Don’t hail a cab. Tweet for one: @ChicagoCabbie

I love stories of how everyday people stumble into innovation for a traditional business model when they aren’t even looking for it.

Jacqui Cheng has a great article at Arstechnica.com spotlighting Rashid Temuri, who goes by @ChicagoCabbie on Twitter.  When I was standing outside freezing the teen temperatures the other day, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could tweet a cab and then get one fairly soon rather than hoping I get lucky by one seeing me?” Glad to see Temuri picked up on this idea, whether intentional or not, using social media to address a common problem – getting a cab to come to you when there aren’t any in plain sight in your location.

Obviously, using social media tools like Twitter to tweet locations has worked out well for everyone from food trucks to municipalities (Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the King here).  Why not cab drivers? One point that I think is going to potentially get lost here besides the story about Tweeting for customers: Good for Temuri to offer extra perks other cabbies don’t to enhance the experience for tech savvy customers who use his services such as free Wi-Fi for iPhone/iPad users and discounts for social media users. Especially since I gather that he won’t be the only cabbie after this to use Twitter to get customers.

I don’t think Rashid Temuri set out to do something dramatic from a marketing perspective as much as just using existing tools to open up the lines of communication a little better. Yet, fortunately, he opened up a nice opportunity for himself along the way.

The takeaway is that you don’t always have to be a person who wields code and builds a cool new app to change perceptions about your business. Sometimes if you take a step back, there are ideas from other industries that you can adapt and integrate into your traditional business model. How? Don’t say “We need to be on Facebook doing ____” Start with the consumer problem first. Think about their biggest pains. What they’ve told you and what you’re hearing. Then you can go about identifying what existing tools you need – existing or custom-made for you – to address that problem. Who knows? The next step forward may be a lot more simple than you expected.

Do you have a similar story where you unexpectedly stumbled into a new revenue stream or product/service line just by trying to solve a common business problem? 

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.

How To Take An Effective Social Media Vacation

Happy 2012 to you all! I’m excited about the possibilities this year brings as I hope you are as well.

Coming out of the vacation period in which many companies took time off for a week, I was thinking about how the last week of the year is probably the least productive one. Even beyond that week, I’m sure you can agree that we should be allowed to take a week or two like that off to recharge the batteries – even those of us heavily entrenched in social media.

Which is why I believe an engineer much smarter than me needs to invent a simple yet effective tool: For everything we do, every social media channel we’re on, there should be an applicable “I’m On Vacation” Button.

That way, our Fans, Followers and Connections would know there’s a reason we’ve gone silent for a little while. And while we’re at it, although I’m not going to be one more person who piles on the social influence measurement tools (i.e. Klout), it would be lovely if these tools factored in the common sense realization that we human beings need to take a break now and then, so we shouldn’t be penalized for doing so. The “I’m On Vacation” Button would allow everything to pause.

I suppose this is where some of my colleagues in social media will say that social media never stops. I agree. So if you can:

1.    Invite someone to guest post for you that week.
Guest posts are great to have anyway for getting new perspectives, so what better opportunity to have someone step in than when you’re away?

2.  Share the load internally across individuals or departments.
You shouldn’t be the only one in your company who “gets” social media. If you are, start training someone else to step in to handle your responsibilities for the planned and, heaven forbid, the unplanned. Do it now.

3. In my case as someone who handles this on the client’s behalf, provide the client with posts in advance with admin names and passwords for posting on certain days, if you are in a place so remote that it doesn’t have Internet access. Cruise lines aren’t impossible but they can be a challenge at times when you’re floating along the Caribbean.

4. Put mechanisms in place to re-post archived posts during your time off that still have relevance.
Obviously if it’s a post that speaks to really old news (i.e. how this hot new tool called MySpace is surfacing), you wouldn’t want to post it. But if it was a broad enough but useful topic back then, it’s probably still useful today.

Then there is a fifth option that’s more powerful than any of the above:

5. Create content so good you could take a sabbatical and return with
just as much Influence if not more.

Here’s my greater point in regard to stepping away from the computer temporarily and what it means for our overall Influence – we are so wrapped up in measuring the elusive metric of Influence that we must realize it really isn’t a day-to-day or week-to-week thing.

If Lady Gaga takes a week vacation, does she stop being influential? How about Warren Buffett? Jimmy Buffett? Guy Kawasaki? Seth Godin? How about any of the top 500 or so people on Twitter? How about other respected authors and speakers? How about sources that haven’t even formally existed for decades like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles?

Of course not.

