Hey Groupon, Can You Spare Some Culture Change?

While there’s been a lot written about the aftermath of Groupon’s IPO, falling share price and certain investors now leaving, the part of the story that’s getting lost a bit in the shuffle is how important a culture shift can be to a company’s trajectory. It’s no coincidence at all to me that Groupon’s struggles happened around the same time that its culture appeared to go through a fundamental change.

Up until about late last year, every other article about Groupon seemed to be about its loose dress code and vacation policy, its management’s quirky sense of humor, the transparent vibe, the customer service people who spent time at Second City, the actor who was hired to walk through the offices in a ballerina tutu.

So what happened?

In two words: Wild success. And ironically, believe it or not, those uncharted waters beyond the first big milestone can sometimes be a bad thing.

“It seems like the high echelons of upper management have forgotten their fellow employees. People are secretive. Shadow-like. Nobody talks to anyone. It’s like a high school.”

                                                – Glassdoor.com Company Review

We see this all the time in the Advertising world: Small agency with talented people and a cool culture gets outrageously successful, wins lots of new business, wins awards and earns great press. Then they get purchased by a bigger entity, which, of course, says, “We’re not going to change anything. We recognize why the agency we bought was successful and we don’t want to tamper with that success.”

It sounds promising when everyone is all smiles, handshakes and photo opps. Until some time passes and some elements slowly begin to change – not necessarily for the better. The culture that made the small agency great gradually melts away. Key players leave. You start to hear remaining veterans wandering the halls talking about the “good ol’ days” when so-and-so was running things.

 “Some employees who were bumped up to manager status in the hiring blitz have no idea what they’re doing. One is known to have admitted she ‘doesn’t like people’ and avoids most of our her staff, except her favorites.”

– Glassdoor.com Company Review

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems the very same pattern may have emerged here with Groupon.

 

Integrate Sales More into the Brand

Groupon is not unique in this circumstance – sometimes when I speak to companies, they refer to the Sales team as “those guys” off in some territory doing things that management hopes is the right message. But they’re never quite totally sure that Sales understands the “big picture” of what brand is aiming to achieve. This is where a lack of consistency can be hugely detrimental.

Think about how important this is. In many events, your people in Sales are at the front lines of telling your brand story. How many of them are all about making commission and how many get the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish from a brand standpoint? Do your prospects/customers feel those salespeople are acting on their best interests?

In Groupon’s case, the directive from management seems to have been, “Close, close, close” without trying to customize very much for what their prospective merchants needed. It may be convenient for some to say that these merchants knew what they were getting into but did they?

If we’re to believe the comments of several current and former employees posted on employer rating site GlassDoor.com, it appears much from a Sales perspective at Groupon in the last year has been a mandate from management about the almighty “Bottom Line”: Making as many calls as possible, closing as many deals as possible and caring little about the merchant’s goals or well-being. Think that makes earning repeat business just a little difficult?

Some may make excuses in a “Hey, that’s a salesperson’s mentality for you” way, but I don’t buy it. It takes a special kind of salesperson to be able to speak to what your brand stands for, weaving it into their sales message eloquently. They can still close while delivering a message on point that leaves the prospective customer with a great impression of the brand for the long-term. Not just meeting the month’s quota.

Still, in that salesperson’s defense, it takes strong upper management with clear and constant communication to bring home this larger vision. If the only directive is “Always Be Closing,” a brand can get wrecked in no time.

Hey, where’s that foosball table we used to play with?

We have to give more credit to the role of fun and teamwork in a brand’s success. It starts from within, not from outside perception. I can’t help but wonder if that’s where Groupon has lost its way. If a company preaches the virtue of having a bold, irreverent environment, shouldn’t it see the merchants it sells to as part of a larger community where everyone wins, not just the employees? What about the customers who purchase a Groupon – shouldn’t those coupons be increasingly more personalized so we’re not being bombarded by random stuff that doesn’t apply to our life every day?

It’s not too late for Groupon to turn things around. But it’s going to take a clarified mission from the top, more consistent and attainable goals, transparency on career paths, an openness to employee feedback at all levels as well as working in the long-term interests of the merchant, not just pressuring them into the first deal.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting back to being the fun company that isn’t afraid to let its hair down in the name of team camaraderie – not just the one that’s trying to meet its numbers at all costs. Happy employees can be amazingly productive employees and great advocates. Nurture them. Now.

Deal?

5 ways you aren’t using LinkedIn (but should)

Create a profile. Ask people to connect with you. Update your account with new info.

