Are You Hiding Behind a Corporate Gorilla Suit on Twitter?

GorillaMaskI remember a Halloween party that I went to back in college. Great party, lots of friends, incredible costumes. Then the door opened and someone in a full body gorilla suit walked in. He/she did not speak, only made grunty gorilla noises. No one knew who it was, and the gorilla refused to reveal his/her identity. At first it was funny, but then we all started looking around the room to see which of our friends was missing from the group to try to ID this gorilla, but everyone was accounted for. It left everyone with a creepy uneasy feeling. Who was this person and why wouldn’t they reveal themselves? Was it a serial killer, a thief, a rapist, a crazed psycho? What did this person have to hide? It spooked everyone so much that we collectively threw the gorilla out of the party.

That story came to mind because I’ve been noticing that there are a lot of businesses hiding behind their own corporate gorilla suits on Twitter. Twitter, as most of us know, is a great place to connect with people, get the latest hot topics and find out what’s going on before it even happens. Those in business know or should know that Twitter offers up an amazing opportunity to connect with consumers directly, serving as a pipeline back and forth and building a community around a brand. One thing though that many businesses with a Twitter presence don’t realize is that it’s important to let people know who is behind the corporate tweets.

One of my pet peeves is when a company has a Twitter page and all that is there is the company name and logo, but no humans in sight. The tweets are coming from someone, but for some reason the company feels that it’s best that the person remain anonymous and just tweet as THE COMPANY. Bad move, in my opinion. It comes off as impersonal, and suggests that there is something hiding behind the mask of the brand name, like there’s some mysterious reason why they should be afraid to come out from behind the shadow of the giant logo and reveal themselves.

I always think in social media that if community and relationships are going to be built, then you need to show your face, if not literally, at least figuratively. People don’t want to connect to a company, they want to connect to a real person at the company who has some level of power to listen to what they say and to take action or at least interact. There’s an accountability issue that starts to rear its head. If someone from the company takes ownership of the Twitter interactions, then they might be put on the spot at some point and have to face what consumers have to say. It’s a lot easier to be anonymous than to show your face. I like to know who I’m talking to.

Another thing that a lot of companies don’t seem to get about Twitter is that no one wants to only read tweets or look at links to the company’s website or pictures of their products. Sure promote yourself now and then, but Twitter isn’t primarily an advertising venue, it’s a social media venue. Have a conversation. Interact. Promote here and there, but get to know your consumers. Give them a reason to follow you besides listening to you tweet on and on about your brand name and how great your products or services are. Let them know who you are and that actual humans who are not afraid to show their human faces are on Twitter ready and waiting to connect, listen and chat, and if need be, face the music if something negative comes up. If you are wearing a corporate gorilla suit, it’s time to take it off and show us who you really are.

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Are You Walking or Crossing the Personal Line on Your Blog?

lineinthesandThere are a lot of people talking online these days about the importance of injecting personal information into your blog. Although I completely agree that you have to show who you are as a person to your readership in order make a connection and create loyal readers, I think the level of personal exposure completely depends on the type of blog you have and where you draw your line personally.

If it’s a business related blog and it’s connected to a business of providing professional services or products, then I think there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Your business blog should offer your personality through occasional anecdotes and snippets of personal experiences as they are relevant to your viewpoint. On the other hand, if it’s a blog about a personal journey as a parent, cancer survivor, traveler or any other “journal” type blog, then revealing more intimate information would be appropriate and relevant.

In both cases it’s important to establish boundaries that are right for you. It’s also important to remember that anyone with a computer has the potential to read what you write, which on one level is an exciting thought and on another is kind of a creepy thought. I think some people tend to reveal a bit too much information, almost forgetting that, although they may have a core group of readers that may “know” them, they are also revealing themselves to the entire blogosphere, including the good, the bad, and the creepy. We all know this to be true, but sometimes tend to forget while we are interacting with our circle of blogging friends. You wouldn’t hang your underwear out to dry on the sidewalk in front of your house or set up a speaker system so everyone in the neighborhood can hear the personal discussions you have inside your own home. The same should be true of your blog.

On the other side, a blog is not a white paper. Factual information is a good thing on a business related blog, but the person behind the blog needs to be revealed at least to some extent. Readers want to know that there is a real person behind a words, not just a machine or committee producing a factual, well researched report or crafted corporate speak. I think it’s important to know the difference between walking the line and crossing the line and being able find that magic spot that works for you.

