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Social Media Best Practices

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Socializing Your Employees: How to help your employees be better online business ambassadors

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Best Buy has their employees engage in Twitter streams. IBM and Intel are encouraging blog participation. Big business is embracing social media in a big way. So what does this mean for you as a small business owner? How can you leverage your best assets–your employees– to spread the word about your brand without damaging the reputation of your business?

Whether you like it or not, your employees are engaged in social media activities tied to your business. If they have a LinkedIn professional profile or include work history on their Facebook page, they’re already representing your business online. While this might be of concern, there are advantages by having more feet on the ground spreading the message of your brand.

For example, your employees can leverage their social graph by Tweeting your blog posts, answer questions related to your business on Quora, or connect to the right decision makers on LinkedIn.

Communicate Expectations 

Imagine social media is at a cocktail party and your employees are there with current and prospective clients. What do you want your employees to say, and how can you use this medium to generate more business? Adrian Dayton, a social media consultant from Buffalo, NY, suggests encouraging those employees who are already good networkers to be more active, and emphasize the importance of relevancy. “Make sure your employees post comments people want to read.”

He advises having a transparent discussion with your employees about how everyone should behave online. Develop a working consensus on best practices, including how to act, where your business should participate, and what information should be conveyed back to you. Think of it almost like a storefront; how your employees behave in front of customers should be an example of how they should approach the digital environment.

Jaime Gracia, owner of Seville Government Consulting in Washington, DC, suggests taking it a step further by formalizing your expectations. He says that when an employee is identified as working for your organization it’s important to “set policies on how employees use social media and how they reference their employers on social sites.” You may want to create a best practices guide for your employees to reference.

In taking a look around the web, here are some helpful tips used by the world’s leading brands that can apply to any size business:

  • Be a good listener: Don’t sell your product, understand the needs of the community and provide value.
  • Respect the opinions of others and engage in a professional manner: Comes down to the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated.
  • When in doubt, do not post: If you have reservations about what you’re writing, hold off and secure approval.
  • Be responsive and follow up quickly: Think of social media as real-time conversations, make sure you’re not only proactive, but respond back in a timely manner (within a few hours if possible).
  • Admit mistakes and be the first to respond to them: Because the Internet xis permanent, it’s best not to spin information. Admit you’re wrong; the community will respect you for this.
  • Always identify who you are and the company you represent: If you’re speaking on behalf of your employer make sure you acknowledge who you are, your role, and what your company does. This helps gain legitimacy in the conversation.
  • Stick with your area of expertise and provide a unique individual perspective: Comment only on issues you have the knowledge to speak Remember social media is about people, not companies.
  • Give credit where credit is due: Remember to protect confidential and proprietary information. It’s important to cite other sources, but also be cognizant of information that should not be released externally.

Getting Started 

Social media can be overwhelming for a small business owner, let alone their employees. Start small by encouraging your employees to tweet or share company blog posts and press releases. Another idea is to have employees connect with each other on social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter; that way you’re growing your sphere of influence. Set up team discussions related to this topic. Remember, social media shouldn’t just fall to you.

Don’t ask yourself whether it’s wise to have employees use social media, but ask about the risks for not participating. How is your competition taking advantage? What potential customers are you missing? How will potential customers understand what you’re about if they don’t know who’s working for you?

Derek Reese is a social media advocate who works with a variety of businesses on implementing their integrated marketing solutions, as well as consulting on social media best practices. Find him on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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“How to use Social Media to close more business” Part 2: Twitter

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If Rip van Winkle woke up today to discover Twitter, I’d be pressed to say he’d be amazed at how boring people are. Do you really care that someone is “grabbing a cup of coffee” or “stuck in traffic”? Besides all the noise (Forrester Research in September 2010 estimated 72% of posts are not even viewed), what’s the relevancy? Beyond the pointless posts, Twitter is game-changer and something a business development professional should pay attention to. At no time in human history has there been a platform that conveys human thoughts and shared knowledge in real time. You’re probably thinking while it’s great that millions of people are expressing their thoughts, how does this increase sales? In this post I will examine further.

