Why You Can’t Give Social Media To An Intern

“Could I just have some college kid do it?”

It’s a question I’ve heard before from small business owners when they consider the prospect of taking on social media. Before I answer that question, let’s do an experiment – and I genuinely don’t mean to sound like a smart-aleck when I say this, but rather to illustrate a point:

I’d like you to give up control of your company.

Not for a day or a week, but the next 3 months.

And I don’t want you to hand control to your VP or COO or CFO but a kid who is still in school who will be interning with you for 3 months.

He’s going to lead client meetings, speak with investors via conference call and interact directly with your prospective customers.

What, you have a problem with that? Sounds preposterous, you say? It makes you more than a little nervous and nauseous?

Of course it does.

And that’s essentially what you’re doing when you let a college kid handle social media for you. Because there are a few roles that put your brand on the front lines of interaction quite like social media. It’s the blessing and, for people who mishandle it, the curse. It’s oh-so-easy easy to take a glance at people who post on Facebook or Twitter and think, “How hard could it be?” The problem with that outlook is that it dwindles social media to an afterthought rather than an integral part of your brand strategy.

In fact, it doesn’t even consider strategy at all. It doesn’t consider the bigger reason and purpose for why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s saying, “This is what everybody seems to be on these days, so we should be doing it too.” Maybe you should. But not like this.

To be clear, I like interns and think they’re valuable. I’ve managed many and watched them have an impact on the industry I couldn’t be more proud of in writing and in design. They comprise some of the most rewarding relationships I have ever had in this business – and those people know who they are. Yet, when they come into the advertising and marketing world, even they would admit they have been given instruction in a closed environment that, try as it might, can rarely if ever simulate what it means to work in the real world in real time to represent a real company.

In other words, when they enter your environment, they’re a lot like Luke Skywalker the first time he faced Darth Vader without intense training. If you threw them out there and wished them luck from Day 1, you’d be lucky to emerge with just a flesh wound. As time goes on, you teach them the ways of what you’ve learned to impart hopefully some good things by the end of their training – things they never would have learned in the classroom. But that still doesn’t mean they’re ready to handle social media. Why?

The main challenge is that the person who handles social media has to get a great feel for your mission, your culture, your goals, your tone and manner, what can be said, what can’t be said and more. They have to understand the audience they’re interacting with and how that audience has to be respected. They need to be able to monitor and mine for insights that can be communicated to management (after all, I assume you care to know if what you’re doing is working, right?). They need to be a fountain of good content that resonates with the people you want to attract most.

Fulfilling those responsibilities is a very full plate for anyone. It’s next to impossible and downright unfair to someone who is just learning the basics of marketing. It’s not their fault, really. It’s just where they are in life. Of course, if a university isn’t teaching enough about new media, it’s certainly not helping.

It’s a place of experience and understanding that the “face” of social media of your company has to operate from that the intern doesn’t have. This person can come from within your company or can come from the outside world – yes, in all transparency, I do this for people who don’t have the time or internal resources or understanding right away to handle it. But the people who trust me to handle this great responsibility know that I am not a Junior who is in the middle of taking a Marketing class but someone who has a lot of experience in developing and managing the voice of a brand.

Is an outside consultant going to be more expensive than an intern? Yes. But all we’re talking about here is the perception of your brand to the outside world.

Is that really something you want to cut corners on?

1st Gen E-mail Is Over – Does Your Marketing Reflect It?

“Wait – what do you mean? Are you saying e-mail is going away? No way does e-mail go away. Everyone uses e-mail.”

I figure that’s the response I’d get from a headline like the one above. But e-mail marketing in its 1st generation form should be history. E-mail in its next generation form is where we should be thinking and how we should be acting in our marketing efforts already. Right now.

Why? Spammers and Yammer.

1) Spammers are ruining e-mail as we know it for the good marketers who have valuable messages the recipient can benefit from. The filters of unsolicited mail will only get stronger so we have to make our messaging more simple to identify with, customized as well as equipped with subscription and link mechanisms so people can continue the relationship if they so choose.

2) People won’t need internal e-mail as much with services that enable them to communicate in real-time formats like Yammer. The speed of how we connect within the company is ramping up quickly. In this internal context, regular e-mail with its lag time and ability to clog in boxes looks like a dinosaur.

