The Three Things You Need For a Successful Pinterest Strategy

Pinterest just keeps getting hotter. As of the publication of this post, it just caught up to Twitter in popularity. While its ways are still mysterious to many denizens of the planet, it’s established enough now to look like more than a passing fad. And once marketers find out about Pinterest’s amazing viral potential they want to jump on the train—if they can figure out how.

Pinterest can be regarded as a legitimate alternative to Facebook as a brand marketing vehicle. Many of the millions of people who use Pinterest may prefer it, and put more effort into it, than Facebook because it offers a vastly superior photo browsing and sharing experience than Facebook. And Pinterest boards require a fraction of the overhead needed to create and manage an in-house or Facebook photo gallery. Moreover, since Pinterest can display photos from their original locations around the web, it is the perfect place to collect “fan photos” and other visual content related to the brand in some way, even if it’s not owned by the brand. But instead of looking at Facebook and Pinterest as either/or, it’s better to acknowledge that far fewer people are using Pinterest, some people use both, influencers can be found on both, and each has brand marketing potential.

There have been days where several different people have asked me for help coming up with a Pinterest strategy. The businesses looking for help range from super-corporations I cross paths with professionally to entrepreneurs I meet in coffee shops. Most (not all) of these people admit they don’t really want to invest in yet another social media platform, they just feel they’re supposed to.

kittens

So to answer their question, here’s how to develop a Pinterest Strategy: Continue reading

How you benefit from customer comments you were pretty sure you didn’t want

Due to a misunderstanding, at the last minute before takeoff an airline refused to allow a pair of special-needs passengers to fly. This upset the passengers deeply and stranded them at an unfamiliar airport.

No one should have been surprised that intense criticism of the airline spread rapidly via social media, portraying them as bad-guys even though the incident was (arguably) a one-time mistake by an isolated group of employees.

This wound up being a good thing, because:

The airline discovered this issue, apologized to the would-be passengers and their families, refunded their money, offered them additional free flights, and came up with a new process to keep the problem from recurring. All-in-all, the airline—our hometown favorite here in Seattle, Alaska Airlines—took a regrettable mistake, and did everything possible (considering it was after the fact) to make it right with those affected. In this way Alaska Airlines also earned positive PR by showing they’re the kind of company that owns up to their mistakes and jumps on an opportunity to do the right thing when they can.

> Read more about the “special needs passengers stranded by Alaska Airlines” incident

> Another great PR turnaround story:  FedEx responds after delivery guy caught on video throwing computer equipment over a fence

This post isn’t about Alaska Airlines—it’s about the other guys

I’m pleased to see more and more stories about companies turning customer complaints into positive publicity. But this post is for the other guys, anyone who isn’t sure they have the right attitude, either individually or organizationally, to handle all customer criticism in a positive way.

Poster child for the other guys: the poor fellow in charge of PR for General Motor’s Chevy Volt product.

George Anders, a journalist and blogger for Forbes, took home a Chevy Volt to give it a try. When he asked online for help with a recharging problem he was having (the Volt is a plug-in hybrid) other Volt owners enthusiastically offered assistance. That was great news for George, and even better news for Chevy—vibrant customer communities, when they exist, are one of the best things about the social media era. Such communities can become huge, low-overhead “company assets”.

But Chevy’s official spokesperson apparently didn’t like George’s feedback and responded to George’s request for help in a way which George felt belittled both the Volt charging issue and the blogger himself.

My guess is that George had hit upon a known problem that the PR guy was frustrated by and he was peeved that George hadn’t let him dodge it.

Understandable. But it’s also understandable that George rewarded the PR guy in kind, with multiple posts on Forbes.com that featured both the charging problem and the PR guy’s unprofessional bed-side manner.

Oops. Not good for the brand. And pointless, to boot. The customer community had already taken care of the problem. All the PR guy had to do was lose the ‘tude.

> Read George Anders’ original post about his Chevy Volt PR experience

> Read about the trend toward “Unsourcing”—turning over customer support to other customers—in The Economist

In social media, indignation sells.

The Chevy Volt scenario isn’t unusual. Every day there seems to be a new story making the rounds on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter about companies generating unnecessary—and astonishingly bad—publicity about the way they mishandled a customer complaint.

Typically this happens when the customer service reps, PR people and/or executives who get a complaint thrust upon them take it personally instead of professionally. They may feel

  • frustrated because their time and talent is being wasted;
  • defensive, and afraid the blame will stick; or
  • outraged, because the issues seem to be trivial or the customer’s own fault.