I find the more information you have about a client, the more fruitful the conversation. I suggest using Twitter to listen to what your prospect is saying as well as how others perceive the prospect’s company. Think of it as your ability to listen to what’s important to them both personally and professionally. While a company’s website might give you insights into their objectives, tweets from executives can give you valuable information into what’s important to them. Company tweets bring major projects directly to your attention, giving you a reason to engage in a conversation.

Follow

So how do you begin?

I find the best way to start is by following the company as well as key executives employed there. Almost all major corporations and even a great number of small and medium size businesses have official Twitter feeds. This is a great resource to gain understanding of what products they’re developing, offers in market or major news items. A simple way to keep up with what’s happening is the “follow” tab directly on their Twitter page.

Besides the official company voice there are numerous people talking about your prospects in real time (crowdsourcing effect). Try using a hashtag (#) in the search bar to find out what discussions are happening. This should give you trends that you can share with the customer as well as understand some of the challenges they face.

While there’s tons of noise on Twitter, if it’s the right chatter you’d be interested, correct?    If you have a robust LinkedIn Network (100+ connections) and are connected to your customers on this platform, I suggest following your already established network on Twitter. Alex Blom, a social media strategist has some great tips on exporting your LinkedIn contacts to Twitter.

Finally you should consider following relevant thought leaders and major industry publications. For example, I follow thought leaders such as Chris Anderson, Kara Swisher, and Bill Gates as well as publications  Ad Age, Brandweek, Harvard Business Review.This helps me keep up to date on what’s happening so I can have intelligent conversations with my customers.

Listen

Now that you have a robust database of hundreds of people you’re following, what are the best ways to listen to what they’re saying? While Twitter might be adequate if there isn’t a great deal of conversation in your network, it can be laborious if you have a large one.

A few months back the New York Enterprise Report had an excellent post “New Ways to Surf the Social Media Wave”. This should give you some great ideas on ways to manage your social graph. Here are some additional suggestions:

Tweetdeck – The industry standard for managing one’s social graph

Hootsuite – Web based application

If you’re an executive on the go, options really depend on the device you carry. I have a Blackberry, so I find the Twitter Blackberry application works effectively for me. If you have Android or iPhone devices, TweetDeck has created applications that work with these systems.

Engage

You’re following the connections most important to you and listening to what they have to say, so what’s next? Once you’ve established your presence, it’s time to engage with your network through tweets. A few years ago I was at a social media summit and the speaker was asked how best to approach Twitter, what he said stuck with me. He mentioned you need to tailor your content to the audience you’re looking to reach. Think it about it from their perspective. Will they be interested in reading your post? What irks you about other posts probably is ditto for your network, so it’s best to keep those traffic jams and cups of coffee at Starbucks to yourself. Focus on information that’s relevant. So what’s relevant? Keeping in mind that Twitter is public forum, I find it’s topical issues, news/information, or any information from your company that can be released externally.

For best practices, check out these guidelines from Kodak, Coca-Cola and IBM.

While it’s great to post relevant information to your community, I don’t find the “if you build it they will come strategy” to be most effective. You need to interact directly with your customers.

Re-tweet their posts, mention them directly in your tweets (ie @billgates stated Technology is important in schools, here’s a study). MOST IMPORTANTLY you now have reasons to connect with your customers directly. If your prospect is talking about Topic X and you have a solution for that problem, then you have a reason to fire off an e-mail or make a call since the issue is relevant to them. Make sure you reference their Twitter post. You’ll be surprised at how many people aren’t doing this. Think about it. Twitter can be your golden goose by giving you real time information on what your prospects are thinking. They’re telling you directly what’s important to them. Take advantage of this information.

Stayed tuned for my next post on Facebook best practices.