Knowing this, what do we do as marketers? First, we relax. Second, we adapt to this development by equipping our e-mails and e-newsletters with springboards. In other words, we stop doing e-mail that doesn’t give people anywhere to logically go from there. Otherwise what you’re sending out there is a lot like the direct mail issue I mentioned earlier. No links to more info? No landing page or blog? No place to channel the conversation further toward an appointment and hopefully a sale? No ways to become a Fan, Follower or Connection from there? No pictures they can share or video they can watch?

Then I don’t get it.

Closing a customer when the e-mail starts and ends with that message is hard to do. Even if you’re designing it as something to be read in 60 seconds or less, you’re doing so with the intent that the person subscribe to get more of those e-tidbits. Yet, strangely, some things get sent out without them.

We should incorporate RSS Feeds into our content, giving people the ability to subscribe to us or providing even the option to choose certain sections of content that’s relevant to their world. And while we have e-mail and people use it, we need e-mail subscription sign-ups. It means we have to be more visible than ever before when it comes to producing great blogs, great videos, great e-books, great social interactions that aren’t just about how we’re having 3 for 1 Bud Light Specials tonight.

If we’re going to do e-mail, let’s do e-mail that respects the person’s time by getting in and out of the person’s life in a reasonable period. If they want to spend more time than that with us, they’ll Like, Follow, Connect, Subscribe and Download. The first interaction should not be a company’s life story nor should next steps be just about only a phone call or e-mail. That’s done as far as I’m concerned.

If all this sounds like it’s only going to get harder for you as a marketer, well, you’re right. But I see this as a good thing. People still crave answers to their challenges as much as they ever did. We just have to get smarter and more sophisticated how we pave the road from them back to our solution. We can’t blast away at them with nothing but ads that have virtually no response mechanisms or only “old school” methods like dialing a phone number. We have to create online and offline channels that enable them to learn more about us and understand our offerings – on their terms.

TV adapted. Radio adapted. Newspapers and magazines tried to adapt but aren’t doing a bang-up job of it. Now it’s direct mail and e-mail’s turn at bat.

The way we market through the mail, both in direct and electronic form, needs to change. Or it won’t matter how many days the Postal Service trims from its schedule because we won’t be effective or appreciated in any of them.

How has your brand been adapting? Or have you not yet? 

The mail system is changing forever. Not just on Saturdays.

It’s time we wish the first generation of direct mail and e-mail a happy retirement to Del Boca Vista. I recall stories of when ol’ direct made the eyes of David Ogilvy twinkle with glee. Or when e-mail came on the scene, a hot, young upstart in the electronic world.

But like all things, there’s a new generation of direct mail and e-mail taking over and doing things differently. A generation of mail made for new technologies. Therefore the people receiving their messages demand more. The people using them for marketing purposes had better demand more of themselves in how they create, strategize and measure.

Let me explain. The ways we use mail has worked well for some period of time but like anything else, they are evolving.

Younger generations such as Millennials are embracing alternative communication methods through social media and internal project management tools to get information and send information beyond the standard send-and-receive e-mail systems. They also are responding to those offline techniques that incorporate online communication for continuing the conversation and relationship. I hardly think the generations that follow them are going to revert back the other way. We’re only going to get more electronic, more segmented, more fast and more personalized.

Marketers have the choice of evolving with this development or not at their own disappointment, if not their own peril.

Bottom line: Your message will not be nearly as effective if you ignore the ways to inject more technological applications into that direct mail or e-mail while adding inbound marketing mechanisms into your efforts.

We have to act as if direct mail in its most traditional form of “here’s our message, call this phone number if you’re interested” is irrelevant right now in terms of the call to action. We have to act as if spammers are ruining the quality of e-mail communication by the day.

It doesn’t mean mail is over. It means old direct mail and e-mail marketing messages are over.

Farewell to Direct Mail Marketing as We Know It

Let’s pick up the bugle and play “TAPS” for traditional direct mail as we’ve known it – a static piece like a postcard that merely asks your recipient to call or e-mail you without leading them anywhere else isn’t working hard enough. Even before the U.S. Postal Service decides to trim a day or more from its schedule, you should be re-evaluating conventional direct mail – not whether or not to use it necessarily but how you will inject a much-needed online component into that DM.