They have influence that transcends the mini measurements of percentage points or number of Fans. For them, influence doesn’t die. Because they have pieces of content so impactful that they bridge the gaps of time. Through their books, their speeches, their videos, their songs, their presentations, their photos, their posts.

Wait a minute. If we created so much great content that people could chew on it and appreciate it for at least the week or so we’re in Tahiti (or whatever escape floats your boat), we might not even need a Vacation Button. We would be able to come back and see that it’s not the end of the world because people would be sharing a lot of what we have had to say anyway.

It must be nice to go on vacation now and then while knowing your content is just that worthy of being shared while you’re away from your desk.

Not a bad thing to aspire to, eh?

7 Social Media Resolutions for 2012

I won’t even bother with the typical exercise goals – I’ll start with the goals that are easier for me to accomplish in 2012 in the social media realm. I’ll bet you may want to take a few of these for yourself too. 

  1. Clean out the quiet people on Twitter.
    If they haven’t said anything in 21 days, they’re just listening. I respect that, but I’m here to have conversations. Quality of audience, not quantity. I would actually unfollow more than that but you have to allow that people do go on vacation for a week or two and want to completely disconnect from electronic contact during that time.
  2. Do less searching and do more Stumbling.
    StumbleUpon is a terrific resource for content ideas and inspiration. You get things within your area of interest, but you discover topics that surprise you at the same time.
  3. Focus more on the metrics that matter.
    In addition to the metrics of social media that have meaning, there are some glossy metrics that I find myself wrapped up in. The standard ones, really. I’m going to push myself harder to dig deep and not get distracted by the fluffy metrics that sound good but matter less.
  4. Watch 1 TED video per day.
    Not all from my industry either. We can spare 18 minutes to feel inspired. Pretty much all the TED videos do that for me.
  5. Look at social influence scores far less.
    I’m not terribly proud to look at my Klout, Kred, PeerIndex as much as I do. I don’t plan on dropping them yet, but I also know they aren’t why my clients make decisions on my services. And they never sum up the kind of person I am in my real world interactions. Planning on taking them with less than a grain of salt.
  6. View at least 3 SlideShare presentations per week.
    This is probably the most useful form of content I have ever gleaned insight from. I am thankful for the people who believe in sharing their knowledge on SlideShare and will try to return the favor by sharing my own.
  7. Remember that social media isn’t everything.
    It matters and it’s wonderful. I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise. But I have formed relationships this year with people in business networking settings that have proven to be abundantly fulfilling as well. Not to mention a few speaking engagements. To neglect that and be cooped up in an office online all the time would have been such a missed opportunity. So I plan on getting out there even more in 2012.

Got any you want to add? Let’s hear ‘em. I’d like to add to this list with a few ideas from you.

Lesson of Lowe’s: Your Competitor Royally Screwed Up. Don’t Just Sit There.

Attention, Head Media Buyer for The Home Depot. Can we talk? You’ve got an opportunity for yourself handed to you on a silver platter if you’re intelligent and I’ll bet you are. So here’s what I want you to do.

I want you to pick up the phone and start placing ads on “All-American Muslim” like no tomorrow.

Don’t overthink. Don’t overanalyze. Just do it. I don’t care what your demographics are. I don’t care what marketing research tells you. I’m as big a fan as anybody of market research but when your competitor shoots themselves in the foot so badly by blowing their nose on an entire race of people, you’ve got to seize the moment and welcome those people with open arms.

For those who haven’t heard, Lowe’s did a royal screw-up by caving to outside pressure and pulling its advertising from TLC’s program featuring the lives of five Muslim families in Michigan. The backlash has been swift and the outrage intense, not just from Muslim groups but many others. Russell Simmons even offered to buy up all the airtime on the program that advertisers voided.

To me, the danger isn’t so much associations like the Florida Family Association, which urged people to engage in an email campaign to pressure brands like Lowe’s that advertised on the program to pull their advertising.

The danger is when brands actually listen to these fringe groups, tuck their tail between their legs and run for the hills instead of acting like intelligent brands that weren’t born yesterday.

Lowe’s justified the move like so: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result, we did pull our advertising.”

Ah. I get it. So the loudest voice in the room wins, no matter how bigoted and divisive their opinion may be. Just making sure that’s how you make your decisions.

Lowe’s acts like this came out of the blue and caught them by surprise. Nice try but I don’t buy it. Running from lightning rods is what big companies tend to do when they want to appeal to everyone under the sun. Ironically, that’s the opposite of what Lowe’s did anyway in the end. But why does controversy have to be a bad thing? I don’t think it has to be and can be a good thing. Lady Gaga is controversial. And massively successful. I doubt she’s hurting from controversy.