On this blog, I do reveal things about my life to my readers, but only when it’s relevant to what I am writing about. I think most of my regular readers know about my right brain tendencies and my creative entrepreneurial approach to looking at things. They know that I am married to a designer and know we have an 11-year-old son. They know that I go to the flea market on Sundays looking for cool old stuff. They know that I used to watch the Jetsons when I was a kid and that I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. But more importantly, I think they get to know me through my perspective on the various topics I write about. Your personal qualities should show through when you write, even some of your more imperfect human ones. Being a human is a good thing.

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How (not) To Build A Marketing Strategy

I took part in an online group discussion yesterday on LinkedIn that started from a business owner posing the question:

“Can anyone suggest the best areas to spend marketing budgets in difficult times such as these?”

The floodgates immediately opened, and asking that question resulted in quick machine gun responses from numerous marketing types all mapping out in a few sentences how this man should spend his marketing budget. The funny thing about the responses is that with the exception of mine and about five other people, they all had two things in common:

My solution is your solution

The first thing was, not surprisingly, they all said the best use of this man’s marketing budget was to use their services, which included: SEO, taking clients out to fancy restaurants for lunch for some one on one, writing a white paper, reading someone else’s white paper, adding a blog to his site, engaging in social media marketing, purchasing lists of sales leads, producing videos of customer testimonials, and on and on.

Who are you and what do you want?

The second thing that they had in common was that none of these people offering up their services to this man had anywhere near enough information to even begin to guess what would work for this company. There was no indication of what kind of business he had, who his customers were, what his budget was, or what his marketing goals were. In other words, there was no information to build a marketing PLAN.

All of the suggestions that people made to this man could potentially be valid and useful, but how could anyone possibly know that they had THE solution for him? Without more information it really was an impossible question that could not and should not have been answered in that forum. This man believed that he could pose the question and get a marketing plan for himself for free, but all he got instead was a bunch of sales pitches from people playing out their own marketing strategy of pitching their services in LinkedIn discussion groups.

Get to know yourself

Businesses need to do some of their own homework first before they can reach out and expect to get a valid marketing strategy in place. Seeking assistance with marketing is absolutely a fine thing to do, but first you have to know at least the basics of who you are, what you are trying to achieve, who your customers are and what your budget is. Then, go to a creative marketing strategist that can build a working marketing plan with you to reach your goals. In business (and in life for that matter) the answers are usually not that easy to attain.

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Are You a Graduate of the Old School or the New School?

oldschoolThere are two camps that seem to be fighting each other these days. One is the old school camp of marketing and promotion and one is the new school. Paper and phones vs. digital and blogs. The conflict comes from the pure traditionalists that are closed to and a little fearful of the new and the cutting edge youngsters hooked up to their laptops and other devises who haven’t been around long enough to have ever seen the effectiveness of the old.

A friend of mine, who runs a pretty successful product design consultancy, is purely old school. I’d link to her site here, but she doesn’t have one. She isn’t on LinkedIn, has no idea what Twitter or Facebook is, only uses email to send files, yet she is a sought after designer. She uses pencil and paper and a telephone to do business. How does she get clients? The old fashioned way. By sending a beautifully designed direct mail piece and following up with a phone call. Remember mail, with stamps and envelopes? It works for her and she has no shortage of clients.

There are those that would be screaming that, in order to be competitive, you have got to get out there in the social media world. You have to have a blog, you have to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, comment on other blogs, rub elbows with the who’s who in the digital world. In a lot of cases this is absolutely true. I’ve said that myself, but I’m seeing a trend of everyone telling everyone else how to run their businesses, old and new alike.

My argument in support of old is that there is so much information and non-stop talk going on out there in the digital world that people find themselves yelling or talking more and more thinking that will get more attention. It starts to get so noisy out there that it’s really hard to stand out as an individual. Because of this, the old school approach starts to seem new again. Getting a beautiful or interesting promotional piece in the mail is a special thing again, and ironically is something that can have the power to make a business stand out from the crowd of the electronic images and messages that bombarded us on a daily basis. It’s like hanging onto that halter top for so long, that it came back in style, and actually looks pretty good with those new pants.