If you have any direct questions, please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

Derek Reese

Written by Derek Reese

January 1, 2011 at 12:36 am

Why the Great Firewall is Nothing More than a Tiny Flame

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I think it’s appropriate I write this post in China where the following sites are currently banned under what’s called the “Great Firewall.”

  • Facebook
  • Youtube
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • BBC America

There are hundreds of additional sites banned (see greatfirewallofchina.org). You would think the lack of access would be detrimental to my ability to communicate with the outside world. However this is not the case.

A great number of innovative minds have developed alternatives that are one step ahead. For example there’s a solution called Pimpmyip.org, which allows you to utilize an external IP address from another country to access the internet. Another alternative is to create your own VPN (Virtual Private Network) for your computer (Bootleg copies are abundant). There are also numerous other alternatives in development.

This leads me to the question: If there are so many ways to circumvent the system, does the government really want censorship? I believe they do, but they also realize digital is the future and need to create a balance that allows their population to navigate while the government feels in control. One could compare it to the subway system in Beijing. At every stop one needs to put their bag through an X-Ray machine. However, I noticed the attendant who is supposed to be monitoring what’s passing through frequently isn’t paying attention and if there’s a large crowd the police just wave everyone through.

While I’ve enjoyed my stay in China, I find the “Great Firewall” to be a nuisance and quite arbitrary in the sites I can and can’t visit. I wonder how the rest of China feels….

Written by Derek Reese

September 20, 2010 at 2:07 am

How H&M Approaches Social Media

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A couple of weeks back, when I was visiting Stockholm, Sweden, I had the chance to touch base with Miriam Kuronen, H&M’s Social Media Project Manager (http://se.linkedin.com/pub/miriam-kuronen/13/545/4a1). Over the last few years, H&M has grown from a local Swedish retailer to a worldwide phenomenon.

Shopping is a social activity, so I wanted to gain insight into their approach. What I’ve found interesting is that their overall strategy for social media is one voice across multiple local markets. They’ve found success in this realm by going after passion point customers; engaging with their core audience in a way that encourages them to discuss the brand and interact with others who have the same passion. According to Miriam, “Interaction is the key, simply pushing a sales message or marketing initiative is not enough.”

What’s in store for H&M’s social media future is local adoption and sharing of information across various platforms (social sites, company sites). Since every individual has their own “sphere of influence,” the ease of sharing and communicating is how they will find success.

A common theme I found throughout my discussion was “one voice across multiple markets.” In my experience in social media, I’ve found that there are often rogue strategies not aligned with their overall marketing objective of the company. It’s great to hear H&M is implementing a holistic strategy tweaked for individual markets. A great number of companies can learn from what they’re doing.

Written by Derek Reese

August 16, 2010 at 10:02 am

The First Rule of Social Media

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I’ve been pondering over the last few weeks as to why Facebook is the king of social media. With 400 MM+ members and 50% of membership active everyday, it’s a massive force. So why has Facebook succeeded where others failed? I reason it’s because THE SITE WORKS! Not only is Facebook the place where my friends are, has an open API that allows me to bring together other social networks (WordPress, Foursquare, Trip-It), but I’ve been impressed on how consistently the site performs. Not a groundbreaking analogy but very plausible.

Here’s why:

Being on the road, I’ve used many forms of social media, including Trip-It, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Twitter, Hootsuite to create a cross-network campaign to alert business connections and my friends about my travels. Facebook is the only site that has consistently worked.

Foursquare

I like the concept of location based networks, plus the badges are fun to earn. However, I’ve had numerous challenges checking into locations that weren’t in big cities or via WiFi. In fact, I’d estimate that I’ve only been able to check-in about 50% of the time, the other 50% I’ve either experienced error messages, site throttling or the inability to pinpoint my location.

Twitter

Twitter has become an important media tool to amplify a message to a larger group (such as this blog post). The site works well with other networks. For example, if I’m at a major venue or city, I can bring my Foursquare feed (on a case-by-case basis) out to a larger network on Twitter. However, I’ve been seeing Twitter over-capacity frequently.