Let me replace all of the official public statements from Lowe’s, probably written by their PR firm or internal marketing people with the only two words that people really hear: We’re afraid.

Memo to brands of America: Beyond what you see on marketing analytics, the people who buy your stuff will be gay, Muslim and mixed racial couples.

And last I checked, their money is still as good in this country as a white person’s.

It’s too bad that showing these types of groups in advertising or advertising on programs featuring such groups beyond the white American family is seen as “progressive.” It shouldn’t be. It should be off the table as something advanced for us to talk about as a brand differentiator. It should be common sense that this reflects modern reality, so we can make marketing decisions based on deeper, more important factors.

But I digress from my mountaintop to speak purely on a marketing level so you can apply the lessons learned from this situation to your own:When you have a scenario like the Lowe’s one where a competitor does something stupid, you have two choices:

1) You can be lazy and have a nice laugh at your competitor’s expense. You may say you’re not going anywhere near the situation with a 10-foot pole and believe the customers will naturally trickle over to you.

2) You can get off your butt and move quickly to cater to the disenchanted audience. It’s called being proactive because it’s the right thing to do marketing-wise and in some cases, morally as well.

You buy media where they dropped media. You use social media to target the voices that are angry. You issue releases and blog posts speaking to the pains people are expressing. And it’s not really about the competitor at all as much as heavily amplifying how much stronger YOUR principles are. Don’t waste any time retelling their story – the disenfranchised are already doing that for you. Tell yours in a way that helps the audience connect the dots easily on how you’re different regarding that particular issue.

This window of opportunity can happen at the most basic local level too. Not all that long ago, a auto dealership in the Chicagoland area fired a man for coming into work wearing a Green Bay Packers tie. Now, I bleed Bear blue and orange, but obviously that’s just a dumb move. The media picked up on the story and the auto dealership that formerly employed him got some massive and unwanted attention.

At this point, other dealerships nearby could have just reveled in a competitor screwing up. But one had the initiative to seize the moment while the story was still hot. They hired the Packer-wearing tie salesman almost immediately. Not only was that the right thing to do, but the focus shifted from one stupid dealership to how the new dealership did something heroic. THEY became the new focus of the story.

My point is, when events like this happen to a competitor, don’t run from the chatter. Dive into it. You want to talk about how you can engage a community? You’re looking at it. Put up or shut up time.

There’s one thing Lowe’s got right in separating itself from a program with the words “All American” in it: When brands are this easily swayed by the agendas of extreme groups that they forget their own values, whatever it is they’re building together is anything but All American.

Have you ever capitalized on a competitor’s mistake to acquire new customers and become the hero? If so, how did it happen and what did you do? Share away, hero.

5 Ways To Avoid Social Media Fatigue

It’s not easy establishing our own personal brands in the world. You have to blog, tweet, connect, and like…let’s face it, it can be rather exhausting to keep up this kind of consistency. No wonder I hear the term “social media fatigue” used more often. Yet, if it’s a given we all have to build awareness of ourselves, aren’t we forgetting an opportunity right before us that might help share the burden of producing fresh content?

I’m talking about strategies to pool resources among like-minded people so you promote yourselves even farther. Here are a few great ones: 

1) Invite Them to Guest Blog
Coming up with content for a blog all by yourself is tough, no matter how many resources you have to help (thank you, though, Google Reader). So it’s a great relationship builder to invite someone you trust to provide a guest post for you. They’re flattered by it usually and it can be refreshing for your audience to hear viewpoints in a blog from a different voice outside your own. And of course, you can take a temporary break from blogging yourself.

2) Interview Them
Whether a blog, article, podcast or video, you’re enabling someone else to share their story or viewpoints by bringing them into one of the social media tools you’re using. I’d be sure to do some prep work in advance as far as ample questions to keep the conversation flowing, particularly if it’s video or audio content.

3) Build a Twitter List Around Each Other
Twitter Lists are an underutilized tool in my opinion, especially when you have potentially thousands of people to keep track of, that you’re following and following you. Build a list around certain people who have proven to be good referral sources for you so you can easily retweet their best tweets and they can hopefully do the same for you. Those retweets from the group can help get some extra mileage out of your next tweet.

