When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade

The past year has been pretty crazy for social media followers. What was once a distant concept has been adapted by businesses to reach beyond the traditional marketing campaign. Companies that have a handful of employees are now using social media to reach out to prospects and multi-national and multi-million dollar companies are using social media to build customer loyalty. Some companies are even using it to develop product roadmaps.

Social media has also hit the mainstream. Take a look at these examples;

The Vatican announced last week that they are now using Facebook. You can join their 1,400 fans here.

San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, announced his running for California Governor on YouTube and the city now has its 311 Operation Center using Twitter tweeting to its 1,500 followers of what’s going on in the city by the bay.

President Obama’s team brought social media to the masses during the 2008 President campaign with LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and many other social media mediums.

I think we all remember the CNN vs. Ashton Kutcher race to have 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. (personally, I think this was all just a publicity stunt because it’s not about the number of followers you have, but the quality)

Most recently, Lance Armstrong today announced the birth of his son, Max, on Twitter.

My point with this post isn’t to say that everyone is using social media so you should too. My point is that your customers are using social media so you should be there to see what they’re saying, see what interests them and to connect with them. Your customers follow politics, watch CNN and enjoy watching professional athletes. Find the voice of your customers.

I’m signed up for sites, now what?
Although it doesn’t take long to set up a Twitter or Facebook account, it takes time to manage them and to use them strategically. Social media isn’t about putting a check next to things that have to be done this year. If you start a blog, write! If you have a YouTube channel, post things to it. Although it’s a simple concept, make sure that you have the resources to do it properly.

Social media is a chance for you to connect with your customers and prospects in a non-traditional way. When appropriate, make sure that you are letting your constituents/customers/prospects know that you’re listening to what they are posting. You don’t need to respond to every comment, but you need to be aware of every comment.

Social media is also a two way street. It’s not a tool for your customers and prospects to ask you questions and you to do nothing about. Likewise, it’s not for you to just push out information. Ask questions, get folks engaged, have a call to action. Why not post on LinkedIn your new corporate blog and have people respond to it. Ask them if they agree or if they have better solutions. Ask them if they have blog suggestions. Get folks involved. It’s not called “social” media for nothing!

I was on a Webinar yesterday hosted by Social Media Magic and they help companies create social media strategies. They are one of many companies that can help you. If you’re lost and don’t know where to start, ask. There are many companies, books and Websites that can help you get started. Also feel free to check out what other companies are doing and take note of where they are strong and what aspects of their social media campaign are weak.

Simply put, use the tools when given them. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Loyalty – Thick as Blood!

Because I’m in tech, I always think of customer loyalty in terms of hardware or software or some sort of technology based loyalty.  I saw this article on the Stanford Blood Center Website when I was scheduling an appointment and it made me smile. 

Two great things about this story – besides obviously the unselfish giving of the folks named – are that the Stanford Blood Center 1) publicly acknowledged  those whom have gone out of their way to donate and 2) have made a point of thanking them. It’s the small things like the two just mentioned that can motivate people and keep them coming back.   

Congratulations Stanford Blood Center for getting customer loyalty right!

The following article appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on November 2, 2008.

Stanford honors blood donors; Woodside man has given 580 times
By Lisa Fernandez and Mark Gomez

Lots of folks volunteer at their kids’ school or their church. It’s not even unusual to donate blood as a way to give back to the community.

But 580 times?

Meet Richard Tagg of Woodside, überdonor at the Stanford Blood Center.

“I do it because it needs to be done,” said the 80-year-old retired geologist, who gave his first drop of Type A-positive blood 30 years ago after reading an article about children with leukemia. His wife, Barbara, donates her Type O-negative blood, regularly too.

“I’ll be 81 in January,” said Tagg, who donates platelets 24 times a year, or about every other week. “And we’ll just go on and on until our blood doesn’t look good enough.”

Tagg, the blood center’s top donor, and 399 others were recognized Thursday at a luncheon to honor donors who have given blood more than 100 times. Forty-one of those honorees were new this year, said Stanford Blood Center spokeswoman Michele Hyndman.