Direct mail with no online component such as a landing page or QR Code to scan or code to enter when they get to a website for a discount/prize….is probably going to get about a 1% response rate at best. So if you want to send out some general postcard to promote your business and get awareness, it’s your dollar. But expect no less than 99 out of 100 people to pitch it in that format. It’s good to at least have that expectation so that you’re not surprised (and if you are pleasantly surprised, that’s gravy). If you want better than that, the next generation is about driving the recipient to a personalized URL. You should be doing that right now if you’re using direct mail. Do you want a static piece that provides a response at best of awareness without likely action or do you want a piece that potentially drives the person online to take action and possibly even find long-term connectivity through a social network?

In the second half of this topic in my next post, I’ll talk about why you should bid adieu to the first generation of e-mail marketing right now too.

 

 

There’s A Brand Waiting For You In Your Office.

A new Accenture survey of global marketers yielded some results that at first, may not seem that extraordinary. Among them, marketers said the three most important business issues were improving customer retention and loyalty, acquiring new sales and increasing sales to current customers. The survey went on to say that in the coming year, marketes expect to see their marketing budgets flatline or decline.

OK, that’s probably not a shock to hear. But CMOs also expect to see company sales grow in the coming year. Is this a mixed message? Not necessarily. The translation I see is that in order to move forward, marketers will be expected to do more with less. This is not necessarily as bad as it might seem. How?

Think about the most precious internal resource you have to be developed and most of us will arrive at an answer made of flesh and bone, not machine.

Yes, we have to get routinely smarter about what our customers want and using analytics will help with that. But we also have to get smarter about what our employees want – and that’s the side of the equation that I believe gets missed all too often.

If you have ever worked in an environment where employees are an afterthought, you know this. It’s seen in “meet these deliverables or else” career plans that managers don’t like doing and employees dread. It’s career planning as punishment rather than collaboration. Mass layoffs and severance offers are the routine answer to cost cutting rather than brainstorming on what we can do better to show more value or entice greater referrals. Employees see themselves as being there just to do a job – nothing more, nothing less.

The question we must ask is this: We work so hard to brand ourselves to the outside world but how often do we brand ourselves to our own people? What do they genuinely feel about us and can we be honest with ourselves to hear it? You can’t fake enthusiasm for your own workplace. It’s readily apparent and genuine or you’ll see forced smiles and sarcasm if not outright complaints.

Where does the enthusiasm come from? For one thing, a company that treats its people as investments rather than role fillers. Managers who are passionate about understanding what makes their people tick personally, not just professionally. What do they like to do in their spare time? How can you reward them with more of that thing they love? It’s time to look beyond the annual reviews and raises but instead think about your people’s lives on a regular basis.

This isn’t just touchy feely stuff. In fact, here’s how it can benefit your brand.

Just picture how that enthusiasm can positively affect customer retention and loyalty. Let’s say your customer calls up with a technical question and he’s not happy. Your patient employee takes the time to carefully walk the customer through the question like anyone else, but in the course of helping that person, also learns the person is a New York Jets fan. The person is sent a handwritten thank you card for calling with a Jets hat, wishing his team best of luck on the upcoming season.

Who’s going to forget that? Who’s not going to tell someone else about that? I think you get where I’m going with this. An investment in training that employee might just have led to a better customer service experience and in the larger picture, a tremendous feeling about the brand. Or perhaps they felt such an investment and support from the company for their own personal/professional goals that such a positive desired result came naturally – they’re not just doing their job. They’ve bought into a mantra. A mission. A purpose.

Think about your top 5 competitors. Are their technological differences between you all that different? I’ll wager the answer is no. You’ll invest in technology and so will they.

The true difference is your workforce. Your people with their various talents and skills are the differentiators. They are the people on the front lines who often have to deal with customers face-to-face. And even if they don’t, shouldn’t we treat them as the walking, talking representations of the overall brand they are anyway? After all, they do leave the office and associate with others, you know.

“Yes, but what happens when they leave the company? Won’t our differentiator leave with them?” I expect to hear this a bit. It’s natural for people to come and go. The question is how much and how often they’re leaving. Obviously if half the company walks out the door within a year, you need to take a hard look at your own management practices and communication style.

When it’s hard for them to move on to a new opportunity because the culture is so terrific and tears are shed on all sides, something that is special is happening – really. Because it’s a family-like atmosphere at that point.

