Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Steal This Blog Post

Abbie Hoffman's dissident treatise on how to survive in "Amerika" inspired a fairly tortuous train of thought for me this morning as I foraged through my various social networks in search of professionals who might be interested in hearing about the solutions and services that my company offers. Perhaps more the title than a deep analysis of Hoffman's metaphor, got me thinking about the way we are currently measuring our impact in the social media and networking world as a count of followers, ReTweets, connections, etc. rather than applying a value metric to those who read our posts, thoughts, or just subscribe. Many B2B's have jumped on the proverbial Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook bandwagons with corporate profiles and individual contributors, but are we ready and able to efficaciously measure the resources we are expending in these efforts in any other fashion that a self-congratulatory column in TweetDeck that captures mentions? A 2009 CMO study still indicates that we as business marketers and relationship specialists are still failing to leverage the voice of our customers and business intelligence in any comprehensive and effective fashion (http://www.cmocouncil.org/news/pr/2009/012609.asp). What a shame. In previous posts, I have suggested that we develop a comprehensive strategy for our social media and networking engagement that aligns with our overall marketing and business strategy; that we perform a social media risk assessment; or at the bare minimum, we listen to what our customer, competitors and others are saying about us. The tools to support these efforts are evolving, slowly, but they are becoming available at all levels of investment. And now, we have another caution in the form of the FTC guidelines for branding and advocating on-line. My strong suggestion, is that those of you who are ready to throw up your hands; leave the SMN world (as Verizon seems to be doing on Twitter); or continue to adopt a wait and see attitude, decide instead to return to the basics….

Some simple steps:

  1. Update your Business Marketing, Sales, Customer Satisfaction, and Lead Generation Strategies to potentially incorporate the use of social media and networking. Some very simple tools are available that you may already have in your kit. For example, Hoover's subscribers can see any connections in Linkedin that they have for the company they are researching. This provides an alternative outreach method that is slightly warmer than an email campaign using a paid-list. If I am a member of the same group as a prospect, we naturally have some shared areas of interest.
  2. Retool your messaging to be appropriate for the social media or networking applications that you decide is appropriate for your organization. Clearly, a full case study cannot be Tweeted and just Tweeting a link doesn't compel the reader to click. Try and provide the right information within the application itself and then provide a link for more.
  3. Assess the power and cost-effectiveness of including audio/video/photos in your social media and networking campaigns. Numerous studies indicate that website conversion rates and clicks increase when multi-media is introduced in our messaging. I have tested this anecdotally in my own accounts and the Tweets and profile updates that include multi-media have a 5x number of hits versus a plain message.
  4. Reassess your strategy and the application marketplace at minimum every six months, preferably more often. Add-on apps to all of the SMN tools are proliferating daily and are worth some attention.
  5. Continue to refine your definition of meaningful social engagement and your processes for turning listeners or those who comment into clients and promoters.
  6. Don't just count the numbers! Although it gives me a secret sense of pride to have a connection request granted or find someone who I consider a guru following me, I can't honestly say that I effectively mine these numbers to determine the value to my messaging efforts.


Just some humble thoughts…..Please STEAL THIS POST! J


Warmest,

Lisa Hoesel


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Have Little or NO Control Over What You/They Say

I was chatting with a colleague today about some contract provision revision (like that little alliteration::)) that had to do with control over content. In today's world of digital conversation, re-Tweeting, and a multitude of ways for inserting and sharing content, the days of NDA's, contract content control, and email disclosure statements seem, well, like shutting the barn door AFTER the proverbial collateral colt has galloped. I am often finding myself in the position of asking, as my esteemed friend and associate, Umang Shah of CubedConsulting queries: "Why not?" I think that an almost metaphysical revision of our corporate digital dialogue is necessary and appropriate in an age where being "talked about" is an extremely significant factor in the recognition of our brand and presence. Although I'll stop myself short of suggesting that we dismiss our legal mavens and send NDA"s the way of word-processing teams, I will offer the following:

1. Consider suggesting, even recommending that customer collateral (as long as you have agreement from your client) is "re-peated/Tweeted", shared, emailed, posted, etc. If your reference client has been brought into your program with the appropriate staging, advocating the wide-spread dissemination of a case study about your relationship with them brings them kudos and recognition as much as it brings to you.
2. Challenge your clients to comment, suggest, invite, "talk amongst themselves". The more open that you are in your digital conversation; the more you are perceived as honest, proactive, sincerely interested in the thoughts and input of your clients.
3. Shift the balance of content to externally appropriate and available. Not only will the advance your SEO goals, but for the more casual browsers among your potential clients, it affords a much broader and rich perspective of your relationships with your clients and your corporate persona than continuing to ask them to complete the "contact" exercise. I may be a little jaded, but I like to have a lot of context at my disposal prior to providing my contact information on a corporate website.
4. Hopefully, "they" are talking about you behind your back anyway. I have posted and re-posted, shared and re-shared this point, but our objective is to be the subjective of a digital conversation, whether we have "control" over it or not. My suggestion is that we provide enough juice for people to buzz about and then we follow some strategy regarding our interaction with the same. I propose that even predominantly negative commentary provides us with rich oppportunity for demonstrating our ability to face adversity, resolve problems for our clients, and truly shine.
5. Let it Go. If we are meeting and exceeding our customer service, delivery, SLA, develoment, customer relationship goals, then the conversation about us in the Twitterverse, Blogsphere, community and social media communities should be a wonderful resource for us to mine for our more traditional collateral efforts. Again, the social media and networking applications are TOOLS NOT STRATEGIES, so our efforts should continue to focus on the internal infrastructure, workflow, and teams that create and deliver products and services themselves, not on how to control the communication about them. Right? :)

Warmest regards,
Lisa
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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

True Tales from The Twitterverse-Where did VZ Go?



In my last post, I shared, with some trepidation but more excitement, that Verizon had initiated a digital conversation with me via Twitter after an unfortunate phone-based customer service experience that I was reporting live. I've re-told this story a number of times in various environments over the last couple of weeks and have been hopeful that I would be able to report that a successful expansion of this digital dance between my internet/wireless/landline/ provider and myself. A brief re-cap:


I called the dreaded 800 number after discovering that my electronic VZ payment had not posted and I had inadvertently double-paid. I got lost and transferred and scared in customer service phone-land and began Tweeting the hold time, multiple transfers, and mounting frustration. The next day, VZ began following me on Twitter and we began "chatting".


