Don’t Be A Channel Changer Over Facebook Timeline.

I’m hearing some reaction to the Facebook changes that have to do with its Timeline feature and frankly, I think the hysteria is quite overblown.

Whoa. Let’s slow down and remember a couple things.

1) You don’t own Facebook.
They can do whatever they want and it’s your choice to participate in it for free. I didn’t say they always make moves that are right (even Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t say that). But you and I both know they’re in control of the site at the end of the day.

2)  Switching to another channel over what is essentially a layout change is frivolous.
You can flee to another social media channel in protest…that will eventually make changes to its layout/visibility settings that you’ll protest, causing you to either go back to Facebook or another channel entirely. The Timeline change may annoy you but it’s not worth picking up and moving over. I saw a comment from someone who said “I’m going to Google Plus and I hope they won’t mess with anything the way Facebook is!”

Let me save you some time. They will.

You may like the changes, you may not, but they will change in appearance and functionality from what they have now. Regardless…why place the importance on that rather than the importance of conveying and sharing great content with the audience you care about? Does it prevent you from doing that? No. When a social media channel prevents you from easily creating and sharing the content that matters, that’s when I have issues with it. If another channel can do that for me in a more advanced way, you bet I’ll take a closer look at that option – not necessarily to replace the former, but to add to the overall mix.

If you want greater control over the content you create and share, take a look at your website and blog. These aren’t the only places your content should be living, but they are the places where a lot of your content can originate from.

Facebook is often a great distribution channel, but not necessarily the greatest place for certain types of content to originate from. This is why putting the whole of your brand into outside social media channels while ignoring your own “house” is a mistake that’s really worth getting upset about – a lot more upsetting than anything Facebook is going to change.

6 Tools Better Than An FAQs Page

Picture that someone has just absorbed your home page and perhaps dove into your other pages. They’re crossing an important point where they’ve gone from ordinary visitor to more interested party. They may not be ready to BUY just yet, but it’s reasonable to expect that they’re moving toward having an initial conversation, right?

They just have a few questions they’d like to have cleared up, perhaps even before that first actual meeting takes place.

Perfect! They can just go to the FAQs page on your site and surely most of those questions if they’re common enough will be addressed, right?

Sure. And that’s the problem.

You can have your website answer the question and watch the lead potentially disappear by thinking about it or YOU can personally address the question by building customer service mechanisms into your site that are more advanced than a page of “Catch All” answers.

A personal answer leads to a conversation.

An FAQs page may go nowhere.

Imagine that you’ve just answered that prospect’s burning question. Now you get one of those cherished moments where the prospect says…

“You know, as long as I have you on the line…”

It’s this follow-up sentence that leads to moving the conversation down the tracks further. And that’s a lot less likely to happen with an FAQ. In that case, the prospect gets the answer they’re looking for, but there’s not much to build upon the answer. Many times in a conversation, thoughts and questions arise that you hadn’t considered before, which leads to more questions.

And in turn, that creates the opportunities for more answers. Customized answers.

Here lies another fallacy of the FAQ: Lack of customization.

You say you’re not a one-size-fits-all company but you’re giving common answers for all. I know, you’re just being helpful. But again, if you want to ensure an experience that helps the prospect get exactly the answer they’re looking for, even if it’s something that another prospect has asked, don’t you want to be sure by answering it yourself? No two conversations are exactly the same. This is a good thing.

Ah, but you may say the FAQs provide all the answers in one place.

Convenient? Sure. But let’s remember something about your website. It’s got to work hard to hook a person in and give you information about that visitor so the visitor converts into a more serious lead opportunity. You know more about them and you know they have interest in learning more about you. They’re no longer a data point. They’re Jim McGillacutty from Fayetteville, Arkansas who has a question about your services. If Jim browses an FAQ and leaves, you’ve gained little. If he opens a chat window to get the answer, you’ve gained tremendously.

But the customer doesn’t want to be sold, right?

So we’re assuming that every personal chat is going to be used as a blatant selling opportunity? I don’t agree. If you’ve trained your customer service team appropriately, the sell is very soft and the advice is very helpful rather than too sales-ish.

Sure, if your people leap into “How many orders would you like of that today?” right after they’ve answered a question, that’s a turn-off.

You can be personal without being pushy.

To help you feel better about leaving the FAQ page off your site, here are 6 mechanisms that I believe work better:

1. Blogging

Sometimes I hear, “Search engines like FAQ pages because they provide a lot of content.”

Does a blog not have the ability to provide a lot of content? Does a blog not have the ability to answer a common question that prospective customers have? Could you not build certain keywords into it so search engines find it?