My argument for new school is that it is so quick and so vast, that it opens up a whole new opportunity for people to access your business and for your business to access people. It’s engaging, dynamic, and if used creatively, has the potential to grow your business beyond your wildest dreams. I just think there needs to be a balance. Every business, every person has their own philosophy and methods of reaching their market. Assumptions can’t be made that old is dead and new is it (or vice versa). I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed the success from using both methods. I was college educated during old school times and self educated on the job during new school times. It’s not an either/or scenario. I think both schools still have some learning to do.

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Is Social Media Spookier Than a Vampire?

435_draculaI think one of the spookiest things some companies could imagine knocking on their door this Halloween is a social media specialist: Standing there at a company’s door, laptop in hand, surrounded by an army of Twitter followers and blog subscribers with their goody bags open,  asking for engagement, community, transparency and humanness. The company thinks: Trick or Treat? This image is more frightening to some companies than a vampire lunging in for a bite. There are many companies that want to be involved with social media, or think they should be involved, but at the same time they are deathly afraid of it.

I was contacted the other day by a children’s product company interested in engaging my services to “legitimately” (their quotes) populate their company’s website with positive reviews and photos of people using their products by tapping into my network of bloggers, providing them with free products and asking them to post accolades.  Apparently the company feels they don’t have enough reviews for their products on their site and many of them that have been posted legitimately (no quotes) have turned out to be negative because of ongoing QC problems that the company has been having. Her response was that “there are always QC problems in manufacturing, that’s just how it is.” She also wanted me to screen the product reviews before they were posted and intervene if anything negative arose. I explained the new FTC regulations  and that I thought this method of “legitimate” population might be considered questionable without a disclosure. I also offered other methods that could authentically populate their site’s reviews, but the conversation ended and I haven’t heard from them since.

I think in this case, there were missed opportunities. Instead of trying to drown out the bad reviews with manufactured good reviews, they could have embraced them, thanking the consumer for pointing out a problem and actually addressing the problem in a public way with a vow to fix it at the source and follow up with proof that it was fixed, instead of saying, well everyone has QC problems, that’s just how it is. That’s not how you engage your consumers. I know nothing is perfect in business, but when you put product out there to consumers, especially if you are inviting them to respond publicly on your company site, then you better make darn sure the product is as good as it can be, and if it isn’t and your consumers care enough to let you know, then you should respond with thankfulness, action and implementation to make sure it never happens again. To try to drown out negative comments with crafted positives just defeats the whole purpose of engaging people. It’s like inviting consumers to offer their opinions, and when they open their mouths occasionally saying something you don’t like, you cover your ears and say: “I’m not listening, LA, LA, LA.” This is what is meant by companies being human. To acknowledge mistakes or problems, apologize, promise to fix them and then actually fix them is the kind of thing that will gain a company respect in the marketplace with their consumers.

The thing about social media is that it can’t be completely controlled the way that advertising can. That is a very spooky thing for many companies.  There is some control, like determining the right person to manage your social media strategy and what to put out there to the public, but as far as trying to control what the public will perceive and say and do and manipulating things to look legitimate when really they aren’t, that is not what social media is all about.  That’s what advertising is about.

Here lies the problem for a lot of companies.  They know all this social media stuff is important, but don’t fully understand how to use it or why and how it’s different from advertising. They try hard to turn social media into just another controlled venue for advertising, and in my opinion, that is simply a waste.  Use your advertising for the crafted, controlled message, and use your social media for really listening to and engaging with real people.  If you are not ready for what may happen when you let go and start talking publicly with your customers, then maybe stay out of it for a while until you feel confident that what your company offers will be well received, or until known problems are fixed, or until you can respond to negative feedback with positive action. It can also be started in small ways. Start with a blog, talk about new products coming up or things in the industry. You don’t have to do a full-blown blitz to be involved in social media.  Start where you are comfortable, but understand that there is a certain amount of letting go of fear that needs to happen.

So if a social media specialist comes knocking at your door this Halloween, don’t be afraid, just drop a little humanness in his or her goody bag.

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Butter Your Bread With Innovation

breadnbutterThere often comes a time during the life of a company when the need for a new product smacks them in the face.  Maybe their current product line has reached the natural end of its life cycle and it’s time for an infusion of something new. Or maybe they are seeking to expand into a new market. This is when a fork in the road appears, and what path is taken can determine whether a company succeeds or fails.