Since our initial "introduction" Verizon and I have exchanged a couple of DM's and my ego was massaged by the following message and the fact that a Verizon FIOS technician began following me (we don't have FIOS in our little burg and I desperately want it!):

VZHelpNetworkThank you for your interest in our site. Please look at @Verizon as our SMN Strategy evolves.6:04 AM Sep 4th

Now, I'm in post-third-date-no-phone-call mode…..I know that I am one of millions served by Verizon, but I really thought we had some sparks. As Verizon is in trial-mode for their Twitter Help service, I assumed that they would be as excited about my willingness to openly and passionately share my thoughts and ideas with them. Big Sigh; lessons in humility learned; opportunity to re-affirm some basic Social Media and Networking principles for clients that I coach:


JOIN: In order to participate in a digital dialogue, you have to join the conversation. Verizon is clearly testing the conversational waters and I applaud their efforts here. Be present in the same conversational forums as your clients, prospects, and competitors.


INTRODUCE: Don't just wear the proverbial digital nametag; share some basic information about yourself beyond your name. Verizon "told" me why they were on Twitter and reaching out to me; all of us should do the same as we are reaching out to our various digital audiences.


OFFER: Bring some current news, updates, helpful suggestions, CONTENT to the party. As I have been following @VZHelpNetwork over the last couple of weeks, I can't help but notice that most of their Tweets begin with "I'm sorry you're having some trouble." It would be nice to see some links to other Verizon resources, suggestions, solutions that could inform and educate us all. I have also repeated ad nauseum in the past that if you are going to publicly dialogue with others in these applications, at least let the rest of us in on the nature of the conversation! Don't be exclusionary; use this as the opportunity to demonstrate your true helpfulness!


EXPAND: I have been suggesting to clients that they look at the networks of people that they follow or to whom they are connected for ways of expanding their audiences, prospects, clients, etc. It stands to reason that the friends, family and colleagues that are following me could very well be Verizon clients! What an opportunity for Verizon Help to turn not only me, but a host of my connections into positive testimonials for them!


LISTEN: I know, based on this experience that Verizon has begun to experience some digital ear burning, but are they just hearing the commentary of their customers or are they really listening. Some time back, I wrote about the difference between "hearing" and "listening" in the digital B2B conversation. I think that if we are going to commit to providing service via social media and networking, we really need to fine tune our "hearing" acuity and respond specifically rather than generically to questions that are posed. I don't think that we have to create specific and distinct messages for each digital dialogue, but I do think we need to do more than just acknowledge the questions of our clients and provide "templatized" responses. To the extent that our resources allow, truly individualized our response in digital conversation goes along way toward the longevity of the customer satisfaction.


I developed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Digital Conversation Scoring System for a client as a way to relate my belief that a digital conversation should emulate as much as possible our Face-to-Face interactions:


Lisa's Digital Conversation Scoring System



  • I would walk across hot coals to engage you in a chat again!

  • I would chat with you at some length and then ask our friends to join us!

  • I would re-introduce myself, ask you how you have been, inquire about any new events, and either continue or excuse myself depending upon your response.

  • I would wait until you approached me to engage with you.

  • I would hide in the women's restroom or walk down a different aisle at the grocery store to avoid a conversation.

  • I don't know you, have never been introduced to you, and I don't know anybody who knows you so I can't have a conversation with you, although I might listen to you if I am trapped and need a cure for my insomnia.



Today, Verizon is at a three, because I do applaud their efforts and am curious about the evolution of their Twitter Trial.




Stay-tuned and as always, my warmest regards,




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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Tales from the Twitterverse - The Verizon Twitter Ears are Listening!

On August 24th, 2009, my phenomenally good luck with Verizon customer service ran out. I was engaged in my month-end expense filing activity and pulled up my on-line MyVerizon account only to notice that it appeared that I had NOT paid my bill. My knee-jerk, panicked reaction was to hit the "Pay Bill Now" option, as I am far too trusting of technology on occasion. After milliseconds of reflection, I recalled that I had, in fact, paid my bill on the 17th and proceeded to dive into the "to file" pile to find the confirmation number. The Twitter Tale begins:

I call the customer service number on the paper bill (I know, not very green, but I still have to file expenses in a fairly dated fashion). I chose option #1 for billing and waited. As I was multi-tasking, I enabled speaker-phone and listened to the hold music and various disclaimers for some time before the theoretically billing-questions-enabled customer service representative answered. When I explained my "double-payment" and "why was the first payment not reflected in the on-line statement" issue, I was abruptly told that I would have to be transferred to "that" department. ?. I thought option #1 was that department. After some time, the line was answered by another indiviudal, to whom I repeated my phone number (I never really get why they can't transfer the number along with the call) and my concerns and was immediately told that she did not have access to my billing records. Back to on-hold land. This is where the Twitter Tale truly begins. I actually was able to create pineapple upside-down cake batter FROM SCRATCH and get it in the oven before I decide to start Tweeting. As I am ultra-sensitive to the nuances of customer service and I have (unlike many others) had fantastic service from Verizon in the past, I don't think I was ever vitriolic, just stunned and curious about not only the initiating circumstances, but how Verizon would respond.

Tweet #1:
Luck w/Verizon Customer Service just ran out....47 min and counting on hold for simple bill ? two transfers so far! from TweetDeck

Minutes after posting this Tweet, the hold music stopped and I heard the initial IVR message regarding my various options for service, including "Press One for Billing Questions." What? Is there a time-out feature? I thought that we were looking at my billing records? Back to Tweetdeck with the following:

Tweet #2:
If Verizon had active SM Twitter Triage they could turn this now....now getting same msg about verifying acct. from TweetDeck

As part of my research for an earlier post about Social Media Risk Assessment, I created a Tweetdeck column around "Worst Customer Service." Verizon shows up daily and I have made the assumption that the individuals posting these truly nasty remarks are the exceptions. I also made the assumption that as a digitized, communications enabler, Verizon had developed a robust multi-media strategy for facilitating customer interaction in a variety of ways. (That is what I would recommend to them if they hired me to do an assessment.) So, I decided to make the best use of the hold-time and turn this experience into a metaphor around social media and networking's use in customer service practices. Thus:

Tweet #3:
Verizon customer service analysis Tweeting live right now! from TweetDeck

Tweet #4:
Verizon-1st billing transfer had to look up billing records 43 minutes later back to original account verification process?!? 51 mins now! from TweetDeck

Very shortly after this Tweet, (I had chosen Option 1, again, and repeated my phone number), my call was answered by Nicole (sp?) in Arizona. After relaying not only my initial query but my travels through the land of interminable hold and transfer-land, Nicole apologized profusely and immediately offered a couple of solution to the initial dilemna. Unfortunately, one of them would involve yet another transfer to another department and quite frankly, my time outweighed my curiosity at this point so I chose to keep the second bill payment as a credit. Nicole's apparently sincere concern regarding my experience and her immediate offer of two solutions were sufficient, however, for me to offer:

Tweet #5:
Verizon-Nicole in Arizona is the way that customer service should happen! from TweetDeck