Technically speaking, it may mean you’re on LinkedIn. But it isn’t really making LinkedIn work for you.

These three steps represent the basic, passive approach that the majority of businesspeople take once they join LinkedIn. In fact, some people don’t even get that far, merely entering the basics into a profile and leaving it as is for months at a time.

Which is a lost opportunity, considering the vast potential and promise it holds, particularly for entrepreneurs

“LinkedIn is the most effective business development tool since the advent of the cellular phone,” says Steve Fretzin, president of Sales Results, a national sales training firm. “In a time when gatekeepers and voicemail have all but eradicated the sales professional, inside connections are sometimes the only way through the door.”

That means entrepreneurs willing to dial it up a notch or two to switch their passive LinkedIn presence into a much more active one can be found more often, prospect for business more productively, leverage their network better and engage in true relationship building.

How? By using these five lesser-used but far more active tactics to power up your presence on LinkedIn:

#1: Rev up your recommendation acquisitions

By themselves, adding recommendations may seem passive, but I’m speaking more of the way in which you view and pursue them. Sure, you probably ask for a recommendation now and then. But every client/strategic partner/employer you have or have ever had a positive outcome with should represent a recommendation on LinkedIn. That’s right. Every single one. After all, shouldn’t someone who has benefited from your services want to say good things about you? Of course they should. This is perhaps the most underutilized feature of LinkedIn.

What’s more, recommendations may be more effective than anything else on your profile, according to Mr. Fretzin.

“A good analogy is how people choose a restaurant these days. We’re living in a time when people are more likely to trust the opinions of someone on Yelp or Urbanspoon than a critic’s review,” he said. “Similarly, on LinkedIn, we’d rather read the recommendations of others than only hearing what the person we are researching has to say. Why? Because we’d rather listen to people who are like us.”

#2: Are they looking at you? Then seize the moment.

When you upgrade to a LinkedIn Premium account, you can see all the people who have looked at your profile as opposed to only the most recent, which you see in the free version. What’s the advantage here? Without being creepy about it (“I saw you were looking at me!”), this represents an opportunity for potential follow-up as chances are good that person has some intent in looking for someone in your field or as a strategic partner.

#3: Optimize your profile for your target

Another advantage of LinkedIn Premium? You can see the search terms people are using to find your profile, which enables you to tailor your profile to incorporate the most popular terms. This goes beyond just tweaking your profile for the sake of appearing in search. It’s taking an active role in seeing how a specific set of search terms resonate with a specific set of people you want to attract more of.

#4: Search smarter and faster

Besides optimizing your profile to be found more easily, the other side of the search equation is in searching for your ideal prospect faster without restrictions. The Premium level enables you to save serious time by quickly zeroing in on prospects based on criteria such as seniority, company size, function, groups and more.

#5: Maximize activity with a warmer introduction

How often are you asked for an introduction to someone in your network?

How often do you ask a connection to introduce you to someone in their network.

Not much? You’re not alone. By themselves, cocktail hour networking and morning coffee chats may seem productive, but one of the biggest mistakes Mr. Fretzin sees people make is when they equate increased networking activity with progress – and becoming frustrated when relationships stall. A third-party introduction via LinkedIn can change that dynamic.

“The typical networker is only 10 percent effective at obtaining a quality introduction from someone they meet through networking,” Mr. Fretzin said. “Ninety percent of the time, people are just meeting people for meeting people’s sake. LinkedIn can take networking to another level when you leverage past or existing clients to get introduced to that person’s network at a high level.”

I’ll contend there are certain areas with LinkedIn that could allow for far more of a true business dashboard that incorporates a CRM, complete social networking, video conferencing and more. If and when it ever gets to that point, look out.

But let’s not wait for that evolution before evolving ourselves – because by turning the typically passive presence on LinkedIn into a more active one, we won’t just be standing out from the majority. We’ll be more likely to transform mere “Connections” into real relationships.

And isn’t that what we’re there to do?

The Dumbest Thing You Can Do On LinkedIn

LinkedIn isn’t for racking up as many connections as possible and turning people into a pack of baseball trading cards. At its best, it’s a way for taking the next step in a business relationship, forging a strategic partnership, getting educated from a trustworthy resource and/or introducing two parties that could be a fit.

It can also be a great way to share blog posts, presentations, groups, associations and bolster your personal profile. Nothing wrong with that at all.

That should be at least enough to start with, right?

Good. So Don’t Do This:

A) Make a connection with someone
B) Spam them via private message with your self-promotional garbage as the first or only method of communicating.

