Kathy Klotz-Guest

Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

Warning: Objects With Social Media Are Larger Than They Appear

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Social media tools operate like a high-powered microscope (telescope, if you prefer…pick your metaphor). They amplify and magnify everything you do – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Oh, the ugly and the abject horror.

So before you start tool-chasing as a consequence of “shiny object” syndrome, make sure everything you do is as clear and sewn-up as possible. If your marketing is fragmented, social media will cast a huge spotlight on that. If your customer service is spotty – yep, you’re in trouble with social media. Social media is fundamentally about communicating with people; not about tools. So if your communications are unclear, you’ve failed no matter how flawless your mechanical implementation with tools may be. It’s “go human or go home!”

That’s not to say that you can or should fix every little thing before you dive deep. That’s impossible. Moreover, part of what social does is cast a light on issues you may not be aware of. The key phrase is “be aware of.” Fix what you know are large issues before every one else points them out to you.  Lots of times.

Here are just a few things to consider about communicating with social media (sure, there’s more, but these are among the most important!):

  • Know your human “story.” What’s the “why” behind your company and offerings. Be clear, consistent and concise.
  • Get a content plan. Even if it’s a small, simple one. What will you write about, how often, and on which sites? Do you need a blog? Maybe you do and – marketing blasphemy committed here! – maybe you don’t.
  • Make your communications about your audience, not about you, your technology, your patents, your services….yawn!
  • Write with your “values” and heart, not just your head. Who are you as a company and what do you stand for. Sadly, too many communications focus on mechanics and facts, and are devoid of human feeling. if you are doing that, you are missing a huge opportunity to connect. That’s what “social” media is about.
  • Make sure your communications sound like one voice. Some organizations have separate PR, marketing, social media departments and that lack of connection among internal voices shows up as a fragmented external voice.
“All the World is a Stage…” as Shakespeare said. If he were here today, he might have added, “and social media tools cast a very big spotlight.” So make it count.

Keeping it Simple Means Keeping it Human

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Complexity is easy; simplicity is hard. There is a lot of noise out there. If being simple were easy, everybody would have mastered it. That’s a great thing; when your competitors are convoluted, simplicity sets you far ahead of the pack. Whether it’s your offerings, your service, all the ways you engage with your customer or your marketing messages, simplicity gives you a big advantage. There is elegance and efficiency in simplicity; and keeping it simple makes it easy for customers to do business with you.

Complexity alienates and destroys value. Customers are busy; they don’t have time to sift through noise to dissect what you really do and how it applies to them. Simplicity streamlines customers’ (and prospects’) lives and respects their time and money – that makes you stand out! Companies that offer products and services based on technology are especially vulnerable to the complexity trap. You can’t explain complexity with more complexity. Rather, the only antidote to complexity is simplicity. Simplicity takes work.

So where do you start with “simplicity” summer cleaning? Map out everything you do in marketing. Then ask, “Where can I simplify?”

Research

Leverage social media tools and good, old-fashioned human conversations (yes, these still work!) to vet products and services. Not using your engaged customers as a market research panel? You should be, as they can lower your research cost and product risk. They can tell you if something works before you go down a certain road, or tell you if your current offerings aren’t working. Focus on your high-end customers, especially. Social media tools aren’t just for communications; they can help you better understand usage patterns, needs and wants, and that makes them ideally suited for getting at great information that can help you streamline your business interactions. Still, they must be used together with human touches. Those touches can get at information that other approaches can’t.

Product

Have you ever walked down the bottled water aisle at the grocery store and wondered if a brand really needs dozens of varieties of water? Companies segment to reinvigorate margins and profits – it’s the product life cycle in action. However, more choices mean more complexity for the customer. Examine your offerings. If several overlap and benefits are unclear to prospects, simplify by repackaging into fewer options. You’ll likely see margins improve as well. I’ve done this recently, and it has made a difference.

Customer Service

What are all the ways you engage with your customer? Track all the ways you touch your customer or prospect. Map out your experience flow. Look at ways to simplify and add value for your customer. Too many unnecessary touches can actually reduce value. For example, I worked with a company where each division conducted separate market research projects on the same customers. That often meant that customers would be asked to fill out surveys four times a year. Is that really necessary? No. Consolidate into a single touch that respects your customers’ time and is likely to yield better data for you. If touches add value separately for your customer, keeping them separate makes sense. Make sure that the touches you keep – whether newsletters, social media, or emails – offer something that makes a difference to prospects and customers. The key is quality “touches.”

Look at all your marketing channels. Call your own phone number. Does it go into a black hole, or are calls routed appropriately and returned? Does it have an outdated voice mail message? What about your inbox with online leads – what outgoing messages to people get when they submit a query? And, what do you do with that lead? One client set up an inbox to track incoming leads through the website. What did they do with those inquiries? Often nothing – leaving customers to have to find other channels to get the help they needed. This adds complexity, creates a poor customer experience, and doesn’t benefit the company.