Although not completely satisfied with the outcome (I make a lot of phone calls and abuse my Blackberry for all kinds of random and directed messaging and browsing so a double-bill pay is not insignificant), I was willing to focus more on the metaphor for social media use in customer service than flaming Verizon so I thought, "Why not test their Twitter Triage capabilities?" So I did:

Tweet #6:
Verizon-Are your digital ears burning? I challenge you to respond to this experience ! :) from TweetDeck

Clearly, Verizon does have a Twitter strategy of some sort as the next day, I received the "following" :) message:

Hi, Lisa Hoesel.
Verizon Help Network (VZHelpNetwork) is now following your tweets on Twitter.
A little information about Verizon Help Network:

179 followers234 tweetsfollowing 174 people

I have to be a little curious about the low number of people that Verizon's Twitter "Triage" group is following or is it that they just implemented a strategy, but I did feel alternately ego-stroked, a little nervous, and affirmed that establishing a conversation with customers seems to be the goal of this corporation. It is something that I have offered often in this humble blog and consult about daily. At minimum, we should all be "listening" to and for opportunities to engage with our clients, even those home-officed, low-profit (comparatively) ones. Just this "following" message inspired me to Tweet this:

Tweet #7:
@VZHelpNetwork Kudos to Verizon for initiating a conversation in response to a Tweet! Blog post to follow! from TweetDeck in reply to VZHelpNetwork

Clearly, Verizon is dipping their digital toes in the social media and networking world as a way to enhance, inform, and expand their customer service strategy. http://forums.verizon.com/t5/Verizon-at-Home-Blog/What-s-Happening-in-Customer-Service-and-Billing/bc-p/66552#M170

Even though the initiating circumstance was NOT resolved to my satisfaction, more due to my unwillingness to be transferred again and the time I had already expended on the exercise than their ability to issue a credit, I was still encouraged enough by the fact that their digital ears were burning and they did respond to let the issue drop....for now. I am stunned by the multiple transfers and have a lot of thoughts (as I always have in these circumstances) about why the information about my numbers and records can be transferred with my call and why individuals in different customer service departments are not empowered to offer true customer resolution. Overall, however, I am feeling as if I am a valued client.

What Else Can Verizon Do:
1. Really turn this experience into a customer reference profile. If Verizon's Twitter Persona takes some initiative, he/she/they could potentially use this anecdote as a way to inform their social media strategy, customer service workflow, etc. Either for internal or external purposes, I might be a good candidate for illustrating success and failure and certainly could provide a positive testimonial about pieces of this experience.
2. Do the follow-through and follow-up. Verizon is following me now, so I "assume" that they may be more than usually attentive to any future issues. Certainly, they can mine some new search words for their listening activities.
3. Continue to offer multiple conversational/customer service portals. My elderly parents DREAD calling the 800 number for Verizon and are somewhat email literate, so certainly would respond to other options for engagement.
4. Respond in the same way to the messages that I am seeing in my Worst Customer Service Tweetdeck column as they did to me. I have strongly recommended responses in some fashion to Negative Tweets in the past, and I certainly recommend it to Verizon.
5. Free wireless, Blackberry, land-line, FIOS, etc. for life...... :) Kidding.

What We the People Can Do:
1. Offer our vendors the opportunity to converse with us in a mature, non-enraged, expletive-free fashion. If we need to vent, is it really useful to our end objectives to do so in a vile, nasty fashion?
2. Find ways of communicating with our vendors that are most comfortable to us and if they are not available, ask for them.
3. Share all sides of the story, including our own errors and any positive pieces in the hope that not only will the vendor be more open to listening to our problems/concerns but that our experience may inform and improve our future conversations with them.
4. As I have suggested/strongly recommended in the past, the digital conversation should be a reflection of our face-to-face and voice-to-voice engagements. The more information that we exchange digitally and the more reasonable that we are, the better the chance that we may actually see resolution and the potential for change.

I am hoping that this Twitter Tale turns into a series....Verizon, this is your opportunity to really become the poster child for customer service in the social media and networking world!

My best, as always,
Lisa

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do We/They Really “Get” Social Media or Did We All Just Change our Titles?

Okay, I'm waving the white flag today. I started playing around with the concept of a corporate "Social Media DJ" a little over a year ago (to some laughter, some scoffing, and very few, "Gee, that sounds like you might have something there Lisa's." This morning, in a strictly scientific analysis of the industry, I analyzed the landscape for social media consulting and found the following:

     Results 1 - 10 of about 36,900,000 for social
media
consultant
.

    Results 1 - 10 of about 38,600,000 for social
network
consultant
.

    Results 1 - 10 of about 15,300,000 for social
media and networking
consultants
.

Is it possible that my self-anointment as the Director of Customer Conversation and Social Media DJ was somehow on the right track or has the confusion, opportunity and multitude of options just generated a tidal wave of title changes and business card re-orders? In my hope that I have not contributed to any parlor trick of title-shifting without true comprehension of change and responsibilities, I'd like to offer some thoughts about the paradigm shift that I think accompanies a focus on social media and networking in the B2B customer relationship and reference world…..

  1. It's NOT about throwing away all of your old content and developing specialized messages that are unique to the social media and networking world. I believe that establishing a corporate profile in the SMN applications available today and inviting your current and prospective clients to a new conversation with you in a new medium is a perfect opportunity to re-purpose your existing collateral. I have opined before about the dusty shelves of case studies and video vaults that should be re-visited and re-presented to the new audiences and conversations that are available to us today. If you are told that you need all new content, I believe that you are being mislead.
  2. It's NOT about scrapping your website and completing redesigning a new one. A website is just one way that our audiences conduct their discovery, research, and initiate their conversation with us and it has perhaps a lower priority in our exercise of embracing SMN than others. Certainly, our websites can be augmented to include RSS feeds, blogs, SMN contact and follow information and can be rich referral sources, but they are not the kingpin in the social media conversation nor should they be the endpoint of the SMN Audit and Assessment.
  3. It's NOT about creating audio and video content to present to our conversational partners. Although the TOOLS that are emerging in, and as adjuncts to the SMN application environment are rich with opportunity for presenting in a multi-media format, they are (I've said this TOO many times) merely tools and NOT the end objective of our engagement. Having a social media consciousness does not mean that I can produce customer testimonials on Youtube; it means that I am creating a conversation using these formats in an environment that supports an open review and exchange of opinion and information about these formats.
  4. It's NOT about having a corporate Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. profile, but that's where most of us start and END with our social media strategies and discussion. If we don't understand our objectives for being present in the conversation, creating a corporate Facebook account can be extremely counter-productive to our educational, marketing, and sales objectives. Our marketing, business and sales strategies should drive our presence in the SMN world; not the responses, FANS, followers, or comments that may or may not follow.