And if they come across a blog post that answers their question, wouldn’t it seem likely that they’d explore other posts and stay more engaged with the site beyond just one page of answers?

Seems to me that if you had a dozen common questions, you might have a blog post or two. Or 12.

  

2. Skype / Instant Message Windows

A few months ago, on a client’s behalf, I was evaluating a company that helps set up apps for Facebook contests called Wildfire. I give them props here because they handled my questions exactly the way I would need them to without an FAQ.

See, the problem with FAQs is that you run the risk that the prospect’s “Q” is not on the list. And that leads to frustration. Buh bye. Thanks for playing. Game over, man.

Instead, I was able to chat with one of Wildfire’s customer service reps via text chat in a convenient window on their site. I typed out my stupid question, which led to more stupid questions and I was able to get the app set up without too much difficulty. And I’m a content person, not a developer. Would an FAQ have answered my questions as well? No way.

 

3. Dedicated Twitter Handle

I’m not talking about your general Twitter account but a Twitter handle that is designed purely to connect and interact in real-time with questions about your business. Taking a cue from the hospitality industry, there are hotels that use Twitter as concierge to inform travelers to that city about reservations, things to do in town, restaurants, bars, concerts, you name it. Your business may be able to apply the same principle to your audience as well.

 

4. Private Message on Your Facebook Page
This is a feature that Facebook is rolling out and will become more and more prominent – business pages will allow fans to private message that business, which helps alleviate any concern you might have about asking your question out in the open for all to see.

Like Twitter, this provides a place where you can answer your prospect’s question and capitalize on the location they’re already living in, in the social media realm.


5. Google Plus Hangouts
Dell is a big fan of Hangouts for customer service purposes, as it plans to use the video chat service of Google Plus to help multiple users. As G+ continues to gather steam, how great would it be to host regularly scheduled sessions to help a group of people at once with similar questions, again, in real-time.

 

6. Question Box and Form
I like this avenue least, but it’s still an option that invites conversation – the question box. It’s less advance and less interactive, but it’s better than nothing. This is very, very important – make sure if you’re going to make them articulate their problem in a boxed area on your site that you guarantee when you’re going to respond back to them – definitely within 24 hours and preferably sooner.

 

Why can’t you do both?

If you must have an FAQ and chat mechanisms on your site, so be it. I would rather you try the best of both worlds than have an FAQ and nothing. The reality is that some have become so comfortable with FAQs and little else that if eliminating such a page makes you that nervous, keep it but make sure you’re building in other avenues that, quite frankly, I hope your prospects pursue before they even feel the need to visit your FAQ page.

Because if you build in the tools you need, they won’t need to visit the FAQs and your brand’s relationship with that person will be better off for it.

Every social media cocktail needs a beer chaser.

By now you’ve probably been bombarded with enough posts elsewhere on Google Plus, so you’ll be glad to know this isn’t one more of them. Because what I’m writing about has wider implications than just one tool. It has to do where your entire brand lives in the social media realm.

I’ve come to the conclusion that clearly in terms of social media we should all be on TumblrGoogTwitBookTube.

Sorry for the confusion, but I think others with their behaviors and proclamations of late are just as confusing.

I’ve had it with those who feel another social media tool has to die so that another may live. Maybe it’s the rush to be proclaimed as a prophet of some sort, but it’s bogus. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s dangerous brand strategy and it risks burning the relationships you’ve cultivated.

I really have to marvel at people who are writing about how they are leaving their current outposts because something else has come along that’s far superior.

“We were on Facebook but we’re moving everything to Tumblr.”
“We were on WordPress but we’re going over to GooglePlus. Follow us there!”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

They’re missing the point of how their own fans and followers use social media, which is to say that we almost never put all our energy toward one channel.

We have a hub and then, many times, we have at least a secondary channel. The most common example I’ve witnessed of this is Facebook for personal relationships, LinkedIn for business relationships. Or LinkedIn/Facebook as primary hub, Twitter as a 2nd, lesser visited destination.

It’s kind of like a favorite of restaurant of mine that serves a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser of Miller Lite during Sunday brunch – every good primary hub deserves a secondary accompaniment. Much like the primary and secondary ways we consume social media. Or “Hubs” and “Outposts.”

It’s downright rare for us to spend 100% of our time in one place and that’s more than OK. Yet, every single time a new tool comes along like Google Plus, it has to be the Killer of something else. It was the Facebook Killer, the Twitter Killer and the LinkedIn Killer.

Nope. I’m not buying it.