Last year, the blood center collected 55,000 units of both blood and platelets.

“We continue to increase collection each year,” Hyndman said. “But the hospitals continue to outpace us in usage.”

Currently, the blood center has enough Type AB-positive blood, but is below minimum inventory in the remaining seven blood types. The center is especially low on Type O.

The shortages are why the blood center staff is so thankful to its volunteers.

“They are literally the patients’ lifeline,” Hyndman said. “Their dedication is remarkable. Their commitment of helping other people is inspirational.”

Tami Turner, 51, of Redwood City has donated to Stanford at least 193 times, and said she considers herself “blessed” that her platelet count is so high. She’s able to fill two or three bags at a time, instead of the usual single amount.

Her father, Roger, who died of a heart attack in 1985, was her role model.

“He would be on call, and I remember they would call him in the middle of the night to give blood and he’d just go,” she said. “I realized when he died that there is this whole generation of donors who are dying and there’s no one replacing them.”

Dennis Briskin of Palo Alto gives platelets every two weeks, the maximum donation people can safely make in a year, which helped him bump his blood donation number to 258 over the last 29 years. The 63-year-old marketing writer first gave blood in the 1960s as a way to earn $20 here and there as a financially struggling college student.

Now, he does it for free as a way to honor his Jewish traditions. The ultimate form of charity in Judaism is to save a life. And sticking a needle in his arm, even if it feels like a “warm knife slicing butter,” is worth it, knowing that he’s helping save strangers’ lives.

“And sometimes it’s more painful than that,” Briskin said. “But what I experience as a donor is trivial to what patients go through. When I think of what people spend their time on, shopping at the mall or watching ‘American Idol,’ giving blood is so much more important and just takes an hour or two.”


IF YOU’RE INTERESTED in donating blood to the Stanford Blood Center, call (650) 723-7831 or (888) 723-7831 to make an appointment. To schedule online, click on bloodcenter.stanford.edu

Customer reference point systems. Do they work?

I have heard a lot of mixed reviews on if incentives programs work for customers. I personally have never had a point system for my references so my viewpoint may be a bit slanted. But let me explain my positioning.

It’s a lot of extra work. Having been the only reference person at my last three companies, I’d rather spend the time making sure customers were happy than having to add notches to their files every time they speak to someone. At the same time, because I was the only reference person, I had all this information in my head. I’m not saying it’s not important to keep track of how often you use your customer, because it’s very important so that you don’t overuse them and burn them out. I think that it’s just not important to give value to each type of reference because there are many more ways you can add value to your program.

How do you put value on references? Is a sales reference call worth more than a customer speaking to an analyst or speaking to the media? What if the media is BusinessWeek and considered a top tier publication for you? Would you give the same amount of points to a reference who speaks to a mom and pop shop as one who speaks to a Fortune company you’ve been trying to win for years?

Do this and I’ll give you free training or free products. Larger bonuses such as free training or products generally come from Sales. Have you ever told a sales guy you want to give part of his/her paycheck to the customer for free? Unless Sales suggests the free training or products, I’d stay out of this discussion. (But, do work with your sales people to get it in purchase contracts that the customer will do a press release or case study with you – that generally costs the Sales person nothing.)

There are better incentives than points.

What I have found through my years of running customer reference programs is that customers want to be appreciated. It’s not a matter of sending them shwag with your company logo but they want to know that what they’re doing makes a difference. Let them know they are important by giving the good reference customers access to your executives or product roadmaps or inviting them to special events or simply, sending them a thank you card for helping you out (yes, a thank you card, not an email, an old fashion hand written note!). Letting them have access to your company is much more valuable then having them walk around with a t-shirt with your company logo on it – that’s branding not loyalty.

One of the best experiences I had with a customer was when I wrote a press release and after it got published, my contact’s boss saw it, realized what was being done and how much money was being saved and promoted my contact. How can it get better than that? Not only is my contact happy, getting paid more, being recognized and rewarded for his hard work, but I was a step closer to creating a loyal customer – not just a happy one.