 

It IS about engaging new audiences in a deeply compelling, open, transparent, honest, agnostic, multi-media, complex conversation with and about us in a variety of environments. Social media and networking applications and opportunities are about participating and supporting a broader and deeper dialogue with our constituencies. My ever-handy desktop Wikipedia icon tells me the following:

    "A conversation is communication between multiple people. It is a social skill that is not difficult for most individuals. Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views on a topic to learn from each other. A speech, on the other hand, is an oral presentation by one person directed at a group.

For a successful conversation, the partners must achieve a workable balance of contributions. A successful conversation includes mutually interesting connections between the speakers or things that the speakers know. For this to happen, those engaging in conversation must find a topic on which they both can relate to in some sense. Those engaging in conversation naturally tend to relate the other speaker's statements to themselves. They may insert aspects of their lives into their replies, to relate to the other person's opinions or points of conversation.

Conversation is indispensable for the successful accomplishment of almost all activities between people, especially the coordination of work, the formation of friendship and for learning."

If our participation in an SMN conversation focuses on "mutually interesting connections" and its objective is the "successful accomplishment of almost all activities between people" it certainly is worthy of more than a website readjustment or new customer video. Our SMN objectives to augment our brand positioning, our customer care philosophy, our entry into new markets, and our cementing of lasting relationships with our existing client base. This "conversation" affords us the opportunity to tap into an exchange of ideas about our solutions that may have been hidden from our traditional methods of communicating with our user base. Raising our hand in these new communities and discussion groups should provide us with far richer business intelligence about our competitors, customers and our own business and solutions.

I think I've answered my own question……If we are approaching the SMN conversation from the standpoint of a paradigm shift in the way that we offer, exchange, review, and synthesize intelligence about the marketplace and business that we are in, we have certainly done more than merely change our titles; we are exploring new ways of relating to the known and new "speakers" that inform our solutions and services.

Your thoughts and feedback are, as always more than encouraged and anticipated!

Warmest regards,

Lisa M. Hoesel

Friday, August 7, 2009

Click on Links Twice; Insert Links Once


Often, I am so excited to share information with my colleagues, friends, and family that I hit the send, paste, publish buttons far too soon. Being an English/Poli-Sci major by secondary education, I am pretty particular about spelling and grammar, but my vision for the message that I want to convey and the perception of the material that I am sending to you does not always mesh with the way that you will perceive or even review the same material. I have been schooling myself in techniques for reviewing my blog posts, emails, HTML creations, etc. from a variety of angles and humbling myself to ask for second opinions, thoughts and feedback. The rapidity and ease with which I can publish my thoughts in abbreviated 140 character Tweets and in a flash, copy and paste a web link into an email message or share it on my Facebook profiles only exacerbates the risk. The social media and networking applications that are so prevalent today often do NOT offer a "preview" option. Once it's out there, it's out there. Let me provide an illustration:


Our company's CEO recently presented to a group of entrepreneurs at a local networking function. His presentation was phenomenally well received and post-event, published on the host's online site. Their ezine focuses on a wide variety of innovations and futuristic ideas and is quite an interesting read and platform for the genius entrepreneurs of today. We certainly wanted to promote our CEO's slide deck, presentation and thoughts as much as possible (read, "We're proud of you, Bossman!") and so immediately jumped to inserting a link to their ezine on our corporate Facebook profile…without enough review….without testing the link in a different environment…without really realizing that the message that was being sent inadvertently focused on the ezine and NOT on the presentation. Why? Because we used the homepage link for the ezine rather than the full page link. Maybe this wouldn't have been a big deal (or blog post fodder) if I hadn't happened to be posting something to our corporate Facebook profile later and happened to click on the link…and went to the home page of the ezine….which updates throughout the day with new articles about new innovations and ideas….which at that moment happened to be something called "Machine Condoms" which are rubber sleeves that one can place over the handles of public gym equipment to avoid common viruses, bacteria, and the dreaded workout flesh-eating infections. To find the presentation, I had to use the search option on the site and type in our CEO's name, which had I been a casual visitor to our Facebook site, I may not have known. (Later the ezine home page featured an article about EATING CAMEL) As I have administrative authority over the Facebook site, I immediately removed the link and later replaced the update and link with one that takes the visitor directly to the intended page and review of the presentation.


In this particular situation, a remedy was quickly applied and we are assuming, with digital fingers crossed, that no adverse consequences will be forthcoming. Imagine the possible scenarios with a different type of organization wanting to showcase their CEO's presentation and a perhaps even odder online environment: The American Medical Association Neurological Symposium speaker and a misdirected or mistyped link that takes visitors to a study on cannibalism and mad cow disease misdiagnoses; a profile bio of one of your key executives, featured in an online magazine and the current volume ALSO features an article about CEO's at the many bail-out companies; your conservative pastor's sermon included in a directory of press coverage of lawsuits against the Catholic church. The room for error is Grand Canyon-esque, given the complexity and nuance of the WEB 2.0 world and our inability to control the environments in which we are found, even when we digitally place ourselves in them.


I offer some pre-publishing pointers:



  1. As always, think about the message that you are sending, especially in the social media and networking environment. Just because we are configuring our messages differently, doesn't mean that they shouldn't carry the same tone and branding as our standard marketing collateral. They may be shorter; friendlier; even funny, but they should still be on target and not muddied by the content surrounding them.


  2. Click on links twice, three, four times, before you include and publish them in profiles, Tweets, email messages etc. Not only do we want to double-check our work and that the links are not broken, but often they will display differently in different environments. And the site to which we are linking may change its content often so the look and feel that was appropriate, interesting, etc. at one point during the day may NOT be later.

    -Click on the links using different browsers, if you're NOT sure that your audience is all IE


    -Test the links and the email messages with different versions of desktop/laptop software


    -Create your messages, .pdf's, audio and video clips, and email templates in the MOST common (notice I didn't write LEAST) version of the software


  3. Sign up for your own RSS feed; test email campaigns, Facebook Fan Clubs, etc. Review the materials, links, and posts as they will appear to your audience; not just in preview or beta mode.

  4. Have someone else review your messaging, if possible, prior to hitting send and publish.

  5. Look at the context to which you are connecting. Think about whether the reader's attention is focused on the context OR your content.

  6. Spell and grammar check. (J Had to slip that one in, again.)

  7. Conduct a Social Media Audit and Risk Assessment before venturing into the land of Twitter and Facebook, et al.

  8. Designate more than one administrative authority that can pull the plug if necessary.

For us, the error was more or less quickly rectified and has become a source of good-natured ribbing and light-hearted Friday email banter. It could have been worse….a lot worse.


I hope you find this edifying and amusing and as always, my best until next one….




Lisa


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let Them Complain-And Then Share the Story!