Why can’t we research, experiment and explore? I spend the majority of my time on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not only because it’s what I’m comfortable with at the moment but more importantly, it’s where the people I have relationships with and potential clients are spending their time online. With Google Plus being new, I’ve done my due diligence to check it out because like many other people, I was curious. If enough of my audience is there – and stays there – I’ll deepen my commitment (I wouldn’t get hung up on the 10 million people who signed up for it until we see the staying power months from now).

I remember a much simpler time when we only debated in absolutes between “digital” media and “traditional” media. 

Which was seriously only a couple years ago.

Now, just as social media is gaining credibility in the boardroom as a viable option for marketing budgets – yes, I believe we’re moving past that point – we’re going to complicate matters and confuse them by saying, “No, don’t go here anymore, you want to put all your energy over here.”

“But I thought you said Facebook was equivalent to the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world.”

“Yeah, I did, but it’s on its way out. You want to be on Tumblr. You can do so much more with it.”

“But our audience is in their 40’s. Isn’t that a tool more popular with Gen Y right now?”

“It’s OK. They’ll come around to it.”

Sure. But they’re not all there right now. So it’s more sensible to dip my toes in that water before jumping in with reckless abandon.

This may sound like you shouldn’t be flexible, but I’m actually championing for greater mobility.

Far before this thing called the Internet and social media came along, advertising agencies who had intelligent planners knew that their audience probably watched TV, listened to the radio and read certain magazines. They didn’t tell companies to put 100% of their marketing budgets in one medium.

We shouldn’t be telling people that now.

What I’m hearing is the equivalent of someone not only telling a marketer to put all their money in TV, but all their money in one channel like ABC. That doesn’t sound like good advice, right?

Well, telling a brand to go “all in” on one social media channel is probably along the same lines of competence.

We should be telling people to diversify and plan based on what we have gathered about the way their audience has, is and will behave. If social media is a component of their brand strategy – which it is – we should be treating it as such by diversifying our percentages of time spent on various channels rather than flipping off the light switch while people are still in the room talking.

I’m not suggesting that you should spend time on a dying channel or a channel that’s not reflective of your audience. That would be silly. What I am suggesting is that you should add social media channels rather than burn bridges. We can still be pioneers and sherpas of social media while being true to how our brand’s followers are living today. Then, if and when it appears that either the channel is on its way down for the count or that your audience is steadily trickling away from that channel, you make a move to change your commitment to it. From “primary” to “secondary” to “non-existent” if you have to.

So it’s OK to suggest when appropriate that we should take a hard look at spending time on a new channel because that’s where we believe based on research and conversations that this is where our audience will be headed. We’d be doing a disservice not to communicate this.

It’s just that when you build up a following on any medium, it’s something that’s not only taken time on your part but is a serious investment made on the people who have chosen to follow you that should never be taken for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if brands and gurus remember that before they torch the old place.

The Google Gap: Useful? Yes. Emotional Pull? Well…

A rather stunning irony occurred to me as I was thinking about the latest tool Google is introducing, Google Plus.

For all the tools I use from Google, I don’t believe I ever got extraordinarily excited about using them before or during the time I’ve actually used them.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of certain tools and highly recommend them. In particular, I regularly use Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader and Google Alerts. I’d even describe them to others as “great.”

So what’s the problem? The problem is despite the fact that Google delivers a highly efficient, highly productive group of tools for me, none of these tools have stirred the senses with a “got to have it now” factor. And this wouldn’t be such a big deal if Google weren’t aiming to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Facebook to be our all-everything place for connections, searching and relationships.

Say what you want about privacy issues, but Facebook owns a great deal of emotional investment from people. It’s the place where their family and friends commonly are when it comes to online community interaction, if not their business associates too. The technology to keep and enhance those connections is important, but technology is almost secondary to why people are there and stay there. This emotion is not to be underestimated.

Take another company, like Apple. Apple has the “got to have it now” factor in spades. It’s safe to say that for a large number of people like you, there’s been at least one Apple product released in the last 10 years that you really, really wanted….NOW. It’s why people had to have the iPod, stood in line for the iPhone and they’re salivating over the iCloud. And if you didn’t have it, you felt left behind. Even with the one product that met a bit more skepticism at first, the iPad, there’s little question now that people who bought into it love what it can do on a personal or business level.

And there it is – the “L” word. Love. There are many companies that produce useful, efficient, productive products that people buy and even keep buying…but don’t love them. This is coveted territory that not everybody can own. Dare I say that Google has never produced anything that’s, well, FUN. It’s never ENTERTAINED. Absolutely, it’s helped me get the job done, find what I’m looking for and keep me organized. But it’s never brought a lasting smile to my face.