By letting their personal emotional reactions get the better of them these company representatives fail to “get” that any disrespect, frustration, or defensiveness (fear) they respond with can boomerang back on the company via a social media feeding frenzy.

These reactions are understandable—we’ve all been there (well, perhaps not the Dalai Lama, but the rest of us have been there). For most of the people I consult with the hardest part about responding to unwanted criticism  is developing a mindset where unsolicited feedback, and frankly, unhelpful and negative feedback, is welcome.

Solution: Wrap your brain around a constructive mindset

Here are three reasons why getting plenty of comments you don’t want is a best case outcome, not a worst case outcome:

1. People who comment or complain are already engaged with your brand and want to be more engaged. Reward them with your respect. Commenters want a response, and hope for a solution—they’re invested. Your critics are often people who want to like you more than they do, people who want you to improve and succeed, and are willing to give you a chance. In their minds their comments or complaints are a valuable gift of their time and knowledge.

Consider this: The worst thing that could happen to you would be if people stopped giving you the benefit of their opinions.

Imagine what would happen if everyone ignored your brand completely. Only your enemies let you walk around with a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe without mentioning it. Your friends, and people who are open to becoming your friends, are the ones who point problems out to you so you have the choice of doing something about it or not. (I’m seldom so peeved as to not provide merchants with feedback about their failings…but it has happened once or twice. Call me spiteful.)

You want to encourage customer feedback, not discourage it. So be a grateful gift recipient if only because receiving customers’ gifts of feedback is a powerful—and inexpensive—way to reward them for their loyalty. Just by listening to customers you are giving them something of value! A person who gives a gift—here, the customer giving feedback—often benefits from the act of giving a gift as much as or even more than the recipient benefits from receiving it. But ingratitude on the part of the recipient robs the giver of the benefit of giving.

2. Listening is often all you need to do to satisfy many commenters. Frequently listening is enough to calm down complainers and, ironically, it can turn them into fans. People are less likely to discover they are mistaken, or that a thing they are upset about is trivial, while they’re angry. When they get their story out and feel heard, they can calm down. And when someone listens to them, and helps them calm down—closure and all—they are often more than calm, they’re grateful.

If find yourself getting stuck on the idea of “listening” to strangers who are annoying you, remember:

  • Listening to someone isn’t the same thing as agreeing with them.
  • Customers don’t have to be factually correct to deserve the respect your listening shows them.
  • Customers will expect you to treat them the way you treat others, even non-customers.

> Learn more about improving business listening skills

3. There will be wheat among the chaff. You can’t have it both ways. When the customers complaints are legitimate, hearing them (and sometimes, as with the Alaska Airlines incident above, discovering them) is essential for your business. There is no cheap, sure-fire way to screen out the good comments from the bad. Turn the filter up too high and you will screen out, and discourage, feedback you want.

Don’t be too quick to judge the value of comments and complaints. Sometimes just about everyone is terrible at articulating important ideas, and the meaning they try to convey is lost. Other times we are terrible listeners and we fail to grasp the importance of what is said. When you are tempted to get irritated by what seems to be an inappropriate comment, cut both yourself and the complainer some slack, instead. Count to 10. Or 100. Or pull in someone who isn’t taking it so personally to take over for you.

Keep the door open to feedback of all forms, if only to reap the benefits of reasons 1 and 2 above, then allow the cream rise to the top. Even if a majority of customer commentary is not particularly helpful to you, genuine customer service and/or policy issues will sometimes emerge which will give you opportunities to enrich your customer relationships and reputation.

Get listening. Or get trained.

For these three reasons your best across-the-board reaction when receiving feedback is to be grateful. You should be flattered by commenters’ interest and the fact that they made the effort to offer you a gift, so to speak. And you can treat their offering like a beauty contest or possibly a lottery ticket—sometimes good ideas come in, and both you and the commenter win! And those who don’t “win” may still give you credit for giving them their time on stage.

If you or someone on your team (including C-level executives) can’t do this, then get these people training or keep them away from customers. On second thought, we’ve arrived in the social business era; there’s nowhere to hide from customers any more. Get listening, or get trained. Or your business will suffer the consequences.

Are marketers becoming more like drivers and less like spectators?

This morning I had coffee with Tejas Dixit of Market Dialogues who showed me Junction, his new SaaS social media management solution.

Junction is designed to help small and medium sized businesses plan, execute, and manage their social media initiatives effectively. Unlike many social media management solutions which offer publishing to social media accounts, monitoring conversations, and analytics as independent solutions, or as siloed components, Junction tightly integrates and dashboards all three.