It’s called relationship building. Getting to know someone. Even if I have a need for your product or service, you do not deserve to be called back by anyone if you send a blanket email as a first form of introduction that does not appear to address their needs. They just gave you permission to connect with them and you decide that that gives you license to push ad messages to them?

Just one question for anyone who makes practice of such a tactic: Are you kidding me with this?

We are entering a time that will only demand greater personalization.
One-on-one communication will rule the day even more.
Consequently, identifying the best targets in the interest of time will be in ever-greater demand.
And the companies that can leverage these tools to get to that more likely target to have a customized conversation will find themselves ahead of the game.

Meanwhile, their competitors will send one message to all of their LinkedIn followers all the time, pat themselves on the back for their supreme knowledge of social media and brag in networking settings about how they’re really utilizing LinkedIn to work their network.

Bullcrap.

You’re advertising your own stuff and not getting to know your audience. It’s easy. It’s also lazy and, for many, largely ineffective.

To be clear, I’m not saying to stop sending out e-newsletters or e-mails or other pieces of communication that go to many people at once. I’m saying if I never met you before in my life, that would not be an ideal way to first meet you. Agreed?

I’m working on an article with the help of Steve Fretzin from Sales Results on the best uses of LinkedIn, including methods that aren’t merely of the passive variety. I look forward to sharing it with you very shortly.

In the interim, when you make a connection with someone on LinkedIn, see if the possibility exists for you to have coffee, breakfast, lunch or a drink after work. If they’re remote, could it be a Skype call or phone call? I admittedly haven’t done this every time with every one of my connections, but I’m aiming to up the ratio to be far more personal. That way, when I do have something to invite them to, hopefully they’ll have had at least one touch where we understood more about one another.

Having 5000 connections means nothing if you don’t get to know them.

When Social Media Channels Don’t Matter

If you don’t have a brand strategy and rich, compelling content to supply people on at least a semi-consistent basis, I don’t care how many social media channels are out there. You should not be on a single one of them until you figure out what your purpose is and what you’re going to supply in the way of content that people can benefit from.

Until you address that, you have no heart. No soul. No story. No brand.

“Should we be on Facebook?” If you don’t know what you’re going to say there? No.

“Should we be on Pinterest since there’s a lot of women on it and we’re a female-owned company?”
No. You should be on Pinterest if you see an opportunity for people to piece together what you believe and value  as a brand (or as a person behind that brand). The fact you share a gender has nothing to do with it.

“I have 25,000 followers on Twitter.” Am I supposed to be impressed by that, really? You could’ve bought those for all I know. Which, by the way, is really stupid and less than genuine. Now, if you were someone who got to that point of greatness through your constant back-and-forth interaction, I think you’ve got something. More than something, actually. You have a story to tell that provides a continuous stream of content that people can benefit from? You’ve got some meat to go with those potatoes. Some heart and soul. Some vision.

“Should we be on (insert any social media channel you want here) since our competitors are there?” No. At least not for that reason alone. Because all you’re doing is playing monkey see, monkey do and following their every move. Do you want to have a purpose or do you want to be a puppet?

Social media is the megaphone. But without knowing what to say and how to say it, all that comes out of it is noise.

For some of you, this may be elementary. If so, my apologies. But there’s still a lot of people out there who are putting up Facebook pages, Twitter handles, YouTube channels and Pinterest boards…without knowing why. Don’t put up a social media channel because everybody’s doing it. Be able to say “We put up a Facebook Page because our audience is there, it’s the best place for us to convey what our brand is trying to say, it’s where we’ve seen strong interaction, etc.”

It’s like buying a house and saying afterward, “Why did we buy that?”

Your spouse looks at you and says, “Well, because everybody said we should.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t fit with our life’s plan or our goals. I don’t even know if I’m going to like this neighborhood a few years from now.”

“Well, jeez. Why are you telling me this now after we just invested in one of the most important purchases of our lives?”

It’s not easy to walk away from that decision, obviously. Once you’re in, you’re there to stay for a while. It’s not that different from the social media commitment in a way. If you’ve already “bought” a place on social media, it’s hard to suddenly say, “You know what, online universe? We don’t want to be on this channel after all. Never mind.”

It’s not too late to turn that ship around. But take a look in the mirror and ask why you’re there and what you want to say. Everyone should do this self-check regularly, myself included.

The story of your brand can never stop being told. Don’t waste another moment finding out what yours is.

Where’s Your Buyer on This Graph?

It’s not easy to put social media users into nice and neat demographic profiles, but we’re getting smarter about it by the day.