Love isn’t always attained by adding more to an existing solution but actually stripping away what isn’t needed. One of my favorite examples here is 37 Signals with their Basecamp product for project management. There’s more emotional pull here not because it’s complicated but because it’s more simple than other tools with just enough to give me everything I need, nothing that I don’t. It doesn’t hurt that 37 Signals is great at customer service and exceedingly quick to inform its customers of enhancements or technical difficulties they’re working on.

And by the way, I didn’t have to wait for an invite to use their software.

Therefore, the Google Gap has nothing to do with technology but an emotional pull. A legion of fans that are passionate about spreading the word to others unsolicited because that product enhances their life just SO MUCH that they want the people they care about to experience that feeling too.

Never had that situation with Google. Never had a “Oh wow, you’ve got to try Gmail” moment. Instead, the exchange goes like this:

Them: “What’s your favorite calendar program?”
Me: “Google Calendar. It’s great.”

That’s not love – it may sound like it at first glance, but it’s not. That’s a positive recommendation that wouldn’t have come unless it was initiated by someone else. To close the Google Gap and be seen in a different light, Google Plus and future products from Google need to be more than just useful and efficient. We also don’t need versions that seem better in appearance but in practicality are more complicated to use.  They have to bring remarkable new categories of technology we haven’t used yet or dramatically strip away the complications of technology we’re using to the point of where it almost feels like a brand new category.

By virtue of his product line, Steve Jobs enjoys this emotional capital. By virtue of the relationships he has ownership over, so does Mark Zuckerberg. If Larry Page wants to stand on the platform with these gentlemen, this is the challenge before him to shape a new chapter of the Google era.

What’s the Plus Side, Google?

The concept of the phrase, “Facebook competitor,” almost makes you giggle at this point. Kind of like staring into the Grand Canyon and imagining then and there what could be better. Oh sure, there are other picturesque places. But it’s pretty hard to imagine them being more beautiful than what you’re looking at right now.

Facebook isn’t always beautiful. Far from it. But what it does have are a boatload of relationships between existing friends and family members. And that’s going to be pretty darn tough to break.

Yet, Google is out to try anyway with their new Google+ product. To cut to the chase, Google+ sounds a lot like Facebook with its profile pictures, feeds, etc. The big difference appears to be that you can better organize groups of people – and share what you like with those people specifically rather than your 690 friends on Facebook, 10 of which are real friends. But I digress.

Great idea, Google. And yes, Facebook has had major challenges concerning privacy controls. No doubt about it.

But here’s the challenge – you don’t have to just jab at Facebook with nicer tweeks to the model. In order to dance with the undisputed heavyweight of the social networking realm, you’ve got to full-on throttle Facebook with features that kick its ass. And even if you do, you’ve got to consider just how difficult it is to motivate people to uproot themselves from Facebook and the myriad of relationships they have in place.

It’s not impossible (Exhibit A: MySpace). It’s just that where MySpace was geared to a younger audience in general, the average age of a Facebook user is 38 years old. So there are more categories of demographics that have to get in the moving truck over to Google+.

Of course, maybe Google just wants a piece of the social networking pie. But if I may put on my more demanding customer hat, we don’t just want better technology. We want tools that are easy to use and fun. Google Buzz sounded kind of interesting, but did it enhance our lives over what was already in place? Not really. Same with Google Wave – kind of cool, but also kind of hard to understand.

Probably one of the most frequently mentioned books on business is “Blue Ocean Strategy,” the concept of getting out of the same pond as many competitors and fighting within that pond like sharks. Which essentially Google is not utilizing here. It’s fishing in the same pond and saying to people, “Hey, look at this cool new pole we’ve got for you to try!” We’re looking at that pole, agreeing that, yes, it probably is nice and even better than what we have, but still not enough to make us put down the pole that we’re already using. I think we can agree at least that’s this has been the experience with Google’s most recent efforts.

Google’s had just a little bit of success with that ol’ search engine of theirs. And Gmail. And Google Reader. And Google Alerts. But if you’ll notice, several of these are in the search, research and online storage realm. Not in the “connecting with others” interactivity realm. Anything outside of this set just feels like tinkering to me.

I will say Google has this much going for it: 1) It’s a giant in its own right and 2) If you read the comment streams of articles speaking about Google+, there is a LOT of pent-up frustration about the privacy issues of Facebook. These people want Google+ to succeed and they can’t wait to try it. That raw emotion, acted upon, is going to be honestly more important to the success of this endeavor than the bells and whistles of Google+ alone.

But with all due respect to those folks, Google didn’t work on this project as long as they did just to nab some Early Adopters. To avoid being mentioned in the same breath as “Google Wave” and “Google Buzz,” Google+ has to feel a whole lot of love from the mainstream too.

I don’t think we’ll have to search too long before we know the answer.