“Traditional Tactics and Digital Dimensions: Strategic Thinking on PR, IR and Media Relations in the Conversational Age”

I attended a Marketwire breakfast this morning called “Traditional Tactics and Digital Dimensions: Strategic Thinking on PR, IR and Media Relations in the Conversational Age.”  The moderator was Anthony DeRico, director of digital media at Nielson and co-founder of Think Communications.  The panelists were Ruth Cotter, director of investor relations and treasury at AMD, Courtney Barnes, vice president and director of content strategy at MH Group (she’s also co-author of “Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications“), Kellie Parker, community manager at SEGA of America, and Rachel Polish, vice president at 360 Digital Influence at Ogilvy.

It was an interesting panel about best practices and how to run a true social media program rather than (as Polish said) “sprinkle social media into the business”.  With the different types of businesses being represented it was interesting to see how each of them are using social media. 

SEGA uses it widely and very loosely as in they post on their blog vlogs about “free stuff Friday” and they’ll post on Twitter about how someone used an old version of a SEGA game. Parker said that she also “re writes” press release in their blog so that it’s simple to understand language and will then link to the release. Very simple but she said it completely captures the audience. 

Cotter from AMD had a completely different story.  As the IR person, she was very reluctant to use social media but realized that there could be some great benefits of it.  She’ll answer questions and give AMD a friendly personality online rather than the stiff corporate role she plays while not online.  Not to say that she starts all Tweets or blogs with “Dude!” but it’s just a much more casual setting.  She said social media helps also when executives are out on the road she’ll have them do a video and post it to their blog so that the executives provide a face to an old school Silicon Valley company – simply humanizing the brand.  She also mentioned how she has created a traffic light system for blogs.  Red means you can’t blog about it at all, green means go ahead and yellow means you have to get approval from the social media team in order to do it.  She also said that gives bloggers ‘licenses” to blog and said that it works well. 

Polish talked a lot about how the Coast Guard uses social media and how she has helped companies.  Barnes had mostly examples of how she has helped folks begin programs and how they’re using it.

They all agreed that companies have gone from asking the question “why should I use social media?” to “how can I use social media?”  They also agreed that there have to be policies set in place so that all employees are aware of what they can and can’t say on all social networks – including their personal Facebook accounts.

There are so many ways to engage with your customers and prospects and social media is just another form of doing it.  Take advantage of the captive audience that you have with tools such as blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn.  But once you commit, you have to stick with it!

Do you have any tips for using social media to connect with your customers?

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.

We All Know What Happens When You Assume!

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on ToolKing, I thought I’d share this Business Week article with you.  It’s a very interesting read on what not to assume when using social media.

Debunking Six Social Media Myths
Using social media to market your business is a good idea. Just don’t plan on getting your whiz-kid nephew to do it for free

The King of Tools Does it Right

I just found a few articles that I cut out of Internet Retailer  last month and reread them. Here are some interesting bits from ”Tool King hammers out more sales with more info and Web 2.0” in the February 2009 issue. (to read the full article go here)

“2007 was not a good year for Tool King – web sales dropped by 18.5%. So it brainstormed and decided that providing more information – much more information – along with adding Web 2.0 tools and entering the realm of social networking would capture more repeat customers and attract new ones looking to better understand tools and projects. The strategy worked. In 2008, web sales for Tool King grew by 10% to about $24.2 million from $22 million in 2007.

“We were placing too much emphasis on new customer acquisition,” says Donald Cohen. “Now ToolKing.com is focused on customer retention…”

It’s good to see yet another company focus on keeping customers. If only more companies realized that it’s more expensive to gain a new customer than it is to keep the old ones happy. That’s because the loyal customers tell others and that’s ultimately less marketing budget needed for the company to spend gaining a new customer. But at the same time, if you upset your customers, be aware that they may tell lots of other folks.

What’s the lesson in this? 1) Retaining happy customers is less expensive than gaining new ones 2) social media is a powerful tool!

Building Customer Loyalty – One Tweet at a Time

A co-worker of mine is a huge fan of the site Despair.com.  I hadn’t heard of them until she showed me the calendar she made on their site last year.  It’s absolutely hilarious and you have to check your pulse if you don’t find yourself cracking up when reading their “demotivators”.

 

Last week my co-worker made a comment on Twitter about how she loved the site and how she makes personal calendars on their site every year.  A few days later she received a cute print t-shirt but she had no idea from whom.  She got onto Twitter and mentioned it and it turns out that one of the marketing folks at Despair.com (@wailinglist) saw her tweet and sent her the t-shirt as a thank you for the shout out.  When she got her calendar in the mail yesterday they had also added a poster.