Personally, I like to err more on the side of how people behave online and level of interaction with social media when classifying them anyway over too much of the traditional “age/race/income” classifications. I’m not sure that all 65-year-olds shy away from social media, for example. They may have a Facebook page and/or LinkedIn profile while displaying a comfort level with e-mail and using search engines.

Nonetheless, I thought this infographic from Aimia, a loyalty management company from Canada, was an interesting breakdown that offers some compelling ways to categorize people when planning social media strategy. I wouldn’t take it word for word as every brand’s audience is different, but it still may begin to paint a better picture when planning your brand’s buyer persona. Enjoy.

5 Steps To Creating A Better Internship Program

As college students prepare to kick off their summer with the hope of landing an internship, there’s still time for your company to design an intern experience that’s worthwhile for both them and you. When it goes well, there’s nothing like mentoring a person who has the passion for learning more. When it doesn’t go as well? There’s a reason for it. It usually comes down to the company’s lack of planning, not so much the intern candidate.

Here are four signs that you’re about to offer up a lousy internship experience:

• You see interns as “grunts.”

• You feel they should just be happy to have an internship at all.

• You don’t know what they’re going to do but you’ll figure it out.

• You feel they should be broken rather than taught.

Wow, where does a young mind sign up for that experience of giant ego and rampant disorganization? The fact is, one bad internship could sway a person unnecessarily from a career path they’re actually made for.

Fortunately, here are five key points associated with offering internship experiences that will start your program on a path that’s a lot more rewarding for all parties.

 

Step One: See them as real team members, not “extras.”

This is a big step because it forces you to aim higher for a candidate who is expected to demand more of themselves and contribute to your company regularly. I didn’t suggest to give an intern the exact same responsibilities as anyone else. I’m saying to give them the opportunity to collaborate with staff while creating and presenting their work — real work — to others. What can you unload that challenges them but something you can still evaluate?

When you do this, some beautiful things tend to happen: First, you demand more of the student and if they rise to the occasion (as they often can and have), they give you a tremendous effort back. Second, they never forget the trust you had in them, not to do the work singlehandedly but at least to be involved and contribute as part of a larger team.

 

Step Two: Write their role description.

I know it seems crazy, but some internships have no structure. The intern shows up and hangs out to see if anybody needs any help. Don’t believe me? Yours truly had that from an internship. Part of this lack of definition might have something to do with the fact that the people hiring them just wanted an intern who could “help out when the situation calls for it.” Whether you’re talking about a job or an internship, writing out the role on paper gets everyone quite literally on the same page about what is and isn’t entailed.

 

Step Three: Find out what their goals are.

This is what sets apart ordinary programs from better ones in my opinion. Beyond the fact that they want to “learn a lot,” dig deeper and press your candidate to give you one to three very concrete goals they want to achieve during their experience with you. And hold them to it, although it’s something you both work toward and monitor the progress of, too. When it’s more customized to the intern’s goals, it’s hard to find two experiences that are exactly the same.

 

Step Four: Determine what your goals are.

What’s your purpose or gain for adding them into the fold for a few months? What do you get out of it? It might be a fresh perspective on regular challenges, a good way to evaluate a potential employee (if not now, then a couple of years down the road) or even as a tactic that fits in with what your brand stands for.

Think about how your role is going to change a bit, too. These are young minds that crave feedback. Are you or others on your team going to be in a position to regularly give it in a meeting, at lunch, in the course of your day? Or will you be hardly ever around?

 

Step Five: Decide whether it will be paid or unpaid.

Let’s agree that if you’re in a position to pay an intern, you should. But what if your company genuinely can’t swing that, financially speaking, and students are still interested in an opportunity?

Press on with an unpaid internship program. And don’t let the critics of this practice dissuade you.

There are some people who believe the only internships that should exist are paid ones because otherwise it creates a system of “haves” and “have nots.” I have news for those people – if some small businesses are forced to do paid internships, they may be forced to do away with the program altogether, which punishes all student candidates. That’s not a solution.

If you do an unpaid program, you should still think of the small but meaningful things you can do to make the student’s life easier financially, whether paying for their gas money, lunches now and then, reading materials and more.

Personally, I think the value of a solid internship program is underrated. These opportunities become a fantastic marketing tool for the brand – after all, when the student returns to school, who is your former intern going to tell about his or her hopefully positive experience?

That’s right. A pipeline that may include your next potential intern.

Read more: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20120530/BLOGS06/120539991/5-steps-to-creating-a-better-internship-program#ixzz1xEvH6DI6
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