Trip-It

Trip-It is an easy to use traveler application that works very well with both Facebook and LinkedIn. I can easily alert my connections of my whereabouts in Europe. While the service has been very helpful, I’ve found there’s no way to tether city-to-city. Currently, my status shows I’ve traveled over 100K miles, when most likely I’ve traveled 7 or 8 thousand.

In my opinion, each one of these sites is going through the usual growing pains that come with massive growth. As they mature, I hope these issues will be resolved.

What the Hospitality Industry Can Learn from Hostels

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Like many experienced career professionals, I’m hitting the road this summer. (according to Hostelworld, the 30+ crowd makes up 20% of their bookings). In my case, it’s to learn how Europe is approaching social media. Due to limited funds and the need for interaction with other travelers, I’ve chosen to stay in hostels for the majority of my trip.

If you’re not familiar with hostels, they’re typically a dumbed down version of a Motel 6 where you bunk with other travelers in your room. The advantage is they’re low-cost and have resources needed for backpackers (storage, internet, breakfast).

In the last decade we’ve witnessed numerous improvements to our lives including DVR, Smart Phones, Social Networks. I’m also pleasantly surprised that hostels have improved as well. Here’s how:

1- Reservations are completely automated

During my last tour in Europe (Summer 2001), I relied on Lonely Planet and Let’s Go Europe guide books to find accommodations. It’s no small challenge when you’re trying to find a hostel in Paris around Bastille Day (I wound up calling 40 places to find a bed, though it’s the spark that got me interested in sales). Since guides only come out on a yearly or bi-yearly basis, it was a challenge to find updated properties. The good news is this has changed and services such as Hostelworld, Hostelsclub or Hostelz are search engines to find rooms, even for last minute accommodations.

2- Reviews are in Real Time

These sites make it easy for members to share their experiences and rate hostels in almost real time. I can see numerous reviews on potential hostels from the last few weeks. Because they ask for feedback, I can see numerous reviews for potential hostels from the last few weeks. After each one of my stays I receive a short survey e-mail.

3- Strong Integration with Social Networks

According to Aisling White of Hostelworld, since their audience is on Facebook/Twitter they need to be there as an organization and have taken steps to fully integrate with these sites. What’s different is they don’t focus on the hostel, but rather the destination where members can share/discuss/collaborate. So it’s taking the environment of a hostel to the virtual world. Best yet it’s forming a community of like-minded people (i.e., if I see someone heading to X destination, I can establish a relationship, seek advice, or even travel with that person). The goal is not to push content out, but pull information in so their members can share experiences.

4- Strong FREE or low cost WiFi networks

What’s often a challenge during my hotel stays (note this does not apply to Four Points or Courtyard) is reliable internet access, even when you have to pay. Each hostel (no matter how dingy) has quick and reliable internet access.

So what can the hospitality industry learn?

When I’m looking for better accommodations or just need a break from the hostel thing, I turn to sites such as Kayak, Fly.com, Expedia, Orbitz. What I find challenging is reliable reviews and venue information. For example, I recently booked a hotel in Amsterdam. When researching venues I found some reviews dating back to 2001. Also, I couldn’t find where the location was near (points of interest, metro). These sites might want to take a page from the hostel industry by being more open and transparent. Allow for third party resources (external reviews) and focus on the destination, not just the property.

Also, sites such as Hostelworld and Hostelz are platform agnostic. They realize the social game is changing rapidly as their audience migrates to new sites such as Gowalla and Foursquare, as well as mobile devices

Benefits of paying attention to hostel marketing strategy

There’s a few reasons why the hospitality industry (not just hotels, but airlines/restaurants), need to pay attention to how hostels are approaching social media

1- They’re directly engaged with young travelers (18-24) (future customers)

2- People in hostels tend not to be leisure travelers but in it for the long-hall

3- Highly educated (Most have university students or have degrees)

In conclusion, it’s a great time to be traveling and with resources like these, it makes it easier.

Thanks for reading!