I was attempting a tortuous twist on the misquoted and misattributed "qu'ils mangent de la brioche" for this post, and settled for "Let Them Complain." For years, I have remarked to friends and family, that we seem to increasingly inhabit, reward and cultivate a culture of whining, complaining, lawsuits and general dissatisfaction seeking remedy or simply voice. In my years as a customer consultant, strategist, sales person, etc., I have had numerous opportunities to take courses, get coaching, be "trained" in listening skills, overcoming objections, "getting to yes", ad infinitum/nauseum and have come to the conclusion that there are some people who simply will not be satisfied, no matter what. When I overlay this conclusion with my musings on the increasing ability that our customers have to instantly and globally voice their complaints, I've been suggesting social media and networking strategies and risk assessments as critical components of our customer conversation business practices. The plethora of social medial applications that are available at literally everyone's fingertips are being accessed almost as a virtual running commentary to everyday experience with products and solutions. [The Tweetdeck search that I created around "worst customer service" for my last blog post updates so often I insist virtual whirls of smoke curl from the borders of its column!] So I started thinking if some people are going to complain no matter how diligent our efforts at solving their issue are; no proactive our social media strategy; empowered our front-line customer service personnel; comprehensive our customer relationship net may be: WHY NOT JUST LET THEM COMPLAIN AND PUBLISH IT? What if, after exhausting our best efforts for mutual resolution, we detailed in our blogs, Tweets, Facebook "customer spotlights" the exact nature of our worst customer service complaint; the steps we took to resolve it AND the ultimate dissatisfactory end?

Negative Customer Reference Recruitment-Really

Many of us spend a lot of money, time, and energy recruiting customer references that are willing to participate in case studies, press releases, talk to prospects, or record interviews and testimonials on our behalf telling everybody how wonderful we are. We record this precious evidence any way we can; devise comprehensive ways of cataloging, searching for and representing this proof that we are what we say we are and deliver our solutions and services better than any body else. Our entire focus in the customer reference practice has been the careful cultivation of the positive reference while our customer support/service teams have been attempting to fill the pipeline with current customers that may be eligible for this consideration. What I am proposing is that we utilize the same infrastructure that is in place for identifying and promoting the positive experience reported by our customers to the occasional negative, argumentative, "nothing will make me happy but a full refund" client. Why am I suggesting this? Here are some high level reasons:

  • It should be part of our on-going customer support assessment to collect information about our customers' negative as well as positive experience.
  • We need to know where the gaps are in our service.
  • It is interesting.
  • It may provide much needed comic relief: Consumer complaint to Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines

In light of my continued urging that we consider participation in the broader social media and networking customer conversations that are happening about us and around us, considering proactively publishing a negative customer reference makes sense for some additional strategic reasons. The likelihood that a person who is a chronic complainer will publicly and more vehemently report their experience outside of our 1-800 Call Us environment seems to be gaining nuclear steam. If you have implemented even the "listen" pieces of my suggested social media strategies, you have begun to analyze the customer conversation about your brand, solutions, competitors and general business environment. Hopefully, the conversation is dominated by those suggesting that our products and solutions are considered by others and we have invited those individuals to share the same story again and again. What if we applied the same principles of watchfulness and intervention to the "Worst Customer Experience with Our Brand" TweetDeck Column? What if we invited @IHATEYOU to record the reasons why they were dissatisfied with us, tell their side of the story, and offered to publish it on our website? What if we retweeted them and AGREED that we had messed up. What if we told them that we didn't care if they said that they would never use us again, that we just wanted to be honest with our customers and prospective customers and share that we didn't always perform perfectly? Maybe the following things could happen:

  • Best Case-They return as a customer because they are so shocked; or their deep psychological need to just vent has been satisfied.
  • We truly practice the principles of transparency that the SMN world has been preaching.
  • We avoid the ennui that we may inadvertently be introducing by publishing too many positive customer references.
  • We demonstrate, through the voice of our customers, that we really do do anything that we say we will to try and resolve their issues.
  • "Exposing" ourselves first drastically reduces the tabloid-like effect of our customer's self-filmed and self-published FLIP MINO diatribe against us.

Maybe the old 1940's political slog, "If you can't beat em; join em" applies here. My extremely scientific (J read Google) research into the reasons why people complain basically returned the following:

Complaining. Everyone complains, although clearly some people complain more than others. Even though complaining has negative connotations associated with it, there must be some benefit to complaining or people would not do it so often. Very little research within psychology has examined complaining. Robin M. Kowalski

So my bottom line for this post is:

  • We don't understand why some customers will complain no matter what but they will
  • Social media affords everybody the ability to complain much more "loudly", for longer, and to a "ginormous" audience
  • Worst case, poking a little bit of public fun at ourselves can't hurt anything other than our pride……right?

Regards until next time,

Lisa


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Thursday, July 23, 2009

How Much Would a Domino’s YouTube Cost Your Company?-The Social Media Risk Assessment





The most conservative estimate of the revenue loss that Domino's may attribute to the "gross-out" employee YouTube video is $37 million. (Predictify http://www.predictify.com/q/how-much-will-dominos-pizza-llc-claim-youtube-2). The majority of my posts regarding Social Media and Networking's impact on B2B customer relations have focused on the positive side of enhancing, broadening, and exploring different conversational possibilities with existing and prospective audiences. I have touched on the ramifications of negative Tweets, responses to unfortunate customer service stories turned into blog comments and just this morning, suggested a couple of ways that United Airlines may have turned the guitar incident to their favor. I have suggested and even consulted around the idea of a Social Media Audit as a first step in assessing the impact of our audience's participation and conversation about us. It has been suggested that the gloves need to come off and I need to reach into my information technology background and push you all very hard to consider the ramifications of ignoring what your clients, competitors and the general population is saying about you directly and indirectly, out there. Thus, I strongly advocate, as an absolutely critical component of your Social Media and Networking Strategy that you conduct a Risk Assessment that has all the weight, probabilities, and response matrix of any other IT, Disaster Recovery, or Business Risk Assessment that you conduct.


The Social Media Risk Assessment




A quick Twitter search on "worst customer service" produced a CPU stuttering result (I "graffitied" the names to protect myself and the companies, but trust me, they are big players in the IT, storage, and device community. See the image above left.)

One of our tunnel vision issues, however, is that we think a negative Tweet or blog comment is the only exposure we have. An effective Twitter Triage strategy is essential, but it does not contemplate the ramifications of a self-made video by employees or customers published to YouTube, capturing, in painful detail the backroom processing truth about our pizza.




Why do you need this?