Is it possible that we could do more with less by looking inward to the brand in front of our faces that we haven’t developed? And in doing so, could we find our outside sales and customer loyalty rising as a result of our internal investment?

One thing’s for certain. It’s a heck of a great place to start.

 

What types of initiatives is your company using to build the internal brand? Is it helping result in a better customer service experience, happier employees, etc.? Share if you’re comfortable doing so.

3 Times When Social Media Isn’t Right For You.

I’m a gigantic social media fan, but I can never automatically recommend everyone be on social media. True, I could analyze a company from a brand perspective and I’ll invariably recommend social media channels for them. But as I dig deeper, I come to realize that there are a few cases that it’s not right for. Less because it isn’t right for their brand or because their audience isn’t living on any social media channels, more because their internal culture just flat-out isn’t ready for it or isn’t fully behind it when they do decide to go down that path. I’ll give you some examples:

1. “I’m afraid of what people will say about us.”
If your customer service sucks, it’s going to get talked about whether you like it or not. So you might as well create a centralized place where you can funnel these thoughts from customers and respond to them accordingly. The beauty of social media is that it causes you to take a deeper look at your operation and see where there might be cracks in your service offerings. News Flash: We all make mistakes. Still, an overriding culture of fear or lack of understanding of social media tools can lead to overreaction – “Someone said something bad about us! Take down the Facebook Page before the CEO sees it!” Well, maybe you should just sit social media out for a while until you’re prepared to be honest with your organization’s shortcomings. Again, we all have weak points. If you don’t want to address those weak points, there’s an issue there that you’re glossing over. And the more you do ignore it, the more people will talk about that issue online in various places anyway.

2.  100% broadcasting rather than interacting.
I actually wrote a post about how the Cubs and White Sox in their Twitter streams were doing this within a monitored period of 72-hours – broadcasting almost entirely about themselves and not interacting with their fans on Twitter. Seriously, you’re telling me that nobody behind a computer in either of these front offices can ask daily questions of their fans and then respond to those questions? Come on!

The point here is that companies who want to exclusively post without any kind of interaction with their customer and prospect base are essentially just advertising to people. There’s nothing wrong with sharing all the pertinent news of your company with the outside world, but doing that without demonstrating any type of care for understanding their thoughts, wants, needs and questions is defeating the purpose of why they call it SOCIAL media. There are many other options to consider along an advertising or PR route if you want to go that way instead.

3. Expecting it to do everything while you do nothing.
Well, I just did some posts. Why isn’t my phone ringing?
Because you’re expecting Facebook to run your business instead of you. What phone calls are you making? What events are you attending? What appointments are you setting up? What prospecting are you doing (which you can partly do through social media among other things, by the way)?

If you’re in sales, then be in sales and sell. Social media can shine a light on your authority in wonderful ways but it can’t make up for a complete lack of sales initiative on your part. I’m not the world’s greatest salesperson, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought I didn’t need to press the flesh with real people as opposed to being behind a laptop all day. It’s when they have met me and then gone online to learn more (or perhaps done this in advance of the meeting – even better), that some solid credibility is hopefully built. If you don’t know how to get out there into the world or you’re timid about it, you’re not alone. Lots of people are not natural-born salespeople or networkers, yet strive to get better at it. Just don’t hide behind social media channels and then blame them for the weaknesses you’re not willing to address either.

Honesty. Transparency. Strong internal and external communication. Willingness to admit when things go wrong and a demonstration of what they’re doing to fix them. Taking action instead of merely planning and giving speeches. These are some of  the areas that can propel a company forward. It’s the companies that want to appear perfect, robotic and transmitting vs. conversing that probably want to take a long look at themselves before plunging into social media.

Fortunately, I’m finding those kinds of companies that have yet to understand the reality that they employ human beings and not robots are fewer and farther between. Innovation by its very nature is to say that what you did before was not as good as what you are doing today. So if we can be honest that we are getting better than we were before in product/service development, why can’t we be honest about how we’re striving to get better in other areas of the company? I think that’s a positive, rapport-building story waiting to be told with an audience. Not run away from.

How has your culture shifted from a closed loop to a more open style to your benefit? Share it! Or do you see challenges due to your industry that you’re not sure if you’re ready to be “social”? Let’s talk about them here if you’re comfortable sharing.