Marketing Communications

Look at all of your communications. Are they simple to understand? Are they consistent? Streamline your message, and make sure your channels are integrated into a content network that reaches customers easily. That means that all channels talk to each other – that’s where the multiplier effect is.

Be sure your language is clear, simple and compelling. Cut out jargon. Jargon is like a bad restaurant experience where no one is really served well. It’s lazy and that is why we over-use it. We don’t have to think. Here’s the rub: when you use jargon, you end up sounding like everyone else with no unique voice. So dare to be different by being simple.

Here’s a quick litmus test: can you articulate the essence of your business in ten words or less? You should be able to. It’s not easy – and that’s the beauty of it. It will take you a number of iterations. Mine did. This exercise forces you to distill your value into a simple, memorable statement. For example, here’s my statement: “I help organizations turn marketing-speak into human stories that connect.” Get rid of “inside” language that you use internally because it won’t be meaningful to customers. The detail of “how” you get results for clients doesn’t matter at the highest level;  results do. Ask for feedback. Rinse and repeat!

Knowledge is a double-edged sword. It’s fantastic to have a number of things under your product umbrella, and to want to share that expertise. However, you can’t hold your customer or prospect hostage while you explain – verbally or in writing – everything you offer. An elevator pitch should focus on one idea; I mean a 30-second elevator ride, not 30 stories heading up the Sears Tower.

Simplicity takes commitment. Yet, think for a moment how much complexity can cost you. Most people won’t tell you if you are convoluted, so get ahead of the curve and ask your best customers.

Coco Chanel, the great fashion designer had it right: before you leave the house, take one item of jewelry, clothing or an accessory off. Like great fashion, less is more when it comes to great marketing.

Keeping it simple benefits your customers and you. That’s the simple truth. Can I get an, “Amen?!”

EC=SC: Every Company Must be a Storytelling Company

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Tom Foremski and Don Bulmer maintain that every company today must be a media company. I believe that to be true, but I also think it’s more fundamental than that. Every company must be good at telling stories in the world of new media. If content is king, stories are queen. We know who wields the power!

All great marketing requires great storytelling. The best stories connect viscerally and humanize. Organizations that successfully tell compelling, authentic, even humorous stories about products, customers, about their values and employees, and, in turn, embrace the narratives of their stakeholders, will be the victors in the changing world of new media. And aiding marketers in telling their stories better is online video.

If every company must be a storytelling company, every company should have a video storytelling strategy.  It’s especially important in B2B where video storytelling has the ability to add a much-needed authentic human dimension to company communications.  With video storytelling, success is often not about production values or huge budget. A Flip camera, for example, is inexpensive and video technology is ubiquitous (in cell phones and smart phones, among other devices). Video success today is not about PR talking points, or a factual analysis of features and benefits. The element of human interest matters most; it’s the basis for any great story as every journalist using social media knows.  That hasn’t changed.  It’s just that video today allows for better, richer and more nuanced storytelling than with traditional media.

Today, online video allows for meaningful two-way dialogue. Unlike traditional media, video storytelling often involves real customers in the story and in the process – that is customers can appear in company videos and they can produce their own videos about the company.  Today, consumers don’t want to just view company content – they want to make their own. They want to be part of the story. There’s a back and forth that changes the direction and tone of the company’s narrative to the outside world. Video changes the narrative from a “brand” dimension to one that is multi-layered.  If you know your customer is using video to tell their story about your organization, you have to be engaged in that conversation.

Video also forces communication innovation. You’ve got to use the medium to do what it does best.  That means more creativity, even allowing employees of the company who are the best storytellers to go off the PR script and – how sacrosanct! – sometimes poke fun at themselves in the process. Yes, fun is a big part of it – but where there’s a fun video, there is also all the elements of a story, no matter how abbreviated: a main character, the challenge, plot, themes, resolution, even twists and turns, the good, bad, ugly, the humbling and the funny – are all parts of stories and parts of real conversations. Video that goes viral offers an emotional connection with customers.

Video Numbers and A Few Success Stories

There is growing demand for video.  According to ComScore Media Metrix, U.S. audiences viewed an all time-high of nearly 34 billion videos in May 2010, and 14.6 billion of those May videos were watched on YouTube.

So what works with video? Well, there is no template. It requires originality, authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, human interest, and – yes, thankfully – sometimes humor. Most also seem to entertain, engage, and connect emotionally rather than use the “hard” sell.

Video enables creative integration of entertaining storytelling with meaningful product messages. Scott Monty, the head of Ford Motor Company’s social media efforts, for example, notes that the company has successfully used short 15-sec clips of real customers talking about their favorite feature of their Ford cars. Real customers can tell their short stories in credible ways that a PR talking head simply cannot.  Ford also had huge success in July 2010 when it used online video to reveal the new Ford Explorer. On its Facebook page, the company featured videos of Ford employees who had passionately worked on the new model, adding a compelling human dimension to a discussion about cars.