How many more Comcast-technician-sleeping stories, Domino's-inappropriately-prepared-food, United Airlines-smashed-guitar stories do we really need to recognize that the risk of one angry customer or disgruntled employee can impact our public reputation to the tune of millions. Whether or not it is malicious, the opportunity to comment negatively on the service and products that consumers receive from businesses is phenomenally easy and is the internet has become a tremendously acceptable vehicle for voicing these comments. Further, the immediacy with which we can publish our experience is closer and closer to real-time:


One-third of Americans (32%) have used a cell phone or Smartphone to access the internet for emailing, instant-messaging, or information-seeking. This level of mobile internet is up by one-third since December 2007, when 24% of Americans had ever used the internet on a mobile device. On the typical day, nearly one-fifth (19%) of Americans use the internet on a mobile device, up substantially from the 11% level recorded in December 2007. That's a growth of 73% in the 16 month interval between surveys. – Wireless Internet Report, John Harrigan, July 22, 2009 http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2009/12-Wireless-Internet-Use.aspx


I included a conservative loss prediction re the United Airlines "Guitar" mishap. The examples of organizations that were completely unprepared to respond effectively to the publication of less-than-satisfactory customer service stories or employee (mis) behavior are mounting on an hourly basis. Combined with the availability and acceptability of the internet as a means for communicating consumer responses, the adverse consequences of what may have been a minor case of disgruntled customer in the pre-Twitter era is now tantamount to the impact of any disruption of service, natural disaster, or cataclysmic misstep in marketing message.




The components and players


Any corporate risk assessment, IT or otherwise, includes key stakeholders such as H.R., IT, Finance. In a long-ago part of my career, I had the opportunity to educate a regional group of EDP auditors on the risks associated with the introduction of new types of long-distance transport methods available to consumers, post-Bell breakup. Point being, that new technology and its availability to different internal and external populations indicate that our social media risk assessment should be at minimum reviewed by more than the usual suspects. I have suggested that a Social Media Strategy and Audit should include as a first step a review of employees who are participating in the various networks. EVEN IF YOUR CORPORATE POLICY IS TO BLOCK ACCESS TO THESE NETWORKS AT THE OFFICE; that doesn't mean it isn't worth a review of comments by your own "family." A cursory review of the current threats and incidents should remind us that our own employees may equate to the most damaging publications in the SMN world.


The components;



  • Current metrics applied to D.R., IT and Financial Risk Assessment

  • Audiences, both internal and external, who are participants in SMN

  • Buckets of content that are published by you

  • Sites, feeds, "authorities", competitors who are relevant to your industry, brand, etc.

The players:



  • IT, Finance, H.R. Legal

  • Marketing and Sales-yes, they certainly have a bead on what is being said and how

  • Customer Service, Call Center, Support

  • Employees, contractors, partners, etc.



The formula


I will go out on a limb and offer that the same probability and threat analysis that you apply to your IT infrastructure can be repurposed for your Social Media Risk Assessment. Identify the areas of risk, assign a probability to exposure by type, ask for input re the revenue loss, damage to reputation, loss of infrastructure investment (you may need to shut down a blog, website, comment function, customer service line, Twitter profile), FTE-loss, etc and score it. If your primary call center is located in Tornado Alley, you certainly score Acts of God highly probable and can assess the damage of losing connectivity, data, and cost of going to your back-up/secondary center. The more present your organization is in the SMN world does increase the risk of exposure, but NOT being a presence or participant in the arena could contribute as significantly to the risk of negative feedback as well. Not having a website would be unthinkable today. I would suggest that very soon, it will be equally as bizarre, and remarked upon, if we do not have a Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc. profile and interact with our audience via those mechanisms. Playing ostrich is not a strategy, at least not a risk avoidance one. Some elements that you may want to consider as you modify your current Risk Assessment formula:



  • # of Followers, Subscribers, Community Members (Scope)

  • Scale of Network associated with #1. (Scope)

  • # of times Brand name, solution, organization, is currently mentioned (Probability)

  • Current ratio of positive v. negative comments (Probability)

  • Any association/referral to SMN comments in customer correspondence if available (Probability)

  • Ranking of each type of network, comment, etc. (Damage Valuation)

  • Average revenue per contract/customer/opportunity (Damage Valuation)

  • Productivity loss valuation (Damage Valuation)

The risk assessments that I have conducted or designed in the past have used a number of different scoring and ranking mechanisms; from Kepner Tregoe to internally designed business continuity valuations. What is important is that you acknowledge, evaluate and prepare for the tidal wave (note I did not use the word ripple) effect that even a mildly unsatisfactory report may have when Tweeted by someone with hundreds of thousands of followers who are in your target market. I strongly believe that the SMN world is fundamentally self-regulating. I think that false and bitter negative comments, accusations, and posts (as well as truly disgusting employee footage) will be disambiguated by excellent customer service. I absolutely and strenuously argue that a proactive Social Media Strategy is the best prophylactic approach to answering the challenges of our audience in the Web 2.0 world, but I also live in Western Washington and carry an umbrella, red-polka dotted rain boots, and a baseball hat in my car…..always!




My best until next time,




Lisa, Director of Customer Conversation and Social Media DJ J





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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Smashing Social Media-I mean Guitars

I have been reading the story about the guitar damaged on a United Airlines flight and the choice of the aggrieved party to capture his trauma and broadcast via YouTube… a year later. The implications for those of us in the B2B world who are still viewing a toe-dip in the icy waters of social media as tantamount to a plunge into a shark-infested riptide, are unfortunate, to say the least. Perhaps I have been a little Pollyanna-ish in my excitement and promotion of these media to my customer relationship and reference colleagues. Perhaps my notion that this environment will be self-regulating is too na├»ve, assumptive of the greater good, presuming that most consumers are eager for legitimate credible exchange of information and engagement in open and honest conversation and dialogue with the companies with whom they do business. Okay, maybe a little or a lot of the prefacing comments, but before we run shrieking back into our world of 1-800 scripted customer service models, let's take a deep breath.

  • The United Airlines "Guitar" Story is ONE Story
  • United Airlines could have/should have preemptively struck, even prior to having any corporate social media strategy that contemplated triage and response to this type of incident.
  • The incident could have been quietly handled, as we all hope baggage issues, delayed flights, and missed connections will be OR it could have been "spun" into a marvelous customer service story complete with an acoustic Guitar version of the infamous UA commercials.

Jay Baer's blog expresses these points far more succinctly:

"I certainly believe United would have been A LOT better off dealing with this immediately and turning a negative into a positive by co-opting Carroll and his story. Consider the career-based motives of Mr. Carroll, I suspect he'd have been happy to create a positive video about United, had the $$$ and exposure been sufficient.