Some brands choose the path of building their product line by shopping around and purchasing products already on the market for inspiration or in many cases, to directly knock off. Some brands, for fear of scaring existing customers away or because of insecurity, rely too heavily on focus groups, consumer input and data to determine product direction. Although keeping a finger on the pulse of the competition and consumers is important, it shouldn’t necessarily be used to dictate the direction of a new product. But there are other, perhaps braver brands that choose to take the path of innovation. These are the brands that most often end up being the leaders and the trend setters.

Originality and innovation are what makes a brand shine. True innovators are creatives who are always looking, not necessarily just at what the competition is doing, or listening only to what their existing customers are saying, but they are looking and listening to what the world in general is doing and saying across many industries and platforms. They are the ones who often do things in spite of what the competition is doing, rather than because of what the competition is doing. And if the formula is right, that innovation is what can turn into a company’s bread and butter.

A lack of innovation most often happens when companies get too big and cumbersome or overly secure and complacent or are too new and insecure. A lack of innovation happens when companies depend too much on data and focus groups or what the competition is doing rather than on what a truly talented creative team can invent. It also comes when the desire for what may seem like guaranteed money supersedes the desire for great product. But ironically, if you have great a product, the money will come and that great new product could turn into the new bread and butter for the company. Innovation doesn’t come from looking at what’s flying off the shelves today, it comes from an ability to imagine what will fly off the shelves tomorrow. Innovation doesn’t generally come from consumers. Consumers know what they have seen, what they have used, what they have bought before. They generally don’t imagine what doesn’t exist yet. That is where designers, inventors and visionaries come in. Innovative product and strong brand identity come from creativity, inventiveness, perception and innate intuition and bravery about what direction to go in or what to create.

The most successful companies are the ones that are able to strike that magic balance between maintaining a core product that sustains them (which had its roots in innovation) and being willing to take the greater risk that comes along with breaking the mold. Valuing and putting faith in the importance and abilities of a talented creative team can be the ticket to a brand’s long term success.

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What’s Your Key to Community Building?

keyoramaI’ve been noticing a bit of a trend lately with building community in the online world. It seems that some people believe that community is something that can be attained though purchase, either by cash, free merchandise or other means of artificial manufacturing. Whether it’s T.G.I. Friday’s recent free burger campaign or brands creating their name as a trending topic on Twitter by offering free merchandise, these methods may gain temporary attention, but most likely won’t create lasting loyalty, relationships or community.

Cash for Comments

One example of this trend recently came to my attention on the site Blogging for a Living. A post appeared there on Thursday that stated they are giving away cash as a reward to the person who leaves the most comments on their blog during the month of October, in an effort to rebuild a damaged community. Apparently, the blog used to have tremendous traffic, but a few bad apples with negative attitudes scared away the established community and hurt the reputation of the blog. Although I can sympathize, I don’t think a community can be bought back with the chance of winning a $50 prize for comments that are unlikely to have substance to them. After all, it’s clear that the motivating factor for the reader in this case would be the cash, not community building.

Focus on the Meaning of Community

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, community is: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” It’s important to keep that in mind when establishing a community. It’s the commonality, that sense of relating to what is being said, or an opportunity to express and share ideas or gain insight and opportunities that keeps people coming back.

Finding a Solution That’s Right for Your Community

If your blog’s focus is on finding and giving away great products or passing on savings, then material giveaways are relevant to your community, because your community would naturally consist of people who are looking for giveaways or savings. That is the common interest or goal.

If your blog, for example, is intended to serve as a community for freelance writers, then the “giveaway” should be information, resources, opportunities, advice and commentary relevant to your community of writers. Everyone needs money, that’s true. Everyone enjoys getting free stuff, that’s also true. But if you have lost your community, then you have to earn it back, not buy it back.

How to build or re-build community in a meaningful way is the challenge. Maybe re-branding is in order; starting fresh to show your community that things have changed or providing an opportunity to engage a new group of people. Maybe inviting and promoting well-respected guest bloggers who share in the same community could help both your audience and theirs. Maybe inviting your readers to comment with suggestions on what they want from your blog would demonstrate your commitment to serving them and that you want them to be part of the process. Ask them why they left and what can you do to bring them back. Taking a hard look at what you do, how it could improve and having the willingness to change is key to evolution and growth in community building as well as brand building.

What is your key to community building?

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