I’ve noticed that a major stumbling block of many social media management solutions is that the feedback they offer about the success (or lack thereof) of social media efforts can be difficult to act on. Even when publishing, monitoring, and analytics are available under the same login, the gap between action and feedback can be wide enough to leave a major hurdle in the path of social media marketers. Meanwhile, the level of complexity conveyed by analytics tools can leave marketers, and the people they are accountable to, bewildered.

Junction seeks to solve this problem by providing, right alongside their publishing tools, analytics dashboards  that are optimized specifically for marketers. The idea is that marketers can be more effective when they get immediate feedback about their marketing efforts and have a connected context in which to make decisions. The experience is intended to be more like a racecar driver with a hands-on feel of the car and track and less like a spectator who can only imagine what it’s like on the track.

The linchpin of Junction is a scoring algorithm which allows marketers to get immediate feedback about whether marketing initiatives are “moving the needle” from their brand’s perspective, and how. Marketers can gauge the effectiveness of their efforts on three composite scales—awareness, community, and engagement—which they choose from depending upon what they hope to accomplish via a particular initiative. Dashboards show daily changes in these scores, generated by applying analytics to the monitoring data for each initiative.

Junction is also equipped with valuable tools like the ability to compare between time ranges, industry benchmarking, a way to view and prioritize conversations and respond directly from the dashboard, and my personal favorite, an ROI component which shows the running ratio of desired results to marketing spend on any initiative. The complete package should also help social media marketers justify the value of their efforts within the total marketing program.

Junction is currently available as a beta release—those who are interested can ask for a trial. A white-label solution for agencies is also available, Tejas tells me, with additional features and a good level of customization.

To compare Juction with other approaches in this space (there is no clear leader at this point), I encourage you read a recent overview of 5 leading solutions for small-medium businesses by Angela West on PCWorld.com, including HootSuite, VerticalResponse Social, Sprout Social, Sendible, and Postling.

What tools are you using?

What features are you looking for, but haven’t found?

What are the biggest challenges you’d like to see solved?

Please add your comments, below.

Disclosure: I was introduced to Tejas through a friend, and have no financial connections to Tejas or Junction—or to our mutual friend.

Photo credit: By Glen Duncombe [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

3 excellent books about how people make decisions

On the recommendation of a Twitter friend I recently read (or, rather, listened to the audio editions of) three excellent books about how people make decisions:

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

All three contain countless nuggets of recent scientific insight into behavioral economics, or why people and markets behave as we do, as explained by three very cogent thinkers. All three focused on defining the abilities, strengths and weaknesses of different brain areas; how human impulses mesh and are sorted and acted on; predictable biases of both “rational” and “emotional” sorts; and, what we can do to avoid—and manipulate—biases and errors. Interestingly, all three authors acknowledged the increasing difficulty academics are having in drawing sharp lines between “rational” and “emotional” behavior when confronted with contemporary knowledge about brain function, but all three attempted to draw distinctions between “rational” and “emotional” decisions nonetheless—with varying degrees of success.

Playing poker

Playing poker well involves combining “rational” and “emotional” decisions and knowing when to do which.


The book I enjoyed the most was Jonah Lehrer’s, which I could oversimplify by describing as “neuroscience discovers B.F. Skinner” because of his focus on learned behavior. But perhaps that’s because Lehrer’s approach best fit my personal preconceptions about behavior—and the fact that B.F. Skinner was still working at the psych department where I received my undergraduate degree in psychology way back when I was in school.

Ariely’s book is premised on the idea that traditional economic theory is full of crap when it comes to human behavior because of economists’ bizarre assumption that people behave “rationally” with respect to economic decisions. But this failing of traditional economics was already obvious as far as I’m concerned, so Ariely’s attitude that he was discovering this for the first time in each chapter became a bit tedious, while his preoccupation with promoting his own research—and somewhat over-the-top conclusions about the implications of his research—took away from my enjoyment of his book.

Some intriguing examples of how decisions are made that were examined by one or more of the authors include:

  • Dopamine supplements that are given to people with Parkinsons disease to give them better control over their own bodies’ movements frequently develop a counterintuitive side effect: a powerful gambling addiction. The addiction ceases when the dopamine treatments end. This example (among many others) points to the significance of dopamine and the brain’s wiring in decision making—and the fine balance of the system.
  • In a blind taste test of jam on sale at supermarkets, jams which had received low ratings in a taste test received higher ratings when tasters were simultaneously asked to explain why they gave the rating they did. This demonstrates the influence of second-guessing over “gut-level” decisions, and raises questions about when one mode might be preferable to the other.
  • A commercial airline pilot experienced the total failure of the hydraulic systems normally needed to steer his plane, and had to make a series of rapid, counterintuitive decisions, sometimes defying his own instincts, to manage an emergency landing. Another pilot experienced an apparent landing gear malfunction and crashed after using up all of the aircraft’s fuel without solving the problem—although it turned out the landing gear was fine, it was just a warning light failure. These scenarios amplify the importance of choosing when to “trust your instincts” or “follow the standard procedure” versus choosing to think outside the box.
  • An MIT physicist who is now working on Higgs Boson research started gambling professionally as a young man because his mathematical prowess gave him a somewhat unusual ability to “count cards”. Over time he became one of the best poker players in the world because he learned to consciously make the choice between playing the odds and trusting his gut, and to switch back and forth between these modes as the situation requires.
  • Doctors are officially discouraged from using MRI data to treat bad backs because they have difficulty ignoring, and restraining themselves from trying to treat, “abnormalities” they find which aren’t actually causing any problems for their patients, because such “treatment” frequently made their patients worse.

I highly recommend all three books, and particularly the Lehrer book, for inspiration when communicating with others and as a challenge to your own assumptions about yourself, especially in marketing and leadership situations. Ultimately they may help you understand, predict, and—with luck—choose the best mode (intuitive or mindful) for particular decisions—a tall order given the difficulty that highly trained experts such as doctors and commercial pilots sometimes have doing the same.

“Agile Marketing” is not just a buzz phrase, it’s a potent tool

Agile Marketing: what is it; what are the benefits; links to resources.

Two weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by the Social Media Club of Seattle (SMCSEA) panel about agile marketing. Going in I had assumed they were using “agile” as an adjective, as in “nimble”, where in fact the panel began talking about my old friend Agile, as in the highly effective team collaboration and product delivery tool from the realm of software development. Although it was news to me—in fact you could have knocked me over with a feather when they said it—it appears some folks have been applying Agile to the work of marketing departments, and these departments (or at least the panel members and their departments) love the results.

The SMCSEA panel:

What is Agile?

I may take some lumps for going rogue here (or is is “going rouge”—I’m never sure anymore since that spate of Sarah Palin bios came out), but here’s my Continue reading

3 privacy mistakes to avoid in social media

Nowadays everyone has to have a strategy for managing the complexity of social media privacy. Approaches vary:

  • A relatively small number of people just don’t care who knows what about them. By default they let it all hang out. We see evidence of this every so often when someone gets fired by an employer who thought a photo was too racy, or a comment too racist.
  • On the other extreme, certain people have abandoned social networks altogether, or avoided them in the first place. People who have had stalker problems fit comfortably in this category, for example.
  • The majority are somewhere in between. We seek to filter our private information in a practical, socially acceptable way, while minimizing the amount of time and effort we spend understanding policies and tweaking settings.

Everyone in this third group should be aware of three basic privacy mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t post truly private information on social networks

The most important thing you can do to protect your privacy is to use self-restraint. You simply shouldn’t put information that you consider “private” on social networks. For starters it’s easy to make a mistake with not-always-intuitive privacy settings, thus giving “public” access when you thought it was “friends only”. Facebook in particular seems to change its privacy system frequently in ways that make it easy to make such mistakes (so much so that it almost seems intentional on Facebook’s part).

Also, people you share “private” information with in social media may goof up and share whatever you share with them. This can happen accidentally (see privacy settings, above) or because they don’t realize that some information they receive from you via social networks is private…unlike all of the Continue reading

3 reasons to try social media add-ons for Outlook or Gmail

Contracts expert Kenneth Adams via Rapportive

Contracts expert Kenneth Adams via Rapportive

Social email plugins like Xobni, Rapportive (now owned by LinkedIn), Gist (now owned by RIM), and Outlook Social Connector (supported by Microsoft) can add an interesting and sometimes productive upgrade to your email experience.

Here’s the basic idea. When you’re reading or writing an email, if you have a social media connection to the senders or recipients, or if they have public social media profiles, you see their recent social media activity displayed to the right side of the email you’re looking at.

So instead of having to visit a bunch of different social media sites and look up a contact on each of them, just open an email and their social media information is all right there in one place.

A number of business purposes are served by using a social email plugin.

1. Staying in touch

Social media updates can help you understand what a contact has been up to, or is doing right now, just as you are sending/receiving email from them. This is useful in much the same way as using a shared calendar at work, which allows you to know when someone is going to be busy or on vacation while you’re trying to schedule a meeting with them. But the social media updates offered by these plugins provide more Continue reading