My fear in all this is that it will paradoxically have a chilling effect on brands engaging in social media, as they become more and more concerned about the veracity of claims. Carroll may have got his, but I'm not sure anyone will benefit but him. Certainly not United and I doubt he'll help social media customer service as a whole." A Social Media Gun to the Head, July 21st, 2009 | Written By: Jason Baer

http://ow.ly/hN0Q


 

Certainly, Carroll didn't keep entirely silent about the damage to his guitar prior to the release of his YouTube? Somebody at United must have been informed, called, shouted at? Was it the lack of response or compensatory action that caused this young artist to act now in such a global way? Who knows, point is that in the B2B world we now can choose to be held hostage by the possible threat of these incidents or we can do what I have advised in the past:

  1. Develop a strategy
  2. Look for opportunities to highlight even the negative Tweets, Facebook Comments, YouTube videos, etc., etc., etc., etc. in an acknowledgement that we all make mistakes but we are willing to address them.
  3. Be upfront, honest, and quick to respond.
  4. Move on.

I know, I know, it can't possibly be that simple. J


 

Until next time, my regards,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are we “listening” to or merely “hearing” our customers?

As frequently annoying as my English major history is to my co-workers and friends, it sometimes directs me to nuances in our communication and presentation that although possibly nit-picky to others, at minimum provide me with fodder for blog posts. As I was contemplating some fine-tuning of a social media and networking strategy and the implications of our corporate presence in the wild world of Twitter, it occurs to me that I have been suggesting that an option for many B2B first steps into the SMN world is to "hear" what their customers and others are saying, when I really mean we should be "listening" to them. As a common practice and in our customer relationship and support efforts, we use these words interchangeably when by any definition (you can check me) they really are quite different and depending upon which word we choose as the foundation of our strategy, may have very different ramifications for our success.

Briefly, (I won't bore you with etymology or origin), Merriam-Webster Online offers that the word "hearing" is suggestive of the process and biology by which our ears receive and transmit sound. "Listening" on the other hand, intimates a higher-level neural process of interpretation. If we have a loss of "hearing", we cannot process the stimuli of audio waves; if we lose the ability to "listen", in this context, I suggest that we are missing some key messages that our customers, prospects, and others are trying to transmit. As a direction for our participation in social media and networks and our customer conversation overall, this is a key difference.

I have been writing quite a bit about "listening" to the conversation of our customers, competitors, prospects, and general audience in the SMN world a way to assess perception of our solutions, begin to respond more interactively with various audiences, and fine-tune our messages and products. As B2B's are struggling with whether they should participate in the SMN universe or not and as they do, how they should measure the success of this effort, I think we often get trapped in the numbers game of "how many mentions" "how many followers" "how many leads" "how many prospects" "how many negative v. positives tweets" etc., etc., etc. While these are valuable metrics, I believe that they only provide a slice of the customer conversational dynamic. To me, the true appeal of interacting with audiences in ways other than through "Contact us" forms on websites, is that Twitter, Facebook, etc. afford us with a deeper level of information and idea exchange that is repeatable across many demographics and platforms. Instead of just counting the web hits on our new feature release page, we can assess the tone of the conversation about the release; compare different threads from tech-Twibes to Facebook Fan groups, to closed-user communities, to general user population groups. Conversation in this fashion provides us with a much richer picture of the reaction of our audience and we are using the SAME collateral, potentially, as we would in a static post on our website. I don't think this is as subtle of a distinction as it may appear and it is one of the many reasons I am so passionate about the potential of social media and networking in the B2B world; it imbues our professional conversations with a deeper and more compelling meaning and hopefully, casts the net of relationship possibilities wider.

In a broader sense, I think that the difference between "hearing" conversations about our solutions and "listening" to them can inform our customer support, sales, and roadmap strategies in much more intelligent fashion. I am not discounting the relevance of assessing the number of clients who want us to produce a webinar about the use of one feature v. another in our product sets, but I think that we may be much better informed, prepared, and relevant to their needs if we understand their various use models or proposed implementations of the feature in which they express interest. To me, this is the difference between "hearing" what they want and "listening" to it. Listening to the dialogue around us implies that we are prepared to engage in attentive and respectful conversations. We will ask intelligent questions. We will have some level of information about the other party's interests and demographic and we will reflect that in our responses and questions back to them. We will invite other resources and people to the conversation, as appropriate. We will NOT monopolize the conversation. And most importantly, we will not assume that people have any interest in what we are saying until they indicate so, so we will not continue to go on and on to the same people when it is clear that they are looking for any way to excuse themselves from the conversations, up to and including leaving the room and "blocking" us.


 

Does all of this sound like basic interpersonal etiquette? As I have suggested before, the principles for success in social media and networking conversations are founded in the manners with which most of us were schooled. Be nice; raise your hand; wait your turn; ask about the other person's interests and hobbies; say please and thank you, etc., etc., etc.

As always, my warmest regards,


 


 

Merriam-Webster Online

Hearing:

1 a: the process, function, or power of perceiving sound ; specifically
: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli
b:
earshot
2 a: opportunity to be heard, to present one's side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated
b (1): a listening to arguments
(2): a preliminary examination in criminal procedure
c: a session (as of a legislative committee) in which testimony is taken from witnesses3chiefly dialect
: a piece of news

Listening:

1
: to pay attention to sound <listen to music>
2
: to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration <listen to a plea>
3
: to be alert to catch an expected sound <listen for his step>

Friday, July 10, 2009

So You Went and Set-Up a Corporate Twitter Account

When I was 11, I decided with a friend of mine one Saturday morning that I wanted to have pierced ears. I was supposed to wait until I was 12, at which point, my mother and I were going to make a special day of the event. As a rite of passage, this was particularly important to my mother, yet in the spur-of-the-moment, often impatient "must-have-it-now" mood that has driven many of my decisions throughout life, my friend and I jumped on our bikes, rode to a strip mall beauty parlor and proceeded to bring our ears into adolescence. In keeping with my mother's hallmark graciousness and ability to flexibly accommodate my often challenging rush through adolescence, rather than insisting that the studs come out and that I wait for our special day, she let the earrings remain and I have since had a 30 + history of branding myself with a variety of statements hanging from my lobes.