 

So what’s the point of this?

 

          Use social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to find out what people are saying about you.

 

          Be active when you see that you’re being talked about.  Thank those that say good things and fix the problems when people say bad things.  Great job @wailinglist! 

 

          Word-of-mouth (WOM) has a huge impact on buyer perception.  If my co-worker had said something bad about Despair.com, it could have had a huge negative impact.  Now, there will be positive impact as I’m sure they’ve gained more followers.

 

Thanks to a savvy marketing person at Despair.com who uses social media to find out what customers are saying, not only is my co-worker thrilled that she got a free t-shirt and poster, but her loyalty to the company is as strong as ever and she’s telling others.

 

What did you do this week to make a customer loyal?

“Why Forrester is Bullish on References” – an interview by the Customer Reference Forum

Bill Lee manages the “Reference Point” newsletter which is a monthly newsletter discussing customer reference ideas/topics/issues. The September issue recently came out and I was intrigued by the title of one of Bill’s articles “Why Forrester is Bullish on References”.

I’ve been in the business of customer references for quite some time now and this is the first time I’ve seen analysts talking about customer references. I’ve given countless customers to analysts for Magic Quadrants and Market Scope reports and research reports but I’ve never seen them talk ABOUT rather than TO references. I know the importance of references – especially when giving them to analysts – but am happy to see that what I’ve been taking from my programs is exactly what Forrester sees as being important too.

Below are some highlights I have taken from the interview that Bill did with Merv Adrian, Sr. Vice President, and Laura Ramos, Vice President, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research. To read the full interview, check out to the September issue of the Reference Point newsletter. I have taken the liberty of highlighting comments that I have made before that are being reinforced by Forrester.

———————————————-

Q. Forrester is getting ready to publish articles and conduct research in the area of Customer Reference Programs – which will be presented at the 2009 Customer Reference Forum. What prompted your interest in this field?

A. Our clients: Marketing, Sales, and AR professionals – are all deeply interested in customer reference programs. Customer testimonials are deeply connected to how B2B firms market their products since the most popular source of information to inform and validate product or service purchases is peers and colleagues. B2B marketers must focus more on their installed base – leveraging customers they have is much more cost-effective than attempting to build on new names alone. Our research shows that many vendors are not leveraging higher value programs that can create loyalty retention and advocacy the way that effective CR programs can.

Q. A lot of Reference Managers think that the rise of Web 2.0 — social media, online communities, customers controlling conversations about companies – will completely change the nature of Reference Programs. I know this is one of the things we’ll be researching, but what are your early thoughts on that?

A. We don’t believe it will “completely change the nature” of the programs – but it will expand the ways customers can meaningfully participate. Not enough customers are engaged in these efforts – many hate participation in programs that chew up their time. Social media gives vendors other avenues to make participation easier- like creating a blog post on the vendor’s behalf, but expressing the customer’s unique perspective done at his/her convenience. Or customers could participate in a podcast conducted over the phone from their office, contribute to a wiki or other threaded discussions, participate in online surveys – all these take less time and effort than conventional reference tactics. Web 2.0 technologies enable these and other avenues – and they can be tracked, measured and managed much more precisely with the emerging technologies.

Q. Forrester is, of course, one of the leading technology analyst firms in the world. What are the three most important things a Reference Manager should know about working with analysts?

A. Customer references are used a lot in analyst programs, of course. And the same guidance applies in other uses:
1.) Ensure freshness – an old, untested reference may not be a good one. CR Managers should always know the state of a customer before using them.
2.) Manage appropriateness, defined as fit to need. Most analysts are looking for references for a specific reason – just like sales prospects or press are. Get the fit right – know why it’s needed.
3.) Follow up. How good was the reference? And how did the analyst, or press, or prospect talking to them find the interaction? Was it useful? Measure results, not activity. And as long as you’re following up, give the reference a stroke – check in with them, ask them the same questions, uncover any current or outstanding issues, and thank them.

Thank you Forrester for bringing customer reference programs to the forefront.  Hopefully more companies will realize the importance of loyal customers and having a program to support them rather than having someone spend a minimal amount of time on references – time that is, if they have nothing better to do.  Reference professionals need more support so again, thank you Forrester!

Marketing the blog

With the help of my friend Jennifer who is a great with social media, I have been able to make some updates to my blog. Most of them are back-end updates, but one of the fun things is that you can now register for an RSS feed. It should also be a bit easier to find my blog when you’re surfing the Internet.

Feel free to leave comments, suggestions or just a hi.

If you want to check out what Jennifer has to say about social media, visit her blog at ZDNet.