using early social media, like AOL, and creating websites with comments, we started relying on each other to tell us what was cool/great/awesome about a particular product.

That’s how I became such a fan of my Pilot G2 pen. In 2004, I had just entered the world of Moleskine notebooks, way before they became douche-y, and realized I couldn’t use just any old pen in the same notebooks used by Hemingway, Picasso, and Bruce Chatwin. So I went to the Moleskinerie website, an online community for and by Moleskine fanatics, and looked for any recommendations for a good pen. As it turns out, a few months earlier, someone had posed that very question, and the fans weighed in. In fact, it was one of the most commented-on posts they had.

The commenters far and away raved about the Pilot G2 pen, the 0.5 mm size, so I bought one and immediately loved it. I loved it so much, I have used nothing but Pilot G2 0.5 mm pens for the last 7 years, even carrying the same exact pen for over four years (I cannibalized the cartridges from a box of G2s to replace the empty one, rather than just replacing the entire pen). That pen finally broke last summer, so I had to pull out a second one, which broke last week and leaked all over the place.

The cool thing about this is, for as often as I use this pen, to have only one break or go bad in nearly eight years, I’m very pleased. (I’m especially pleased I found it before it leaked into my shirt pocket.) That’s a pretty good testament to quality — to have one cartridge go bad in 8 years of using them? I’ve never even had a car that long without developing problems.

But the coolest thing? I bought this pen based on the advice of a bunch of people I had never met. I didn’t need the Levenger people telling me what was cool about the $237 Pelikan, or Faber-Castell’s four-color booklet on the long history of the Faber-Castell name. All it took was several random comments from a bunch of strangers who were passionate about a notebook and were choosy about their pens.

Traditional Marketers May Be Out of Work Soon

Marketers who haven’t yet embraced social media need to take note: you’re basically out of a job. Consumers are no longer being persuaded by your beautiful graphics and well-designed websites and brochures. We’re being informed by them, but we’re not being persuaded. Instead, we’re persuading each other.

Italian artist Luc on 24 hours of Le Mans - he sketched and wrote about the highlights of the auto race in his Moleskine notebook

We’re getting advice from each other on where to eat, what to watch, which computers to get for our kids, what cameras to buy, what cars to drive, and yes, even what pens to write with.

Marketers who want to take advantage of this should provide places for your customers to talk to each other. You should get your products and/or services into the hands of influencers. Moleskine went so far as to buy Moleskinerie.com and leave it in place, so Moleskine users could share what they were doing with their notebooks, like Italian artist Luc, who uploaded several photos of his sketches and notes about the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race.

The smart marketers aren’t telling us what’s cool/great/awesome about their products. They’re providing places for the rest of us to tell each other. They’re sponsoring special niche networks on Ning and other platforms for their target audience. They’re getting their products into the hands of influencers. Or in the case of Fiskars and their Fiskateers (which we discuss in No Bullshit Social Media), they’re turning it into a niche community and a research and development channel. They’re basically letting us do all the work for them, and are getting out of the way.

Social media marketing is disrupting the way traditional marketing is done, and giving us all of the power. Now if I can just get someone to send me another pen, I’ll be happy.

Photo credit: Broken pen –
Moleskine Notebook – Luc on Not Not Tana