In the mad rush to participate in the social media and networking universe and not be left looking like an 11-year old in a world full of teenagers, many of us are creating and implementing a corporate presence prematurely, despite advice to the contrary. As a number of my posts have suggested, the pitfalls of launching a social media profile without a strategy are numerous and the depth and breadth of the community that is immediately aware of our launch can mean that a tentative approach to participation is akin to throwing raw meat in the lion cage. In an attempt to channel the grace and ability to roll with the adolescent punches demeanor of my mother, rather than post some "I told you so's", I want to offer suggestions for making sure that your premature toe-dipping may lend itself to a more robust, sustainable engagement in the SMN conversation. So, to all of you who have jumped on the Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, blog, etc. bandwagon without waiting for our "special" moment of carefully planned profile, content and infrastructure decisions, here is your first set of earrings:


  1. We Know You're There: It is quite likely that as soon as you have created a Twitter, Facebook or other profile that includes your company name or any information about you, that some customers who have been waiting for you are going to know about it . (Your competitors will definitely know about it!) Even the most rudimentary search engines and crawls are set-up to immediately alert your communities of interest when you have joined the conversation. Just as it was difficult to hide my newly pierced ears until the "right" moment, as soon as a Twitter account is implemented, add-on modules are designed to find it.
  2. Say Something: Because our digital presence is increasingly obvious and discoverable, it is critical that as soon as you create a profile that you begin to do something with it. Whether the long term strategy for social media participation ends up being passive or not, posting a static account with a basic bio in it is counter to the dynamic of social media and networking ethos all together. Your customer and prospects may run across your profile one time and bookmark or create an alert for it, but if you don't begin even a minimum level of posting, or content refreshment, they will quickly delete you from their search and their interest. The virtual ear holes will close up unless they are rotated, changed, and noticeable.
  3. Ask/Disclose: Take a proactive approach to engaging your current client base or community of interest. You've gone ahead and established your presence, rather than waiting for people to discover you (and they will) and then responding blankly when they ask what your intentions with the profile are, take the high-ground and query your established communities for what will engage them in conversation with you in these areas. My earlier posts suggest that participation in these environments provides a rich opportunity for us to break-free of our collateral ruts and respond to new and different communities of interest and information needs. One way of "masking" a too premature leap into the conversation might be to try something completely transparent and invite our current clients and prospects to provide suggestions and (gasp) content to us! In other words, take out the diamond studs and offer to let others design your new look.
  4. Don't Be Shy: This may be repetitive, but remember, particularly in the case of Twitter, this is a CONVERSATION not a BOOK. Post questions, brief comments, ideas, "coming-soon's", etc. Get engaged in the conversation: as quickly as a negative Tweet will be passed around, honest and credible, if somewhat immaturely formulated Tweets and post will be forgiven as long as you are participating in the dialogue. What will be noted and dismissed (and discussed) is a too heavy-handed, formal marketing approach to your participation. The backlash that the thousands of sales appeals on Twitter have begun to experience should be a lesson to those thinking that a Tweet that just directs people to a lead gen page or a sales pitch is going to be enough.

The Newbie Twitter Challenge

Rather than continue to opine at the 50,000 foot level about things to do when you have set up a social media and networking presence sans a comprehensive strategy, I thought I'd issue a challenge that contemplates that four tactics outlined above. As long as you've gone and set up a profile, I challenge you to at least minimally engage your potential listeners and conversational participants by doing the following……TODAY

  • Search for and find a negative/positive Tweet (blog comment, article, etc.) and ReTweet it (post it, etc.) and ask for comment or respond.
  • Tweet the question: What would you like to see here?
  • Identify someone (anyone) in your organization who has responsibility for at minimum, monitoring the social media and networking communities in which you have chosen to participate. Not listening to the dialogue when you don't have a presence is unfortunate enough, but putting yourself out there without any mechanism for responding to the conversation is extremely dangerous!


 


 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Very Influential Assets™ - Part II What Are They?

I am finally seeing some daylight in my inbox, voicemail, and snail mail after 10 days in Peru, and quite appropriately the avalanche of information that accumulated in my absence begs some answers relevant to Part II of my musing on the concept of Very Influential Assets ™ and how their identification and promotion in the customer relationship and reference dialogue elevates our conversation with various audiences and hopefully introduces a focus and efficiency to our attempts to delight and attract new audiences to our particular messages. As always, a big fan of the dictionary, I find all five of Merriam's top four definitions interesting in the context of VIA ™ in the B2B customer relationship world:

Influence

1 a: an ethereal fluid held to flow from the stars and to affect the actions of humans b: an emanation of occult power held to derive from stars2: an emanation of spiritual or moral force3 a: the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion of force or direct exercise of command b: corrupt interference with authority for personal gain4: the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways : sway5: one that exerts influence

It is axiomatic that certain pieces of evidence collateral are expected and de rigueur in sales cycles and in our marketing efforts. What I have begun to posit in this sense, is that certain of our evidence assets appear to achieve the almost "occult power" suggested by the dictionary. As I have suggested in the past, our presentation and identification of these assets has become a chicken and egg exercise in the absence of comprehensive measurement and evaluation tools for using case studies, interviews, press releases, and most importantly customer reference collateral in our sales and marketing exercises. Often, we consider an asset influential simply because it is associated with our largest clients; it was used by the majority of our sales team; or we just "believe" that it is a strategic and key piece of our information arsenal. I gingerly suggest that we often fall into the trap of believing that information that we present to our prospects and other external audiences is considered influential simply because we have "always" used certain case studies, they become known commodities and we leave it at that. In this part of the Very Influential Asset ™ series, I begin to discuss my definition of influential assets and how we might begin to mine for other pieces of evidence that have the "capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways" in our customer conversation. I make no pretension about providing an exhaustive list of potential Very Influential Assets ™, but in the spirit of this concept and breaking our traditional approach of churning out case studies. The idea here is to kick off our collective creative brain power in terms of thinking about non-traditional assets:

  1. Customer conversation goes on in many more places than we think and influential assets are not always produced by us or our key reference clients.
  2. Just because it isn't a pretty html page or marketing piece with our careful branding, doesn't mean it isn't influential.
  3. Our competitors may provide us with fodder or material to which we can react or that will inspire ideas.

What are the potential buckets of Very Influential Assets ™?

Think internal and external

Think customer and non-customer

Think "People" and "Content"

    VIA™ We May Already Have/Use

  1. Okay, of course we include our existing library of audio/video interviews, case studies, press releases, survey results, data sheets, etc. But let's apply some analysis to the determination of whether they are influential or not.
  2. The laptops of our top sales people. What hidden documents, slide decks, and email messages do our top sales people use?
  3. Technical documentation, training, company videos. Why not? A well-scripted "how-to" guide may be a better indication of our bench strength in a sales cycle than a quote that says we provide great implementation support.

VIA™ To Consider

  1. New customer references-always.
  2. Communities, blogs, and networks that are focused on our industry and solution.
  3. The Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. profiles and information from our employees.
  4. Ditto for our customer, our vendors, and our partners.
  5. Our competitor's blogs, websites, and collateral.
  6. Comments and posts about our companies, solutions, people, etc. anywhere, anytime, on any topic
  7. Negative Tweets
  8. Comments from any employee in your organization; interviews with any employee in your organization-NOT JUST SALES, SME's, OR EXECUTIVES.
  9. And many, many more.

My intention with this exercise has been to emphasize the hidden caches of content that social media and networking participation has exposed as customer collateral possibilities. The next parts of the series will begin to address ways in which we might assess the "very" modifier of your influential assets and how we might align our focus to elevate those assets in new ways in our customer dialogue.

I very much welcome comments and thoughts and as always, warmest regards until next time.

Copyright 2009 Lisa M. Hoesel