Ford also had success with its Fiesta Movement campaign. For this effort, they picked 100 bloggers to chronicle their experiences with the Fiesta during a 100-day free trial with the car. With a few boundaries in place, the results were largely creative, and “un-Ford” as Monty claims, and thus, credible. In one example, a blogger humorously highlights how remote engine start and keyless entry allows him to escape the zombies, whereas the users of the “other” brands don’t. The result is a funny story that doesn’t push a hard marketing message told through the lens of creative and credible storytellers outside of Ford.

Tim Washer, the creative force behind IBM’s successful Art of the Sale videos and now a manager at Cisco, maintains that all great online videos add fun, surprise and a great story that grabs people. Brand comes second. In the Art of the Sale series, it’s not even clear IBM is behind the video series until close to the end of each video. There is no hard IBM sell.

Video lends itself to fun and surprise in a way that print media cannot replicate. In the case of IBM, a company not exactly known for its humor, the Art of the Sale videos (seven in all) upended all expectations about IBM. It was the surprise factor that a relatively straight-laced, white-shirt and blue-tie company could poke fun at itself that made such efforts a huge success. Fans have heavily parodied the video and the series has inspired a whole new way of looking at “serious” b2b video content.

While talking CEO heads aren’t usually the best examples of storytelling, sometimes real, honest conversation from an unprepared CEO can actually work. Take the Valentine’s Day Crisis for JetBlue a few years ago. Without time to prepare a “sewn-up” response, JetBlue’s CEO went completely off-script using a Flip video cam to record his rapid response to the crisis. Unrehearsed and real, the company’s video response earned some recognition for having responded effectively, quickly and telling the story that customers’ concerns matter. Disgruntled customers had their posted videos – JetBlue had to respond. (United could have handled the United Breaks Guitars issue better with honesty and humor). When real and off-script, a CEO “talking head” video can be effective. Unfortunately, it’s the “marketing” that gets in the way of many of these efforts.

Some of the best uses of video do not push a hard marketing message and, thus, don’t necessarily need high production values. It is also why every company can make video an affordable and creative part of its storytelling strategy. Several years ago, BlendTec swept YouTube by storm with its series of “Will it Blend?” videos. Without a big budget and without marketing polish, the head of small blender maker, BlendTec, filmed a series of short, fun videos that posed and answered the “will it blend?” question by blending the unthinkable.  The videos showed the industrial strength of the blender as it blended golf balls, iPhones, and other devices no one would think of to blend, but everyone wanted to know if they would blend. Like IBM, BlendTec also showed that fun, serially produced videos that veered off the polished PR script could pull large online audiences again and again.

Finally, the best video strategies embrace a model that empowers the best storytellers in the organization. Most often, the best storytellers in a company are not found in the executive suite. So the bottom line is let go, let the people in your organization who are great storytellers tell their stories in a manageable way, let your customers tell theirs, and watch how video storytelling changes the company and product narrative for the better. Regardless of whether organizations tell their stories, customers will – for better or for worse. Today, it’s far better to be part of the conversation, than to be the non-participatory subject of it.

Consequently, every company today must be a storytelling company AND a media company.

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If you are involved in the strategy and tactics of online video for your organization, please consider participating in The Society for New Communications Research’s (SNCR.org) video storytelling study.

The Organizational Use of Video Storytelling is a two-part seminal research study that focuses on how organizations are using video to enhance their storytelling both inside and outside the company. The results of this study will yield insight into best practices for organizations wanting to leverage video to reach audiences and tell their stories in new ways. All participants will receive a complimentary copy of the executive summary of the survey results and a special discount to attend the 2010 Society for New Communications Research Symposium & Awards Gala, which will be held in November in Palo Alto, CA, where the findings will be shared. The final results of the study will also be highlighted in the Society’s Journal of New Communications Research.

Participate in SNCR.ORG’s Video Storytelling Survey

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Involved in online video strategy/tactics at your org? Please take SNCR‘s online video storytelling survey. http://tinyurl.com/26uoobj

Fun in the Last Social Mile of Business

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Social Media author and SNCR.org fellow, Brian Solis, wrote an interesting piece several days ago on The Socialization of Business. In his post, he talks about “the last mile” as one of the largest (if not the largest) hurdles businesses have to clear to really engage and connect with customers. This last mile of social media is a human connection, and Solis talks about the disconnect between brand representatives (employees in most cases) and the customer.

He brings up some great points, and what strikes me is that for that mile to be bridged effectively it will take years. It calls for a change in corporate values, as well as training and empowering employees to act in that “human” capacity for the brand. No one cares about “brand values” in b2b when you can’t get what you need when you need it. It’s about real human issues.

This is why FUN matters in that last mile. That last mile is a human connection.  Fun is about people – it’s about delighting and surprising your customers. Ultimately, all business is done between people, not faceless entities, and Fun and humor are about real connections as the authors of the now 11-year-old seminal book,  “The Cluetrain Manifesto” so rightly penned. Consequently, corporate “Berlin” walls are going to have to come down so employees and customers can have meaningful, trusted, human interactions.

It’s going to require big values, trust, and letting go. Yes, empowering the social employee as well as the customer. To those maintaining the hurdles, “tear down those walls!” Only then, can the last “social” mile be implemented.