4) Start A LinkedIn Group Based On Interest
Think of the common thread that runs among your group – it doesn’t even have to be strictly business-related – and start up a LinkedIn Group among yourselves. While you might have to be the designated discussion starter, if you have a lively group, these discussions can take on a life of their own. For example, a Chicago Cubs Group has a topic that’s been going strong for months now! That might be an extreme timeframe, but even if you can get the ball rolling with a compelling enough discussion topic to stir conversations for several days, the group keeps the momentum of interactivity going. All the while, who does the credit come back to for originating the discussion? That’s right, You.

5) Co-Present A Webinar or SlideShare Presentation
Why try to sell the same canned speech to the world when you can share the load in creating a new one with a related business? Both of you can then enjoy the credit for the joint presentation, wherever it would be given. If a webinar, your combined prospect audiences may be bigger than if just one of you had been presenting.

When it comes to new content, you just don’t have to always come up with one amazing topic after another by yourself. That leads to social media fatigue and eventual burnout. So join forces by using these opportunities and others like them to bring attention to both your name and someone else’s in the process. If all goes well, it’ll be both of you invited into a buyer’s office, simultaneously too.

You Are Not Your Business Card.

There’s a question we all seem to get in networking situations – “What do you do?” Invariably, we answer with“I’m a (occupation) and I work for (company).”

I started thinking about how this defines so very little about why people find our personal brands memorable. We lead with what’s on our business card. But when people talk about you to others, what will they say?

Having just finished the excellent Guy Kawasaki book, “Enchantment,” I’ve realized that likability and trust make for a more compelling position than simply relying on where you work and what you do to bowl people over. Primarily because it shares so little of you as a person.

“He’s a great accountant.”
Not bad, I suppose. But I’ve heard the beginning and end of the whole story.

“The guy oozes talent and niceness from every pore. He made the process of working with him a complete and utter joy.”
Wow. I want to know more. Why was that process so enjoyable? Can I meet him? And by the way, wouldn’t we all want to be described in this way instead?

How does one get to a description like the second option?

A good place to start is to de-business card yourself. I don’t mean actually trashing them all but mentally learning to strip away the contents. All of it. The company. The title. The e-mail address. The phone number. Even the occupation itself.

Imagine all that going out the window. What’s left?

If you find yourself grasping for an answer, don’t feel bad. The first time I thought about this, I called myself a “content marketer” or “brand strategist.” But I knew I was so much more than that. So I became excited by the challenge of conveying myself as a brand and who I envisioned myself to be. This led me to consider the best places to express this personal brand:

Some good places to start:

Your LinkedIn Profile
So many people consider just the summary and work history of LinkedIn. But think about the applications you can add that convey other factors, like what you’re reading (Amazon Reading List), what your interests are (don’t just list the professional ones) and Groups (boards, country clubs, etc.). Assuming you’ve had positive connections, those Recommendations will inevitably help people see the side of you that’s a relationship builder – so don’t be afraid to ask colleagues and clients for them!

Blog
I can’t say enough about how a blog will help you develop an original voice that’s helpful, humble and eager to share content. Building credibility is important, but the reward isn’t in trying to be an all-knowing authority that never gets a response. The reward is in inspiring conversation that grows beyond a post and takes on a life of its own (all the while, the positive attributes of bringing a “community” together are credited back to you).

Twitter
People are feeling you out to see if you’re someone worth following. Here lies an opportunity to prove your thought leadership and show your passions on a topic unique to your industry that extends far outside just “what you do” and “who you work for.” One tool I like to use to add depth and context to my tweets is PeerIndex. The broader my PeerIndex “topic fingerprint,” the more it overlaps nearby related topics and the more I tend to garner interest. For example, if you tweet about a new piece of technology, you may expand your authority by conveying how that technology has implications for media or science rather than commenting purely on whether or not you like it.

YouTube
It takes some practice to get comfortable in front of the camera, but if you do, it can go a long way toward someone visualizing taking a meeting with you. As you do engage in YouTube videos, however, I encourage you not to picture yourself merely as “VP of…” Again, think above and beyond your current status and instead picture yourself as a leader, resource, a helpful ally in a peer’s search to find answers. Think of how transparent you can be on a topic that stirs your passions. Then keep a schedule of when you can consistently record and upload videos.

We’d all like to think we’ll be at an employer that makes us happy for quite some time – and perhaps we will be. But even so, developing your personal brand beyond what your business card says you are enables you to define yourself as something so much more than a title and occupation – a likable, trustworthy personal brand that people can’t get enough of.

(This post originally ran in PersonalBrandingBlog.com)